Friday flash fiction – The Regrettable Houseguest

After an exhausting day of interviewing witnesses and filing reports, Constable Polyhymnia Shore signed off and decided a visit to her Aunt Mavis was in order. Conscious of the unsociable hour, she came bearing gifts: a copy of the latest Val Crispin murder mystery, a box of high-end jelly confectioneries and a bottle of single malt scotch.

“Polly, dear, how lovely to see you.” Mavis Grimshaw’s greeting smile turned into a frown when she saw Polly’s expansive bribe. “Oh dear, things must be serious. You’d better come in.”

Mavis wasted no time in cracking the seal on the liquor bottle and pouring them both a generous measure. In four decades as a senior librarian, Mavis had been a resolute teetotaller. In retirement she found herself rather less constrained by community expectations, and so had cultivated a taste for expensive whiskeys which tended to taste like the smouldering aftermath of a bush fire.

She prompted her niece. “You’ve had a bad day, dear?”

Polly drained her drink in a gulp, blinked very hard and held up a finger to politely refuse a refill. When her voice returned, she said: “Auntie, I’ve been shouted at, punched, and had a gun shoved in my face, and none of that was the worst part.”

“Tell me in your own time, dear.”

Polly’s story tumbled out of her: answering a call that had been inadequately described to them as a “domestic disturbance”, she and her partner Mike Jurgen paid a visit to a grocery shop run by the Engel family.

“Oh yes, I know the one. It’s the only place I can buy decent heirloom carrots.” Mavis took a tiny sip from her tumbler. “I hope they’re not in some kind of trouble.”

“Well, yes and no, Auntie,” Polly sighed. “It seems a distant relative named Klaus showed up from overseas a couple of months ago. From what we can gather, none of the family were too happy about it but they took him in and set him up.”

“Very hospitable of them, I’m sure,” said Mavis. “I take it the arrangements have not been harmonious?”

“He’s not much of a guest. He doesn’t work or help around the house. He just sleeps all day and…Well, he’s very fond of singing. At night. On the roof. In the nude.”

Mavis, who had once been forced for an entire summer to tolerate the professional efforts of a marginally-gifted busker who took up residence on the front steps of the New Salisbury Library where she worked, sympathised with the Engels and their neighbours. Singing had its charms, of course, but recent events had taught her to be cautious about certain unusual forms of musical expression.

Polly continued. “The neighbours have called the police a few times to complain about the noise and the nakedness. At the station we’ve begun drawing straws at the start of a night shift; short straw has to respond to the Klaus Engel calls.”

“What happens when you try to talk to him? Does he become violent?”

“Not violent at all, Auntie Mavis. He does whatever we tell him to. Usually he goes straight to bed to sleep it off. Whatever it is.”

“What about Richard and Lisa? That’s the grocers’ names, isn’t it?”

Polly suddenly suspected Mavis knew perfectly well how the Engels were doing, but she answered dutifully. “Every time, they apologise for the noise and promise it won’t happen again, even though we all know it will. They look more and more tired every time I see them. Unlike Klaus, who’s always as fresh as a daisy.”

“Today was different?”

“You could say that. For one thing, he chanted the entire night, until dawn.”

“Why did he stop?”

“That’s the other thing,” said Polly. “At dawn he grew wings out of his back and flew up into the sky.”

“Well,” said Mavis after a long pause for consideration. “That must have been unexpected.”

Polly wrung her hands, waiting for Mavis to add to her thought. Mavis said nothing.

When the wait became unbearable, Polly added. “We already told him last time he’d be arrested if there was another complaint. When we arrived, he was floating above the ground and talking in German with Richard and Lisa. He saw us and said ‘I don’t care to be detained, thank you’. When I pulled out my handcuffs, Richard and Lisa ran at me, shouting at me to let him go before I’d even touched him. Lisa tried to punch me in the kidneys. And then my own partner pulled his pistol on me and told me to back off!”

“What did you do?”

“I disarmed Mike, put Lisa in a chokehold until I could cuff her to her mailbox, and told Richard I’d mace him if he didn’t shut up and sit down. Which he didn’t, so I did. Then I dragged Klaus out of the air by his ankles and arrested him. It wasn’t easy getting him into the back seat of the car with those wings.”

Polly shuddered and looked miserable. “Auntie Mavis, did I arrest an angel?”

Mavis patted her hand reassuringly. “Quite the opposite dear. I shouldn’t think there’s any such person as Klaus Engel. The poor dears probably picked up a parasitic demon somewhere. It’s been feeding off them while it matures. I daresay if it’s controlling minds left and right then it’s done growing.”


“I know it’s a lot to take in dear.”

“No, I was just wondering why it didn’t control my mind too.”

“Oh, I took certain precautions with you and your sisters. One of the many benefits of a well-stocked library.” Mavis jumped to her feet and shrugged on her coat. “Come on, you can take me down to the station. I’ll have a chat with Klaus.”

Polly opened the door. “Just a chat, Auntie Mavis?”

“Well, I extended some of those precautions to the whole town.” Mavis Grimshaw smiled. “Once I’ve explained them to him, he’ll decide not to stay.”

When I explained to my eight year old daughter yesterday afternoon that I would be staying up late to write my story, she said I should write about a lady policewoman and a demon who shoots green fireballs. I couldn’t make the green fireballs fit within the word limit but otherwise I think I nailed the brief.

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