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Darling Jimby Christian Moerk
Malahide, just north of Dublin. Not so long ago.
Long after the house had been disinfected for new occupants and the bodies rested safely in the ground, people still didnt come near it. "Cursed," whispered the neighborhood gossips and nodded meaningfully. "Deadly, a haunted house!" cried the children, but they only ever mustered up the courage to take a step or two into the front yard before losing heart.
Because what Desmond the mailman had been the first to see inside had been unnatural strange.
Everybody liked Desmond, even if he might have been a little too nosy for his own good. He was also a slave to ritual, always noticing if anybodys grass needed tending or whether the paint on a flagpole had begun to chip. Taken together with his guilt of having seen details without understanding their true meaning, these otherwise sociable qualities cost him his sanity.
On the last day of his life that gave him any joy, this most demanding connoisseur of his customers coffee delivered the days mail in the quiet neighborhood just down the street from the train station in Malahide as slowly as he decently could without being called a Peeping Tom. He started where the bars of New Street met the faux-Bavarian ugliness of the concrete marina and took a left, continuing out to Bissets Strand. As usual, old Des peered in the windows to see if anyone he knew might be waiting inside with a fresh cup, and he wasnt disappointed; hed drunk two before reaching the end of the first block. Most residents had come to accept his lonely need for attention. Just "happening by" for a spot of the morning java made him feel, it was understood, as if he were part of someone elses life, just for a bit. He always said, "The bean smells lovely." He never outstayed his welcome. And he smiled when he saw youthats what made everyone surrender to this strange little creatureflashed a grin as wide as you please.
Before he found the corpses, Desmond was universally viewed as harmless.
His life off the clock, such as it was, was spent at the safe remove of Gibneys, where he stole glances at the local wives when their husbands werent looking and lost his meager paychecks at the bookmakers next door each time there was a hurdles horse race on TV, which was often. He had trudged his black mailbag up and down the old beach towns cracked pavements for more than eighteen years, staring at the same ash-gray houses where the nearby sea had eaten away at the paint, and found the monotony comforting. Going in to the city, just half an hour away by train, would have required a desire for surprise and a worldliness he couldnt have imagined pursuing. Besides, it would have upset his carefully planned route, which netted at least four good cups before lunch.
When he walked past on the footpath, people inside their kitchens could hear him hum. Nonsense tunes, really. He had lousy pitch but bobbed his head to the beat, which counted for more than talent. He was happy the way only children under the age of twelve usually are.
Later, people took bets on whether that humming should have warned them.
It was on either the 24th or the 25th of April, just after ten in the morning, as far as anybody could recall, that the towns tolerant opinion of Desmond changed forever. The sun didnt shine. God averted his eyes from number 1 Strand Street and, instead, sent rolling clouds draped in suicide gray in from the sea to obscure something imminent not meant for public consumption. A prophetic color choice, as it should turn out. And so Desmond Kean, waving in blissful ignorance to old Mrs. Dingle on the second floor of Howards Corner and tipping his cap to that nice Mrs. Moriarty just opening up her hair salon, proceeded toward the end of his daily route.
When he had handed out mail to the drab granny houses out on Bissets Strand, turned back, and again reached number 1, on the corner of Old Street and Gas Yard Lane, he hesitated all the same. The bag was nearly empty, and he only had to deliver two adverts from the local supermarket to Mrs. Hegarty inside. In the days to come, Desmond would go back and forth in his fevered mind, trying to remember how far back he should have noticed that something was wrong with how that house made him feel. It looked ordinary enough, its façade a faded cream with fake Swiss wood latticework above the doorway. But from the very beginning, something just out of reach whispered a warning about the houses occupant that he had been too polite to hear.
Mrs. Hegarty, who let Desmond call her "Moira" only after a year of sporadicand persistentvisits, had come to town nearly three years ago from nowhere she cared to talk much about. People said it was a small town way out in West Cork. She was still a handsome woman at forty-five, and her face had the lucky kind of defined bone structure that would wear well into old age. On the rare occasions when Desmonds clumsy jokes managed to coax a smile, she was beautiful. But she had also acquired a hardness to her that blossomed into open hostility whenever people tried to get too friendly. Invitations to tea from neighbors were first met with polite refusals. And when some tried bringing her cakes to drive the point home, she left them untouched on her front porch, where wild cats finally ate them.
Among the many curious neighbors, only Desmond was ever invited into the house for coffee, probably because of his innocence or willful blindness to peoples hidden side. Then, sometime last January, Mrs. Hegarty had abruptly stopped answering the door when he rang the bell. His subsequent attempts to reconnect with her whenever they happened on each other in the street were also rebuffed. Mrs. Hegarty, rarely seen outside her four walls as it was, would simply trail past him without a word in that old greatcoat, a scarf wrapped around her head like a mummy. She never again asked him inside. Desmond and everyone else simply assumed shed had a tragedy befall her, didnt pry, and gave her the space she obviously craved.
Now that Desmond stood outside Mrs. Hegartys front door with the colorful adverts in his hand, he hesitated because of that feeling hed had these last few weeks whenever he walked past. Recently, there had been sounds from inside that Desmond had written off as coming from a TV set, or maybe the radio. They had sounded like whimpers, even the cries of a young voice. Once there had been a loud thumping noise, and the drapes on the second floor had been yanked open briefly before being shut once again. But since Desmond was only curious, not investigative or even brave, he explained it away as the eccentricity of the lonely, a tribe to which he himself belonged.
The closer he came to the mail slot, the more the little hairs on his hand stood to attention like a blond forest. He thought he smelled something. Like spoilt stew. He wasnt sure where it was coming from; could have been seaweed rotting on the beach nearby. Or someones fridge where the power had gone out. But he knew it wasnt.
Desmond finally ignored his imprecise feeling of foreboding, bent down, and pushed open the slot. He jammed one of the Tesco adverts inside. He noticed a pile of unopened mail on the floor.
And then he stopped.
Far inside, near where he knew Mrs. Hegartys sitting room was, he saw what was probably a hand.
It was blue-black, ballooned thick like a surgical glove, and stuck out from somewhere in the adjoining room. The arm connected to it was fat and sausagelike, too, as if filled with water. A watch lay next to it, its band snapped clean off the wrist from
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