The Shrieking Flesh 

Chapter One

Ken Preston

23 April 2024

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A German expressionist illustration of a dark angel with frayed wings.

Shoulders hunched and head down against the driving rain, Arthur dashed down Willoughby Road. In his hand he held two coins, a two pence piece and a ten pence piece. Would it be enough? Mr Jakel, sometimes he said the bare minimum. And then there were the other times, when he was in an expansive mood. Philosophical.

Bloody hell, why does it have to piss it down every time I set foot outside?

One day soon, when he made that big score, Arthur was sodding off somewhere warm and dry.

Somewhere it didn’t rain all the sodding time.

Arthur turned the corner on to High Top Crescent and pulled up short.

Bloody typical! Why me, eh? Why the bloody hell is it always me?

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The man inside the red telephone box stood hunched over the payphone, his porkpie hat dripping water and his raincoat stained with dark patches from the downpour. Arthur could hear him talking, his voice muffled by the tiny panes of glass.

Arthur shuffled up close to the telephone box. If he stood close to the door, he was sheltered from the rain, but the man inside had his back to Arthur and couldn’t see him. If Arthur stood on the opposite side of the telephone box, then the man would see him, and maybe cut his call short. But then Arthur would be in the full force of the wind and the rain.

Sodding hell!

How often had he told Marge that they needed a bloody telephone in the house?

Arthur decided to stay where he was, sheltered from the rain, at least a little. He tucked his head down and hunched his shoulders up, and he looked at the two coins in his hand.

Would the two pence piece be enough?

Or would Mr Jakel want to talk?

‘That’s not what we agreed!’

Arthur’s head snapped up at the muffled shout.

‘No, I won’t do it.’ The man inside the telephone box had turned his head to the left, and Arthur saw him wipe at his nose with a grey handkerchief. ‘Why would you even suggest something like that?’

Arthur checked his watch. Raindrops on the glass blurred the tiny hands and the numbers. He wiped his sleeve across it.

Four o’clock. Bloody hell, how long was he going to be?

Arthur tapped on the glass and pointed at his watch when the man turned to look at him.

He turned his back on Arthur. ‘Why me? Why do I have to do it?’

Bloody hell, mate, quit your sodding whining. You think you’ve got problems? You should try living in my shoes for a bit.

Arthur flinched at a clattering behind him. A black cat jumped off the fence and dashed for shelter.

He knew how it felt.

The man inside the telephone box smashed the receiver back into its cradle. He stuffed his grey handkerchief against his mouth and sobbed once.

C’mon, mate, you can’t stay there all day.

Just as Arthur was about to tap on the glass again, the man opened the door and stepped outside. With one haunted look at Arthur, he turned and dashed into the rain.

Inside the telephone box it stank of piss and sweat. Arthur examined his two coins. Best go for ten pence. Mr Jakel hated interruptions when he was in mid-flow.

Arthur lifted the receiver and dialled the number, the one that had never been written down, the number that didn’t exist. As always, the connection rang seven times before Mr Jakel picked up.

Arthur pushed the ten pence piece into the slot.

‘Yes?’

‘Herman’s found her.’

The connection broke, and Arthur was left listening to the dial tone.

He replaced the receiver back in its cradle.

He looked at the two pence piece in his hand.

‘Sodding hell.’

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