I haven’t got around to finishing my article for this week- I’m about halfway through writing about how I got shot at by a farmer. So rather than rush to get it done I thought I would give you a short story and save the shooting till next week. So here is the story of a man in a café at the end of a pier… A man with a scone in front of him… A scone that might just be deadly!
BY JAMES CHURCHILL
The scone meant death. Specifically it meant his death and Erskine only realized this as he sat down at an empty table with an ugly plastic drape, covered in scratches and stains, across it. It wasn’t the scone itself that would kill him- That in itself was all innocence and delight; an enticing flour dusted bun cut in half and filled with the reddest of strawberry jams and complimented with the most clotted of clotted creams available. Folks said that the café at the end of Bangor pier sold the best scones in the world. Everyone who had spoken of Bangor had told him of the scones at the end of pier, puckering their lips, making kissing sounds and extolling their heavenly virtues. Erskine could see why. The scone before him, the scone that meant his death, was so perfectly rounded, so perfectly formed that it might have been made by the angels and had descended to his plate from the heavens above. Never before had a scone looked so beautiful, so mouth-wateringly delicious that it would be both a crime and a shame to eat it. No… Not a crime and a shame but sacrilege; the utter brutal destruction of a divinely baked gift from God.
Should he therefore eat it, especially if it meant his death? He could leave it, leave it to remain in its heavenly state forever. He could get up and walk out of the café and leave the pier and he might yet survive. Then they might not catch up to him. But sitting here, here at this plastic cloth covered table and eating this angelically baked scone would mean they would come. They would find him.
They already knew where he was, where he had been heading. That scoundrel who had approached him back in the pub had heard him ask for directions to the pier, he now convinced himself. Even if he hadn’t heard he could just casually ask the bald, rubber faced barman what Erskine had been asking about and he would be told. The barman didn’t look the kind to keep something like that back. Besides, he either didn’t know that the scoundrel was after him or the two were in league, a part of the same gang who were out to carve him to pieces. Had he thought of this upon leaving the pub he wouldn’t have come here but, alas, all he had thought of at the time was getting away from them. He never assumed until then that the scoundrel had overheard him ask for directions or that the gang would follow him to the end of the pier.
For a while he had thought that here he might be safe. He had paid his twenty five pence entry charge for the pier and then a pound for the scone. The waitress had laughed at him for the way in which he pronounced it, pronounced it to rhyme with bone. He hated the way people did that, got petty over the pronunciation of words like scone. People should pronounce words however the damn well they want to and leave others to do the same. Erskine had liked the waitress before she did that. She was a smart, sallow haired girl of her early twenties with green eyes and dimples that formed on her cheeks whenever she smiled. It was a shame that she didn’t have the personality to match. If she laughed at people for the way they pronounced their words then she must be a terrible snob. Erskine hated that in a person as much as he hated the way people tried to dictate the way in which others should talk.
He was safe though… He must be. He looked around the café, its yellow painted walls and its creaky, old fashioned look, and saw it was packed with people. There wasn’t an empty, ugly cloth covered table in the place and more people were queuing at the counter. He noticed that the waitress never laughed at any of them when they ordered a scone. They probably pronounced it in the ‘right’ way. Those queuing up would take their food outside probably, sit at the benches that lined the pier and look out to sea or up the Menai towards the bridge. There were so many people about, Erskine considered, that if the scoundrel and his gang did come looking for him they couldn’t kill him here. There were too many witnesses, too many people to finger them if he was killed here. They would also protect him if the gang tried to take him elsewhere. He could put up a fuss if they tried. The waitress would help keep him safe even if she did laugh at the way he pronounced scone. He could have her call the police, have someone else call the police. There might even be an off duty police officer in here and there’d be no need to call them. The police officer would protect him. So he laughed to himself, believing that he was safe.
He lifted the divinely ordained scone from the plate and smiled. He committed sacrilege and then he knew that everyone he had spoken to was right. The scones from the café at the end of Bangor pier were the best in the world. The bun crumbled in his mouth, mixing with the rich gooeyness of the jam and mingling with the soft clotted cream and thus formed the finest tasting texture in the world, a texture that seeped down his throat with ease, remaining in his mouth long after it had descended to the hell of his stomach. Bits stuck to his teeth, jam and cream to his lips, and he licked them all away, each part that entered his throat a small reminder of the wondrous sensation of that first and so far only bite.
He did not take a second bite right away. He let the taste of the first linger, he relished it, remembered it and the way in which it had seeped down his throat. A second bite may ruin that, he thought. It might not taste as good as the first and it might spoil the memory, take it away from him forever. If he could leave the scone now, one bite out of the side, jam dribbling onto his plate like fresh blood, its taste would remain untarnished. His desires, however, overtook him. But regardless of whether a second bite would tarnish the taste he absolutely had to take it. That first bite and first taste of the best scones in all the world, he concluded, was not enough. It would never be enough so long as he lived. If he left it he would always yearn for that second bite. He would always regret his decision to walk away.
He allowed his desires to overcome him and he again committed sacrilege. It did not tarnish the memory of that first bite, it superseded it as the greatest thing Erskine had ever tasted. The jam oozing from the side dripped onto his fingers as he bit and after he had swallowed, feeling the texture coating his mouth and seeping down his throat towards eternal damnation, he licked them clean. This was a pointless act for when he took the third bite more jam would drip onto his fingers and then again with each subsequent bite until there was nothing left but crumbs on a plate, crumbs that would be the only fragments of heaven’s once miraculous creation. But the pointlessness was worth it because even on its own the jam bore the taste of heaven
Before Erskine took that third bite he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, savouring the remnants of the second. It was then that he decided that the scone could be in no way heavenly or divine. It was too good, too delicious to be godly. It was the opposite. It was a whore; a dirty, filthy, bad to the bones seducer, teasing him and slavering his fingers with kisses of jam. She tempted him, he wanted more of her, always more. He loved her and he wanted his time with her to last forever. She filled him with lust, with carnal desires that pushed him to the edge of ecstasy. Eating her was a sin, one of the deadly kind, the worst of the deadly kind that would damn his soul and stoke the flames that would burn him for all eternity. And she was worth it. As he spent eternity roasting and screaming in agony he would remember her and the way she slipped down his throat, her beautiful taste and how she had been the best thing he had ever tasted.
“Enjoying that are we Bazza?” Erskine was jerked out of his daydream and his eyes snapped open to the sight of the scoundrel sitting opposite him. Sinister was the apt way of describing him, what with his pale cheeks, his skin so thin it was practically see through and his eyes that burned like the devil was dancing behind them. The mouth through which he spoke with an oily, nasal, squawk was turned down. It looked as though it had been so long since the man smiled that the muscles which allowed him to smile no longer worked. “They do say that the scones they sell here are the best in the world.” He pronounced it as ‘skwans,’ a very strange way of saying it. The scoundrel looked at the end of his finger nails with interest. “Not that I would agree of course. My old Ma made ‘em to die for. Literally. She poisoned my old man with one and got given a life sentence.” Erskine looked around, worried, looking for someone to help. He caught the eye of the same waitress who had laughed at him but she passed him over and went to deal with another customer. Meanwhile the scoundrel continued talking. “Still. The scones here make for a decent last meal… Or they would if you were going to die!” The scoundrel almost smiled. Erskine felt a little relief at the suggestion that he might not die but he was still worried.
“What are you going to do to me?” Erskine trembled. The scoundrel acted all offended.
“Me? Nothing Bazza, nothing. I ain’t that sort of bloke. I’m honest I am. But as I said to you in the pub before you ran away, there are people round ‘ere who don’t like what you did down ‘dudno way. They think you’re a snake… Well you are but that ain’t the point. The point is that there are men round here who want you dead Bazza. Your best bet is to get out of town. Go back across the border and don’t come back. Got it?” Erskine nodded through fear. The scoundrel nodded back.
“That a boy Bazza. Now you make sure you get on a train before evening or you’re toast. Right Bazza?” Erskine again nodded.
“Excellent.” The scoundrel held out his hand to Erskine across the scone but Erskine refused to take it. and the scoundrel withdrew. “Have it your way then. Just make sure you’re on a train before this evening. Otherwise you will die.”
He got up and left, leaving Erskine feeling tense and nervous. He looked around to see if anyone had noticed their brief conversation. Only the waitress appeared to have seen them but she was too far away and the place was too noisy for her to have heard anything. And to the other customers he and the scoundrel would have looked liked friends having a chat over a scone and they wouldn’t have paid them any attention.
The waitress her post at the counter and threading her way through the tables towards him.
“You know who that was, right?” Erskine shook his head. “He’s known as Chuckles. Nobody has a clue what his real name is but I wouldn’t go hanging around with him if I were you. He’s bad… Everybody knows it but the police haven’t got anything to pin on him. They reckon he was best mates with McGraw before he got sent down.”
“I know. It was my evidence that put him away,” Erskine admitted reluctantly. The waitress gave him a grim, glum look.
“I thought I recognized you… Got your pictures in all the papers yeah? Well I’d get out of town before anybody like Chuckles decides to bury you here.” She walked off back to her post at the counter, leaving Erskine to feel even more ill at ease. Chuckles already had decided to bury him, he knew it.
Seconds later he had made his mind up as to what he was going to do. He was going to leave right away, though he knew damn well that Chuckles might try and stop him, regardless of what he had said about not doing anything to him. He took a pen from his pocket and pulled a napkin across the table then he began to scrawl across it in neat, old fashioned handwriting.
I have decided that I am getting the next train home. You were right. This place is far too close to Llandudno. One of McGraw’s friends, a man who goes by the name of ‘Chuckles,’ has threatened me. He says if I don’t get out of town by this evening then I’m dead… Or words to that effect anyway. Listen, Flo, I might not make it out. If I don’t make it out, know that I love you and always will.
He finished by writing the address underneath and then he folded the napkin and laid it on the table next to his scone. He finally picked it up for the third bit but now it tasted neither divine nor sinful. With the coming of Chuckles it had lost its edge. It was still a delicious scone, perhaps still the best in the world, but Erskine no longer enjoyed the taste.
Taking his empty plate to the counter he smiled at the waitress. He leaned over and beckoned to her. Then he whispered in her ear.
“I’m leaving town. If you hear that I don’t make it then can you send this letter to my wife?” He forced the napkin into her hand and was gone without another word. The waitress stuffed it into her blouse and continued about her business as though nothing had happened. Another customer wanted a scone.
I hope you enjoyed this short story- If you want more you can check out my Short Stories page or if you want something a bit longer try my Releases page. I also have a Facebook page where I provide writing related news and updates. Sorry about the picture as well… That was the best shot I had of Bangor Pier.