It was late in the evening on Christmas Day when Samuel Hutton finally got to sit down and do what he wanted. He took a long pull on his can of beer, finishing the whole can in only a few gulps. He belched, satisfied that this was now his own time. His wife, Carol, had just gone to bed with a headache, and the twins had been up there long enough to be so fast asleep that Carol was able to shout down the stairs to tell Samuel without waking them.
Now, Samuel had it all worked out. It was barely 9:30, so he had plenty of time to sink a few beers and watch a horror movie. He’d selected a suitably gruesome film and paused the television whilst he fetched himself another beer.
As he closed the fridge door, he heard a sound. It sounded like a faint knock on the front door, but surely no one would think to come round at this time. He dismissed the thought, opened the can, and returned to the living room. Then the sound came again but a little louder. It was someone knocking on the door. Samuel placed his can down, tightened his dressing gown, and answered the door.
Standing on his doorstep was Maisie Beck. It had been years since Samuel had seen her, but he recognized her straight away. She was standing a few steps back from the door. Her hair was untidy, and her mascara had run down her cheeks. Also, her lipstick looked smeared. She was wearing a short party dress and had streamers strewn over her shoulders. She was bleary-eyed and tottering on her high heels.
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“Maisie?” Samuel half-whispered and half-shouted. Such was his concern that Carol may have heard him open the door and come to find him here. “What the hell are you doing here?”.
Maisie’s eyes were vacant, but her voice was clear and sharp. “I had to come and tell you. I can’t move on otherwise. I have to.”
Samuel put his hands on his head in exasperation and stepped closer to Maisie, but she stepped back, keeping her distance from him. He stopped in his tracks.
“You can’t come here. How’d you even know where I live? What do you even want?”
“You remember the Christmas party? You remember what we did?”.
“Jesus, Maisie! That was two years ago! We agreed never to talk about it. You even quit your job and moved away. I thought that was all water under the bridge? Now, it looks like you’re drunk, why don’t you head off home, eh?” Samuel looked up and back at the bedroom window, the light still off. Good.
“I will move on. But first I have to tell you, I didn’t consent. I asked you to stop.”
Samuel’s jaw dropped, and his face turned to that of sheer anguish. “Oh my god, Maisie! I didn’t know. I didn’t know! I thought we both wanted it? I honestly didn’t know,” he said as tears formed in his eyes.
A million worries and scenarios played out in Samuel’s mind. He could lose everything.
“I wanted to at first, but then I had second thoughts. You didn’t listen to me though, and I went along with it, so it could all end quickly, and I could go home. I had to tell you before I could move on. That’s the rule.” Maisie smiled a sympathetic smile toward Samuel and turned on the spot and trod down the path into the night, leaving Samuel, a picture of confusion, on his doorstep.
“The rule?” he muttered to himself, “Therapy maybe? Jesus Christ!”. He returned, shell-shocked, to his living room, pausing to glance out the window to scan the street for Maisie. She wasn’t there.
His hand was shaking as he took another swig of beer. He poured himself a large whisky and drank that in one gulp before downing another. He picked up his phone and searched for Maisie Beck. Samuel sat stunned as he read the first search returns. It wasn’t her social media presence; it was local news reports.
Maisie had committed suicide. An overdose. A year ago.
Samuel stared blankly at the frozen television screen. There was a knock on the door.
Niall Cromwell stood at the same spot that Maisie had vacated. His eyes were glassy. He wore a suit and tie, but the tie was askew, and his shirt was untucked. Samuel stood mystified as to why Niall, who he had not seen for lord knows how long, would be at his door.
“I have to tell you something, Samuel,” Niall’s deep voice calmly spoke. “To enable me to move on, I have to let you know.”
Samuel stood, silently transfixed, a can of beer in his right hand.
“Do you remember when we both went for that promotion at work?”
“I…I do…” Samuel croaked.
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“Do you recall what you did?”
“I do,” Samuel whispered.
“Speak up, Samuel! I’ve come a long way to hear this before I leave.” Niall placed his hands on his hips impatiently.
Samuel cleared his throat and struggled to look Niall in the eye. Instead, he stared at a point on the floor a foot or so in front of Niall.
“I told our boss about your drink problem. I told a few people, and that’s perhaps why you got passed over, and I got the promotion. I’m sorry, mate. I know how awful that is now.” He looked up at Niall and saw no life in his eyes, just a slight smile across his blue-hued lips.
“I turned back to drinking after that, Samuel. Even worse than before. Claire left me, taking the kids, and I was on the streets. I just had to tell you. That’s the rule. Farewell.”
Niall turned to leave.
“Wait, Niall, wait!” Samuel didn’t care how loud he was then. He had to speak to Niall and find out what was going on. But Niall kept on walking away, seeming to disappear in the shadows beyond the streetlight.
Samuel poured another large whisky and returned to his seat in the living room. Shakily, he searched for Niall on his phone.
Niall Cromwell had died ten years ago. Found in an abandoned warehouse, Niall had been living on the streets for a year. Samuel thought back to that period at work where all he’d wanted more than anything, even the friendship he had with Niall, was that promotion. It was about twelve years ago. He figured that if what Niall had said were true, he’d found himself homeless soon after. But now he’s been dead for many years.
Samuel pondered the strangest evening and encounters of his life. Each visitor was a person he had wronged from his past. Each of them was dead. In a way, Samuel was the cause. Was this some retribution?
He cast his mind back to the darkest deeds of his life and found, in a long-time concealed corner of his mind, a dreaded memory from long ago. He feared he next knock on the door.
Sure enough, the knock arrived soon after. A soft rap of the small knuckles Samuel had been expecting.
Resigned to his fate, he rose from his chair and maundered to the door to open it.
Thomas “Tommy” Beckford stood on the pathway. He was nine years old, still wearing his cubs uniform. The large gash on his forehead that Samuel had inflicted was visible. His eyes were milky, and he smiled a gap-toothed grin at Samuel as he spoke, “It’s time for you to move on too, Sammy, that’s the rule. Come with me.”
Tommy reached out his hand, and Samuel took it.
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AUTHOR’S NOTE: This story, initially posted here, came from my thinking about what would happen if everybody you’d ever wronged came back to see you about it, either to forgive or for revenge. I considered a long queue of people waiting outside my door for every mistake or misdeed of my life and decided that to fit within a short story. I should condense the line of people and make only the gravest of consequences worthy of retribution. And so, Samuel Hutton and the Three Misdemeanours of His Life got created. I had primarily intended to set this on New Year’s Day, as it had a New Year’s resolution feel to it, but with the nod to Scrooge and the visit of three ghosts, I had to change it to Christmas Day. As for where the three, and eventually Sammy, move on to, I have no particular place in mind other than moving out of whatever limbo they found themselves in after passing away.
Categories: Short Stories