Read The Collector of Remarkable Stories Online

Authors: E. B. Huffer

Tags: #Fantasy

The Collector of Remarkable Stories

 

 

 

 

 

© 2014 E. B. Huffer.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

This book contains material protected under UK
and international law. Any unauthorized reprint or
use of this material is prohibited.

No part of this book may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form, or by any means,
without express written permission from
the author except for the use of brief
quotations in a book review.

 

[email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to:

 

My sister who has been to Hell and back;
your bravery inspires me.

My mum and dad; your unconditional love carries me.

My three wonderful boys; without you I am nothing.

 

With special thanks to Denise Cassar and Amanda Bailey.

 

- E. B. Huffer

 

 

Prologue

 

Margie didn’t know how many dead people she had killed over the years. She didn’t care. On second thoughts, it’s not that she didn’t care; she just hadn’t realized. Although I’m pretty sure that had she realized, she wouldn’t have cared anyway. That’s just the way things were, and always had been, with Margie May Langley.

You may be forgiven for asking at this point how it’s possible to kill the dead. After all, they’re already dead and everyone knows you can’t kill someone when they’re already dead. And even if it was possible (which it is) why would anybody want to kill the dead anyway? It would seem rather a waste of time and energy. After all, the dead keep themselves to themselves for the most part, silently going about their own otherworldly business.

To explain the physics of this would take far too long. And we don't have time. Suffice to say that dead people don’t die. And, just as the living can succumb to terrible misfortunes, so too can the dead.

It was no secret that Margie hated the dead. She despised everything about them, from their waxy complexions to their sickly sweet aroma to the way folks wept and wailed over them. If only they knew, she thought, what kind of people they really were. Old Tom Finnegan the village doctor with his secret stash of stolen knickers; old Sally McIntyre the Sunday school teacher who poisoned her first husband with something green and toxic from the garden shed; fat Stan the lollipop man who stole money from his elderly mother’s purse.

Had it been Mother Teresa, Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Margie would have found something to loathe. It was the kind of hatred that made clocks stop and radios explode.

It’s not that she was frightened of them. She wasn’t. In fact most dead people were generally more afraid of Margie than the other way round …

Yup, Margie definitely hated the dead and she made no secret of the fact.

When folks removed their caps and bowed their heads to a passing funeral cortege, Margie would lift her skirt and flash her knickers. When reverential clocks were stopped at the moment of death, Margie would spin the hands forwards and backwards an hour or two. When people lit candles in memory of their loved one, Margie would blow them out and sing 'Happy Birthday to Me' while playing the spoons on her naked thigh.

She didn’t care that people thought she wasn’t quite the full shilling. She hated the dead and that was that.

Of course this isn’t the kind of behaviour you would expect to be overlooked by the general population. Those who didn’t know Margie generally despised her. They thought she was ill mannered and despicable.

Others felt sorry for her; put her behaviour down to mental illness.

Others knew her well, and understood why she
was
the way she was. They were the people who knew that Margie was ‘special’. That she had been blessed with 'the gift' of psychic vision; that she could see and hear the dead.

If only they had known the full story.

That in fact Margie May hadn’t just been blessed with 'the gift' ... she was (unwittingly) one of the most powerful psychics the world had ever known.

 

 

The Miracle

 

Margie had been born Margaret May Langley to an impoverished bunch on a sunny spring morning in 1911. Her father, William Langley, had worked morning, noon and night doing whatever he could to put food on the table and something like a roof over their heads. Even so, Margie had practically starved until the age of three.

Then came the Great War.

Now William wasn’t a big man or even a strong man. Weighing no more than eight and a half stone in a wet woollen suit, he could barely swat a fly. But with eight starving babies and a ninth on its way, he decided there was only one thing to do. He packed his bags and, in a wave of patriotic fervour, skipped off to The Somme for ‘a bit of peace and quiet’.

Eighteen months later, he would return to Mary and the kids with just one foot.

"Blown off in a mortar attack," he’d tell anyone with half an inkling to listen. But people knew that it had been amputated after a nasty incident of trench foot. They listened and nodded anyway because aside from his foot, somewhere in the trenches, amid the cess pits, rats and cadavers, William had lost himself. And for that they felt sorry.

While William was dodging bullets in the trenches of France, Mary was dodging the bailiffs in Batley. She’d seen none of the seven shillings a week her husband was earning and in order to feed nine hungry mouths she spent every waking hour standing in queues; queues for sugar, queues for meat, queues for butter. And if she wasn’t standing in queues she was knitting socks for the troops. And if she wasn’t knitting socks for the troops she was bringing them back to her house to measure them up for socks. "After all, it’s very important that a sock fits right, don‘t you know. What with the price of wool being so high an’ all."

And the troops always paid very generously for the services provided.

Months passed, and then one day, one of Mary’s clients, a fifty six year old mill owner by the name of Arnold Fisher, decided he didn’t like the way his feet were being measured. He smashed his fist into Mary’s face; once, twice, three times and more, until her face was a tight, shiny, fluid filled balloon.

Margie heard the commotion, and came to the bottom of the stairs. She had no idea what was happening. Just that in between the terrible crashing noise, she could make out the sound of her mother begging for something to stop.

"Stop it," cried Margie, "stop it! Don’t you hear what she’s saying!"

But the angry banging continued overhead followed by her mother’s frantic screaming. And then …

Margie squeezed her eyes tightly shut, put her hands over her ears and started screaming too.

She screamed. And screamed. And didn’t stop screaming for eight solid days and eight solid nights. Mary tried everything to shut the child up. But whenever Margie saw her mother’s bloodied and bruised face, she renewed her screaming with extra vigour.

The neighbours were sympathetic at first.

"It’s the war, it does terrible things to the little ones."

Then came the friendly hints and tips.

"Have you tried taping the child’s mouth shut!?"

Next came the exasperated demands; threats to have Margie forcibly removed to a lunatic asylum for deranged children.

And that’s when The Miracle happened. Not only did Margie run out of voice. But all of a sudden, she could tell when folks (most notably the rent man and the bailiffs) were about to drop by – and more impressively who was about to drop down dead.

At first, no one believed Mary when she told them about her daughter’s uncanny gift. "It’s a coincidence," they’d say. "Ask her who’s going to win the Derby next week, then we’ll believe you."

"I’m telling you," said Mary, ushering her neighbours closer as she dropped her voice to a whisper, "that child knows a dead man walking. She told me this morning that old Mr Miller from the pub on Church Street would …" she drew her finger across her throat to dramatise what she was saying. "Crushed. By an ’orse."

Lemons (so called because the TNT she handled every day in the munitions factory had turned her hands and face yellow) tutted.

"You’re talking rubbish," she said, "I don’t know who’s worse; her for coming up with such nonsense or you for encouraging it."

Everyone agreed, shaking their heads and tutting and making Mary feel like a right fool.

"Oi, lady with the yellow face," interrupted a small angry voice.

Lemons turned around to see Margie standing on the doorstep, legs wide, hands on hips. She looked furious, her freckled face and ginger hair bright against the white washed walls of the house.

"I know everything. I know you steal sugar from Mrs Lister when she’s not looking." she said. "And I know other things you do too."

Lemons suddenly looked very uncomfortable indeed.

"I know your second baby has a different dada to the other three. I know that Mrs Grady’s husband pays you to kiss him on his …"

"That’s enough!" cried Mrs Grady. "That’s quite enough."

Margie pulled a frown so deep that it looked as though some invisible draw string had closed her mouth and was being pulled out inches in front. Her arms folded across her chest.

"And as for you," continued Mrs Grady, turning to Lemons, "this is from me and Mrs Lister." And with that she slapped Lemons hard across the face.

Before long people were jostling to catch a glimpse of the strange little girl with the amazing gift. And it certainly didn’t take long for Mary to realise the potential for a sudden change in fortune.

As word spread of Margie’s astonishing ability, so the money started rolling in. People would queue down the street with questions and requests. Rich and poor alike. They came in their droves, from miles around, with fistfuls of cash. They wanted to know where so-and-so kept his money; if so and so was going to win the Derby; why so and so couldn‘t have just held on for another god damn month; did so-and-so go to Hell where he damn well belonged, etc., etc.

Margie’s fame came quickly. Her name was on posters; her face on magazines. Films were based on her; songs were written about her. Her name was on the lips of everyone from as far afield as China and America.

However, Margie knew little of the fame her gift was bringing to the family. Her brothers and sisters were paraded and applauded wherever they went while little Marge was stuck at home relaying messages between one world and another.

"She’s incredible," they cried. "Miraculous. Astonishing. Remarkable." Yet not one person questioned why they never saw the child; they were simply caught up in a tidal wave of stupefied mass hysteria.

Margie’s father William, back from the war minus a foot, spent most of his hours in the pub or the betting shop, spending the money his little girl was earning.

"To me darlin’ Margaret," he’d toast, spilling half the contents of his glass over the person sitting next to him "And them dead buggers what pay the bloody rent."

One afternoon Margie received a visit from Parisian aristocrat - the indomitable Mme Maguet. Mme Maguet had travelled all the way from Paris to see l'enfant magique and was in no mood to discover, upon her arrival, that she would have to wait in the queue which snaked half a mile down Church Street and Smithies Lane.

"Wait?" she growled, stamping her flawlessly manicured foot. "Mme Maguet waits for no one. Not Picasso. Not Apollinaire. Not even Stravinsky."

But such was the demand for Margie, no one would dare jump the queue for risk of life and limb.

So, like the hundreds of others, Mme Maguet was forced to wait in line, in the harsh northern weather. Hour after hour, she moaned and stamped her feet. She complained about everything; from why everyone spoke English, to the cobbles which were "hard as snails!" She complained that the people next to her in the queue were smelly and that the sky was like a damp grey sponge. When, after several hours, Mme Maguet finally got to see Margie, she crumpled in a dramatic heap, one hand on her heart, the other on her forehead. "Tell me," she begged, "tell me please that my daughter is safe and well. I have to know …"

Margie wasn’t fooled by this outrageous trickery.

"Your little
boy
," she replied, "is sitting on your knee."

Mme Maguet looked at her knee and exclaimed with exasperation, "I see nothing!"

While Mme Maguet frantically looked about her knees, Margie continued.

"I see a small wooden toy. It looks like a cat. No …" she stopped speaking and studied the space above Mme Maguet’s knees. "It’s a monkey, it’s definitely a monkey."

At this, the tears poured forth from Mme Maguet's eyes and she dropped to her knees.

"Ah, you are truly an angel," she cried, grasping Margie’s face in her trembling hands so hard that Margie struggled to pull them away.

"My precious son. He was buried not a week ago wis his favourite toy monkey. Now I know he ees appy."

She stopped speaking and looked at Margie with a serious and somewhat sinister face. "He EES appy isn’t he?" She asked the question in a way that made it clear there was only one right answer.

Margie nodded vigorously. "He is, he is, he’s happier than he’s ever been." Margie wasn’t lying although she knew the reason he was happy was because he was no longer crushed by the overprotective bosom of his mother’s love.

By the age of five, Margie was seeing over one hundred people a day. Over three hundred if you counted the dead. They came and went quickly and the money piled up in the corner of the room like autumn leaves blown in from the cold. Before she knew it Margie was nine.

The war with Germany was over, but the war in Margie’s head was only just beginning. The more money she made, the more her parents wanted. And as she grew more and more exhausted, her parents grew more and more greedy.

"I’d really love to go to Mablethorpe," said Margie one evening as her parents counted their money into piles and stuffed mattresses with it. "Just for a day or two. Stay in a little hotel by the sea and maybe ride a donkey on the beach."

"I’ll give you a break," said her father lurching towards her clutching a broom handle in one hand and a whisky bottle in the other. "I’ll break your bloody neck."

"Oh, your father loves you really," soothed her mother stroking Margie’s tear stained face. "But if you didn’t bring the money in, we’d all starve to death. How would it make you feel if your brothers and sisters all died because you wanted to go on holiday for a few days. How greedy and selfish would they think you were as they drew their final breaths."

And so, Margie continued to relay messages to and from the dead that continued to hound her day and night.

She hardly ate or slept. She never played with toys. She received gifts from all over the world from admirers and happy customers, but no sooner had they arrived than they were taken to the pawn shop and sold for pennies. All the while, Margie grew more and more miserable. She tried to block out the noise of the dead. But no amount of material stuffed in her ears would do the trick. She tried to deafen herself by clapping her hands over her ears. She suffered terrible tinnitus for months, but still the voices came.

Old voice, young voices, voices crying and wailing and moaning. Anguished sounds that ate away at Margie’s heart and soul.

Then one day Margie woke up and realised that she couldn’t do it anymore. Her powers had simply vanished with the night.

Her parents were furious. They shook her and shouted at her and beat her with a broom. They locked her away in a cupboard under the stairs and took her to see priests and magicians. They even took her to see a shaman’s apprentice that they’d shipped over from Africa on the Durham Castle especially to see her.

But nothing would bring the miracle back.

Exactly six months after the gift vanished, and after trying everything in their power to bring the gift back, her parents told Margie that she was finally going on a holiday. The date was set and Margie was beside herself with excitement. She packed and repacked her travel case several times in the days leading up to her holiday and she wrote list after list of all the things she intended to do once they got there. Hopefully Mary and William would give her a little money to spend so she could write postcards to herself. She would keep them forever as a memento.

So focused was she on her impending holiday that she hadn't noticed her mother and father making the sign of the cross whenever she entered a room. Or that they'd nailed a horseshoe to every door. She hadn't questioned why they burned sage in the house or why sprigs of rosemary hung from every ceiling.

As a child, Margie's gift had been considered a miracle. But now as she edged closer to adulthood they started to question where exactly her gift had come
from.
Truth be told, they were beginning to get a little frightened of her.

On a blistering summer day in 1922, a year before the Charleston dance craze swept the nation, Margie was dropped off at Brookland's House - a home for prostitutes and wayward girls.

"Never saw that one coming did you," said William, as he dropped her suitcase at her feet. He spat on the floor before hobbling away.

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