Artwork

Halloween Short Story by John Clewarth – “Tarquin’s Byzantine Journey”

Tarquin’s Byzantine Journey

Written by John Clewarth Illustrated by Jeanette Andromeda.

Content warning: playfully gross humor ahead.

Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.

PING – PING – PING – PING.

“Attention, Train Crew: the disabled toilet alarm has been activated on the train.”
Those electronic voices irritated Tarquin’s mind. They grated on his nerves. This same
message had been trotted out three times already, and he’d only been on the express for
ten minutes. What the hell was the problem? Had somebody got half-flushed down the
pan, frantically activating the panic button as they were sucked further and further down the stinking abyss? If so, why didn’t somebody rescue the bugger?

halloween2017horrormadeclewarthhog.jpg

The woman facing him on the opposite side of the aisle sniffed again. The ugly old
crone had done nothing but sniff since he’d sat down; great, deep sniffs that must have
been audible several cars down. She stared too. At Tarquin. This annoyed him. Okay
then, if she wanted a staring competition, Tarquin would give her one. He forced himself
to turn his head emphatically toward her. As he did this, she rapidly looked away, but
Tarquin decided to hold the gaze for a while.

He observed how obliviously ugly she was. She had the nose of an eagle woman.
Mayhap she was from a rare tribe of birdfolk; but further scrutiny revealed that she bore
no feathers. Tarquin found this even more sinister.

“Attention, Train Crew: the disabled toilet alarm has been activated on the train.”

Swine!

The Eagle Woman sniffed vigorously at this, drawing Tarquin’s attention back to her
beak; her bulbous, fleshy, hooked beak. She pretended to look out of the window but
was dying to stare at Tarquin, he knew. She squinted violently, like someone was poking
her in the eyes with a heated stick. Then she sniffed.

Evil bird!

Tarquin riffled through his bright yellow plastic carrier bag and took out his copy of HP
Lovecraft’s Greatest Hits. He had to focus his mind, in order to reduce the power of the
evil bird.

She sniffed again.

Don’t watch the bloody attention-seeking birdie!

He opened his paperback. As he did this, he noticed that the man in front was reading a
paperback too. He didn’t peer at this but he couldn’t help but espy the words on the
man’s open pages: Shame on you, Tarquin. Read your own sodding book.

“I am!” he retorted loudly, causing the man to turn sharply round in surprise, and the
Eagle Woman to fix her hawk-eye stare on him again.

“Pardon?” queried the man.

“Er, nothing. Sorry,” mumbled Tarquin.

The man turned around with a harrumph.

Tarquin was astonished at the conspiratorial attitude of his co-passengers in this car.
The lot of them seemed to ooze some symbiotic evilness.

Why are they all plotting against me? I’d like to threaten them all with something that
would make them tremble and cease their black-hearted plans. Crones and demons! If I
were a lion I would roar gutturally at them.

“Attention, Train Crew: the disabled toilet alarm has been activated on the train.”

For God’s sake, somebody liberate the poor semi-flushed person!

The P.A. system on the carriage crackled and a new voice, with a slightly angry edge to
it, but nonetheless human, emerged. “This is the Train Crew. It has come to our
attention that someone on the train is activating the disabled toilet alarm. We would
respectfully ask that the person responsible desist from this action, as it is causing
unnecessary distraction to the driver and is also affecting the peace of the customers in
the Quiet Car. By the way, Tarquin, read your own book you nosey bastard. Thank you
for your cooperation in this matter.”

What?!

Nobody in the coach took any gorm of the rude announcer’s unacceptable speech.
Right! When I get reincarnated I’m definitely coming back as a lion! And when I do –
because we all return to life after death – I will eat that heinous announcer raw! But in
the meantime, I’m going to find the disembodied voice and give its body a piece of my
mind.

Eagle Woman sniffed, hawked, and gobbed into the aisle. She squinted copiously. And
sniffed again.

Tarquin watched the phlegm dangle treacherously from the Reading Man’s armrest. The
man scooped it up in his palm and flicked it back over his seat, where it landed on the
bald pate of the plump old man seated next to Tarquin. Tarquin was horrified.

“Thank you,” cheerily spoke the Bald Man.

“Don’t mention it. It’ll have your hair growing in no time at all,” the Reading Man
replied.

halloween2017horrormadeclewarthsniff3Sniff, squint, went Eagle Woman.

This is getting weird. I’m off this train at the very next stop. Just as soon as I’ve told
that announcer what I think.

Tarquin rose from his seat, replaced his book back in his bag and lumbered down the
carriage, glad to leave his strange companions behind. As he passed through hissing
doors and entered the No Man’s Land between carriages, he observed a neon sign above
the door to the next car: “Quiet Car. Please respect the silence rule here.”

Tarquin would be glad to have some peace and quiet. The doors whispered open and he
stepped in. The doors swished shut behind him, as the stench rushed into his nostrils.
What the – ?

He glanced round swiftly to locate the source of the dreadful smell. The hideously
decomposed corpses, mouldering away in the crammed seats of the carriage supplied the
answer instantly. Wave upon wave of nausea attacked Tarquin’s sensibilities. A
substantial chunk of maggot-laden flesh dropped off the old woman up ahead.
“Couldn’t stick that back on for me could you, m’dear?” the long-dead lady said,
smiling toothlessly, as the arid skin of her face cracked like cheap porcelain.

“Attention, Train Crew: the disabled toilet alarm has been activated on the train.”

NO! Shut up! Stop it!

Tarquin hurtled down the Quiet Car and crashed through the connecting doors to the
next carriage before they had time to open. Broken glass lacerated him in several bodily places and he yelped with pain. This stopped him in his tracks, and he looked in shock at
his sanguineous, sticky hands.

I must wash this off!

Tarquin darted into the unoccupied toilet and slammed the door behind him, locking it
quickly. Shaking badly, he turned the tap and held his bloody hands beneath the uneven
stream of water. As he did this, he peered into the mirror and saw his blood-streaked
visage. As he hurriedly splashed water over his face, something took his left leg in an
iron grip. Tarquin looked down in terror and saw the arm extending from the toilet bowl;  the rest of the body obviously having been suctioned down the pan.

“Let me go!” Tarquin screamed.

The hand tightened further still. “Why didn’t you save me, you wicked man?” called an
echoey voice from the depths of the toilet. “I’ve been pressing the alarm – over and over
and over again. And all you wanted to do was read somebody else’s book, you rotten
pig.”

“No. NO!! You’ve got it all wrong!” squealed Tarquin. And he was drawn vigorously
down the toilet bowl. He just had time to hit the alarm button, as his body folded and his
bones cracked agonizingly, and his fractured form slithered away.

“Attention, Train Crew: the disabled toilet alarm has been activated on the train.”

Eagle Woman sniffed, as the man on the opposite aisle turned the page of his book.
A single hair sprouted up from the Bald Man’s shiny crown. “I shall call it Tarquin,” he
said lovingly.

No-o-o-o-o!!! I can’t come back like this! I’m supposed to be a lion! Roarrrr!

The Bald Man chuckled at the faint squeak that emitted from the solitary hair upon his
head.halloween2017horrormadeclewarth

Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.

PING – PING – PING – PING.

THE END (OF THE LINE)?

**********************

Thank you John for sharing your story with us this Halloween night, and thank you to everyone who stopped by to read it! I hope the rest of your Halloween fesitities are a load of fun and I’ll see you all again soon!

If you’d like to learn more about John and his work you can find it on johnclewarth.com.

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