Mr Johnson closed the front door behind himself and stepped onto the garden path, while slipping his hands into his woolen gloves.
Upon completing this little, familiar task, his eyes quickly ran a lap of his small yet neat and tidy garden, his eyes came to a stop upon the now blooming daffodils, which were housed within the otherwise empty, earthen border which clung tightly onto the four sides of his even manicured lawn.
He smiled in admiration at the perfectly formed yellow petals which framed each of the tiny orange trumpets and also at the almost too perfect, succulent green stems, he then took a deep breath of the refreshing spring air and stepped forward towards the garden gate.
As he walked along the pavement, the birds singing merrily in the hedgerow across the road distracted him from his thoughts and to show his appreciation he joined them, with an ever so slightly out of tune, whistled melody.
He gave a smile and waved his right hand as he passed by No 5, to Mrs Thomas, who had just greeted him in the same fashion from her living room, where she was patiently cleaning the inside of her windows. Mr Johnson could not help but chuckle to himself as he saw a mound of net curtains draped over her left shoulder.
As he carried on up the road, he thought back to the previous Christmas, when he had been invited by the Thomas’s to call over for an hour on the Boxing Day evening. He had sat there with an ashtray gripped firmly in one hand, while a cigar-a gift from Mr Thomas-quickly smoked away its short life in his other hand. My, but he had been too scared to drop even a smidgen of ash upon Mrs Thomas’s carpet, she was after all, so very house-proud, yet what excellent company they had both been. He made a mental note to invite them both over for drinks sometime later in the week, then he stepped into the park.
The path through the park curved slightly to the left, as Mr Johnson traversed its rough, gravel surface he looked about himself.
The park was practically empty, save for a man-whom he did not recognize-and a small liver and white spaniel dog. He watched them as he walked, the man threw a pinkish ball which the spaniel ran after with abundant enthusiasm, usually catching the ball in its jaws after the fourth or fifth bounce, then with a happy trot, brought its prize proudly to its masters feet, where the energetic activity repeated itself over and over again, much to the dogs enjoyment.
Upon reaching the other side of the park, Mr Johnson crossed the slightly busy street and walked into his local newsagents.
“Good morning Mr Johnson!” called the shopkeeper as Mr Johnson approached the counter.
“Good morning to you Fred!” replied Mr Johnson with the content smile of someone meeting a favorable and constant acquaintance.
“The weather’s brightening up lovely, isn’t it?” yawned Fred as he dug under his counter for Mr Johnson’s daily paper.
“It certainly is, I think I just might go for a nice walk down by the river after lunch and feed those ever hungry ducks!” replied Mr Johnson as he pulled free his wallet from the inside pocket of his coat.
“Oh, and I’ll have 20 Woodbines, please Fred!” added Mr Johnson almost as an afterthought.
“Certainly sir!” answered Fred with a smile.
After the money and change had passed across the counter, they both wished each other a pleasant day and Mr Johnson left the shop.
He crossed the still slightly busy street and proceeded in through the gates of the park, but after four or five paces through the park gate Mr Johnson was suddenly overcome by a sneezing fit. After sneezing fifteen to twenty times, Mr Johnson decided that he had better sit down for a while to recover, so he started off towards the nearest bench, stopping every other step to once again sneeze.
He sat down upon the bench, placed an elbow on each knee, put his forehead upon his arms and let his eyes rest on the floor between his shoes.
The sneezing became more violent-not because he had sat down, for as soon as he had noticed the change, he had sat up, sat back, stood up but to no avail, so he had returned to his former position upon the bench-now some phlegm and other assorted unpleasantness started to run out of his nose.
He reached into his coat pocket for his handkerchief but was dismayed to discover that he had unfortunately neglected to bring it along.
There is nothing that I can do but sit here and wait for this annoying episode to pass, he mused miserably to himself.
There was soon quite a large puddle of slime between his shoes-which he had had to move further away from each other-and the jerking movements which the sneezing sent through him were getting more and more ferocious.
Soon his face started to ache with the strain and a tension was building at the back of his head. He was then consumed in a gigantic convulsion, his head flew up and back, then forward again, there was a painful ripping sensation in his face, followed by a slapping sound, as he this time coughed and vomited onto the floor.
He had kept his eyes closed tight during this last blast from the strange malady which had a hold of him and continued to keep them closed for a few moments longer as he tried to regain some posture.
He then realized that he had stopped sneezing, the tension at the back of his head was gone but the edges of his face-around his ears and jaw-were burning something awful, plus all the front of his face was now completely numb.
Well, at least all of that sneezing has stopped, he thought to himself as he opened his eyes. He nearly screamed, fear gripped him in a stranglehold, for there on the floor, in the middle of the puddle of mucus was a small pile of skin, flesh and blood.
Mr Johnson’s hands shot directly up to his face, where to his horror, he realized that his nose was no longer there. All that remained in its place was a long thin strip of bone, then one of his fingers brushed across his teeth, he lifted his head and felt the rest of his face with his trembling hands. His lips were also missing, along with chunks of flesh and skin from his chin and both of his cheeks. He now understood what the burning sensation around the edges of his face was, it was where the flesh had stopped falling away.
He felt like jumping up onto his feet and running, panic was soaring through his body at an intense speed such as he had never felt before, but he did not get up and run, he just sat there in the same position, staring down at the mess below him.
He could not make out any of his features within the puddle, his nose was not visible, neither were his lips, just clumps and lumps of flesh, pink and jelly like, almost like pork fat. There were also strips and patches of greyish white skin, as he watched, the blood started to run away from the pile of face flesh in trickles, through and over the many cracks and crevices in the path. It was almost as if the blood was as disgusted with the whole sickening affair as Mr Johnson was himself and was quickly leaving.
Mr Johnson was suddenly brought back to reality-from the self-consuming horror of his predicament-by a light panting sound approaching. He froze upon the bench, head lowered and thought to himself, I must not be seen like this, whatever happens, I must not be seen like this.
From his hunched up position, he soon saw the spotted muzzle of a dog approaching him directly from the front. Mr Johnson tried to say, Go Away! to the dog but he was unable to speak, he tried to force himself but the best that he could come out with was a stifled groan.
Upon hearing this the dog stopped in its tracks, did a half circle away from the bench, turned back around to face Mr Johnson, cocked its head inquisitively, then approached once more.
The dog came to a stop about two feet away from the bench, leaned forward and sniffed towards the mess at Mr Johnson’s feet, then lifted its head and started whimpering.
Mr Johnson was in complete and utter despair, he was unsure of what to do, although he quickly realized that he must somehow get rid of the dog, for what if the dog came and started lapping up his exiled face, as disgusting as the thought was, it was a strong possibility, for dogs will eat raw meat and that is exactly what Mr Johnson’s face had become.
He was getting more and more anxious, the longer the dog stayed where it was, this was his face upon the floor and no matter how hopeless any thought to a solution to his problem was, and he must still try to protect all which lay upon the floor before him. He kicked out his right foot and gave the dog a low growl, the dog paced back a few feet and stopped again, why won’t you just go away? Screamed Mr Johnson inside his mind.
“Lady, come on lady, fetch girl, good girl, go on fetch, that’s it!” hollered a voice from a distance somewhere off behind the dog.
The dog quickly disappeared, Mr Johnson reassured by the sound of distance in the man’s voice, slowly lifted his head until he could view the person whom he had just heard calling the dog. It was the same man and spaniel who Mr Johnson had observed in the park when he had first passed through on his way to the newsagents. Luckily the man was too far away to notice anything wrong at the bench, so Mr Johnson followed him and the dog with his eyes, his head still half lowered but watching all the same.
The dog and master were making their way quickly to a side entrance of the park, within the next minute or so they would have passed through it, Mr Johnson let out a sigh of relief.
He was now coming out of his state of shock, his face-or lack of it-was still numb but he was slowly becoming aware of the everyday sounds around him. He could hear the birds singing and chirping in the trees which were dotted around the park and he could also hear the traffic driving along the street off to his right.
I must try and do something, he thought to himself at last, I must somehow get medical help, he no longer wanted to remain unseen by passers-by, so he raised his head, straightened his back and looked about himself.
He could see no one in the park, the dog and master had by now completely disappeared through the park gate, he knew from his attempt at shouting at the dog that his voice was not working properly, so he quickly ruled out the possibility of calling for help to the near by street. He thought of waving his arms to attract attention to himself but refrained from using such drastic gesturing on account of the fact that the people who were walking to and fro along the street seemed to take no interest in looking into the park.
He sat there hopeless, he did not want to just get up and walk away from the bench, for he did not want to leave the small pile of facial debris unattended because another dog could come along and besides he could see some carrion crows in a distant horse chestnut tree. He could not let the mess upon the floor be tampered with until he found out whether any of it could be saved and somehow put back onto his face.
He shuddered as thoughts of the crows pecking at the puddle flew through his mind, he blinked his eyes several times and cringed until the unpleasant visions had finally disappeared.
He glanced down at his trousers, which were covered in blood, although they merely looked wet because they were of a dark colour to begin with. He reached his left hand up to his face again, it was still numb but there was no blood flowing, it was in fact soaked in blood yet it was not spurting out as it had been when the incident had first happened.
Just then he heard footsteps approaching him along the path to the left, he quickly glanced in that direction and saw a figure, at a short distance, coming towards him.
He recognized the figure and heaved a sigh of relief, it was Mrs Trump, the old midwife who lived a couple of doors away from his own house, no doubt she was on her way to the newsagents to collect her daily newspaper and to play those scratch cards which she was so fond of.
He immediately felt a rush of relief run through him, for Mrs Trump had been a midwife, she must surely be used to seeing blood and other messy bits, in fact Mr Johnson reasoned to himself-while waiting eagerly for her to draw nearer-that his case would in all possibility not even shock her very much, after all she must have seen far worse things in her time than what he was about to present her with.
A tear ran from one of his eyes, he would be saved, Mrs Trump would go and call for medical help, then return and do what she could for him, while they both waited for the ambulance to arrive.
When Mrs Trump had approached to about ten feet away, Mr Johnson stood up and took a step towards her, while holding both of his arms out before him, imploringly.
She stopped dead in her tracks for a moment, then advanced forwards with a noticeable uncertainty to her walk. When she was within about four or five paces from Mr Johnson she once again stood still but this time it had nothing to do with uncertainty, this time she looked afraid.
She dropped her handbag and flung both hands up to the left side of her chest, the color quickly left her face and she was sweating profusely while making strange choking and gurgling sounds.
Mr Johnson approached her just at the same moment as she dropped heavily onto her knees and rolled over onto her side. What on earth is going on, thought Mr Johnson to himself, he had expected the meeting to start off on a dramatic note but he had not been prepared for this.
Then it suddenly dawned upon him, Mrs Trump had retired from midwifery early because of heart problems, she must be having a heart attack he realized in disbelief.
He wanted to do something for her but he just couldn’t think of what to do, he ran back and fore from Mrs Trump to the bench several times trying to form a logical solution to this predicament, yet he could not, the longer he stayed here the more terrified he became. He stopped once more by Mrs Trump’s motionless body and saw that she had now stopped breathing, poor old Mrs Trump, he could now no longer do anything for her even if he were capable.
Every instinct in his body was screaming for him to flee, no good could come of him staying here, for the next person to walk through the park would discover Mrs Trump’s body and raise the alarm. When the people came running and saw Mrs Trump and then Mr Johnson’s face they would simply not understand what had happened and Mr Johnson could not possibly explain to them, for the bottom half of his face had fallen off and he could not speak.
He decided that the only sensible thing that he could do would be to try and get home, so he ran back to the bench, took the newspaper from his pocket and opened it to the middle pages. He laid the newspaper down upon the path a few inches away from the pile of slimy flesh and with his gloved fingers started to shovel the mess onto the paper. He had to stop on a few occasions because when he stuck his fingers into the bloody pile steam rose up out of its depth and wafted into his eyes and mouth, the taste which came with it was horrendous and each time his hand made contact with the flesh he felt his stomach rise up to his throat.
Eventually he completed his task, all that could be seen upon the floor was blood, puss and phlegm. He carefully wrapped up the slightly warm parcel and put it into his coat pocket, he gave a last glance at Mrs Trump’s prostrate body and then set off in the same direction that she had appeared from.
He traveled at an unsteady jog, although he kept straying to the right and had to keep turning back onto the path, he looked a bit like a drunk running to catch the off-license before it closed. His eyes scanned from left to right as he travelled in this uncertain fashion, looking for any signs of movement up ahead, he saw none, luckily no one had entered the park since Mrs Trump.
He could now see the park gate up ahead and as he pushed towards it he started to feel little tingles in his jaw. It would seem that the numbness which had been holding his face captive was slowly releasing its grip upon the prisoner. He panicked even more, for he knew that if he did not receive medical help soon all feeling would return to his face and he would be able to do nothing but roll around in agony.
At last he reached the park gate and grabbed violently onto the flaking black paint, which lay apathetically upon its cold metal, he waited until his breathing had slowed down, then walked through the gates and turned right towards his road.
He kept his head lowered as he walked, with his hands held above his eyes, as if he were trying to view something from afar. Every time that a vehicle drove past, he turned to his side, away from the road, and pretended to look about on the floor for something lost. Within a couple of minutes he had reached the first house in his row, he was nearly home, just ten houses to pass by and then he would be safe. To him each house was a dreadful event waiting to happen, when each house was behind him he whispered Amen inside his head.
As he passed by No 8 he could not believe his luck, there were no people walking upon the road and only three cars had passed him.
Unfortunately for Mr Johnson, his luck took a turn for the worse as he passed by No 6 and approached No 5, for there stood Mrs Thomas. She had obviously just finished cleaning the outside of her downstairs windows and was folding up a small aluminium stepladder.
“Hello, again Mr Johnson!” she called half over one shoulder as she turned to face him properly.
There was a scream, followed by a metal clattering sound as she dropped the stepladder.
Mr Johnson did not pause for a moment but rushed with more speed until he was at last at his own garden gate, he pushed himself through it, leaving it to swing as it wished behind him.
He pulled out his keys as he raced up the garden path, stumbling off and treading onto the daffodils as he went.
He reached the front door, put his key into the lock, pushed and opened the door in one swoop, pulled his keys free and slammed the door behind himself.
He entered the living room and went to the easy chair by the window, pulled the now soaking wet newspaper parcel from his pocket and placed it carefully upon the windowsill next to the telephone.
He ripped off his coat clumsily and flung it down upon the carpet, picked up the telephone handset, placed it down upon the windowsill next to the parcel and dialed 999.
He then sat down upon the easy chair to wait, he knew that the operator would send someone straight out to investigate even if he did not speak, for it was the emergency number and it was their policy.
As Mr Johnson sat in the easy chair, looking out of the window onto the road, he saw a crowd of spectators gathering by his garden wall. Mrs Thomas was right at the front of this gathering, pointing at Mr Johnson’s house and yelling hysterically for some of the people-some of which were fellow neighbors-to go and break down his door.
Luckily before Mrs Thomas’s request could be carried out, there came the sound of sirens and soon one police car followed by an ambulance pulled up outside the house.
As Mr Johnson sat in his easy chair, watching the police and ambulance men exit their vehicles, he made a mental note not to invite the Thomas’s over for drinks after all, then silently and at last, almost peacefully, Mr Johnson fell unconscious.
By Paul Tristram