A Worcester Carpet Cleaner's Halloween tale.
Threads: The curious case of Simon, a carpet cleaner in Worcester.
The crimson stain was proving obstinate. It sat in the centre of the cream carpet, under the view of a south facing window, and at ten minutes to midday it looked truly awful. Its shape was peculiar too for a red wine spillage: reminiscent more of a blood stain splatter pattern that the carpet cleaner had seen on one of the many television crime shows. And at its centre a blood red heart shaped stain stood out, unnaturally bright.
Still, Simon told himself, he’d seen worse than this. He knelt over it for a second time and dabbed gently at the edges of the carpet stain, careful to test his spot cleaning technique, attempting to see if enough time had elapsed for the hot water and cleaning agent to soak in. It was just a pity that the home owner hadn’t attempted to clean any of it away when the wine had been spilled, some days before during a Saturday night party. It made his job that much harder.
But the longer the stain was left, the longer it would take to clean, he reminded himself. That was one universal truth he had discovered in more than a decade’s worth of carpet cleaning employment.
Feeling that his skills were under-appreciated, he set to work with an adamant determination to remove the stain and to leave the carpet looking cleaner than it had since it had first left the factory in nearby Kidderminster. His knees gave a sharp ‘click’ of protest as he moved over the stain, dabbing with ever harder strokes, making sure his cloth was clean before he carried on, and every few moments plunging it into the bucket of hot water at his side before attacking it again.
With each fibre he dabbed, he found himself wondering, as he often did, on the life of the carpet under his care. From what foreign parts had the material come from to be put together and skilfully produced just a few miles from where he worked? What mind had designed it and how had the final carpet differed from that unknown individual’s initial vision? What had become of the hands that had worked the machine and stitched it together and loaded it in the delivery lorry for a shop assistant to put it on display? Had she (or he) been hungover that Saturday morning and turned up a few minutes late for work at the carpet shop? Had they been rebuked by the manager before gulping down a strong coffee or had they been bright-eyed and early, perhaps enjoying a spring morning with bird song and sun shine?
He liked not to know. The possibilities were limitless. The world itself, with all its history of individual lives and actions taken with unknown consequences was a thread of infinitely finer fibres than the carpet under his knees.
He shifted his weight again, over the cleaning area on the carpet and once more his knees gave a creak of protest and his right elbow ached with a sharp shooting pain. He took a deep breath that was more than a half sigh of annoyance.
To be ten years younger, he thought. Everything would be that much easier!
The sun was his guide. As it approached its zenith on that clear day in the last week of October, the edges of the crimson stain gave up ever more of the grape and the dark red was bled out to a less offensive shade. Gradually, and dab by dab, and with the cloth dipped and washed in the hot water before each new wipe, the stain on the carpet began to shrink.
Simon put his weight on his left arm and dabbed away, using only a slight force. It ached again as he cleaned the carpet beneath him, his mind set on the heart of the stain where the crimson was deepest, a peculiar blood red blot that seemed to consume all his efforts and remained stubbornly prominent. Indeed, it suddenly seemed to him that for all his carpet cleaning efforts, the heart stain only appeared brighter and deeper.
He leaned back and took a breath. It’s only because the edges of the stain have been reduced, he told himself. That’s why the stain in the middle looks worse. I just haven’t applied enough attention to it yet.
He relaxed his hands in gentle clenching and unclenching motions, letting his muscles stretch. People didn’t often appreciate the hard work of carpet cleaners like him and the genuine physical demands that a severe spot clean on an otherwise clean carpet would need.
With more feeling returning to his hands, Simon turned his neck in slow circles and straightened his back. As he did so his eye fell upon one of the framed pictures on a coffee table below the window. It showed his client, Samantha, an attractive woman in her late thirties. She was reclining on the sofa in that very room, with her pussy, a handsome black and white of trim proportions, held in her lap.
A passing sadness overcame Simon. When he was five the family had taken on a dog, and now with the wisdom of an adult in retrospect over his youth, he knew how much Duke had done for him. The dog had not only been his friend, it had been his fellow rebel in those exiting moments of every child’s life when they commit a crime by raiding the sweet drawer or staying up late at night and refusing to sleep. Duke had opened new opportunities for him too, when he had taken him on walks and met other dog owners. Duke had even been there the night when he had his first kiss, and later still when he had first . . . Simon smiled at the recollection. Duke was old when Joanna and he started dating, and he had died soon after. It marked in his life the time when his childhood ended, and when manhood began.
Had Samantha been so attached to her pet? He glanced around the room and saw how the cat’s possessions had been pushed into a wicker basket beside the fake coal fire. Losing an animal to death was one thing, there was a finality there that couldn’t be countered by suspicion and worry. But to have a treasured pet simply disappear from a locked apartment was far worse.
Had a friend let it out at the party in good faith, perhaps thinking it was allowed into the communal garden of the Worcester block, only to keep quiet about it when Samantha had become distraught? It could so easily have happened. That had been at the weekend, and on the Sunday morning the stain had been discovered. The cat had been missing for nearly a week.
Was it locked in a shed by accident, condemned to starvation? Had it been injured by a car and had crawled into a hedge to die, alone and in pain? It was the uncertainty that Simon knew was plaguing Samantha.
The clock hands met at midday, and Simon renewed his attack on the heart shaped blob at the centre of the carpet stain. With each dab his frustration grew and he found himself applying more force to break the substance down. Very quickly, his dabs turned to angry scrubs, yet still his cleaning efforts had little effect.
He leaned back and knelt upright and shook his head and swore under his breath. He had broken hundreds of wine stains down on carpets all across the city of Worcester in his years of skilled work. Yet this one was uniquely stubborn–
A sharp pain bit into his calf just above his right ankle. He reacted and fell to his left, his hand flailing out to support him above the carpet whilst he looked down at his leg.
A tiny pool of blood blossomed from his flesh. It reminded him of a horse fly bite and it hurt just as much. He wiped it away on his palm and felt gently around the wound to see what had caused it.
The carpet beneath him seemed clear, yet his work trousers, the ones he always wore for his carpet cleaning service, had no sharp protrusions either. Where had it come from?
Simon shifted his weight again and studied the carpet in more detail. As he moved a fold in his trousers revealed a long thread beneath it. Its tip glinted in the sunlight.
Is that a sewing needle? he wondered, looking at it more closely. He reached for it and took the thread in between his fingers. Pulling it, he found it was a part of the carpet fabric. With a stronger tug, the thread became taut yet he felt the tension through his skin as it seemed to pull back.
He gave it a closer inspection, eyeing the tip of the thread closely with his eye. There was a metallic end to it! Some sharp implement that was a single hair’s width fine. He held the thread tight, reached into his belt with his free hand, and cut it loose with a pair of small scissors he kept on his person.
The thread in between his fingers coiled and then opened up again, before coiling back up once more. It seemed like it was a living thing in its death throws.
With a look of contempt, Simon flicked it into the rubbish bin beside the door, thankful that he had found it before his client had suffered herself to be pricked in the sole of her foot after his carpet cleaning. That would do his reputation as one of Worcester's most professional carpet cleaners no good at all! Wiping his calf again, he proceeded to clean the blood red heart of the carpet stain when he was more astonished than hurt to feel a second bite in his left hand.
“What the hell?” the carpet cleaner swore, pulling back his hand and rising into a kneeling position to inspect the wound.
Like before, a growing bubble of blood rose from his skin. Simon watched in wide eyed fascination as it burst and a crimson smear dribbled across the back of his hand. With a sharp intake of breath, he rubbed the wound with his other hand and held his thumb over the tiny hole.
The seconds passed. Simon felt warm in the glare of the midday sun that came in through the window before him. He found his eyes fall on the photograph of Samantha and her cat.
Giggles! That was the name. That was what she had named her pet. That, or Mr. Giggles.
He forced his attention back to the carpet, to see what had caused this second wound. His eyes searched for a loose thread with a sharp tip–
Yes! There it was! Right next to the carpet cleaner’s hand. He recoiled instinctively, the memory of his pain still fresh.
But there were more! All around him the carpet had grown dozens of threads with their needle heads. As he stood, he saw how they had formed around the impression of his body in the carpet itself, leaving an outline from where his weight had been greatest.
And they were moving forward, probing like a blind animal that could sense the heat of its prey.
Simon gave a gasp and stood. Rapidly he backed away to the doorway. With every step he took the threads ceased to move.
Was it his weight that caused these threads to emerge from the carpet? Or was it the carpet cleaning agent he had soaked into it before hand with the cleaning agent? Had that caused a reaction in the carpet’s fibres? He shook his head. Simon had cleaned hundreds of carpets over the years, and yet he had never seen anything quite like this. And Samantha herself had assured him that the carpet needed no special treatments.
There was only one explanation to Simon. Something had gone wrong with the carpet when it had been manufactured. Somehow, sharp barbs of razor pointed metal had become sewn into its fibres, and the threads uncoiled under the sudden application of weight.
Testing this theory, he put one foot forward onto the carpet, and leaned onto it. His shoes were wrapped in a disposable protective cover that he used in all his clients houses to stop him treading any dirt over their carpets, and the blue nylon crumpled beneath him, the only sound he was aware of.
He waited and watched. But the carpet underfoot behaved the same way as carpets the world over. There was no sudden appearance of snakelike fibres seeking his blood.
A moment passed and his attention never wavered from the floor. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing. With a sigh at his own ignorance and suspicion, he glanced at the area he had been cleaning, where the stain at the centre of the carpet remained.
There also the fibres had gone. Not a single one remained.
“That’s it,” Simon declared. “I’m officially going cuckoo.”
But his words lacked sincerity, and the tiny punctures on his calf and hand were no illusion or misplaced reality.
Still, the carpet cleaner had wasted enough time. More determined now, he stepped back to the stain and renewed dabbing at it vigorously. Every other second he would glance at the carpet around him, on the look out for the stabbing threads.
The stain was fading, but it was slow work and his arms were beginning to burn. More hot water! Another dab! A quick rinse of the scrubber and reapply! It was the rhythm he was used to. The rhythm of a man at work and more than that of a man who knew his work. Carpet cleaning was what he did. Its actions were so familiar to him that his muscle memory exerted itself and took over from conscious effort, his hand twisting and dabbing in a hundred different strokes to reduce the stain, angling into the grain of the fibre and then against it, assaulting it from different directions.
He was winning! Simon had the stain beaten.
He laughed manically. He did not know why but he suddenly felt the need to do so. He forced himself to apply more energy to clean the last of the stain, to purge the effrontery of it from the earth altogether, suddenly aware that this was more than any normal carpet clean, that it was now a battle to be won. A battle for life and death–
His left hand was stuck fast to the carpet! He turned his head and saw how the fibres and grown around his fingers and palm, saw how they had grown into his skin!
“No! No that’s impossible!”
He heaved his arm back and his hand burned in pain but remained unmoved. Yet as he did so he slipped and fell face down, splayed, on the carpet.
They were upon now. They had waited, silent in their multitudes, patient in their hunger, but the threads of the carpet sensed his weakness. Simon felt a thick coil seize his ankle. A single pain, the familiar bite of a horse fly, pierced his armpit. Another pierced his wrist whilst another somehow penetrated his clothing to enter the pit of his stomach.
Simon’s body writhed as the pierces became too numerous and too inseparable to note. It was a single long burning pain that seemed to fire every inch of his skin, every part of his body. His face pressed into the carpet, his cheek gauged by the hundred needle tops of the threads that met him, and as he screamed he put his tongue out to try to draw breath, to give him strength for one last exertion for freedom and life.
But the threads found his tongue too. And they liked it.
Unable to retract it, Simon could only watch as the threads of the carpet grew all around him. He felt the piercing on the inside of his mouth, around the top of his throat, in his ears and nose.
It was just his eyes they seemed to leave for last.
Just so he could see everything else before they took them too.
And they liked the carpet cleaner’s eyes most of all.
It was half past five and dark outside when Samantha returned from her day at the office. She did what she always did: she kicked off her shoes, put her keys on the table by the door of her flat, put the kettle on, and then entered the lounge to recline on her sofa for a moment. Usually, Mr. Giggles would have been there to greet her, desperate for a stroke and a cuddle of his own, but he had vanished after she had hosted her house warming party. She still hadn’t forgiven her guests for that evening: one of them must have let the cat out and not admitted it to her, and another had spilled wine on the new carpet. No one had admitted to that either.
Thinking of the stain, she looked over the carpet with an inquisitive eye. The stain was gone, but the carpet looked a different shade. It seemed to be pink.
Perhaps that was how all carpets looked after being cleaned? she thought. She tested it underfoot, and found that it seemed thicker than before. More luxurious. Softer and deeper and somehow decadent in its comfort. And it smelled different too. It was a peculiar smell but not at all unattractive.
She decided she should call Simon to express her satisfaction. Getting her mobile from her hand bag, she walked barefoot over the carpet, her senses aroused by its warmth. It felt alive under her feet!
She heard the ring tone far away and waited for its connection. Moving the phone away from her ear to better inspect the carpet before her, and to tense her toes underfoot in a glorious feeling that would make a masseuse proud, she waited.
The phone rang for a second ring before she gave a sudden start: had that been a ring tone beneath her feet? It sounded far away and oddly faint and by the second ring it had diminished beyond her ability to hear. Perhaps it was from the flat below?
Stupid, she told herself. It was just me imagining it! She held her phone once more to her ear and waited, only to find it go through to Simon’s message.
“Hi! It’s Simon here. If you want to arrange a carpet clean for your Worcester property, then just leave a message after the beep. I’m afraid I’m probably immersed in a carpet near you right now so can’t take your call. Alternatively, contact me through my website at Worcester Carpet C–”
Samantha hung up. She would call him again later on or tomorrow and transfer the payment via her bank online. He had done a remarkable job!
It was completely dark outside now and her reflection stared back at her. She thought of Mr. Giggles and remembered the same friends she had invited to her party would be out in Worcester tonight. The same ones who had stained her now very clean carpet. No. Tonight would be for her and for her alone. She would open the bottle of Merlot in the kitchen, pour a very large glass, and find some romantic movie on the television. She would put her gas fire on and gaze dreamily into the fake coals, promising herself that one day they would be real ones and that she would not be on her own.
Yes, she decided. She would get her bean bag from the bedroom, throw it on the carpet in front of the fire, and relax in front of the television with a glass of wine. She might even fall asleep.
What could be more pleasant than that, on her nice, new, clean, carpet, that was so, almost supernaturally, luxurious and soft?
Epilogue: The curious case of the Worcester Carpet Cleaner and his client.
(Taken from the Worcester Evening News, December 2017).
The Worcester Coroner has ruled that there has been no satisfactory explanation as to the disappearance of two people from a Worcester flat in October of this year. Police are urgently asking anyone with any information on Mr. Simon W– or Miss Samantha S– to contact them. They were last seen in the vicinity of – apartments, not far from Friar Street, Worcester. The work van of Mr. W was found outside the properties, and he had been engaged to clean Miss S’s carpets. The apartment was since purchased by Mr. Cerberus Cain, of Jackdaw Hill near Malvern, by public auction. Mr. Cain has expressed his purchase to be a matter of public record, and has stripped the apartment of all its fixtures and fittings. The carpets were noted to be beyond repair, and Mr. Cain, with the permission of the Worcester Coroner, had them incinerated.