A Chemical Connection by Newton Webb
A Psychedelic Horror Novella: LSD, accountancy, bell-bottoms, unfortunate haircuts, and my personal favourite: Death.
Free Horror Stories
A Chemical Connection by Newton Webb
Free Horror Stories
Horror Story Compilations
Chilling Reads: 62 horror stories, including ‘Tales of the Macabre, Vol. 1’, ‘Tales of the Macabre, Vol. 2’, ‘Festival of the Damned’, ‘The Horror at Hargrave Hall’, ‘Smoke in the Sewers’, ‘The Ballad of Barnacle Bill’, ‘The Morrígan’, ‘The Black Fog’, ‘The Heir Apparent’, ‘The Platinum Service’
A Chemical Connection by Newton Webb
Guildford, Surrey, 1971
The clock on the wall read 20:33. The harsh fluorescent lights in his office cast long, spectral shadows on the meticulously organised piles of ledgers that lay on George’s desk. He was finalising the annual financial report for Vortex Construction, one of his major clients. The complexity of their accounts was mind-boggling, but George was meticulous. He double-checked every calculation, every entry, ensuring his work was beyond reproach.
Just as he was about to complete the last entry, his office door creaked open. Martha Turner, the company’s filing assistant, poked her head in. Her wild curls framed a face flushed with excitement. “George,” she began, her voice teetering between a whisper and her normal speaking volume, “you’re still here? Don’t you ever go home?”
George managed a half-smile. “Just wrapping up the Vortex account. Why on earth are you still here, my dear?”
Martha moved into the room, her bright yellow skirt swishing around her ankles. “I’m not ‘still’ here. I went home and changed.”
George looked at her dress. He could have sworn that it was the same as the one she wore earlier. But he never really paid attention to fashion. The closest he had to casual wear was wearing a tweed suit at the weekend.
She approached George’s desk and leaned against it, crossing her arms. “I was just about to head out and I figured you’d still be here,” she said, her eyes twinkling with mischief. “There’s an art exhibition round the corner. A friend of mine, she’s showcasing her work… There will be free drinks,” she added, a teasing lilt to her voice.
George blinked, his fingers paused over the keyboard. An art exhibition was the last place he imagined spending his Friday night. His life revolved around numbers, balance sheets, and audits – not abstract paintings and performance art. But the promise of free drinks was tempting, and it had been months since he had done anything remotely social.
“I don’t know, Martha,” he said hesitantly. “I’m not much of an art person.”
Martha’s laugh rippled through the air. “You know, George, you could be the poster child for seriousness. How about a little adventure for a change?”
George drummed his fingers on the desk. A frown creased his brow. He glanced at the ledger, then back at Martha. The financial report was done. He could send it off tomorrow. Maybe Martha was right. Maybe he did need a break. “Won’t I look silly in a suit?”
“Your clothes express your identity. I rather think a charcoal grey suit is just the ticket.”
He considered her for a moment.
Is she mocking me?
Then he sighed. She was a good girl. It was high time he tried something different. Pushing his chair back from the desk, he set his shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “All right, Martha,” he said, surprising himself. “Let’s go see some art.”
Martha’s face lit up with a grin. “Great! You won’t regret this, George. I promise.”
As George shut down his computer and grabbed his jacket, he couldn’t help but feel a spark of excitement. Maybe he was ready for a change. Maybe he was ready for something more than numbers and balance sheets. Tonight, he was stepping out of his comfort zone.
“Wait! File these first, please. It wouldn’t do for them to go into disarray, would it now?” Martha looked at her watch, pursed her lips, but she still took the files from him.
George flexed his fingers.
An art gallery… how terribly Bohemian of me. What did Harriet say? ‘Marriage to me had all the excitement of a chip butty.’
George chuckled to himself. He quite liked chip butties.
He expected the gallery to be in one of those European wine bars that were popping up all around them. Instead, it was in a ghastly warehouse. When Martha had said round the corner, he’d expected her to mean the High Street, not back in the industrial estate.
Outside the entrance, a group of layabouts were smoking cigarettes, some of which had that distinctly pungent, acrid tang of marijuana.
Martha waved at them, but their gaze was fixed on George.
I knew a suit would make me look odd—Odd? Look at these punks?
George didn’t like the gallery one bit. No, that’s too mild. The gallery was awful. The paintings – they were just lurid splashes of colour with little sense or meaning to George. And the people? Well, he liked Martha. She was fun, happy, professional, albeit quirky, but her friends radiated an oddness that disquieted him. He didn’t like them one bit.
I don’t mind the free Beaujolais, though.
Taking a deep gulp, Martha introduced him to her friend Jennifer. George nodded profusely.
Blink, you damned fool.
He was staring, he knew it. But in his defence, the girl had a mohawk.
“Hello, how do you do?” he asked.
“Not bad, thanks, gov’ner,” Jennifer answered. “Yeah, nice old gaff this, ain’t it. What do you reckon it would go for on the market?”
“The gallery?” George asked.
“Yeah, of course. That’s got to be a good two thousand square feet.” She sniffed loudly, causing George to take a step back. “By the canal, too. Prime location.”
George looked closer at her. “Are you… Are you an estate agent?”
“A square? Nah, I just notice things, you know what I mean. Eyes open and all that. It’s called being an artist.” Jennifer pulled a face. “We see all the money but never have any.”
“Well, perhaps you could become an estate agent and work on art part-time like Martha does.”
Jennifer looked at the retreating back of Martha. “Lovely girl, but she ain’t no artist, is she?”
“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen any of her art. But she works incredibly hard.”
“Exactly, you ain’t seen any of it. Might not exist, could be myth-o-logical.” Jennifer winked at him. “See what I mean? Lovely girl, free-spirited, but she sold out. Won’t get me doing that.”
George was conflicted. On one hand, he had no idea what Jennifer was talking about. On the other hand, Martha was his friend. “Now, look here, young lady--”
Jennifer looked him up and down and performed a U-turn. He heard her mutter, “tosser,” under her breath and gawped after her.
No, I don’t like these people at all.
Martha returned with two glasses, handing one to him. He clinked with her and took a deep swig.
“Are you all right?” Martha asked. “You look like you’re struggling.”
“Oh heavens, is it that obvious?” George pursed his lips. “I understand about one word in four.”
“Well, you survived Jennifer, so that’s impressive.” Martha gave him a supportive pat on his elbow. “Just think, ‘old married you’ would never have been able to do this.”
George stood quietly and looked down. “Yes, you’re right. I suppose that ‘in a way,’ I am being uncommonly brave.”
“You are mate. You’re coming out of your shell.” Martha looked at him critically. “Say, I’ve an idea, something to help you click with these people.”
“Oh, yes?” George said, his voice tinged with curiosity.
“A little dab, that’s all.” Martha led him to the side. “Tongue out.”
“I beg your pardon! Martha, you are a lovely—”
“No.” Martha firmly waggled her fingers. “Not like that, nothing untoward. Trust me, George.”
George considered her for a while and decided to trust her.
He closed his eyes, opened his mouth, and stuck out his tongue. He felt a finger slide into his mouth and stick a papery square on it.
“Now, tongue in, mouth closed and swallow.”
George did as he was told. He looked at her, eyes wide. “What was that?”
“You know what it was,” Martha said mischievously.
“I do feel a certain tingling. Good lord. LDS? Martha, what if it disagrees with me?”
“Relax, you’ll be fine. Come on. And you’re imagining the tingling, you daft sod. L. S. D. takes at least half an hour to kick in.” Martha laughed. “Come on, you. Let’s get you to a sofa with a good view of what’s going on.”
He watched her put a square of paper onto her tongue,her eyes regarding him playfully.
I suppose it must be fun showing a fuddy-duddy like me how to have a good time.
As Martha guided George to the sofa, he suddenly felt frightfully old.
It started mildly, auras appearing around people, around objects. The paintings transformed before his eyes, their colours deepening and swirling, as if each brushstroke pulsed with a life of its own, creating a mesmerising dance of hues and shapes. George blinked, disorientated, as the room swirled in a mosaic of colours. A wave of unease washed over him. George glanced at Martha, his voice laced with hesitation. “Martha, this is intense. Is it always like this?” Her reassuring smile did little to ease the knot of apprehension in his stomach. He scratched at his shirt collar, trying to anchor himself to any familiar reality.
His vision faded as if he was passing out.
Abruptly, a tidal wave of deafening music engulfed George. He found himself on a soundstage, the hot glare of spotlights on his skin, as he belted out a ludicrous yet strangely compelling song about the scent of sex. The throb of the bass reverberated through his bones, melding with the adrenaline-charged energy of the crowd.
What’s happening? This isn’t my voice.
The fucker is out of time.
How did I know that? Wait which f-fudger? Why am I swearing?
As he bellowed out the ghastly lyrics with more volume than enthusiasm, he felt sweat running down his back.
This isn’t my body. I can’t control what I’m doing.
The finale is coming up. Move to stage centre.
Everyone is staring at me. I’m… I’m playing the guitar.
George swept his pick across the strings as he wailed into the microphone. His voice was cracked and raw.
These aren’t my thoughts. They’re someone else’s… I’m sharing their life.
Terror gripped him. He was more than willing to believe that he had hallucinated the audience, even the singing, but deep down, he knew he was in another body. His heavy-set body was gone, and he felt himself prancing up and down the stage with a lightness that he’d never known; it was almost like dancing on air. The bassist joined him, or whoever’s body he was occupying, in the centre of the stage. George felt the two of them stand side by side and rock their guitars to the acclaim of the crowd. He caught a glimpse of his legs and was relieved to see that he was wearing trousers, albeit leather ones.
With startling alacrity he realised that he wasn’t feeling pain. Instead, energy, raw passion, roiled through his veins. The years had left him with dull pains and aches everywhere. They weren’t from particular injuries. Instead, time had salami-sliced off chunks of his fitness, one dreary week at a time.
This man, this singer, he was different. He was a storm, he was energy, confidence, power. George immediately knew that this man was everything he wasn’t. He felt a connection with the man; he could hear his thoughts, he could sense the raw hunger in the man’s mind for the audience’s love.
And they were providing it. Girls screamed at him, leaping up and down and flailing their limbs at him as he came closer to the edge of the stage. One woman, more eager than even the rest, pulled off her top and exposed her pearly white breasts to him.
If he could gawp, he would have done, but he was trapped, a silent observer in the man’s mind. The man himself didn’t seem to bat an eyelid, his gaze swiftly moving past her and across the heaving crowd. He was utterly focused on his performance.
As George drowned in the sounds, scents, and sights of the experience, the music started to become discordant; it echoed and faded in and out, in a pulsing rhythm that gradually slowed. He could hear the thoughts in his host’s mind fade too, as he began to lose them. He felt a sudden deep loneliness and mentally reached out, trying to regain the connection.
Martha leaned in, her brow furrowed with concern. “George, you’re miles away. Talk to me. Are you holding up, okay?”
“Martha, goodness, what on earth are you doing?” George asked.
She flopped back, relieved. “Oh, thank God, I thought I’d killed you. You were having a fit. Arms and legs flailing all over the place. I couldn’t be doing with an ambulance case. It’s just kicked in for me.”
A wide, almost childlike grin spread across George’s face. “Martha, you won’t believe it. I just had the most extraordinary experience.”
“Oh, it’s still going, man. Trips last for hours. You just get comfortable, okay?”
“Right ho, of course.” George sank into the plush depths of the sofa, his eyes wide as a kaleidoscope of colours danced across his vision, painting the room with strokes of neon and shadow that seemed to pulse with the very rhythm of his heartbeat. “I really am having the most magical night. Thank you ever so much for inviting me.”
“You are a nice man, George. You can’t have your life end just because your wife decided she wanted to play with someone else’s little soldier.”
George focused on her words. He really did, but he could make very little sense out of the dear girl’s nonsense, so he chalked up her speech simply as the ravings of a drug-induced hallucination. He watched the colours play over the ceiling and the artwork come to life again. Beside him, another warm body collapsed. He decided not to look and see who it was, instead, he enjoyed the deep sense of mystery.
It was impossible to tell just how long he’d been hallucinating because he simply fell asleep, at least once. By the time he woke up properly the LSD had worn off and he was back to reality. Everything seemed just that little bit more beige, more vanilla. He’d always liked beige, but being on that stage had given him a newfound ambition to enjoy life, to escape from his tawdry existence and to try new things, new experiences.
Gently shaking Martha awake, he offered to share a taxi ride with her. The cost was extortionate, as George insisted on dropping off Martha first despite it being out of his way. Once he had made sure she entered her bedsit safely, he asked the driver to take him home.
George was exhausted, but his mind was alive. He felt like he’d been sleeping all these years. Being inside that rock star, hearing his thoughts and experiencing his athletic body, George made a decision. He was done being the fuddy-duddy, the office grandad, old before his time. No, George was going to be a new man. He was going to exercise, start power walking along the canal, he was going to try foreign food, maybe learn an instrument. He had always enjoyed the violin.
He was too tired to get ready for bed properly, but years of routine managed to help him take off his shoes, hang up his jacket, and place his trousers in the trouser press ready for next week. Collapsing back on the bed, he unbuttoned his shirt just enough to stop his gut from bursting through in the night and lay back, remembering. He closed his eyes, but despite the exhaustion which seeped into the very marrow of his bones, his mind remained stubbornly awake.
As four a.m. approached, he was still awake. He opened his gritty eyes and looked at the ceiling.
“Bugger,” he said out loud, before giggling. Perhaps his host had affected his language as well. He stripped off his remaining clothes and clambered into the shower. The warm water was soothing and soporific. Rubbing off the excess water, he looked at his sad, potato shaped body. Prodding his belly, he thought instead of the rock star with his lean and muscular torso. He dragged himself out of his reverie and pulled on some pyjamas before clambering back into bed.
It was eight-thirty in the morning when George woke up. He lumbered up. He always rose at six, never needing an alarm clock. His body clock was staunchly regulated. The LSD must have affected him more than he’d thought.
A stiff cup of tea, that’ll sort me out.
Putting the kettle on, George retrieved his daily paper. He vaguely remembered his ambitions from last night when he’d been full of hopes and dreams.
Power walking down the canal? Not a chance.
Learn the violin? Goodness, no.
Foreign food… Well, you have to start somewhere.
George opened the cupboard, and for the first time put two sugars into his usual milky tea. The toaster popped, and he scraped butter over the toast, then sat down with the paper, scouring it for any performances last night that might have made the mainstream news. He found nothing.
He slurped his tea, marvelling at the sweetness. How very European of me. He made a note to tell Martha that he’d been experimenting with his tea.
As his body absorbed the tea and he finished the paper, he decided he would try something new. Retrieving his jacket, he decided not to go for his usual Saturday morning pint. Instead, he walked across town to the tearooms on the common for a cup of tea and a scone with jam and clotted cream.
I wonder what the rock star’s name is?
George should have listened to all those screaming women, then he’d know. The entire experience had been so damned surreal. He munched on the scone. The delicious taste of local jam and the thick, rich cream were ambrosia to him. He’d had scones before, but only on holiday. The prospect of walking all the way back home was daunting to him, especially after his lovely snack. His hips ached more than his thighs, but he set his jaw and strode off down the road.
By the time he got home, George was exhausted. His legs gave way as he collapsed onto the sofa. He felt warm and happy though, happier than he’d been for a long time. As his energy began to return, he levered himself up on leaden legs and opened a tin of sausages to make himself a sandwich.
After lunch, he found himself snoozing, dreaming of the crowd, the audience and, more than anything, the life of his host. When he woke in the late afternoon, he found himself desperate to know just what his alter ego was up to right now.
Is he with a lady?
Is he preparing for another gig?
Perhaps he is recording a hit record in a studio?
George leaned back and let his imagination, limited as it was, run riot.
Monday morning arrived with the usual punctuality George appreciated. His sleep pattern had restored itself, and he’d woken precisely at six, as was his custom. Slipping on his freshly pressed trousers and a crisp white shirt, he readied himself for the familiar routine of the office.
The clock struck eight as he entered the orderly calm of his workplace. His colleagues were already hunched over their keyboards, the low hum of conversation mingled with the soft clicking of keys and the occasional murmur of a phone conversation. George liked this sound—it was the sound of productivity, of normalcy.
“Morning, George,” his co-worker Martha greeted him, gracing him with a warm smile.
“Good morning, Martha,” he responded with a knowing wink, as he set his briefcase down. His desk was just as he had left it on Friday, neat, organised, almost spartan in its cleanliness and tidiness. Everything had its place; everything in order.
George settled into his chair and pulled out the accounts for Gemini Recruitment. They always offered him a challenge. The directors were somewhat frivolous with the rules and regulations of HMRC and relied upon George to keep them on the straight and narrow.
As he set to work reviewing financial statements and compiling reports, his pen scratched across the papers in a rhythmic, almost musical pattern. George found comfort in their predictable, precise nature. They were reliable, always adhering to the rules, unlike the chaotic, frenetic world outside his office window.
By the time his lunch break arrived, George had reconciled three balance sheets and was midway through a tax audit. Rather than joining his colleagues in the break room as usual, he decided to take his lunch outside. It was a small change, but it felt like an adventure of sorts. The sun warmed his skin as he sat on a park bench, the hustle and bustle of the city a vibrant contrast to his sedate place of work.
He returned to his office with renewed enthusiasm. In fact, he was able to complete the audit and send an email to his client in next to no time at all. It was a task he had performed countless times before, but today it felt different—almost as if he was seeing it with new eyes.
He wondered what his rock star alter ego was up to. Summoning Martha, he gave her a conspiratorial glance. “Martha, I wanted to talk with you about Friday night.”
“Were you okay?” Martha looked nervous. “Thank you for making sure I got home okay? Did you have a good time?”
George beamed at her. “Martha, I had a positively splendid time. I didn’t quite understand your friends, but when I took the LDS, I sort of became a rock star.”
“Sorry?” Martha looked at him, bemused. She closed the office door behind her. “Ignoring the fact that it’s called LSD. What did you hallucinate?”
“Well, I entered the body of a rock star. I was sort of like a hitchhiker, riding along in his mind as he gave a performance to a massive group of very fruity individuals.” George’s foot tapped against the floor to the rhythm of the music. “He sang a really naughty song, Martha, and I feel quite untoward in saying it, but it was something along the lines of ‘Fiddle my Sex Froth’.”
“Ah, that makes sense, that would be Feral Frequencies. They must have played it at the gallery and your subconscious picked up on it. You hallucinated that you were Chris Roxx, you lucky devil?” Martha leaned back with a salacious look on her face. “I wouldn’t mind entering that body!”
George gave a mock gasp. “Martha, the things you say.” He looked around. “I must confess, since that rather exotic evening, I have been experimenting.”
“Tell me everything, you naughty boy.” Martha pulled up a chair and sat opposite him.
“I had sugar in my tea, Harriet always said it was bad for your teeth.” George continued despite Martha’s eyes rolling at the mention of Harriet. “Now, now. This isn’t easy for me. I still love her very much.”
“Go on,” Martha said.
“I didn’t go to the pub on Saturday for my usual pint before lunch, instead I walked to the other side of town and had a scone, it was filled with jam and cream.” George leaned back, beaming with satisfaction.
There was a pause, as if Martha was waiting for more examples of George's decadent behaviour. Then she clapped, applauding him for his wicked debauchery. “Good on you, George.”
“Martha, I was wondering if you could find me any more of this… L-S-D.” He pronounced the letters very carefully.
“Slippery slope, George, you shouldn’t do LSD alone. It’s best done with a friend so that you can keep an eye on each other.” Martha considered George dubiously. “I can get you some, but you must promise to be careful. No more than one square a night and don’t take it late in the evening if you have work the next day. I can’t have you getting sacked. You are my favourite.”
George reached into his jacket for his wallet. “You know me Martha. I’m always meticulously careful.” He pulled out a sheaf of notes. Counting out a couple, he passed them to Martha, who returned one of them to him.
“All right George, I’ll sort you out, but you must promise me that you’ll be sensible, okay? Keep it for a weekend treat, won’t you?” Martha rose, giving George a final warning look. “In moderation, always.”
“Oh, you silly goose. I am not going to go off the rails now am I? You know me, I’m sensible to a fault.” George picked up his pen as Martha left the room, and returned to his world of numbers. He resolved to buy some Feral Frequencies tapes on the way home.
It’s no smooth jazz, but I was a rock star.
He beamed to himself. After many years of marriage, it was almost as though he was reverting to a primal state. A sense of teenage rebellion washed over him as he regarded his life. He’d never been rebellious, but now, now, was his chance to become someone new, maybe not a rock god, but definitely something more than just an accountant.
The corners of his vision were the first to be affected. A blurring, a sharpening of colours. His feet felt as though they were vibrating, and his thoughts were like greasy meat sliding around in his stomach. As the world around him warped, George felt a wave of dizziness wash over him. He gripped the arm of the sofa, trying to anchor himself to reality. His heart raced as he struggled to comprehend the swirling vortex of colours and sounds engulfing him. A part of him wanted to resist, to pull back from this alien experience. His vision seemed to zoom out. Everything seemed so far away, until with a shuddering finality his mind exploded into a kaleidoscope of sound and vision before coalescing into a menage of sights, sounds and sensations that took him completely by surprise.
George, or rather Chris, was slumped on a leather sofa backstage with his arm round someone. He was looking away, but George could feel the taut skin and the ribs underneath as Chris reached for a heavily depleted bottle of Absolut Vodka. The clatter of glasses and the thump of heavy rock music dominated the sonic landscape.
The music blasting from the speakers was raw and raucous, the unmistakable rhythm of Feral Frequencies. Their songs were punctuated by periodic shouts from band members and their enthusiastic entourage. The heat of so many bodies packed together in such close proximity made the air hang heavy and thick. The scent of stale beer and sweat, together with the distinct aroma of burning tobacco mingling with marijuana created a fragrance that was uniquely decadent. Mixed in with all this were the intoxicating perfumes and colognes of partygoers, sweet and spicy notes wafting through the air.
Every surface in the venue seemed to vibrate, the bass from the speakers created a rhythmic throb that he felt deep in Chris’s chest. The air itself felt charged, alive with the energy of the party. There was a taste of adrenaline on his tongue, mixed with the bitterness of vodka.
Hot breath on Chris’s neck was followed by tender lips, as Chris’s companion kissed his neck. He drank a heavy glug of vodka, dropping the now empty bottle on the floor as he turned to kiss the girl beside him. Her hair was huge, her makeup was severe, unlike dear Harriet’s delicate highlights. Chris seemed to be making out with a barbarian queen from some kind of hellish dimension, her clothing, what little there was of it, was all leather and metal. It was as though Boudicca had returned, alive and well and was sharing the sofa with him in amorous congress. Or perhaps judging by her pale skin and black eye makeup, a better analogy might be that she had risen and returned from the grave.
George suddenly felt immensely awkward as he was immersed in the sensations of the couple kissing. Chris’s hand slid lower.
Now then young man, don’t do anything untoward.
The song changed, and the girl pulled away. “This is the only Feral Frequencies song I don’t like. It’s disgusting. Why did you write a song about anal sex?”
Chris sat back and regarded her.
Idiot. At least she is pretty.
Chris! That was uncalled for. She raises a very valid point. All your songs are pretty vulgar.
“It’s not about anal sex.” Chris dangled the verbal hook in front of her and waited.
The girl fell for the trap. “It obviously is. It’s called ‘Show Me Your Tailhole.’ How can that be about anything other than anal sex?”
George felt Chris smiling. “It’s about a relationship with barriers. The phrase ‘Show me your tailhole’ means show me your vulnerability. If you are in love, you should be able to share anything and everything, to tell your partner what you think without fear of persecution or rejection.” Chris reached past his girl to find a half-drunk beer on the table next to her. “The protagonist in the song is literally begging his girl to open up to him and let him have a genuine conversation with her, something they haven’t previously been able to do because she is so caught up on what is right and what is wrong.”
Did Harriet and I ever have a genuine conversation? Maybe I should have asked her to show me her tailhole.
“I never thought about it that way,” the girl said quietly.
And now she is mine.
Reaching up to her throat, Chris pulled her for a kiss.
“The question I have for you is this. Do we have barriers between us?” Chris pulled out a large silver crucifix. “Because I feel a genuine connection with you.”
Christian? There is hope for him yet.
Chris unscrewed the top of the crucifix and poured a small quantity of white powder onto the girl’s soft, white breasts. He leant down, immersing his face in her scent as he snorted it up. George’s mind blanked. He couldn’t tell if he was more outraged by the blasphemy or the debauchery.
The girl was breathing shallowly. “No, there aren’t any barriers between us.”
Chris, to the applause of his bandmate and to George’s utter disgust, tugged down his leather trousers and poured a line of the white powder onto his flaccid—George had felt such relief in his life as his vision spiralled and with a sense of nausea, he returned to his own living room. He looked down; he had blood all over the back of his wrist and had slumped on to the floor. At some point, he must have flailed his arm out and smashed his glass before sliding off the chair.
This is dangerous. I should stop.
George realised with horror that his body had reacted to the scene from Sodom and Gomorrah with appreciation. He felt shame wash over him.
Rising, he found a tea towel to wrap round his bleeding wrist and looked around for a brush and dustpan to clean up the mess. With disgust, he picked up the plastic baggy of little rainbow squares and took it over to the kitchen bin. His hand was halfway down to throwing it away when he bit his lip, thought about it and decided instead to hide it at the back of one of his kitchen cupboards.
They were very expensive. I just won’t use them again.
Even as he said it, he doubted his own words.
The bell above the door jingled as George held it open for Martha. The two of them stepped into the bustling café. This little place had been serving some of the best sandwiches in town since the 1950s. Its retro décor gave it an undeniable charm. Brightly coloured vinyl booths lined the walls, a jukebox in the corner was playing an Elton John track, the scent of strong tea and sweet puddings filled the air.
George ushered Martha into a seat by the window, sliding into the seat opposite her. The waitress came over, taking their order for sandwiches and a pot of tea to share.
Martha looked at him curiously. “All right, George, spill it. You’ve been looking haggard since you arrived at work this morning and the bandage is new. What’s going on?”
George took off his glasses, rubbing them clean with a napkin before replacing them. He took a deep breath, still unsure of how to put the entire experience into words.
“I’ve done it again, Martha,” he carefully said. “I was in Chris Roxx’s mind, at a post-show party. It was… It was too much.”
He launched into a description of the hedonistic party, the ribald crowd, the overbearing music, and then the incident with the groupie. As he spoke, his hands nervously twitched. He tried to explain the horrors of the party but grew ever more disconcerted by Martha’s fascination. He paused before concluding. “It wasn’t for me, Martha. It wasn’t for me at all. I don’t know what I was thinking, I just thought that maybe I could be more than that sad, little man Harriet made me out to be.”
“George! You are a lovely man, don’t say that.” Martha reached over and took his hands into hers.
George shook his head. “I’ve hidden the ‘medicine.’ That world, that fantasy, is too extreme for me. The more time I spend inside his head, the more I think that he is not a very nice man. I’m afraid he was manipulating that poor girl.”
“Oh George, I think these girls have a good idea of what to expect at an after-show party.” Martha smiled gently at him.
“That might be, Martha, but these voyeuristic glimpses into Chris’s world, they don’t mitigate my responsibility. If I am watching these hedonistic—and actually I would go further and say these abusive events, then I am in fact endorsing them.” He leaned back in his chair.
Martha listened patiently. “Okay, I think it’s good that you have stopped. I’m sorry I introduced you to LSD, but I need you to know that it is just a hallucination. You weren’t really in Chris Roxx’s head.”
“I am honestly starting to doubt that. It was all so real.” George turned to thank the waitress who had brought over a cheddar cheese and sliced ham sandwich.
“Back to the usual?” Martha looked pointedly at the sandwich that had been George’s staple diet ever since she’d known him.
“Yes, back to the usual. I like things as I like them. I’m done with experimenting,” George said firmly.
Martha watched him sadly but didn’t say anything. He could feel the disappointment resonating from her, just like Harriet.
I like what I like. I’m traditional. I’m ‘old school.’
They sat in silence as they ate their sandwiches.
So why am I so desperately unhappy?
He looked up and smiled at Martha. At least he had a friend.
The lights of the Rose and Crown glowed warm and inviting against the dark night sky. George quickened his pace, his shoulders hunched against the chill. The promise of a pint and familiar company spurred him on through the cold.
As he stepped inside, the pub embraced him in a wash of heat, laughter, and the faintly yeasty aroma of beer. He sighed with contentment as the door swung shut behind him, sealing out the frosty air.
“Evening, George!” called the ruddy-faced landlord, Tom, from behind the scarred oak bar. “The usual?”
“Please, Tom. It’s been one of those weeks,” George replied gratefully, as he settled onto his favourite barstool. The cracked wood creaked familiarly under him.
Tom chuckled knowingly and drew a pint of bitter, sliding it across the pitted wood into George’s waiting hand. The cold glass was beaded with condensation. George took a thirsty sip, letting the cool liquid soothe his throat.
“How’s the numbers’ racket, then?” asked Tom. Though he feigned interest, scratching his impressive sideburns, George knew Tom well enough to know he was just passing time.
He regaled Tom with a few tales of clients, names redacted, trying to slip inappropriate expenditures past him. Though his work was dull, he tried to instil some humour into his stories. Tom chuckled politely at the appropriate times.
As he talked, George scanned the pub absently. The familiar crowd of regulars filled the mismatched tables and booths. Some watched the football match on the grainy television in the corner, while others chatted amiably in clusters.
One group in particular caught George’s eye, and his cheerful tone faltered. It was his ex-wife Harriet. She was tucked into a corner booth and was sitting next to a man in a hideous floral shirt whispering into his ear conspiratorially. They laughed together and their happiness cut through George like a scythe. George did not recognise the man.
His chest tightened painfully. It had been two years since the divorce, but the shock of seeing Harriet with someone new still gutted him. She looked happy, glowing. During some of their best times, towards the beginning of their marriage, she had looked at him like that. Their ease with each other suggested this was not a new dalliance.
“You all right, George?” Tom’s gruff voice broke the spell. He realised he had trailed off mid-story, transfixed by the sight of his ex-wife canoodling with another man.
“Sorry, fine. Just lost my train of thought,” George mumbled. He took a hasty sip of bitter, trying to wet his dry throat.
Tom glanced over his shoulder, following George’s stare. “Ah, I see.” He grimaced in shared sympathy. “Another round, I think.”
George nodded gratefully as Tom pulled him a fresh pint. He tried to steer the conversation to safer waters, but his gaze was irresistibly drawn back to Harriet’s table.
Just then, she looked up. Her eyes locked with George’s across the pub. He expected to see guilt or surprise at having been caught out with her new beau. Instead, her eyes were playful. She tapped her man on the arm, then rose and headed over to the bar.
“Here comes trouble,” warned Tom.
George took a deep pull from his ale and manufactured a smile for her, masking his grief.
“George! It’s been too long. How have you been?” Harriet put her empty glass down on the bar and motioned for Tom to bring her another round. He dutifully began making a fresh gin and tonic as he listened in on their conversation.
“Very well, thank you. I have been up to my usual shenanigans. A few late nights, the Vortex account, you know the one…”
She laughed, a fake laugh to accompany a fake expression. “That’s wonderful to hear. I’m just having a drink with my mister before we head off to the theatre. The local players are doing a production of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Geoff, that’s my man—” she gestured to Geoff, who raised a glass of red to them both, “—is very bohemian.”
George’s throat bobbed. “Actually, I went to an art gallery the other day with Martha, one of the secretaries from work. It was a most interesting experience. Since then, I’ve really got into my punk music—”
Harriet spat the last remnants of her gin and tonic into her glass, apologised profusely, and then downed the remaining drink. “I beg your pardon. You listen to… what did you say? Punk?” She looked at him with utter disbelief.
“Oh yes, you should check out the latest vinyls from Chris Roxx. I found his recent song, ‘Show me your tailhole,’ to be very illuminating on the importance of honesty in a relationship. You should try it.” With that punctuating remark, George finished the remaining half of his pint in one long gulp. Harriet was lost for words, a first for George. “Anyway, I really must depart. Life waits for no man. It was a pleasure seeing you.”
Harriet stuttered. “Erm, yes, a pleasure to see you too.”
With a farewell to Tom, George strode towards the exit.
The icy night air hit his flushed face like a slap. He sucked in lungfuls of it, letting the cold distract from the churning anger in his gut. His breath escaped in trembling puffs as he walked briskly away from the pub, putting distance between himself and the sight of Harriet and her ‘bohemian’ lover, his previous pledge to never take LSD again was forgotten.
Bohemian? Ha, Geoff couldn’t hold a candle to the antics George got up to in the mind of Chris.
George leant back and felt the now familiar untangling of his mind and self as it reconnected to Chris’s. He braced himself for the cacophony of senses that was Chris’s world. Once he became aware of being in Chris’s body, the hostile silence was deafening. Chris was sitting beside a large desk in silence. A fat and grossly overweight businessman was regarding him coldly as he smoked a fat cigar.
“You see, the thing that amuses me is that you genuinely seemed to think that nobody would find out,” the man sneered.
Fuck, Vincent knows.
What have you done?
“See, your accountant owes me a few favours and, as a result, I know all about your little scheme.” Vincent pulled out his cigar and blew smoke into Chris’s eyes.
“Fuck off Vince, I don’t know what you are talking about. Look, I brought our latest—” Chris was rifling in his jacket pocket.
Vincent reached up to cup his cheek. When Chris pushed away his hand, Vincent slapped him hard. “One letter to HMRC and I could see you in prison. See, I know what you’ve been telling them, and I know what I’ve been paying you.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Chris, calm down. If you go to HMRC first, we could get you a deal.
Vincent smiled. “Don’t worry, you are going to be okay.” His eyes glinted as he looked at Chris in a predatory manner. “I’m going to take good care of you.”
What does he want?
Just walk out of the room, Chris.
“I always take care of you, Chris. You’re my boy, aren’t you?” Vincent opened a cabinet, pouring two large glasses of whisky. He passed one to Chris.
Chris took a deep drink. “Sure Vince, I’ve got your back.”
Vincent paused, examining Chris critically. “What awfully prophetic phrasing, my boy.”
Oh, fuck no.
What’s going on Chris?
George could feel the panic turn to fear.
Get out of there! Call the police!
“There has to be another way.” Chris sat back at Vincent’s desk as his producer approached.
Vincent shook his head. Then emptying his glass, he dropped his voice an octave. “Clothes off.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Get out! Get out! Get out! Run!
George was screaming inside Chris’s mind, his panic echoing Chris’s own as Chris shucked off his jacket and removed his t-shirt. Vincent’s clammy, pudgy hands slid over Chris’s taut, tattooed chest.
Chris saw Vincent give him one last satisfied look before grabbing his shoulders and turning him around. Without warning, he was shoved chest first down onto the desk.
George’s screams of horror warped in scale and it was with shame that a wave of relief washed over him as he escaped the grim fate that had befallen Chris.
As he returned to the real world, he heard a loud banging on the wall. It was his neighbours.
George removed the goat tethers from his wrists and his gag, which hadn’t sufficiently muted his screams, and drank the glass of vodka next to him. When that failed to cleanse his mind of the horror he had felt and witnessed, he resorted to the most powerful mental health healing technique he knew.
He put the kettle on. As the water boiled, George wrestled with his conscience. While he was boiling the kettle, Chris was being blackmailed and raped by his producer.
He needed help. Someone with specific skills. He needed an accountant.
It was time George met Chris face to face.
Chelsea, London, 1971
Kings Road seemed busy to George, though as the time was approaching two in the afternoon, when he finished his journey into the capital, it was quiet by London standards.
The road itself was a contradiction. Statuesque Victorian and Edwardian properties lined the street, which had become vulgar, filthy and loud. The lurid dichotomy of two cultures clashing with each other was utterly disconcerting. The pathway was filled with spikey haired punks clad in leather and red tartan ensembles that only seemed to hold together with the assistance of an ungodly number of zips and safety pins.
The cafés all boasted an extensive coffee collection that was far too complicated for a tea drinker like himself to understand. Stalls and second-hand shops clustered where locals haggled with vendors for clothes that George wouldn’t even use as cleaning rags.
Looking around and listening to the swearing, smoking—and not the cigarettes one smelt back at home either—and swaggering people around him, George felt himself to be in a completely different country. These people were a wholly alien breed, and he plastered an inoffensive smile on his face as he hurried to find Chris’s address. He recognised some of the music from his research and for a while tried to nod his head along to it, but the youths kept looking at him in quite the queer fashion, so he soon stopped that. The sooner he was out of here, the better, as far as he was concerned. A nice pint in his local, then tea and a scone in front of his TV until he inevitably fell asleep.
He held that comforting image in his mind as he pushed through the barbaric throng.
Chris’s door soon appeared in front of him, pock-marked and scratched. Its surface was covered with punk band stickers and painted in red text with the words “Fuck the law”. George almost turned and went home then, but he steadied himself. Setting his shoulders and jutting out his chin, he rapped on the door.
A young man needs my help. I must do this.
The same nervous smile appeared on his face, broader this time and considerably more desperate in appearance.
The door opened and Chris spat on the pavement in front of George. “ What the fuck do you want?” He looked at George with disgust.
“Now listen here, young man. I’ve come a long way to speak to you on a matter of the utmost importance. I’m an accountant.” George pulled himself up to his full height, almost, yet not quite, reaching the same height as the skinny rock star in front of him.
“An accountant?” Chris looked at him warily. “What do you want with me?”
George locked eyes with him. “I believe you know. I’m here to help.”
“Help? Oh, yeah?” Chris wrinkled his nose, then turned and walked back into his house, leaving the door open.
George held out a hand to stop the door from closing and followed him inside. The rooms themselves were as he remembered from his drug induced visits. The décor could best be described as manufactured chaos. Boxes and crates joined threadbare sofas with bottles of vodka, but despite the messy, careless look, it was clean and the bottles were strategically positioned, not scattered. George knew just how hard Chris worked to maintain his punk image despite being quite the neat individual. A grandfather clock stood incongruously in the corner, its loud, rhythmic tick pounding like a heartbeat.
“Have a seat. You’ve got ten minutes to explain what the fuck you know about my finances, then I’m turfing you out.”
George perched cautiously on a crate in the corner of the room as Chris lit up a cigarette. “Chris, this is hard to explain, but I know about your accidental embezzlement and I know what your manager has forced you to do to maintain his silence.” George watched the dumbstruck look cross Chris’s face before he covered it up with a masterful impersonation of contempt.
“Don’t know what you are talking about, mate.” Chris took a deep drag on his cigarette. “You’re full of bollocks.”
“Chris please. You know exactly what I’m talking about.” George raised his eyebrows, then adjusted his glasses on his nose. “Now, what I thought we could discuss today is how we would approach this with HMRC and your band mates and whether a payment plan might be necessary.”
“How would you even know this? Not that it’s true.” Chris leaned forwards, anger glinting in his eyes. “Eh?”
“That’s a little harder to explain. See, I have a skill. When I take LSD, I can enter your mind. I hear, see and erm… Well, I feel everything you do.”
“All right, you almost had me for a moment there.” Chris rose. “Get out before I batter you.”
Hastily, George put out his hands. “Wait. I can prove it.”
“Yeah? This’ll be good.” Chris folded his arms. “Go on then, read my mind.”
“It’s a bit more than that.” George brought out a baggy of LSD to an incredulous look from Chris.
“Do you mind if I sample some of this?” He smiled. “Then I have my notepad here and my fountain pen. When I’m in your body, my body will still move around. I just don’t have much control over it, but I’ll try to write down your thoughts as you think them.” George shrugged. “As long as you remain silent, I’ll write whatever you think. Just please, nothing too fruity. I’m quite the sensitive soul.”
Chris scoffed. “Then you definitely haven’t been in my head.”
“I most certainly have. I didn’t say I enjoyed it.”
“Fine. Take your LSD, but you are leaving the baggy here after for me.
“Of course, this is my last time using drugs.” George prepared his notepad and pen on his lap, then took a tab from the baggy and let it dissolve on his tongue.
Chris snorted. “Yeah, last time, never heard that before.” He grabbed the bag out of George’s hand as George leaned back, resting his head on the headrest.
“If my hand falls off the notepad, just pop it back on for me. I don’t want to get ink on my trousers.”
“Yeah, I can imagine how that might ruin your day.” Sarcasm dripped from Chris’s lips as he sat in his tattered apparel.
George watched bleary eyed as Chris disappeared, reappearing with a tinny of cheap lager. George could see auras appearing around whichever object he looked at.
“Well, look at you, you must have the good stuff there,” Chris looked hungrily at the baggy which he’d snaffled from George, but he continued to refrain from taking any.
George’s head lolled, getting heavier as he felt his mind sinking. Chris’s voice sounded as though it was deep underwater, drifting away from him, he tried to clutch onto the words. The words lacked meaning. He might as well have been trying to catch beams of moonlight.
A wave of fear filled George as he found himself looking at his own body through Chris’s eyes. He looked so old, collapsed onto the crate and propped up against the wall.
Great, now I’ve got an unconscious old man in my house.
George went to write on his pad, saying the words as he did so, “You are somewhat dismayed to find an older man unconscious in your flat.”
I can hear myself! Is that what I sound like?
Granted, his words were mumbled, as if he was talking in his sleep, but they were audible with sufficient clarity.
“You could have guessed that.” Chris moved forward and looked at the pad. The words were an illegible scrawl. Even George couldn’t understand them.
So much for that plan.
Looks like my secrets are still safe.
“You are relieved that your secrets are still safe.” George’s head jerked with indignation. “You think I’m making this up? Now, look here, young man.”
Chris stood silently, sipping his can, watching the seemingly unconscious body twitch and mumble.
If you can hear this, then I am thinking of the Queen, wearing nothing more than a Union Jack streaking across Trafalgar Square.
George’s body jerked like a marionette. “You horrible young man. I’m absolutely not saying that. Show some respect to our monarch.”
Fuck me… you are in here, aren’t you?
“That is precisely what I’ve been trying to explain to you.” The level of frustration that George was feeling, just didn’t come across at all in his sleepy, monotonous voice.
He’ll know about Vincent. He has to go.
“I do know about Vincent. I am here to help,” George tried to explain, as Chris threw his drained can to one side and approached him. “That’ll stain, Chris.”
He must die.
“What? No, what are you doing? I’m here to help.” Desperation mounted as George watched Chris approach his helpless body. “Look, let’s talk about–”
I’ll have to bury him next to Vincent.
You killed Vincent?
Chris wrapped his hands around George’s throat. It was a strange sensation. He could see his face mottling red, but George felt nothing. His limbs flailed as he tried to thump Chris, but controlling his body from afar was an impossible task. He could feel his aimless fists thrashing against Chris’s face with little effect.
A sharp gasp escaped Chris’s lips, more from shock than pain. George could feel the world spin as the edges of his vision blurred.
My fountain pen…
George could hear a roaring in his ears.
The fucker stabbed me.
You tried to strangle me!
Chris reached up, his fingers trembling, clamping his hand over the spot where the pen had pierced his neck. From the spurting blood the sharp nib must have hit an artery. It felt unreal, like a nightmare he couldn’t wake up from. George could feel Chris slipping and the floor coming up to meet him as he fell.
I’m dying… I’m fucking dying.
Chris’s last thoughts were of rage, of helplessness and bitter anger at the world. The cold embrace of the exposed wooden floor planks was almost welcoming as the darkness claimed him, the ticking of the old grandfather clock a fading lullaby.
Guildford, Surrey, 1971
The living room lights were off. George hadn’t noticed the sun going down as he sat in his favourite chair, his eyes staring vacantly at a television which was playing a programme that he wasn’t aware of. Next to him sat a cold cup of tea, its surface skin hardening.
The doorbell rang.
It woke George from his reverie. He got up stiffly and went to the front door. His colleague and friend, Martha was standing outside in the drizzle. She beamed at him.
“Can I come inside?”
George was suddenly uncomfortably aware that he hadn’t shaved as he stroked his stubble. “Of course, sorry my dear, come in out of that rain.”
Martha came in and took off her boots, hanging her jacket on the hook by the door.
“Come and have a seat.” George gestured to the living room.
Martha followed him, but instead of taking a seat, she picked up his cup of cold tea and headed to the kitchen. “Are you still taking sugar with your tea?”
“Oh no, I have had enough excitement in my life. Just a splash of milk please, dear.” George sat down again on his chair, before the etiquette of the situation breached his mental fugue, and he bounced up. “Martha, no, let me make the tea.”
“Just you sit down. I’m almost done.” Minutes later, she emerged with two steaming cups. “I bet you haven’t been eating properly either. Everyone in the office is worried about you. I expected to find you with broken bones, or dead from an overdose. What is wrong, George? Whatever have you been doing with yourself?”
George sat quietly for a moment before taking a fortifying sip of tea. He looked up at Martha and said with heartbreaking intensity. “I was inside Chris when he died. I felt every moment of it. I felt his final heartbeat.”
They sat silently for a moment while Martha tried to absorb the enormity of what George must be feeling. There was nothing she could say. Instead, she reached over and held his hand.
They sat there for a while, just sharing companionship, before Martha rose.
“I’m going to get you some nice fish and chips, get a proper meal inside you, and then see if you can’t get a good night’s sleep.” She patted his shoulder. “Come back to work when you are ready. I think it’ll be good for you. In the meantime, I’ll drop by each evening and check up on you.”
George gave a wan smile. “You are a good girl, Martha. You’re going to make somebody very happy one day.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Or not. Either way is fine by me.” As George started to rise, she held out her hand. “It’s OK, I’ll see myself out and I’ll be back with the chips soon. You are going to be all right, George.”
He watched as the front door closed behind her.
She’s a bit of alright.
George’s eyes widened in horror.
If you enjoyed this free short story, then please consider Tales of the Macabre, Vol. 1. My first collected works on Amazon containing sixteen short stories and novellas by Newton Webb.