THE TYPEWRITER by Yvonne Lang
As soon as he saw it, Greg knew he had to have it. It just called to him from the antique shop’s window and it seemed like a quirky solution to his current problems. The price tag had one more digit in it than he would have liked, but he deserved a treat after the last few weeks.
Hours later Greg was heaving the shiny typewriter from his car boot into his office. Thankfully his office was on the ground floor, the thing weighed a ton. As sweat trickled down his back and perspiration plastered his face, Greg felt a tiny grain of doubt nagging at him. This typewriter cost more than double his laptop, weighed three times as much and had a tenth of the functions. Maybe he had made a mistake, a rash decision when he was in a strange place in his life? They say you shouldn’t make big life changes immediately following a bereavement. Yet this was a small change, and Greg was hoping going back to basics would help him get over his writers’ block.
He needed something to jump start the literary part of his brain—bills were pouring in at twice the rate of condolences. The bloody insurance people were also trying to wriggle their way out of paying on his wife’s life insurance—purporting it might be a suicide and therefore not a valid claim. How utterly ridiculous. Greg knew Aly had not killed herself. Who on earth ever committed suicide by drowning in a bath? What a ridiculous way to end it all. Any drugs in her system were irrelevant, Aly had died of drowning, not an overdose. He wasn’t sure how long the insurance company could draw out their pathetic procrastination and excuses; but he was going to have to get some written work sent off, accepted and paid for if he didn’t want to live off beans on toast.
The relief of getting the typewriter to his desk was huge, and Greg let the expensive burden drop a bit too readily. There was a loud bang and all the keys rattled wildly at the impact. Greg winced and checked the typewriter for damage. It really would have been a waste of money if he’d broken it before he’d even typed a letter on it. The old machine was robust though, it seemed fine. There was a gauge in his desk surface though. Oh well, the desk was the cheaper of the two. He rearranged his lamp, pen pot and various computer equipment to make room for his new pride and joy. He stepped back and took in his little writing nook. He felt like a regular Stephen King. Greg was sure he could write something genius, or at least good enough for publication.
He went to fetch a cup of coffee then got to work. He had to scour his brain at first, but loved the novelty of the clickety clack of the typewriter. The atmosphere seemed to be helping as he soon got into the swing of things and was churning out ideas. His fingers were flying over the keys and it felt great to get his creative juices flowing again.
He’d barely been able to write a paragraph after Aly died. Everyone had told him it was perfectly normal; grief took time to process, he had to give himself time. Greg could not bring himself to admit in front of anyone except his two closest friends that he was surprised his writing was being affected, as he was not sad that his wife had died. He was relieved. They had not gotten along in ages and divorce was about to be filed. Aly had once thrown a crystal vase at his head for coming home drunk. He could scarcely imagine what such an unreasonable woman would be like during a divorce battle. Organising her affairs after her death had been a lot simpler than the act of divorce. His wife’s bath tub slip had been a Godsend to him. Still, it would be crass to say that to anyone other than his friends Danny and Mike—who knew exactly what sort of woman Aly was. One not to be messed with and one not to be missed. Their verbal arguments had escalated to physical on more than one occasion recently—he still had a bruise on his wrist. He was glad she was out of the house—and that he didn’t have to split it with her.
Feeling exceptionally pleased with the bits and bobs he had rattled off so far, Greg stacked them neatly to the side and put his jellyfish paperweight on top of them. Wanting to celebrate getting his writing mojo back he decided to see if Danny and Mike were free for a trip to the pub. Whatever life threw at him, he always felt better when the three amigos were together. Aly hadn’t liked Danny and Mike; he should have taken that as an alarm bell and not married her. Still, she was gone now. Greg pulled out his phone.
The next morning, Greg awoke with a severe headache. He had had such a restless night, plagued by nightmares. He remembered tossing and turning a lot, as well as a sense of being frightened. The uneasy feeling lingered but Greg could not remember any details of the disturbing dream. Maybe his drinking was making him forget his dreams as well as parts of reality.
As he got older, he seemed to be losing his tolerance for alcohol—despite all the practice. Aly had often told him to grow up and that he shouldn’t be drinking so much at his age, that he should be more responsible. She would purposefully be loud around the house when he was nursing a hangover. Yet if he complained that her barely used gym membership was draining their bank account, or questioned why a handbag cost so much he was ‘being controlling’. Apparently it was acceptable for her to tell him who he should be friends with and what liquids he could put into his body though. She had been a woman oblivious to her double standards.
He, Danny and Mike—the three amigos as they’d been known since secondary school—had had an absolute belter last night. Greg had vague memories of participating in karaoke. The night out had definitely been worth the hangover, and at least now he was widowed he could come home to peace. He was going to have a fry up without being nagged about his cholesterol. It had been wonderful to be out with the amigos and able to let go—not having to pretend to be grieving for a woman he was glad to be rid of.
After a gloriously unhealthy fry up Greg decided he needed a shower, his stale sweaty smell was managing to offend himself. He really must have thrashed about during the night to work up a sweat.
Greg paused with his bare foot hovering over the bottom step. Something had registered as out of place in his subconscious, and his brain was scrambling to bring it to the surface. Then it hit him. His office was not how he had left it. Which did not make sense. He lived alone, not so much as a pet for company or a hired cleaner. He didn’t even have friend who had a spare key. Things should be exactly how he had left them.
He padded over to his writing den. Everything was perfectly in order, except for the paper. There were typed sheets everywhere, as if someone had placed the entire manuscript of War And Peace in front of a wind machine and watched it scatter. Sat in the middle of all the paper chaos was the typewriter. It was an inanimate object. It had no human features. Greg knew this, yet his hungover brain was still telling him that the typewriter was smug. Maybe he did need to cut down his drinking.
Greg checked the window. It was securely shut and locked—so a breeze could not have blown yesterday’s work all over. Then another realisation penetrated his very sore head. He may have been on a roll yesterday, but he had written maybe twenty pages, which still appeared to be sat relatively neatly where he left them under the paperweight. There were close to a hundred loose pages scattered around the otherwise neat room.
Greg bent down, wincing at the pain the movement caused his tight head, and began to gather up the strewn around pages. He scanned the pages and didn’t recognise the content. Had he been typing away drunk last night when he got back? Is that why he felt as if he hadn’t slept? The content would certainly explain his nightmares. Greg usually wrote about sports or comedic pieces, but these stories were very dark. They seemed too well written to be his drunken ramblings, yet the pages were full of death and destruction. A police station was burned to the ground in one. There was a vivid account of a car accident and a particularly brutal stabbing described in minute detail.
Greg felt as if his fry up was about to make a reappearance. He didn’t write horror, had no appetite for gore. How could he write such things that made his stomach twist? He had never been a mean drunk. How could he write such things, then not remember writing them? Greg wanted out of the room. He would have a shower and some coffee and consider this with a clear head later. He went to put the messy pile of papers he had gathered on the desk. The carpet squelched under his bare feet.
Greg retracted his foot at the surprise as if he had been stung. He looked down to see the patch of carpet in front of the typewriter was wet. He looked up to see if there was evidence of a drip or leak. Everything was bone dry on the ceiling. How had this bit of carpet gotten wet? Maybe when he was drunkenly typing away he had sloshed his drink? That must be it.
He bent down to see if he could smell beer on the wet patch—but it was a totally different scent that teased his nose. It was definitely familiar, but Greg could not remember where from. He left his office with an uneasy feeling, desperate for a shower and distraction.
It was while he was in the shower that it dawned on him where he knew the scent from—it was his wife’s bubble bath scent. How the hell had that smell gotten into the carpet? After Aly’s death he had gotten rid of all of her stuff instantly. That bubble bath had not been used since the day she died. A cold shiver passed over Greg, and he cranked the water temperature up.
Greg drifted throughout the day, constantly faffing but not achieving anything. When his stomach began rumbling he was surprised to see he had missed lunch and was already late for tea. Hungry and lacking motivation, he grabbed a random meal from the freezer and shoved it in the microwave.
Greg let his 6’2” bulky frame flop down onto the battered but still sturdy sofa and flicked the TV on for some distraction. He brought up the guide to search for an easy-to-follow film, with the news playing in the background as he scrolled. Then he realised that his area was on the national news. He exited the guide and brought the news onto a full screen. The local police station had been subjected to an arson attack. The fire had spread quickly and some people—officers and criminals, had not been able to escape in time. They had perished.
Greg’s mind went to the awful stories in his office. There was one about someone torching a police station—surely it was a coincidence? Had he seen something, been too drunk to process it and written about what he had witnessed to get it out during the night? Ludicrous. He would find a phone much easier to operate than a typewriter whilst drunk, he’d have rung someone, not typed it up. He was getting worked up for no reason. Just to be safe though, he’d ring one of the guys to see if they remembered the route home last night. He chose Danny, since he wasn’t saddled with a wife like Mike, so should be able to talk freely. His bachelor lifestyle was also why he could splash the cash on treats such as his hot tub. He should definitely have stayed like Danny instead of copying Mike.
“Hey Greg, what’s up?”
“Alright, Danny. I’m just watching the horror show on the news—can’t believe it!”
“Nah, me neither mate. This used to be a nice area. I mean I’m not saying muggings never happened, but that many stab wounds is fucked up man. That’s someone wanting to torture someone more than wanting to nick his wallet. Even weirder knowing the bloke, isn’t it?”
Greg was flummoxed.
“I was on about the fire at the police station last night. What are you on about?”
“Fire at the police station? No way. Sounds like our streets were something from The Purge last night. We did well to get home avoiding all the trouble.”
“Danny, what news are you watching? What stabbing?”
“Channel Five, mate. Eddie Fisher’s been killed in a mugging gone wrong.”
Greg snatched up the remote and changed the channel. This news reporter had a huge photo of local alkie Eddie Fisher in the background. Whoever had killed him didn’t know him, if it was for money. Whatever Eddie had; he drank. He would not be on his way back from the pub on a Friday night with a penny left. Even the three amigos thought Eddie overindulged.
“Look, Danny, you’ve just dropped a bombshell on me, this is news to me. Ring you some other time?”
“Sure man, catch you later. Come round and have a dip in the hot tub with me later if you want. It seems to be safer to be at home than out and about at the moment.”
Greg replied with a ‘thank you’ and a ‘maybe’ automatically but his mind was elsewhere. There had been a story about a brutal stabbing spewed from the typewriter also.
Greg abandoned his half-eaten microwave meal and raced to his office. He began shuffling through the creased sheets of paper as he made his way back to the lounge, away from the unnerving presence of the typewriter. He lowered himself onto the couch and read every word he had apparently written last night. Then he got out his laptop and started scrolling through the local news. Every awful thing he had written about had happened in his county. How could that be? He had written about them before the journalists had, how had he known? There was no way he could have been there, there were a few incidents and they had happened miles apart. Typing in your sleep was one thing, but he definitely didn’t develop teleportation skills whilst drunk as a skunk. Confused and tired Greg decided to go to bed early and make up for last night’s disrupted sleep. He was sure everything would look much better in the morning with a clear head.
Something woke Greg up. The terror of the nightmare remained with him, but the events of the dream had already left him. Greg lay for a moment, trying to calm his breathing and wondering what on earth he had been dreaming about. Then he realised he was now totally awake and he could hear something odd. He held his breath and strained his ears. He could make out a faint clicking and whirring that he couldn’t recognise. Then there was a ding and it all fell into place—Greg could hear the sounds of a typewriter.
Someone was in his house. His blood ran cold as his heart began to race. He pinched himself in case he was still in the nightmare. He felt the pain on his forearm—he was definitely awake. Why would someone break into his house and use his typewriter instead of just swiping his valuables and doing a runner?
Greg tiptoed out of his bedroom, not an easy task for a man of his height and bulk. He knew his house well and his eyes were adjusted to the dark, he scanned around frantically, looking for something to use as a weapon. Why wasn’t he more into playing sports? His house’s top floor was bereft of dangerous objects. In the end he grabbed a cordless vacuum cleaner. It was long so he could swing it at the head of whoever was in his office. He only had to scare them off, not kill them.
Greg crept up to his office door, which was ajar. No light came from within. Whichever lunatic had broken into his house was typing in the dark. The keys were clattering away furiously now; the deranged intruder with a tale to tell was really picking up speed.
Greg took a deep breath as he raised the vacuum cleaner like a club above his head, gripping it tightly with his right hand. He braced himself, then, with his adrenalin surging, flung open the door and hit the light switch. His office lit up brightly. His silent, empty office.
Greg entered cautiously, his eyes darting all around looking for a sign of the intruder. No-one was here. There weren’t many hiding places and Greg had heard the typing until the very second he had shoved the door, so they must have been near the typewriter. Yet the room was deserted. Greg lowered his weapon, both relieved and confused. He warily approached the typewriter.
A page was hanging out of the top, three quarters full. It was a story of a drunken idiot drowning in his own hot tub. Someone or something was typing more tales of death on his machine. Greg snatched the page and tore it out of the typewriter, ripping it away messily. He screwed it up and tossed the crumpled ball away. If the story wasn’t finished, maybe it wouldn’t come true. Having no reasonable explanation for what was happening but knowing he wanted the machine out of his house, Greg went to pick the typewriter up.
His feet squelched on the carpet and Greg looked down in surprise to see small soapy suds rise up between his bare toes from the damp carpet. The floor near the typewriter was wet again, and there was a faint smell—of bubble bath.
Greg grabbed the typewriter and lugged it to his front door. He put it down briefly to disarm his burglar alarm and unlock the door, then heaved it back into his arms and took it to the pavement at the end of the driveway. He dropped it with a clatter, not caring if it broke. Not caring if someone stole it, hoping someone would as they would save him a trip to the tip. He marched back inside, locked up and went to bed to try and get some sleep.
After breakfast the next morning Greg risked a glance into his office. The typewriter was back on his desk. How was that possible? Anger overtaking fear, Greg stormed into his office. The typewriter was sitting back on the desk, a bit dented from where he had dropped it, but otherwise bold as brass. A page was peeping out of the top. Greg leant forward to look at the text, the story he had torn out last night had been finished. The part he had thrown away was sat on the desk next to the typewriter, unfurled and smoothed out with the crinkles still visible. What was happening? Greg began to edge away, when he realised the floor was wet again. This was ridiculous. He pulled over his office chair and stood on it to reach the ceiling. His wet soles left marks on the chair as he ran his fingertips over the ceiling, looking for the source of the leak. It was bone dry. How was this water getting in? Then he thought of the bubble bath smell.
“Aly?” he asked aloud, knowing it was stupid but unable to help himself.
His mobile rang in response. Greg took it out of his dressing gown pocket, looking at it as if it were a poisonous snake, coiled and ready to spring.
“Hello?” he asked warily.
“Hello, Mr Denton?”
“This is Sergeant Taunton with Somerset Police.”
This could not be good; police did not ring you on a Sunday morning for a chat.
“I’m very sorry, sir, but I’m afraid I have some bad news. Mr Daniel Farmer had an accident last night, it looks as if he slipped in his hot tub whilst under the influence. I’m very sorry to tell you that the slip proved fatal. You’re listed as his next of kin and I therefore need to ask you if you are able to come and identify the body.”
Greg’s world came crashing down. Danny—dead? The life and soul of the party gone for such a stupid reason? The guy who had supported him through his altercations with Aly and now was about to help him start living again now that she was gone. It was unfathomable. Yet the police officer was deadly serious. Greg hazily went through the arrangements, jotting down where he needed to be and when on the creased piece of paper. As he hung up and looked at the paper, he started thinking about how Danny’s death was eerily similar to the story the typewriter had produced last night. Something weird was going on. Something deadly. He had to destroy this typewriter, not just throw it away.
The keys on the typewriter started moving. Greg stepped back and watched in awe as words began to appear, the page edging higher out of the machine as words filled the space below. He needed to go get a hammer from the garage or something, needed to stop this now. Yet he could not tear his eyes away from the words that were appearing as if by magic. Typed by some unseen hand. This was different to previous stories the typewriter had created, it was written in the first person. It started ‘I Greg Denton’.
Greg felt sick.
“Stop it!” he shouted, although he was not sure at who or what.
It didn’t stop. Greg felt rooted to the spot, compelled to read. He did not notice a cold hand touch his dressing gown belt.
‘I Greg Denton wish to confess to the killing of my wife, Aly Denton. I put sleeping tablets in her wine to make her drift off and stop all the arguing we kept doing. It often turned violent on both our parts, but when I was drunk it would get even more out of hand. I held her under the water to stop the fighting, to have peace. I was so drunk I did not initially remember doing it, but the events have started to come back to me. I am not normally a violent man, but have lashed out whilst drunk. I didn’t always remember what I did and my friends and drinking buddies would tell me Aly was exaggerating it, that it was mutual combat, that I was provoked and not to blame. Eddie who used to tell me I could handle my booze well is gone, so is my best friend Danny who always assured me I’d done nothing wrong. The officers who took reports of domestic violence against me but took no action died in the recent fire, but I’m sure their records can be found. They’re all gone, just like Aly. It is my fault. I am so sorry, but I am to blame. I feel it is my time to go now too.’
Greg could suddenly remember standing over Aly while she was in the bath. He was swaying from drinking too much, thinking she would be mad when the sleeping pills wore off and she started nagging him again. Or accusing him of having a temper, despite him having no recollection of such altercations. Everything would be better if her mouth stayed closed—she’d started saying she’d tell others he was violent, as if she had never swung at him. Her shutting up permanently would be much better. He leant forward and held her under the water, the scent of her bubble bath filling his nostrils. She was so sleepy, so surprised, so much smaller than him, it was all over in a flash. Then he went downstairs to watch TV.
Greg felt sick—was that a memory? Or had the typewriter planted that horrible idea and messed with his head? Surely, he had never been violent? No matter how much he drank he’d remember something like that? Greg was so plagued by these thoughts he didn’t realise his dressing gown belt being looped into a rope above him, or realise that his wife had just typed his suicide note. It fell into place for him as he was yanked up by the neck, the room full of the smell of bubble bath.