Gerri R. Gray
“You can’t see them,” I said to the squirming girl. “But trust me, my dear, they are there. I know this for a fact. They’re all around us—watching… hungering… waiting for their moment to feast upon human skin. Why, a sweet, young thing like you is nothing more than a tasty morsel to them! That’s why they need to be destroyed. And I do my best. Don’t fool yourself into thinking they aren’t there simply because you can’t see them with your naked eye. I guarantee you, tonight, as you lie sleeping in the darkness, your mind entangled in the strands of a dream, those things will be crawling all over your body and your pretty little face. Oh, there will be thousands, if not millions of them, feasting on your dead skin!”
The girl’s watery blue eyes widened. She opened her delicate pink mouth and emitted a high-pitched shriek before running from the room, terrified.
Humming a tune to myself, I picked up my rag and can of lemon-scented furniture polish and happily resumed dusting the intricately carved antique tables and chairs that lined the walls in the great hall of the English manor house.
A few moments later, I heard loud and hurried footsteps ring out as cantankerous Mrs. Ella Strumpshaw stormed into the room, a scowl upon her perpetually unpleasant face. She marched right over to me, came to an abrupt halt, and crossed her arms. Rage flickered in her beady eyes.
“How dare you upset my granddaughter!” she hissed with caustic fury. “I will not tolerate having that young girl frightened out of her wits by you and your idiotic stories about flesh-eating monsters! Is that understood?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied to the old harpy in my humblest sounding voice. “But begging your pardon, ma’am, they weren’t idiotic monster stories that I told to the child. I was merely explaining to her the facts about dust mites. A child of her age should be made aware of such things. That is, if she’s to be raised properly.”
“Of all the impertinence!” thundered the old woman, as a vein on her temple pulsed violently. “Need I remind you, miss, that you are nothing more than a paid domestic servant here? You’ve been in my employ for less than two weeks, and in that short period of time you’ve demonstrated to me your insolence a number of times. You’ve traumatized my granddaughter—an impressionable child of refined sensibilities—upset the household on numerous occasions, and managed to unnerve the members of my Ladies Auxiliary Society with that strange behavior you exhibit. I will not tolerate strange behavior in this house!”
Feigning shame, I hung my head and noticed a thin layer of dust had formed on the floor. It appeared to be moving as though it were alive and breathing. Unable to look away from such a peculiar sight, I watched as the dust particles moved about. They seemed to be trying to spell out a message.
“Well?” Mrs. Strumpshaw asked, angrily. “What have you to say for yourself? Can you give me one good reason why I shouldn’t terminate your employment? Well? Speak up, girl! I’m a busy woman and haven’t got all day for dawdling housekeepers.”
“I’m terribly sorry, ma’am. Please don’t discharge me,” I groveled, my eyes remaining fixed on the moving dust to which Mrs. Strumpshaw was clearly oblivious. “I promise to amend my ways. Honest I will. You won’t have any more trouble out of me.”
I glanced up and searched Mrs. Strumpshaw’s gargoyle face for a reaction. I didn’t think it was possible for her sourpuss features to look any sourer than they normally did; but, to my amazement, she proved me wrong. In her disgusted sounding voice, she barked out an order for me to return to my duties and then she strolled away, her persnickety nose high in the air.
After breathing a sigh of relief, my eyes returned to the floor; I could scarcely believe what I was seeing! Incredibly, the dust had formed itself into a single, six-letter word, which I knew was meant for my eyes only. Was it some kind of warning? Was it an omen of things to come? The message was all in capital letters. It said: MURDER.
It was shortly after seven-thirty that evening when I retired to my quarters to knit myself a lovely new dust cloth. I soon felt my eyelids growing heavy. With a yawn, I set my knitting on top of the small table next to my bed, burrowed underneath the covers, and switched off the light. No sooner had the blackness consumed the room, than the back of my head sank into the marshmallow softness of my pillow and I drifted off into slumber.
Being the light sleeper that I am, I was awakened by the sound of heavy, creaking footsteps crossing the floor. My eyes sprung open. I gasped. Slowly creeping toward me in the darkness was a hulking figure! Like a mad piston, my heart began to race. My chest filled with dread. My mouth opened and I attempted to unleash a scream, but no sound escaped my trembling lips. I tried to spring from the bed and make a run for it, but I was unable to move. I was paralyzed from head to toe with fear. I suddenly felt a man’s hand clamp itself over my mouth.
“Shhh. Don’t make a sound and I won’t hurt you. Do we have a deal?”
Darkness masked the man’s face, but I recognized the whispering voice. It belonged to none other than Mrs. Strumpshaw’s ogre of a husband, Lyle—or ‘Vile Lyle’ as I surreptitiously referred to him. I could also smell the pungent odor of alcohol on his breath. Holding back my vomit, I nodded my head and he cautiously removed his hand from mouth.
“That’s a good girl,” he said, as though praising a dog for its obedience. “Now, I’ve a little proposition to make that I’m confident will benefit the both of us. But my wife must never find out. Is that understood?”
I again nodded my head, too stunned to be able to form words. By now my eyes had adjusted themselves to the dark and I could make out Mr. Strumpshaw’s aesthetically unappealing face.
“It seems my wife is rather displeased with your work ethic. You apparently did or said something today that ruffled the old girl’s tail feathers, and she’s hellbent on having you fired.” A muffled chuckle escaped his mouth. “Now, I can see to it that your housekeeping position here is a secure one… if you’re nice to me.”
He began to stroke my hair with his wrinkled hand. His touch made me cringe.
“If you aren’t nice,” he continued, “then I’m afraid I’ll have no other alternative but to let my wife dismiss you. I’m sure you wouldn’t want that, now would you? The choice is up to you.”
Rage coursed through my veins, negating any fear I had felt up to that point. “I’d rather be fired, or even dead, than to let a vile pig like you touch my flesh! I’m sure your wife would be very interested to hear about your sordid little proposition. And don’t think I won’t hesitate to tell her. Now get out of this room at once before I start screaming on the top of my lungs!”
The vile one snickered. “Go right ahead. I’ll simply tell her that you’re mad—out of your mind. It won’t take much to convince her of that. She already suspects you of lunacy and won’t believe a word you say. However, the police will believe me when I tell them that I caught you trying to steal my wife’s expensive jewelry.”
It was at that moment I reached my breaking point. I slapped Mr. Strumpshaw across the face with all my might. He stood there for a moment, appearing stunned by my physical reaction, before returning the slap. He proceeded to rip the front of my nightgown open, exposing my breasts. I began to scream but he climbed on top of me and covered my mouth with one hand, while hurriedly unzipping his trousers with the other.
My stomach was churning from the stench of his fermented breath panting into my face. I felt so helpless… doomed. And then something snapped deep within me and I was overcome by a strange numbness. I felt as though I were hovering outside of my body, watching my fingers wrap themselves around the sharp knitting needle sitting atop my bedside table and drive it into the grunting man’s eye.
As he howled with pain, I pushed him off me and he tumbled onto the floor with blood pumping out his impaled eye. I switched on the light and made a dash for the door. I suddenly felt the drunken man’s hand latch onto one of my ankles and he pulled me down to join him on the floor.
“You’ll pay for this, dearly, you goddamn bitch!” Mr. Strumpshaw vowed. “I’ll see that you rot in prison for the rest of your life!”
I yanked the knitting needle from his eye. “You won’t be seeing anything!” I cried out, plunging the needle into the bastard’s other eye and then pulling it out, a warm gush of blood staining my hand.
Mr. Strumpshaw howled again and began rolling around on the floor like a man possessed, clutching at his bloody eye sockets and hurling a score of profanities and threats at me that I knew he would never carry out. I felt my fist tighten around the knitting needle, as though it had a will of its own, and I thrust it into the man’s heart. It was like driving a stake into a vampire. I watched as his arms flailed and his body spasmed violently. He gasped a final breath and then he was dead.
Reality melted all around me like winter’s frosty kiss when the sun’s swelter brings its demise. Nothing seemed real. My mind was afloat in a dream-like haze, and I was unable to feel my feet touching the floor as I walked to the bathroom to wash the blood from my hands. I suddenly spotted a figure standing in the doorway that connected my sleeping quarters to the hallway. It was human in its shape, but not composed of flesh and bone as you or I. Rather, it was a composition of millions—perhaps even trillions—of dust mites. I stared at it, mesmerized. Without a word, this horrible creature beckoned me to follow it. I felt like I was in some sort of a hypnotic trance, and I obeyed without resistance. It led me through the dark halls and stairwells of the manor house until we arrived at the master bedroom.
Mrs. Strumpshaw was fast asleep on her king-size bed, an opened hardcover copy of Genocide for the Masses resting on her chest. I stealthily crept over to her bed and gathered up the book, taking great care not to wake the snoring she-beast underneath it. Well aware that the deed I was destined to carry out would most likely thwart any chances of a raise, I swung the book with all my might into Mrs. Strumpshaw’s face, instantly transforming her persnickety nose into a bloody rubbish heap of shattered nasal bones, fractured cartilage, and mangled mucous membranes. Her eyes flew open and a hair-raising scream vaulted from her lungs. I immediately grabbed one of her satin-encased pillows and pushed it down over her face.
Pillows are ideal breeding grounds for dust mites. Did you know that approximately one-third of your pillow’s weight contains dead skin, dust mites, and their poop? It’s disgusting, but I assure you quite true.
Gasping for air, Mrs. Strumpshaw thrashed about like a fish against a hook, pounding on my arms with her fists and clawing at my flesh with those perfectly manicured fingernails of hers. The harder that old witch fought against me, the harder I mashed that shiny pillow into her face, relentless in my endeavor to put her out of her misery.
I don’t remember exactly how long it took before Mrs. Strumpshaw stopped struggling. It seemed like it took forever to smother the life out of her, and I recall my hands and wrists growing tired from the constant pressure. I read somewhere that it takes the average human seven minutes to die from complete loss of oxygen intake. Mrs. Strumpshaw, however, wasn’t your average person; she was rotten to the core. That kind doesn’t die easily. You have to work a bit harder to put them down.
I have no clear memory of what happened after that. It’s like a light bulb in my brain switched off and everything faded to black.
When the police arrived at the manor house the following morning, they were met by the smell of death. With their guns drawn, they followed a trail of smeared blood leading from the master bedroom down to the drawing room, where they found me diligently performing my daily cleaning duties as usual. I’m proud to say there wasn’t a single speck of dust anywhere to be found! The officers, however, were aghast to see Mrs. Strumpshaw’s disfigured and decapitated head mounted atop my dust mop’s wooden handle. However did it get there, I wonder?
It took them a little longer to find Mr. Strumpshaw’s head, which had mysteriously gone missing. It was eventually located when one of the policemen, who needed to relieve his bladder, raised the lid of the toilet. As soon as I heard his horrified cry of “Oh my God!” resonate from the bathroom, I knew he had hit the jackpot!
I was arrested, jailed, and put on trial, which was given unprecedented coverage in newspapers from London to New York. The press, in their perpetual pursuit of sensationalism, dubbed me “The Killer Maid.” Personally, I would have preferred something with a bit more panache—The Dust Mite Slayer Extraordinaire has a much nicer ring to it, wouldn’t you agree? But I digress.
Getting back to the trial, the entire ordeal was a humiliating experience to say the least. Each day, from sun up to sun down, my assertion of innocence fell upon deaf ears; my lifetime devotion to mastering the intricacies of housekeeping impressed not a single soul in the courtroom. It soon became evident to me that everybody involved in the case—from the lawyers to the judge to the men and women of the jury—all deemed me to be insane. Insane! How absurd. The truth of the matter is that those people are the ones whose sanity must be questioned! I am the sanest person I’ve ever met.
But, nonetheless, I was sent away to an asylum to live amongst the blathering bedlamites and other pitiable wretches cast out of the so-called “normal” world. It was a dismal place, to say the least. The padded, dungeon-like room, where I was kept in the beginning, reeked of urine, vomit, and despair. Outside the locked metal door with its barred rectangular window, a seemingly endless corridor, the color of green stinkbugs, reverberated with endless sobbing, screaming, moaning and mumbling. I was forced to undergo electro-convulsive therapy, hydrotherapy, insulin coma therapy, and an array of terrifying mind-altering drugs. It was enough to drive anyone stark raving mad! Not to mention all those revolting dust particles floating about everywhere, defiantly clinging to everything in sight, mercilessly taunting me, whispering their foul obscenities in my ears.
But all that is behind me now and envelops me with a feeling of un-reality when I think back upon it. In a curious way, it’s almost like the fading fragments of a hazy dream when rays of morning sunlight spill down the narrow streets of the city and furiously break through the cracks of the shutters.
A cold wind tousled my hair as I climbed the brick steps leading to the front door of the massive English Tudor mansion. My hand was reaching for the heavy iron doorknocker when something caught my eye. I paused and looked down, and that’s when I spotted the newspaper lying near the door, dead leaves gathered around it. I knelt down to pick it up. A headline on its front page screamed out in bold, black letters: KILLER MAID ESCAPES ASYLUM AFTER GRISLY MURDER RAMPAGE! Below it, the subhead read: Two Doctors, Three Nurses and Security Guard Dead.
Grisly indeed, but I assure you, dear friend, it was most necessary. Dust mites are multiplying in every nook and cranny as we speak.
I’ve always been a huge advocate for occupational therapy. Point in case: If it had not been for my therapist thoughtfully assigning me to light housekeeping chores around the asylum, heaven only knows how long I might have remained a prisoner trapped behind those high iron gates and walls of moss-covered stone. A shot of aerosol furniture polish in the eyes to induce temporary blindness, followed by a good bashing to the side of the head with the can, works wonders in dire situations.
Whoever would have guessed that furniture polish could be so wonderfully lethal?
Accompanying the lurid news story was a large, black and white picture of yours truly—and not at all a very flattering one, I don’t mind telling you. I truly wanted to spare my potential new employer any needless consternation, so as a courtesy to him, I folded up the newspaper and tucked it safely away into one of the compartments of my large handbag. It would have been very inconsiderate of me not to.
With that out of the way, I proceeded to knock on the door. A minute or two passed before the door opened partway and a bespectacled man with a graying mustache and balding head peered out at me.
“Mister Dangledown?” I enquired.
He nodded his head.
I introduced myself, using a fictitious name, of course. “I’m here to apply for the housekeeping position you have advertised in the newspaper. I’m experienced, dependable, and confident that you won’t find a housekeeper more dedicated to the ongoing fight against dust than I am.”
The door opened fully and the man motioned with his hand for me to enter. My footsteps echoed as I stepped into the expansive foyer. The walls were covered with brown paneling and aged tapestries, and the cold marble beneath my feet was what I envisioned the floor inside a mausoleum to be like. An antique oak table with an octagonal top stood in the middle of the room. Above it, hung a medieval-looking chandelier of black wrought iron like the sword of Damocles.
I could sense there were dust mites lurking about in the shadowy corners.
“My, what a grand old house you have here,” I complimented as my eyes scanned the opulent surroundings. “And so tastefully decorated, I might add. I just adore working in these old mansions. They possess such charm and character… and copious amounts of dust. But that, of course, is the reason I’m here… to rid you of your dust problem. You might say I’m on a mission.”
Mister Dangledown shut the front door and locked it. “You sound perfect for the job,” he declared. “Just the type of housekeeper I’ve been searching for. Good help is so difficult to find, and to keep, these days! I’ve gone through so many housekeepers in the past few months I’ve lost count. You see, they just keep dying and I have to keep burying their bodies in the rose garden. It’s turned into quite a cemetery out there! But it’s getting to the point where I’m running out of room.”
“I just adore roses,” I said.
Mister Dangledown informed me that I was hired and shook my hand. That’s when I noticed the dried blood underneath his fingernails. My new employer smiled at me, and I smiled back at him. I instinctively knew we were going to get along like a house on fire.
Gerri R. Gray adores the absurd and the abnormal; therefore, that’s what she writes about. That’s what she needs to write about. Her debut novel, The Amnesia Girl, was published by HellBound Books in 2017. Her second and third books, Gray Skies of Dismal Dreams and The Graveyard Girls, respectively, were published in 2018. Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Beautiful Tragedies; Demons, Devils & Denizens of Hell 2; EconoClash; Deadman’s Tome Cthulhu Christmas Special: Other Lovecraftian Yuletide Tales; and Mixed Bag of Horror.