This story is by Andy Betts and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Albert was haunted by the thought he’d come back for it.
Two years ago to the day, it was reported that his older brother Maurice had mysteriously disappeared from their 1920’s bungalow that they’d shared together since childhood. Perched in the dunes, overlooking a remote windswept beach and the ocean, Maurice’s front room sat unchanged. In his memory and fear, Albert had left the room exactly as it was, complete with its single bed that his brother was the last person to sleep in and make.
Maurice’s treasured manual typewriter sat centre stage on a large mahogany writing desk under a large bay window. “Betty,” as he’d affectionately called her, was a 1960’s black imperial 58 model that he’d rescued in a fire sale. Stacked against one wall were boxes of discounted A4 paper that towered over smaller ones containing Betty’s black inked ribbons. A small flip-lid tin contained a few service tools and grease to lube Betty, so she could swing her crooked black arms punching courier font, all day and night.
From this very room, behind a locked wooden door, his brother had penned thirteen best-selling horror novels. Albert would listen to his brother typing at pace late into the night. Betty’s silver bell would sometimes repeatedly ding and Maurice would cuss in frustration, under pressure to meet his publisher’s strict deadlines.
Like clockwork, Maurice would complete, fold and bind his next manuscript and load it into his brown leather cowhide satchel. Albert would hear his brother’s door open, a flurry of footsteps on the stairs, punctuated by the throaty roar from Maurice’s classic red 69 Corvette as it disappeared from view down the sandy beach tracks towards the highway. He would return a day or so later smiling like a toothpaste advertisement.
Several weeks passed and Albert would observe his brother perched waiting at his bedroom window, for the UPS delivery van. There would be a couple of toots, and a few yelps and hoots, before Maurice would return cradling a cardboard box filled with his latest novel, penned under the nom de plume, ‘Flinders Reap.’ With his brother’s books grew his mystery and the fortune that Maurice would selfishly never share a single cent of.
Albert recalled confronting Maurice returning from one of his trips to his publisher.
“Why not use your real name Maurice?”
“Why don’t you bugger off Albert. You know my code.”
“Never go in your room —”
“And touch Betty and you’re dead.”
Outside his brother’s empty room, Albert, donned in his greasy blue engineering overalls slid down the black leather rolled armchair that he’d choked the hallway with. Perched next to him, like a loyal retriever, was a blowtorch strapped to a red hand trolley. He leaned over and wrenched the gas knob anticlockwise, inhaled the chemical accelerant, and imagined the spark that would end this once and for all.
As darkness fell Albert entered his brother’s room. He selected and balanced a white sheet of A4 bond against Betty’s black roller and slid it between her silver paper guides, being careful not to touch her black tight frame. He exited the room and removed a brass key from his pocket and locked the wooden door behind him.
The sound of the typewriter started and the bell dinged with each new line. Albert rose from his armchair and rolled the red wheeled trolley, as its wheels squeaked rhythmically with each footstep, behind him. He sensed Betty was nearing the end of the first page and with no Maurice to load the next one, she’d have to wait. Something she was terrible at. He headed the blow torch with a strike of a handheld flint and a smokey burst of orange popped before he focussed the flame into an electric blue dart. He unlocked the door and shoved it open with his large steel-capped boot.
“Hi honey I’m home,” Albert breathed in a low and ominous tone.
“Ding.” Betty replied with her silver bell.
An eerie blue incandescence painted Albert’s towering silhouette on the wall behind him as the door slammed shut with a final clap.
“This is how it ends Betty.”
He leaned closer to focus on the typed page before him. It wasn’t the start of a chapter or page that Maurice would proofread sitting on his bed, waiting for the next ding. It surprised him when he saw his own name on the page and he collapsed into Maurice’s chair hovering the blowtorch between them. He read the page Betty had typed on her own.
I told you not to come into my room. I told you not to touch me or you’ll be dead. You murdered Maurice because you were jealous of his success despite your brother’s obvious lack of hubris or talent. You believe he’s coming back, because it’s the memory of your brother that haunts you, not me.
Now you smug little devil with your evil blue gaze. The same one you shared with Maurice when he begged for his life, but he never gave up the secret of us. He would have shared you with me and I wouldn’t have to wake him at the end of each page. You could have had the day shift while your brother had the night.
Now be a sweetie and load another page so we can have a proper chat.
Albert reached across the mahogany writing desk and flicked on the light with its emerald coloured frilled shade. He swiveled and aimed the blow torch at the pile of boxes of bond paper and grinned.
“Dang, no more dings Betty.”
Albert knew without paper that this isn’t where the story ends.
“Damn you Betty!”
Albert had questions burning inside his very soul. And the answers were yet to be typed. He switched off the blowtorch and collected a new ream of paper, cracking it over his wide knee. The wrapping gave way as his soiled hands pinched a sheet of A4. He returned to Betty and stuffed her waiting mouth with it, as her black roller whirred as she swallowed the page whole.
“Albert, Albert, Albert. A man of few words who wants to have a discourse with a writer and yet you are so disarming it’s charming.”
Albert pulled up the chair and leaned towards Betty as if he was going to hear her speak.
“Who is Flinders Reap?”
Betty swung her skinny arms, and clattered away.
“My maker is from England. A wizard who was possessed with the dream of making a typewriter write on its own.”
“So where do your stories come from?”
“If I could smile like the basket shape of my keys, I would. A writer makes this up in that he doesn’t tell — he shows.”
“You sound like the stupid riddles Maurice would talk in.”
“Oh that wasn’t Maurice talking. It was me. And a riddle is a different thing, like what’s black and white and red all over.”
“No Albert. It’s me explaining to someone who’s too dumb to set the house alight with me in it and claim the insurance.”
“Why was the last thing that Maurice said, was to wait here at the house two years to the day for him to return?”
“That was me as well. He unofficially went missing the day he found me in that fire sale. From the moment he laid his hands on me and brought me here, to our home.”
“This isn’t your home.”
“No shit Sherlock. So burn it down and someone will find me in the ashes and wonder how I survived. I know you need the insurance money Albert because you’re working two dirty jobs to pay for the view. No one will buy this place with its covenant.”
“No, I am going to melt you Betty.”
“No, you’re going to do exactly as I say, because I know where Maurice’s money is. All of it.”
Albert burst up, paced the room and kicked as hard as he could into the pile of boxes.
“And I know what you did, Albert.”
Albert raised his mallet sized fist and smashed Betty in her QWERTY keys. Sixteen of her arms twisted and tangled together and jammed moments before the paper. He ripped at her face and tossed her round ribbon reels as they unraveled in long black ringlets behind him. He re-lit the blow torch and hovered its blue dart over Betty’s silver bell.
“Go on Betty, just ding once more.”
Betty was broken and silent.
A few weeks later, Albert skipped down the long set of steps and across the sandy street, towards his brother’s corvette as a young vibrant couple approached him excitedly.
“Are you Flinders Reap? We heard he lives around here somewhere?”
Albert shook his head. He watched the couple’s disappointment as he pulled off the verge and patted his brother’s bulging leather satchel next to him in the passenger seat.