The Chronicles of a Butcher’s Wife

📅 Published on July 21, 2020

“The Chronicles of a Butcher’s Wife”

Written by Dan Weatherer
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


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Part One: Once a Butcher’s Wife

Calla Lily Cottage stood among the rose bushes and assorted potted plants atop of Willow Vale, basking in the mid-afternoon sun. White walls adorned with climbing ivy, a thick thatched roof, and aging lop-sided windows gave the building a distinct face; the kind of countryside appeal that estate agents put on magazine covers in an attempt to sell the idyllic country life to weary city folk.

Soft, measured footfalls announced the inhabitant’s imminent arrival, as Agnes Ferry, complete with a hand trolley full of groceries, plodded along the dirt track that formed the properties makeshift driveway.

Huffing rhythmically and pausing to push her glasses back onto the bridge of her nose every ten or so paces, the trip to Jones’ Shop n Save had become more tiring than it had been in previous weeks. Her usual purchases were present and correct; fresh eggs, flour for the cake she was going to bake for the local school fair, sugar and milk. New hacksaw blades and a heavy-duty padlock took up the remainder of the space in her trolley.

Mr. Jones had to order that last item in specially. When he asked why she’d need such a lock, Agnes had said that it was for a relative who was having issues with light-fingered neighbors. She had hated to lie to such a dear old friend as Mr. Jones.

A few chickens busied themselves pecking the ground to the side of Jim’s old workshop. Jim had passed away eight months earlier. Stomach Cancer had taken the best butcher in the county; cruelly and without warning, her husband of forty-three years was gone.

As she passed the heavily cobwebbed window, she felt the need to look inside. She stopped, furrowed her brow and shook her head. She would not look through the window today. She would not open the door to the workshop. She’d not look upon the body of the young man who lay crumpled and bloody on the tiled floor until she had finished making her locally famous Victoria Sandwich. He could wait. Baking could not.

* * * * * *

The Previous Night

Gavin exhaled, his breath twisted in the icy chill of the early morning air. He reached into his hoody and checked his phone. The badge of his beloved United illuminated his surroundings, and from the corner of his eye, he saw something small scuttle quickly under the crumbling dry-stone wall to his right.

2:48 am

“Wish they’d hurry up and get their wrinkly asses to bed,” he muttered under his breath.

He was supposed to go to the Job Center tomorrow, at three; he’d have to cut his lie-in short. He pushed his aching back up against the wall, eyes fixated on the dimly lit second-floor cottage window.

After what seemed like a lifetime, the light dutifully flicked off. Gavin checked his tools one final time and pulled the hood tight around his face. He slid silently over the wall and made his way across the grass towards the old workshop door.

A small padlock and thick rusty chain secured the premises. After a quick pry with the crowbar, the simple lock gave way with ease. Clutching his tools to his chest, he slipped through the gap, into the gloom.

Using the beam from his phone, he checked his surroundings, and sudden nervousness took hold of him. The wall directly ahead was lined with knives of various sizes, all hung on the according to some sense of order he couldn’t quite work out. There were knives with short handles and stubby fat blades, knives with slender blades, knives with flat rounded tips… too many knives to make any kind of sense of.

Then there was the rack of cleavers.

Moonlight seeped in through the grimy windowpanes, bathing the blades in an ethereal glow.

Gavin clucked his tongue against his teeth. Each blade looked razor-sharp, even though a thick layer of webbing and dust covered most of the contents of the workshop.

Always some mug after a blade, he thought, and began to fill his holdall.

A large metal door with a heavy opening mechanism at the far corner of the room caught his eye. He paused; a large thick cleaver in his hand, his mind rapidly filling with possibilities of untold wealth concealed behind what he concluded must be some kind of homemade vault.

Dropping the holdall, he crossed the stainless steel floor. To his surprise, the door swung open with just a mild push and a rush of cold, stale air hit him squarely in the face. The small metal-walled room was empty.

“Aww, crap,” he murmured, turning to close the door behind him.

A small wrinkled face nestled under a white hair net appeared suddenly out of the gloom.

Gavin yelped in fright.

The next thing he heard was a loud crack, followed by a wet popping sound as an iron coal poke embedded itself deep into Gavin’s forehead. He felt a warm, wetness begin to cover his face. His eyes rolled into the back of his skull and he fell forward onto his knees, the poker stuck in his head acting as a makeshift prop. His last thoughts were of how stupid he must have looked, kneeling before the old woman in the white hair net.

After a short time, the wet patter of blood slowed considerably and Agnes concluded the thief was probably dead.

She wrenched the poker out of Gavin’s skull. “Now to put those knives back where they belong,” she huffed, emptying the contents of the holdall onto the dusty butcher’s slab. Of course, they’d all need cleaning now, she deduced, and she trudged off back towards the cottage to get the metal polish and a good, clean rag.

* * * * * *

Detective Glover shifted uncomfortably in the hard-backed armchair he had been hastily steered towards, nudging the cotton doily onto the floor for the umpteenth time. His colleague, PC Frost, not long out of the academy, was idly sipping his coffee while eyeing up the faded photographs that covered every inch of the garish orange wallpaper.

The Detective attempted to revive the already flagging line of questioning again, directing his voice towards the open kitchen door, from which a noxious, meaty smell was emanating.

“So Miss Ferry, as I was saying, this young man may have been responsible for a string of burglaries in the local area. Could you spare a second to take a look at his picture?”

Agnes appeared in the doorway, a towel frantically working over her wet hands. “Mrs, dear,” she said with a smile. “I won’t be much longer; it’s no good if it spoils, you know. They just need to simmer for about an hour. You add half an onion, carrots, a stalk of celery with the leaves still on, and eight whole peppercorns. The secret is to bake them for two hours at three hundred degrees first, softens the marrow right up!”

Glover raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, stock, dear. I make all my own stock. It was Jim’s recipe.” A far-off look washed over her. Glover sensed he was about to lose her attention again. He stood up and offered her the photograph.

“If you could just take a quick look…”

“I haven’t seen him, Officer,” replied Agnes, barely glancing at the photograph in the detective’s hand. “I don’t see many people these days,” she continued, “what with all the internet and things; nobody has any time for visiting.”

“Mrs. Ferry, he wouldn’t be a visitor as such. He was a known thief and now he’s missing,” added PC Frost, who had finished his coffee and was reaching for his third custard cream. “We need to bring him in but nobody knows where he is.”

“What could I possibly have of value, dear?” she asked, gesturing dismissively to her collection of silver tableware and antique furniture. “No, I haven’t seen him, officers and I really must get on.”

The detective placed the photograph back inside his jacket pocket. “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Ferry.” Nodding to Frost, he gestured to leave. There was no point in forcing the issue. The old woman wasn’t going to be of any help.

“Before you go,” began Agnes, “would you like some pie? It’s as good as lunchtime and I have plenty. I won’t manage it on my own.”

“Oh, yes, please!” replied PC Frost, making himself comfortable once more. Glover shot him an annoyed look. He disliked working with Frost, who only ever seemed interested in sharing gossip and filling his gut.

The meaty aroma intensified, as Agnes hurried into the room with two plates of steaming hot pie. “Eat, eat, eat while it’s hot!” she encouraged.

“This is a good pie, boss,” Frost mumbled through a mouthful of pastry. “Pork, I think?”

Agnes nodded enthusiastically “Yes indeed, eat up. There’s more where that came from.”

The detective looked down at his plate. Thick chunks of slimy white meat oozed from within the light fluffy pastry. His mother had not raised him to be without manners and he helped himself to a large piece of meat. He chewed it thoughtfully, allowing the juices to flow over his taste buds. It seemed to be a tougher cut than he was used to with a fuller, stronger aftertaste. Reaching the conclusion it was probably an old recipe of her husband’s, he finished his plate hurriedly. The mountain of paperwork regarding Gavin’s disappearance was not going to take care of itself, and yet still, annoyingly, he had no leads.

“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Ferry. Frost, let’s go.”

Agnes hurried back into the kitchen, opened the large chest freezer packed full with pies and scooped a couple of handfuls into a carrier bag.

She returned to see the Policemen about to leave.

“For the boys at the station,” she said, purposefully thrusting the bag towards PC Frost, who keenly obliged.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” he replied, opening the bag to quickly count up the contents.

Detective Glover shot Frost another of his disapproving looks. A sudden queasiness had overtaken him and a quick return to the station to use the facilities was at the forefront of his mind.

The three of them walked the dirt track towards the front gate when a sudden glint of light caught Glover’s eye. Directing his attention to the source, he spied a pristine, heavy-duty lock sealing an old, slightly buckled wooden door. It was to secure a large building with dark and dusty windows they had passed on their way in earlier. Something about the splintered wooden door spoke to his gut, almost like it had been forced open and clumsily reset in its frame.

“May I have a look in there, Mrs. Ferry?” he asked firmly.

Agnes shrugged and trudged back to the cottage, considerably slower than when she had escorted the officers towards the garden gate. She returned a few minutes later clutching a shiny looking key.

PC Frost took the key and fumbled the lock open. As he opened the door the faint smell of industrial cleaning products and copper filled the air.

Detective Glover stepped inside, his slow footfalls echoing off the polished tiled floors.

Agnes watched silently from the open doorway, her fists clenched into tight-knuckled balls of flesh.

Glover swung open the vault-like door at the far end of the work shed. Aside from a noticeable rise in cleaning fumes, the smaller room was bare. He shrugged, nodded to Frost and excused himself from the workshop.

Agnes watched the two men leave, the sagging carrier bag straining with the weight of the Gavin-pies destined for the Police canteen the following day.

Part Two: Always a Butcher’s Wife

It had been several weeks since Detective Glover and PC Frost had unwittingly consumed a portion of the burglar they’d called to ask about. Agnes Ferry toyed with a card signed “thanks from the boys at the station” before setting it back amongst the china dolls and old photographs that cluttered her mantelpiece, and returned to her work in the kitchen. She smiled. The search for the unfortunate burglar had long since been abandoned, and Agnes had found it remarkably easy to dispose of his body; the villagers were all too eager to lap up her batch of pies. The primary school alone had taken thirty and served them as a special treat. She was the guest of honor at the assembly the following week. The memory of that fateful night and the arduous work that followed was finally beginning to fade; her mind was now focused on the upcoming annual harvest festival cake competition.

A winner for as long as she could remember, last year’s contest had become uncomfortably close. One vote was the difference; one ‘yes’ or ‘no’ that could make or break her reputation as the county’s best cake baker. She had returned home that night shaken, vowing never to let it be that narrow a victory ever again.

Her two main rivals were Mavis Bardwell, a sprightly seventy-four-year-old who had retired to the village a few years back to breed pigs, and Doris Edgerton, a former lifeguard at the local pool, who continued to work well into her sixties despite repeated calls for her to retire the swimming costume due to falling attendances. Both were seasoned bakers. Doris’ specialty was fairy cakes, light and delicate with exquisite icing, whereas Mavis was an expert at baking the fruitcake, which although tended to have an unusually earthy taste, always scored highly.

Her experience with the burglar and the Police had taught her a lot about herself. If you had the stomach for it, most of life’s little problems could be dealt with swiftly. Where there was a will, there was indeed a way. The only sure-fire way to guarantee victory was to eliminate the competition, and that is exactly what she intended to do.

Eight days until the Bake-Off

To source the best ingredients, Agnes often traveled out of the village to the neighboring town of Cleeton, specifically to visit Keate’s general store. The walk to the town through the narrow, twisting country lanes was long and arduous. Her bones creaked and ached in protest against the exertion, but it kept her active and you really couldn’t find flour the likes of Keate’s back home.

She had been walking the return journey for almost two hours when she first glimpsed the hunched shape coming towards her; a blue-coated blur on the greying horizon. The B23 to Cleeton, was a notorious road for speeding hoodlums and careless HGV drivers. The two would meet on the blind corner known as Hangman’s Turn where the pavement was narrowest: one of them would need to set foot on the road.

As the figure in blue slowly came into focus, Agnes realized that it was none other than Mavis Bardwell, the pig farmer, who, upon recognizing Agnes, markedly picked up her pace. Agnes straightened in readiness for the inevitable confrontation.

“And I suppose you are going into town to buy some of Keate’s flour, Bardwell?” said Agnes.

Mavis paused, taken aback, raised a skeletal finger and pointed it towards Agnes. “Agnes Ferry, you make way for your elders. I have an errand to run. Make way…shoo!”

Both started to shuffle towards one other, resuming their game of pavement chicken. “There’s no point buying any of the good stuff Bardwell, your cakes always taste like dung!” Agnes snorted.

“Piffle” snapped Mavis. “Stand aside now.”

The pavement was now barely wide enough for one. Someone would have to yield and let the other past. Each looked the other sternly in the eye.

“Out of my way, Bardwell, I’ve a winner’s speech to prepare!”

Mavis screwed her face into a cruel pout. “Ferry, you are a charlatan. I wouldn’t feed your Victoria Sandwich to the crows!”

Agnes had heard enough. She grabbed Mavis by her lapels, and in one fluid motion, tossed her into the road, where she landed heavily on her backside.

“HOW DARE YOU!” screeched Mavis, her pale complexion flushed pink with fury. “What do you think you are…? HELP ME UP THIS INSTANCE!”

Agnes stood motionless at the side of the road, her eyes fixed on her fallen nemesis.

“Are you deaf you old bat?” continued Mavis. “Help me up! My hip, I think it’s gone again, it hurts so much…” Her voice faltered slightly as fear and pain began to take hold of her.

Agnes turned to look towards the beginning of the blind bend, a wicked smile creeping across her face. “Deaf, dear? Hardly,” laughed Agnes. “In fact, I think I hear the approach of a large lorry. You’d better make haste!”

The lorry thundered around the corner and over the body of Mavis Bardwell as though she was made of kindle; six heavy sets of wheels pulping her corpse into the tarmac in a matter of milliseconds. The driver later commented that he’d not been looking at the road because his attention had been drawn to an old woman with the demonic grin who was waving to him from the side of the road.

Later, at the scene and after having explained the horrific details of the accident, stressing of course, that Mavis had lost her footing and stumbled into the road, Agnes had vowed to the officer on duty that she would tend to Miss Bardwell’s pigs until the matter of her estate could be resolved. After all, she said, that was the least she could do.

Four days until the Bake-Off

Agnes tried the doorbell for the fifth time. The trip to the farm had taken longer than anticipated; her interest in Miss Bardwell’s personal knick-knacks had eaten well into the day. The pigs, of course, were fine. Watered but irritable. She had again left them unfed. The smell of fresh cakes drifted lightly from an open window. Agnes huffed and knocked loudly on the door; she was beginning to wonder if this visit could keep until tomorrow. It was late and it had begun to rain.

A voice, mithered yet polite, came from somewhere inside the tiny cottage. “Yes, yes! One moment, deary, I just need to find my glasses…”

There came the sound of multiple locks being released and the door swung inwards to reveal the short, withered frame of Doris Edgerton. Her smile, the one she wore especially for unexpected visitors, quickly fell from her tired face.

“Oh,” Doris mumbled. “It’s you. Do come in.”

Agnes shuffled inside and made a beeline to the kitchen which was the source of the sweet odor that permeated the entire cottage. The air was thick with heat, the old Iron oven clanked noisily as it cooled in the corner. A tray of freshly prepared fairy cakes lay on the wooden kitchen table. Agnes felt her heart skip a beat. They were flawless in appearance, a neatly stacked mountain of confectionary perfection. She knew only too well that they would taste as good as they looked.

Doris noticed her visitor’s look of dismay and crossed her hands over her stomach. “I wouldn’t even bother entering this year dear, not when you are up against cupcakes of this caliber. It’s a foregone conclusion I’m afraid. I mean Victoria Sandwiches are so last year…”

Agnes’ anger steadily rose. She reached out and plucked one of the cakes delicately from the pile. “Ha-have you tried them yet?”

Doris shook her head. “Oh no, dear, you never do your own product. That’s the first rule of baking!”

“Maybe you should!” snapped Agnes,  thrusting the cake she had been holding roughly into Doris’ open mouth, forcing her hand deep into the back of her head. “I sincerely hope you aren’t diabetic dear?”

Doris, visibly shocked, fell backwards, with the full weight of her aged assailant, who was now almost wrist deep into her mouth, knocking her flat to the floor.  Her eyes bulged as she struggled for breath. Agnes withdrew her hand and crammed one cake, then another, and another into her gaping mouth. And when all of the cakes from the tray had gone, Doris was still and blue and very, very dead.

Agnes stood and crossed to the sink to wash her hands, ridding herself of the saliva and cake crumb mix her hands were encrusted with, her back to the corpse of her last remaining rival.

Two days before the Bake-Off

Agnes waited her customary six knocks before dusting her hands on her apron and turning towards her front door. She fixed her best look of mild surprise and opened the door. “Detective Glover!” she rejoiced. “My, my, aren’t you looking well, dear? If you have called for more pie, I’m afraid you are out of luck. It’s the harvest festival in a couple of days and I’ve been busy perfecting my Victoria Sandwich.”

Detective Glover removed his hat and flashed the polite smile he reserved solely for the old and the slow. “No, Mrs. Ferry, no pies today.” He said patting his stomach. “The wife has me on a diet these days. I’m afraid I am here regarding a rather grave matter, may I come in?”

Agnes cocked her head and squinted, her hands clawed at her apron, hitching it up just above the knee. “Now, dear? Oh no, not now, I must attend to Miss Bardwell’s pigs, prize breeds don’t you know? Devon Blacks, apparently!”

“Then allow me to give you a ride, Mrs. Ferry. It’s quite the walk from here, am I right?”

Agnes frowned and nodded. “It is, but nothing I can’t manage.”

Detective Glover nodded and fixed his hat.  “I won’t hear of it. I’ll be in the car when you are ready.”

* * * * * *

Nameless fields of wheat and grass flashed by the rain-speckled windows as Detective Glover slowed the car to cross another flash flood. He noisily cleared his throat. “Roads always get bad this time of year around here,” he began. “Probably for the best you accepted my lift, Agnes, you may have had to swim back home!”

“What did you want to discuss detective?” asked Agnes, her tone even.

Glover coughed and cleared his throat. “Well, officers were called to the home of Doris Edgerton yesterday evening after her neighbors phoned the station. They were concerned that when they called to borrow some garden tools they received no answer.”

Agnes shifted in her seat and turned to stare out of the window.

“Officers forced their way in and found Miss Edgerton dead in the kitchen.”

Agnes raised her eyebrows in feigned surprise. Glover continued: “Most odd, her mouth was packed full of cake!”

Agnes turned slowly to meet the glare of the detective. “Suicide?” she offered.

Glover stifled a choked laugh. “Hardly, Mrs Ferry, you see, the pathologist found her dentures pushed halfway down her throat.”

Agnes shook her head and clucked. “My, that is terrible Detective, but why are you telling me all of this?”

“Funny you should ask. The neighbors remembered that Doris had a visitor the previous evening, a visitor fitting your description. So you can see why I am here talking to you now.”

Agnes leaned across Detective Glover and pointed to his right. “Here we are Detective, I just need to feed the pigs, this won’t take a minute.”

Glover brought the car to a stop between the farmhouse and the barn. The ground was thick with mud and an earthy stench clung to the air. Agnes slowly got out of the car and made her way towards the barn, careful to avoid any puddles.

* * * * * *

It had been twenty minutes since Agnes had disappeared into the barn and Detective Glover was growing impatient. “Enough of this!” he said palming the steering wheel roughly. He got out of his car, pulled his coat tight, fixed his hat, and headed towards the barn. He reached the door and slid the big door aside flung it open. “Mrs Ferry, we really…”

The earth beneath Detective Glover’s foot sank and there was a loud metallic snap. Glover looked down and turned pale. The man-trap had cleaved straight through his leg at a point just below the knee. His blood, splashing out onto the sodden soil in violent gushes, had already begun to pool.

Agnes Ferry was standing by one of the gates to a packed pigpen. Her eyes narrowed and a wicked smile curled across her lips. “Now I can feed the pigs, Mr Glover, although you sure did take your time!”

Glover fell to the floor; his bloody stump circled in the air, spurting madly. The noise from the pigs intensified as the smell of blood began to fire their hunger. They climbed over one another, squealing and kicking out at the steel gates that held them from their dinner.

“Goodbye, Detective!” smirked Agnes, unlatching the first of the pens.

Two hours later, all that remained of Detective Glover were his hat and his car. The pigs, satisfied with their meal, had wandered off into the night. Agnes was content to let them, by morning they would be scattered far and wide meaning the chances of ever piecing together the former Detective were all but impossible.

After familiarising herself with his Vauxhall, she drove it to the shore of nearby Lake Tamwell. She parked it on a gentle slope, and after releasing the handbrake, was able to gently shunt it into the water. Within minutes it had sunk from view. It was going to be a long walk home.

The Bake-Off

Although an altogether more somber affair than usual due to the tragic deaths of two of the fair’s mainstay bakers (Mavis Bardwell 74, Doris Edgerton 66), the Harvest Festival celebrations went ahead as planned.

The annual Bake-Off, which this year was held in honor of the two former competitors, was once again won by Mrs. Agnes Ferry, who wowed the judges with her famous Victoria Sandwich.

When asked if she had any words to honor her fallen bakers she commented: “Although it is a sad time for the village and we have lost two fine pillars of the community, we have marked their absence the way they would have wanted. Now, who’s for cake?”

– Excerpt from the Cleeton Chronicle September 28th, 2013

Part Three: A Butcher’s Wife, Interrupted

Several uneventful months had passed since the Harvest bake-off, and the trophy that marked another triumph by Agnes and her Victoria Sandwich, sat pride of place on her antique sideboard. Agnes maintained a demanding cleaning schedule and the silver finish of the cup, wearing thin in places, shone at all hours of the day.

It was during one of her regular polishing sessions that she first heard the squeal of car tires, which was quickly followed by a sharp knock at the door. Visitors to Calla Lily cottage were rare and seemed to be entirely comprised of visits from the local police department or petty criminals, at least of late. It had been a long time since anyone had called by to visit her, perhaps even as far back as when Jim was still alive. Annoyed at the interruption she carefully set the trophy down.

The knock came again, sharper and more insistent. Agnes shuffled into the hallway and opened the front door.

“Hello, sister-dear,” said a gravelly voice. “It’s been a while.”

“Oh. You,” muttered Agnes. “I was wondering when you would make an appearance.”

Ethel Ferry, sixty-three years of age, stood before Agnes, cases in hand, a cigarette perched on her bottom lip. A drawn and puckered face peeked out from beneath an expensive-looking Missoni hat. An animal pelt was draped across her shoulders, the weight of which appeared to add a further curve to Ethel’s already stooped posture. Cold, grey eyes locked with Agnes’.

“That bloody cabbie, did you see the way he took off? I barely got to the curb before he pulled away. Bloody maniac! Are they all so impatient around here?”

Agnes curled her lips. “Did you tip him?”

Ethel straightened slightly and the pelt slipped off her shoulders a little. “Oh, yes, several times over on how to drive for a lady! I’m not even sure he had a license, you know? I had to hang on for dear life all the way from the airport!”

Agnes raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, Vegas, dear. Quick trip to play the slots, but never mind all of that! Are you going to take my bags and invite me in?”

Agnes stepped aside and pointed. “Through there, the stairs are in front of you, the same as the last time you visited. Guest bedroom is second on the left. You’ll find it made up and clean, I keep high standards regardless of my solitude.”

Ethel huffed, the weight of her bags had almost pulled her arms out of their sockets during the brief journey from the car to the door, but she could see she was going to get little help from her older sister. “Ever the warm welcome,” she mumbled and with a reddened face and much effort, she heaved her cases into the hallway and stumbled indoors.

It was late evening. Sat either end of the dinner table, left to Agnes by her mother, the piece was a yet another bone of contention between them. They had quarreled bitterly over the dividing of their mother’s estate; the whole experience had only added more bad blood to an already overflowing pale. Dinner had been consumed in silence, save for the dull tock of the grandfather clock.

“So…” Ethel began, her eyes fixed upon the meal set before her, “How have you been since Jim bought it?”

“Busy,” replied Agnes.

“What’s this you have cooked up dear?”  Said Ethel as she poked at the slab of meat on her dinner plate.


“Oh, come now sister, you know full well I don’t eat swine! It’s a filthy animal, frolicking in muck all day!”

“I forgot. Forgive me, of course, I should have known you don’t eat your kin,” remarked Agnes with a grin. Ethel ignored her insult and prodded at a soggy mound of vegetables, careful to steer clear of any that may have touched the meat.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t make the funeral. I had a cruise to attend, you see. Some of the church group booked it, long before I knew Jim was ill. Lousy timing. You’ll understand that I couldn’t let all of that money go to waste.”

Agnes placed her cutlery neatly onto the lip of her plate and smiled. “Of course. You were off finding Jesus.”

“Indeed I was, dear sister, and I found him! Young cabin boy from Mexico. Had a real appetite on him that one. Almost bled me dry, too. He developed a real taste for fine living during that trip; the look on his face when I told him there was no more money coming his way was positively priceless…but, I digress. I trust you got my card and the flowers?”

The memory of the crumpled card in the fireplace flashed into Agnes’ mind. “The card, yes. There were no flowers.”

Ethel set her cutlery aside; the knife spilled from her plate and smeared a greasy brown stain across the pristine tablecloth. Agnes clenched her teeth.

“Oh, they must have misplaced my order. I’m dreadfully sorry.”

“No matter,” muttered Agnes

Another silence followed, punctuated only by the persistent strokes of the Grandfather clock.

“It was a good turnout, though?”

“Yes” replied Agnes, her eyes locked onto the ever-growing gravy stain. She decided she would likely need to boil wash the table cloth later, another chore to add to her never-ending list.

“Did, erm…oh, now, what was her name?  It’s on the tip of my tongue…Martha, Martha Pembridge attend?”

Agnes shifted her attention from the tablecloth back to her sister, who sat sporting a wicked grin.

“You know full well she did not. She left the country thirty years ago,” snapped Agnes.

“Well, allegedly…” Ethel continued. “They never managed to find her, did they? Yet she never took a thing. No clothes, no money. She just sort of vanished!”

“And you expect her to make a reappearance for Jim’s funeral?”

“Perhaps. They were close weren’t they until you came along.”

The image of the axe that she kept behind the shed, embedded into Ethel’s face flashed into Agnes’ mind, her forehead neatly split in two, her brains spilling out either side of the gleaming blade. A pleasant thought. She snapped herself out of her daydream. “You should have attended,” said Agnes.

Ethel smirked. “Perhaps, He and I always had a bit of a spark, didn’t we?”

Agnes tensed and held her breath. The heavy Spode teapot was close to hand. With a quick swing, she could knock the smirk right off Ethel’s cruel, withered face, once and for all… but, the mess would be terrible, and it would be a shame to break such a lovely piece of pottery. She exhaled slowly and unclenched her fists.

“Besides, we said our goodbyes years ago, Jim and I,” winked Ethel. “I’m going for a bath. Thanks for the meal. Next time though, could you choose a more cultured meat?”

As Ethel padded out of the dining room and began to make her way up the stairs, Agnes concluded that she was going to have to kill her sister.

The bathroom door was not locked; there was no need for such measures, not for a woman who lived alone. The taps had stopped running some time ago when Agnes chose to make her entrance. Steam filled the room and it took a moment for Agnes’ eyes to adjust. Ethel lay neck-deep in a pool of thick bubbles. She looked smaller somehow, free of her expensive clothes and make-up.  For the first time in Agnes’ life, she saw her sister vulnerable.

Without a word, Agnes drove her right arm into the water and hooked her sister underneath her knees. With a sharp upward motion, she lifted Ethel’s lower legs out of the water which meant that her head at the top end of the bath was forced underneath.

After a time the kicking and flailing stopped.

The water that had escaped the bath in the struggle had all but disappeared from the floor and the walls when Agnes finally let the legs of her sister fall back into the water. Ethel’s body slowly rose to the surface where it bobbed gently. She decided that she would move later, that way she would be able to go from the house to the shed unseen. She knew that she would be busy with the meat grinder for the next couple of days, but on the plus side, it meant that she would have plenty of opportunities to indulge in a spot of baking.

It was a few days after the unpleasantness in the bathroom, and calm had fallen over Agnes once more. The grinding had gone well and had turned out a surprising amount of usable meat. There was not too much waste that needed burning, and the bones had crumbled into a fine powder with relative ease. She was just about to prepare a fresh batch of Stock when the sound of a car horn interrupted her. She tried to ignore it, but the horn became more and more insistent. Whoever it was, they were not going to go away. Agnes untied her apron and made her way out into the garden and towards the front gate. A taxi had pulled up at the foot of her driveway; the burly looking driver spied Agnes approaching, wound down his window and called to Agnes.

“Excuse me, love, is Miss Farrow ready?”

Agnes smiled. So that was the name her sister was using these days! No matter, it only helped her cause further; her sister had used many names in the past which made it all the more difficult to track her movements. “I’m sorry,” said Agnes. “She left yesterday. She must have forgotten she had booked you for the return journey.”

The taxi driver looked annoyed. “That’s the second one this week! Bloody hell…it cost me a fortune in fuel coming all the way out ‘ere!”

“I’m sorry… say…it’s almost lunchtime, would you like a pie? I’ve not long baked a fresh batch?”

“That’s very kind of you,” nodded the taxi driver. “Thanks. Save’s me a bit of money at least!”

Agnes clapped her hands in delight and disappeared into the house. She returned moments later with two generous sized, steaming hot pies.

“What’s in ‘em, love?”

“Oh, pork, but it’s not the best meat I ever worked with. Seems a bit tired and stringy to me. Tasty though!” winked Agnes.

The taxi driver took a large bite. “Mmmm, that’s good! You make these yourself?”

Agnes smiled. “Yes, but I can’t take all of the credit. I had a little help from my sister.”

Part Four: A Butcher’s Wife, Indisposed

A single momentary lapse in concentration had undone all of her recent plans and consigned Agnes to the indignity of an NHS hospital bed. For three weeks, she had been subjected to food fit only for the pigs. For three weeks had she lain, weak and helpless, beneath heavily starched sheets that made her skin itch. For three weeks, she was made to suffer the banal chatter of the patients who surrounded her. She had suffered long enough.

Her ordeal had begun earlier that month while standing in line at the post office. It was an unseasonably warm morning, and Agnes, ever eager to get her chores over and done with, had skipped breakfast. The queue was unusually long. The argument between Mrs. Aitkens and the Post Office clerk had entered its tenth minute when a peculiar feeling overcame Agnes. Her head grew heavy, and the raised voices in the post office seemed to slow and distort. She remembered looking at the floor. Then there was nothing but blackness.

Agnes awoke to find herself surrounded by the great and the good of the village. She looked up at the circle of faces, and the circle of faces looked back. None offered a hand to help her up.

After a short ambulance ride and a brief examination by a Doctor, who did not provide his name, Agnes was admitted to hospital suffering from severe dehydration. She was the last of the four to enter the ward.

Her fellow patients soon acquainted themselves with Agnes. Elaine was a lady of standing who refused to pay to go private when she could be treated for free. She took great pride in reminding everyone who entered the ward of her immense wealth and talked endlessly about her lavish lifestyle. Tired of her constant boasts, Agnes told her that her status stood for naught as they were all pissing into cardboard bedpans. Elaine said little after that.

Marjorie was the quiet sort who only spoke to agree with what she was hearing. It didn’t matter what she was hearing, if you were talking to Marjorie, she agreed with you. After an extraordinarily long discussion about immigration with one of the porters in which both parties had contradicted themselves countless times, Agnes suggested that they ought to both shut up before she took upon them with her crutches. Unsurprisingly, Marjorie agreed.

It was Coral who grated upon Agnes the most. Coral had severe health complications, the list of which would run the length of your arm. Unfortunately, a broken jaw was not among them. By the end of the second day of her stay, Agnes knew Coral’s entire life history. She knew that when she was six she had cut her hand on a tin of Spam and required four stitches. She knew that on her first date with a boy called Clive, he had remarked how her hair smelt of strawberries and then went on to rub her knee. She also knew the exact time and date that the menopause hit her. With Marjorie as the ever-attentive audience and Elaine now all but mute, Coral was free to run roughshod over any topic of conversation, and she grasped every opportunity to do so.

Agnes’ days became a monotonous routine of bad food, intolerable company and disturbed rest. By the third week, she decided that something needed to be done about her situation and whilst the doctors were not going to allow her home anytime soon and the nurses had repeatedly ignored her requests for a single room, it would be up to Agnes to sort matters herself.

A stroke settled the Elaine matter before she could return to her boastful ways. She was wheeled out of the ward, draped in one of those irksome sheets, feet poking out of the bottom. All the while Coral regaled Marjorie with the story of her last trip to Turkey. She didn’t even pause to draw breath. Agnes quipped that it was “a stroke of luck” that God had elected to take Elaine and liberate her from this hell. Coral scowled while Marjorie agreed.

One would assume that death on the ward may warrant a more solemn and considered mood, if only for a short time, but Coral, with a smaller audience now, seemed only to increase the frequency and length of her verbal bunkum, much to Agnes’ annoyance.

Her time spent alone with her thoughts had afforded Agnes ample opportunity to formulate a means of disposing of Coral and ending her tirade of nonsense once and for all. The staff that served the ward were not the most attentive and often took long breaks, leaving the nurses’ station unmanned. Agnes had considered overdosing Coral on medication, but that was one area of their job where the staff paid attention. The medicine cabinet was locked, and all tablets were checked, double-checked and accounted for at the end of every shift. Plying her with drugs was out of the question, so a better idea was required.

During one of Coral’s rare bouts of silence, Agnes overheard a conversation that suggested that the lift that serviced the wing was out of order. Agnes did not know how many floors up she was situated, but a quick look out of the window at the end of the ward afforded the view of hundreds of sloped roofs. As luck would have it, the fault was located on this floor, and a maintenance team was working in the shaft.

Agnes waited until the crew took a break. With unsteady legs, she got out of her bed and padded out into the corridor. The nurses’ station was empty, and the other wards were deathly quiet. At the far end of the corridor, she spied the open lift-shaft. A small plastic ‘caution’ sign stood before it, a bright yellow warning to the peril that lay beyond.

“What are you doing out of bed?” croaked Coral. “You shouldn’t be doing that, doctor’s orders. I heard him say; you are going to get in trouble when I tell him you’ve been out of bed!”

Agnes looked first at Marjorie, who nodded in agreement and then at Coral. “I feel like going for a walk. You fancy joining me?”

Coral’s eyes bulged from their sockets, and her mouth fell open. “What do you mean do I fancy a walk? I’ve got shot knees the doctor says. Can’t understand how I managed for so long, no cartilage, it’s just bone grinding on bone!”

Agnes made her way towards the foot of Coral’s bed. “No matter,” she said with a smile. “How about a ride then?” Using the point of her crutch she released the brake, tossed her walking aid aside and began to ease Coral’s bed out of her cubicle.

“You can’t do that!” screeched Coral. “Put me back, I’ve got meds due soon, I like my bed just where it is thank you very much!”

Agnes continued to manipulate the bed into the center of the room while Marjorie watched in silence. Once centered, she positioned herself at the head of Coral’s bed and pushed it out of the ward.

“Where do you think we’re going to go? It’s not like you can wheel me into the café, the lift is broken, don’t you know? I heard them talking about it earlier.”

Agnes pushed the bed into the empty corridor and pointed the foot of it towards the open lift shaft.

“See,” began Coral, a hint of smugness in her voice. “I told you the lift was broken. Typical NHS, always something—”

The wheels of the bed squeaked into life as Agnes began to push Coral towards the lift shaft.

“Wh-what are you doing, woman?” cried Coral, the smug tone replaced by one of panic. “Stop, stop this at once!”

The bed began to pick up speed and Coral began to stammer incoherently. Agnes pushed harder and faster; her legs seemed to gain strength with every step forwards.

“Wait, please—stop this now!”

Agnes released her grip on the bed, the momentum of which carried it forwards. The yellow plastic sign caught under the front wheels of the bed and disappeared into the lift shaft with a hysterical Coral. Seconds later there came the satisfying sound of metal crashing into metal, followed by a prolonged and blissful silence. Agnes returned to her bed, gave Marjorie a stern look, pulled her sheets to her chin, and settled off to sleep.

* * * * * *

She awoke to find a police officer standing beside her. She was young-looking; Agnes could scarcely believe she was out of school. Upon seeing Agnes stir, she produced her notebook. “So sorry to disturb you ma’am, but did you happen to see what happened to Mrs. Oakley? The lady in the cubicle opposite?”

“No dear, I’m afraid once I fall asleep I’m dead to the world,” said Agnes with a smile. “Isn’t that right Marjorie?”

Though Agnes could not see Marjorie’s response, she knew that she would agree.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Dan Weatherer
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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