The Shrieking Flesh

Chapter Three

Ken Preston

25 April 2024

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

The window frame rattled in the wind. Like a metronome, out of time, tap-tap, tap, tap-tap-tap.

Tony kept glancing at it, like it was annoying the hell out of him, but he couldn't be bothered to get up and secure it.

His wife Sheila, all peroxide hair, false nails and enough makeup on her face to fill a beautician’s bag, she smoked a cigarette.

Herman and Lori were sitting on the opposite side of a glass-topped coffee table. Herman’s face was glowing from having scrubbed all the clown makeup off. His legs swung off the edge of the chair.

‘He’s late,’ Herman growled.

‘You'd do well to keep your mouth shut.’ Sheila tapped ash into a saucer.

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‘I'm just saying, that’s all.’ Herman smiled. ‘We’ve been sat here like schmucks all afternoon. It’s not polite, if you ask me.’

‘Did you not hear Sheila?’ Tony turned his attention from the window. ‘No one’s asking you your thoughts on nothing.’

‘That’s a double negative,’ Lori said.

‘You what?’ Tony stubbed his cigarette butt out in the saucer.

‘You said no one was asking Herman nothing, but that’s not possible.’

‘You got a cigarette?’ Herman said to Lori.

Lori picked the packet off the glass topped coffee table and slid two cigarettes out. She handed one to Herman and lit them both up.

‘What are you talking about?’ Tony said. ‘It’s what I just said, right? No one’s asking the

midget nothing.’

‘Someone can ask something.’ Smoke billowed from Lori’s mouth as she spoke. ‘And no one can ask anything. But if no one asks nothing, that means …’ She scrunched her face up in thought and took a deep drag on the cigarette. ‘… well, I suppose that means everyone is asking everything. Which is impossible.’

Tony looked at Sheila. ‘Do you have a single bloody clue what she’s going on about?’

Sheila tapped her temple with a nicotine-stained finger. ‘She’s got a screw loose, she has.’ Sheila took a good look at Lori. ‘I bet she’s got a nice pair of tits on her, underneath that jumper. You should wear something a bit tighter love, show off your credentials. You’d go far.’ Her chuckle was deep and throaty.

‘Herman’s going to teach me how to be a clown,’ Lori said.

Herman sat up a little straighter and grinned.

A door opened and the man in the suit stepped inside. ‘Sheila, Mr Jakel sends his apologies, and says he won’t need you today after all.’

‘Tell Mr Jakel there’s no need for apologies.’ Sheila stubbed out her cigarette in the overflowing saucer and stood up.

‘Mr … um … Herman, Mr Jakel asks that you remain here for the meanwhile,’ the man in the suit said.

Tony stood up. ‘Come on then, darling, looks like it’s you and me.’

‘Me?’ Lori looked at Herman.

‘You’re off to see the wizard.’ Herman grinned, but the grin looked a little strained, a little forced.

Lori stood up. ‘I guess I’ll see you soon.’

Herman’s grin grew in confidence. ‘And I’ll show you how to be a clown. Only beginner’s stuff, mind. Clowning’s a dangerous business.’