Free Story – Appearances can be Deceptive

This story was written for the Classic Monsters Unleashed anthology and – despite getting down to the last 40 – was sadly rejected. It is my take on the Invisible Man. Enjoy!

Dr Kemp stared at the numbers. No matter which way he looked at it, the figures didn’t balance. His credit was good for a while but it wouldn’t be long before they all came knocking at his door. He thought of Clara, dear sweet Clara. She would never accept him now. A sudden draught chilled his face, caused the pages to flutter. Kemp looked round to discover the sash window being pushed up by invisible hands.

“I thought I told you to stay away,” he said, rising and going over to the window, closing it with a force that rattled the panes.

In reply, the pages of his ledger turned over of their own accord.

Kemp swiftly retraced his steps and slammed the book shut.

“Ouch!”

“Serves you right for poking your nose in. And I consider it downright rude for you to show up in this manner.” Kemp waited, watched as the smoking jacket hanging on the back of the door lifted off its peg and filled out as though it contained a body. Which it did. Just not one anyone could see.

His guest continued to make himself at home, pouring out a small tumbler of whisky which drifted through the air to land on the table by his fireside chair. Kemp sighed, poured himself a similar drink and took both glass and decanter to the seat opposite. Griffin’s visit did not bode well.

“Finances seem a bit shaky,” said the invisible Griffin.

“Could say that,” said Kemp.

“There is an answer,” said Griffin.

Kemp had refused his suggestion the last time it was raised, horrified Griffin could ask such a thing of him. Since then, his circumstances had changed, horribly for the worse.

“I can’t,” he said. “Clara—”

“The lovely Clara, from what I’ve heard, has gone off to Europe for a few months with her dear mama. It gives us all the time we need. She’ll never know.”

“Never know! Never know! How on earth do you expect something like this to be kept quiet—if we succeed.”

The glass opposite rose and tipped and Kemp was able to follow the path of the amber liquid down an invisible throat before the jacket hid its route. That had been one of the major flaws of his friend’s experiments with invisibility. Did he even still regard him as his friend? Wherever Griffin had gone, news headlines had followed not long after. Robbery, assaults, even death. Kemp found it hard to associate what he read with the friend from his university days.

“Families don’t like scandal. They’ll do everything they can to keep it out of the papers. By the time you’ve hitched yourself to the Hon. Annabelle Howard, it’ll be too late and I’m sure you can come up with a story as to why you kept your first marriage quiet.”

Kemp took a gulp of his own drink. Already he felt trapped, Griffin tying him up in invisible knots.

“What? You think she’ll fall for such a preposterous story? I married Annabelle out of pity, to fulfil some dream of hers to walk down the aisle. That her parents had frightened off all suitors and so that just left me?” Kemp finished his drink and poured another one. Realised he was sweating.

“Why not?” said Griffin. “You’ve always been regarded as soft-hearted.” The opposite glass hovered over the table and was then set down. The smoking jacket rose and went back to the desk. The ledger was picked up and dropped on Kemp’s lap, open at the fateful page. “Dropped by your bookmaker earlier. Overheard an interesting conversation. They’ve heard the rumours about your cash flow.”

“They know I’m good for it,” said Kemp. “Unless—” He looked at his bizarre guest. “What have you done?”

There was a moment of silence and Kemp felt the dread mount.

“Oh, I might have altered a few figures. Whispered in a few ears. You can do so much when nobody can see you.”

Kemp was furious. “I thought we were friends.”

Griffin laughed. “Oh, I think we both know that ship sailed long ago. Our acquaintance has become a necessary evil—I’m sure you’d agree. Regardless. You need to take action—and fast.”

Kemp gazed at the figures in misery and nodded his head. Griffin had snapped the trap shut.

“Luckily, I’ve already done a lot of the groundwork. Pack your bag. We’ve a train to catch first thing.”

Kemp buried his head in his hands. He could see no way out. And Griffin hadn’t even mentioned the real horror of his plan. Left unsaid the final act necessary to conclude his scheme.

***

Their arrival in Iping Sutton had gone smoothly. Griffin had certainly prepared well, renting them a cottage in Kemp’s name, adding him to guest lists for a variety of local events which, no doubt, Annabelle would be attending. He’d even met the young lady in question on a ramble around the village, engineered by Griffin who had spent time prior to visiting Kemp, studying the woman’s habits.

“You’ve invested a lot in this,” said Kemp. “I didn’t know you had the funds for it.”

Griffin had shrugged his jacketed shoulders. “I’ll admit I’ve had to be inventive, but the returns will be worth it.”

His tone made it clear the plan had to work.

Kemp thought back to the first encounter. The Hon. Annabelle Howard was a mouse. A young woman in her early twenties, plain of face, plain in style. It took him some effort to recall the colour of her eyes, her hair. She was nothing like his Clara. In a way, that made it easier, his pretence at ardour a reassurance he was not betraying his real love.

Luckily, she had been overwhelmed by his attentions, insipid as they were. He’d agreed to subsequent meetings, innocent walks, a picnic or two. An invitation to tea with her parents. The first two weeks had gone extremely well and Kemp felt he could relax. He should’ve known.

“You’ve got her eating out of your hand,” said Griffin. “You must propose.”

“But it’s too soon,” protested Kemp. “Her parents—”

“Her parents, bah. Propose. Elope. The clock’s ticking.”

So he did. They did. It had all seemed so easy, too easy. And then her parents died in an automobile accident. Something told him Griffin had been responsible. He didn’t ask. Needless to say, ‘his’ Annabelle inherited everything.

His wife was resting in her room when Griffin made his appearance. Not invisible for once but with his head wrapped in bandages and adorned with the blue glasses, fake nose and Fedora which gave him form of a kind. Together with his suit and overcoat, he seemed more corporeal than he had in a long time.

“Change of plan, old chap,” said Griffin, once the housekeeper had ushered him into the study with more than one curious look at his visitor.

“What do you mean?” asked Kemp, remaining behind his desk. His gun was in its top drawer.

“I don’t think a certification of madness is going to cut it.”

“You haven’t even given it a chance yet,” said Kemp. “We’ve hardly got started.”

“I don’t think the odd bump in the night or moving a few bits of furniture around is going to have much effect.”

Kemp wasn’t going to say anything but he had begun to form the same opinion. His mousy wife had revealed herself to have a core of steel. He could see his future with Clara slipping further and further away. His letters to her had become stilted, more formal as he tried to keep his secret and she had picked up on that, becoming more distant in turn. Her last letter had implied they needed to have a ‘conversation’ on her return in two months’ time.

“What do you suggest? Bump her off like you did her parents?” The words slipped out before he could stop himself.

“Her parents? You think … I? Oh, good lord, no. That was completely down to your little wifey.”

Kemp stared at Griffin, allowed his gaze drift to the wedding portrait in the silver frame on his desk. He felt sick. Then he shook himself. No, she wasn’t capable, but Griffin—well, he was, had proved it on more than one occasion.

“You think I’ll believe such damnable lies?”

“Who says they’re lies?” A soft voice broke the silence.

With a start, Kemp realised Annabelle had entered the room. She moved out from behind Griffin and came to his side. Reached down and opened the drawer. Took out his revolver.

“Now I think it’s time we all had a nice little chat. I’d like both of you to sit down where I can see you.” She pointed the gun’s barrel at her husband and then at Griffin.

Kemp obeyed, shocked at this sudden shift in the balance of power.

“You want to be careful with that, Bella,” said Griffin. “Might do some damage.”

Bella? Kemp eyed his wife in even greater confusion.

She smiled at him. “Oh, don’t look so upset, darling. We’re all grown ups here. Me and Griffin go some way back. We’ve had so much fun.”

“Bella.” There was a warning note in Griffin’s voice.

“Oh, don’t sound so put out, Griff. And don’t gawp, Kemp, you’ll catch flies.”

Kemp’s mouth had indeed dropped open in astonishment and he could feel his eyes staring. He tried to regain his composure. She was just a woman. A woman with a gun, yes. But just a woman nonetheless. He cast a quick glance at Griffin, hoping his companion would cast off the clothing which kept him in her view, but he sat there. No doubt, he’d weighed the odds and calculated she would shoot him before he even got to his shirt. Unless he had a distraction. And even if Kemp provided such a thing, who was to say Griffin wouldn’t use his invisibility to abandon him. He couldn’t trust him but he could sense the fury coming off the man in waves and that was something he could put his faith in. The Invisible Man was not someone to cross.

Slowly, he started to rise.

“Sit down.”

“I need some water.” The jug and glass were behind him on his desk.

She gestured with the barrel of the gun. “Quickly then.”

He didn’t dare look at Griffin as he made his way to the desk and poured out a glass of water, looking out the window as he took a drink. Frowned. Pretended to spot something.

“What?”

“The vicar’s coming up the path.”

Annabelle, Bella, sidled over to the window, keeping the gun trained on both men.

“Where?” She tried to look in both directions at the same time. With her attention divided, Kemp took his chance and sprang forward to knock the gun out of her hand. Unfortunately, he mistimed his approach and they ended up grappling for the gun which went off. The sound was muffled by the closeness of their bodies but the effect was immediate. His wife slumped to the floor.

A door slammed and Kemp jumped, saw the pile of clothes left on the floor. Griffin had deserted him! Kneeling over his wife, her eyes fluttered and she gave a groan. A red stain blossomed on her chest, became a deeper crimson as her breathing laboured.

“Help—”

She didn’t finish her sentence. Kemp felt for her pulse. Nothing. He looked down at his bloodied clothes, shocked at the turn of events. The door opened again but no one appeared.

“I thought you’d gone,” he said.

“And abandon an old friend?” asked Griffin. “No. I popped down to the kitchen, checked in on the housekeeper. She’s taking a little—nap.”

Another layer of horror threatened. “You haven’t?”

“Good lord, no,” said Griffin. “Wanted to make sure we had time to tidy things up before she started screaming the place down. Now then. What do you suggest we do?”

Sickened, Kemp dropped the body of his wife and backed away from her. He had wanted no part of this. Annabelle and Griffin had been toying with him for their own ends and he still wasn’t clear as to why or what for. He had been their patsy and in turn, they had made him a murderer.

“It was self-defence you know, if that makes you feel any better,” said Griffin. “She was going to shoot you—us.”

It didn’t make him feel any better and who was going to believe his story? Then a thought struck him. They might believe it of the Invisible Man.

“No, no, no,” said Griffin, reading his mind. “You don’t want to be turning all this on me. Think of all the publicity. Of lovely little Clara.”

Clara. He hadn’t even thought of her. In a blink, his world had turned to nightmare and there was no way out.

“Well, luckily for us, Annabelle has no other relatives beyond you. She had a tendency to disappear for weeks on end when her parents were alive. No one’ll think anything of her going off now.”

“And leaving her new husband behind?”

“Oh, you can say you’ve got business to attend to here and will be following on in a week or so.”

“And the housekeeper?”

“She went with her employer. Which, by the way, she had done in the past.”

“You make it sound so easy.”

“It is. Provided we keep our heads.”

Kemp stared down in horror at the body, the blood-stained carpet.

“The old ice house,” said Griffin.

“Huh?”

“There’s an old ice house down the end of the garden. Unused for years. No one goes down there. They let it all go to rack and ruin. Out of sight, out of mind, you could say.”

Kemp understood he wasn’t talking only about the building. The man’s dispassionate nature chilled him. He buried his misgivings. The most important thing at the moment was to get rid of Annabelle’s body.

“Come on.” Corners of the rug on which Annabelle lay were being lifted up and over her. “Don’t be squeamish.”

Kemp moved to the other side and helped roll rug and body together. There was a small stain beneath but nothing major. That would change if they didn’t remove the corpse immediately.

“One, two, three, ups-a-daisy,” said Griffin, as they lifted in unison.

The two men awkwardly manoeuvred the rug out of the study and down the corridor to the back door. Annabelle’s house was a mile outside the village, not overlooked by anybody. A small mercy, he considered as they manhandled her to the ice house. He rested briefly as they put the body down and Griffin opened up the building. He seemed to know his way round remarkably well. Down ancient steps they went, their passage lit by a small lantern on the wall. At the bottom, they put the body down again as Griffin lit another lantern and its beam reached into the gloom.

“Back there,” he said. “There’s a small room.”

Again, Kemp did his bidding and soon found himself in a small cell-type chamber. He considered this must’ve been more than merely a cold store once upon a time. With a start, he noticed a shallow grave had already been dug. And not just one.

Kemp dropped his side of the rug, causing Griffin to let go his side and stumble back, the body unceremoniously landed in its final resting place.

“Keep your hair on, old chap. That one’s not for you. If you care to look closer, you will see it’s already occupied.”

As Kemp’s eyes adjusted, he saw that it was indeed filled in. “Wh … who?”

“A previous paramour of our young Annabelle. Quite the black widow, this one.”

“You mean—”

“Yes. Here lie the remains of her second husband.”

“But—how?”

“Oh, a little scam she’s been running for a while now. Amazing how much she crammed into so short a life! She had such vim!”

“You sound as though you admire her.”

Every thought and idea he had about his late wife had been shaken and demolished.

“How could I not? She managed to build quite a fortune without her parents even getting a whiff of what she was up to. That mousy disguise of hers was perfect. Nothing like her appearance when she was up in town, I might add.”

“But I don’t understand why she chose me,” said Kemp. “Why you both chose me.”

A spade floated towards him. He took it wordlessly and started to shovel the earth over Annabelle’s body.

“I came across her some time ago and could see she was up to something. I was intrigued and followed her, and poor hubby here. I didn’t let on I knew until she’d done away with the poor chap—gave me a chance to gather evidence so to speak. Thought it would be nice if she shared her good fortune with other more needy folk. And both you and I are very much in need of the funds, aren’t we? I told her you were pretty well-off, but a miser, which is why you appeared to be a bit short of cash at times. Showed her a copy of the will which had left you all that dosh—”

“A forgery of course.”

Griffin ignored the interruption. “She fell for it. Thought we could team up, saw possibilities in my invisibility. We went to Brighton for a few weeks—”

“You mean you—”

“Oh, don’t look so shocked,” said Griffin. “The woman had been married twice by that time, certainly knew a few tricks, I can tell you. And I must admit it was nice to be treated like a normal man for a change.”

“And she never thought you could be lying?”

“No, of course not. I figured she would find out eventually but by that time, you would be married and of course you have access to the funds which we could split between us as agreed.”

“Why kill her parents?”

“That was a surprise, I must say,” said Griffin. “When I asked her, she said they’d become a bit of a nuisance.”

“Do you reckon she found out you duped her?”

“Of course. It’s why we had that little scene back there. I was expecting something but she moved faster than I thought she would. Bravo on stepping up by the way. Didn’t think you had it in you.”

Stepping up? No. He’d merely taken the coward’s way, hoped his actions would allow someone else to pull the trigger. Safer though to let Griffin think he would take such a risk. The grave was now full and invisible feet were stamping it down. The lantern was picked up and he followed it out of the tomb and back into the bright daylight.

“Better get yourself cleaned up,” said the disembodied voice. “I’ll check in with the housekeeper.”

Kemp shuddered at the thought of what ‘check in’ could mean. He’d had enough for the day. He felt dirty, tainted—guilty.

He made his way to his dressing room and locked the door behind him. He quickly stripped and washed himself, tossing the blood-stained garments into an old bag. Feeling only slightly cleaner, he made his way back to the study where he put a light under the prepared fire, regardless that it was a fine day. As it blazed up, he tossed in his clothes, watching as they caught with a sudden flare, and then died down again. His eyes travelled to where Annabelle had fallen. A small dark patch had spread on the exposed floorboards. He made his way to the scullery, filled a bucket and took it, with a brush back to the room. A little scrubbing removed most of it but still a faint outline remained. He returned to his dressing room and rolled up the rug there, brought it back to the study and laid it on the floor. Everything was back to normal. Almost.

Kemp pondered his invisible friend. He increasingly felt Griffin would be ‘dealing’ with him next. He dreaded to think what form that might take. The revolver had disappeared and the wedding photo. It took him no more than a second to understand the implication. Still, there was more than one way to disappear. He opened his wallet and took out the photograph of Clara, her beautiful face smiled out at him. He gave it a last kiss and then threw it into the flames.

Back across the hall and up the central staircase to his dressing room, he paused to listen. He could hear nothing beyond the ticking of the grandfather clock below. There was no point in packing everything. Kemp would have to travel lightly and quickly. Into a bag went the basics: a suit, a couple of shirts, underwear, spare shoes. Money and his journal also added to the contents.

There was little choice left to him. Stay and be blackmailed for eternity, ultimately become yet another victim in an unmarked grave or do as Griffin had done and vanish. Taking the latter path meant folk would come looking. They would search for him and Annabelle. Her body would be discovered. He would be a wanted man. A criminal.

Either way he would always be looking over his shoulder, waiting for Griffin to finish him. There was also one other factor. Clara. He didn’t want Griffin anywhere near her but something told him, she too would become his victim—or his threatened victim. An unwilling partner as opposed to Annabelle’s happy compliance. He could never do that.

Bag in hand, he crept quietly down the stairs. Nerves taut as he scanned his surroundings for any sign of his tormentor. As he passed the table in the hall, he saw a note addressed to him lying on its surface. He recognised the writing. Hands shaking, he scanned its contents, almost sagging with relief, notwithstanding the implication of its contents.

My dear Kemp,

Mrs Jones has decided to resign her housekeeper role. She feels it’s time she retired to the coast and I fully agreed with her. Privy to your Annabelle’s shenanigans – and my condition – she was surprisingly amenable to the amount offered. I thought a bit of sea air would do me good as well. I’ll be back in a few days and we can discuss next steps.

Your friend

Griffin

Kemp shuddered as he imagined Mrs Jones walking along a coastal path. An unseen hand pushing her, her body tumbling down the cliffside and onto the rocks below. Another death was being lain at his door. He had become as much a monster as the man who’d created him. It gave him time.

Dropping his bag, Kemp rushed around the house drawing curtains and locking French windows and front and back doors. The house was plunged into shadow. Anyone who came calling would think the inhabitants were away. Then he picked up his bag again and made his way past the kitchen and on to the doors which led to the cellar rooms. One of these, Griffin had kept locked, containing as it did his research journals and laboratory equipment.

On more than one occasion, Griffin had demanded his presence so he could explain discoveries, gloat at the prospects. When he was in that mood, you didn’t say no, and so Kemp had learned the process inside out, watched with horror as Griffin had introduced refinements which he tested on any poor four-legged creature he could capture for that purpose.

Now it would be his turn. Kemp cringed at the thought, remembered the suffering of those animals, of Griffin’s own account. There was no other way. He slipped his master key into the lock. The room was cast in shadow, a glimmer of light hovered at the one window set at ground level. Anyone poking around would see in. He locked the door behind him and then propped a chair beneath the handle. He didn’t want Griffin sneaking in on him if he was indisposed. Then he flicked on the light before quickly making his way to the window and pulling the shutter across. Immediately, he felt safer. The drug he needed to take sat in a small squat bottle by the side of Griffin’s journals. For the moment, he ignored it as he made the narrow cot bed as comfortable as he could. Poured a jug of water ready from a nearby tap. Steeled himself.

The bottle felt cold, murderous in his hands. Sat on the edge of the bed, one hand on the stopper, it was some time before he could bring himself to remove the lid. Above, he heard the clock strike seven. To quote Griffin ‘time was ticking’. The man had said a few days. Long enough to take the stuff and get over the worst of it, acclimatise. Without another thought, he removed the bottle stopper and downed the contents. Only after he’d emptied the bottle did he realise he hadn’t measured the dosage. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore except putting an end to Griffin.

His stomach roiled at the sickly taste and sharp pains shot across his abdomen. With a whimper, he curled up on the bed, pulling the blanket over as his body temperature dropped and felt as if he had been plunged into a freezer. Kemp closed his eyes and tried to sleep through it but images of Annabelle dying in his arms, of the grave being filled, kept flashing across his mind. Limbs spasmed and ached and eventually it became too much. Kemp forced himself out of bed and paced around the lab. By now, the cold had given way to overwhelming heat and he felt as if he was burning up.

As he paced, he sobbed, prayed, recited poems, tried anything and everything to distract himself from the pain until exhaustion eventually drove him back to the bed and despite his agony, he was at last able to fall into a troubled sleep.

He woke to continued silence. A glance at his pocket watch revealed several hours had passed. Every muscle ached and he let out a small whimper as he tentatively stretched out each limb, rising shakily to his feet. Finally, he was ready to look in the mirror. Like his hands, his face was chalk white. The drug was working, bleaching the contents of his body, leaching colour from him. It wasn’t done yet though, he knew there were at least forty-eight hours more of suffering to come and so it proved. It was a penance which needed to be served.

Kemp moved stiffly around the room, allowed the feeling back into his bones, stretched and eased himself back into reality. Hunger drove him to the door but before he exited, he stripped and bundled his clothes behind a cupboard. Then, he put the lab back as he’d found it and picked up his bag. Once done, he made his way to the kitchen and prepared himself a meal. Again, he cleaned up and left the kitchen spotless, tucked his bag into a cupboard by the back door, ready for his escape.

Back in the study, he wrote a note addressed to Griffin and placed it on his desk, hiding the poker behind Griffin’s favoured chair before taking up position by the window to keep watched. The day passed with no sign of his adversary, stiffness and boredom were creeping in, but Kemp did not give up his place. He knew Griffin could return any time. He wasn’t disappointed. As the clock struck five o’clock, he saw a movement near the front door. There was no body but he knew enough to recognise the signs. The slamming of the front door confirmed it.

“Kemp!” Griffin’s voice echoed throughout the house. “Kemp!”

Kemp did not respond, sat quietly in the corner and waited for him. Griffin was bound to come here. The door opened.

“Kemp?” A quieter question as the voice’s owner saw the room was empty. The paper on the desk lifted into the air for a moment and was then crumpled into a ball and flung into the fireplace. “Bloody idiot. The whole of England’ll be looking for him. They’ll catch him – and hang him.”

Kemp put an involuntary hand to his throat and swallowed.

“Or not,” said Griffin, studying the room. “You here, Kemp? Taken my treatment?”

Kemp remained quiet, still as a statue.

“Oh, come now, don’t be shy. Show yourself!” Griffin laughed at his joke, started to methodically search the room, tapping at window and curtain as if expecting to sweep Kemp up.

Kemp rose and moved so he stood behind the wingback chair, picked up the poker.

Griffin stopped. “Must’ve imagined it,” he muttered. He poured himself a drink and settled in the seat as he was wont to do.

Kemp waited a mere second and swung his weapon down. There was a soft thud as it tore into the fabric of the chair.

“What the—”

“Too slow off the mark,” said that dreaded voice. Unseen hands grappled for the poker, pulled it from his grip, before it connected with his head and sent Kemp plunging into darkness.

***

When he came to, Kemp found his hands and legs were tied and a blanket thrown over him.

“Stay where you are, man.” He recognised the voice as the local constable. Bangs and crashes and the sound of running feet echoed around him. Someone came rushing in to the study.

“We found her.” A pause and then, “is that him, the Invisible Man?”

“Yes,” said the constable. “Finally ran him to earth. This time he won’t get away and he’ll pay.”

Kemp tried to speak but to even move his mouth was agony. He could say nothing, do nothing. He closed his eyes and saw the gallows.

  1 comment for “Free Story – Appearances can be Deceptive

  1. October 31, 2021 at 11:08 am

    Reblogged this on Ed;s Site..

    Like

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