Speaking Without Words by Stephen Fitzpatrick
Ten stories have been selected for the shortlist in our short story competition, Legends of the Fall. We will publish two per day this week and reveal the winner on Friday
There was silence, heavier than normal, broken by one of the men: “People go weird don’t they?”
“I mean, in the end…when it’s all done, they do weird things”
There was further silence and then a sigh from the other, followed by a grunt and back-handed chin-scratch: “let’s get on with it”.
The cassettes went into black bags without comment, to be unceremoniously dumped as obsolete; the Gameboy and cartridges into a backpack, for a nephew, a blind-eye turned to a victimless crime. The towers of tapes were demolished, speedily hurled into bags, another job waited elsewhere that day if they were done before lunch; the towers fell, faster and faster, until a sudden freeze in work; there, standing at the bottom of the empty triangle, still surrounded by a few shallow layers of tapes, was an little toy Indian, brightly-painted and barely an inch high.
The back of his neck had been melted, allowing the head to be bent back so the eyes stared straight upwards; it had been stood in the dark well at the centre of the tapes for months, yearning upwards at the triangle of light with its half-melted face framed by a twisted headdress.
“Ah, now” whispered one, “Ah now, that’s a bit much”
“One of ‘em probably had OCD, couldn’t leave a mess” said the other, pointedly ignoring the contempt on the others face. “Just keep going, the lads’ll get a laugh from it later - remember that lad who left a note saying he’d hid fifties in some of those black-sacks? Some people just want to make us dance.”
They demolished the towers into the bags and buried the maimed soldier in the rubble, emptying the living room utterly. The light was clicked off and the door closed.
The toilet provided no surprises, already emptied of everything but a single half-finished roll of paper and a can of air-freshener, the can standing in the dead centre of the cistern lid. The room was sacked in two deft movements, both items in bags in seconds, so swiftly that no one ever saw the faint impression of a smiling face, merely three circles and a curved line, stamped onto the roll. The light was clicked off and the door closed.
The door to the kitchen opened and they stood suspended, suddenly unwilling to cross the threshold. There, in the middle of the blue and red interlocking tiles of the floor, in an otherwise immaculate room, a glass of foul, curdled milk and a plate of mouldy cookies sat like Newgrange, eternally waiting. Before them, stuck to the ground on one end and bent so as to be readable from the door, was a small piece of yellow paper, on which, in heavy black pen, someone had printed in thick letters “WELCOME”.
Reminding themselves that the occupants had been gone months, that people were weird, that the food had probably been grand when they left, that the lack of dust was only due to the lack of humans shedding skin, that they were in the right, that people make their own choices, that there had to be consequences, that there was help out there, that there was enough light that if the electricity went they’d still see, that this was just another property owned by a sullen man that…desperate comforts flooded and swam and swarmed as they got to work.