I confronted Mr Creepings on the stairs. “Have you seen my dog?”
His thin lips twisted into a smile. “Did you lose your Pomeranian?”
“She’s vanished,” I said. “I think she was killed…”
Mr Creepings scratched dirt from under his fingernails. “Have you asked everyone else in the boarding house? Maybe they’ve seen her?”
“They all said you cursed Fluffy. Do you know where she is?”
Mr Creepings slouched against the stairwell, adjusting skull rings on his fingers. “Fluffy barked a lot, didn’t she?”
“Only when you played heavy metal all night…”
“They’re my rooms,” he muttered. “I can do what I like. Isn’t that so?”
“Why can’t you be more considerate?”
He bounded away up the stairs, black coat flapping around his knees. “Why can’t you leave me alone?”
“What happened to my dog?” I shouted after him.
Mary arrived. She lived in rooms above Mr Creepings. “He’s a strange man, isn’t he?” she said, fiddling with her crucifix pendant. “In his garbage I found a dead vampire bat beside ten burnt out black candles. Maybe he sacrificed Fluffy to pagan Gods?”
She settled down on the sofa, resting her handbag on her knees. “People say he reads stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Blackwood, and H. P. Lovecraft. Heaven only knows what that does to his brain! Maybe he chopped Fluffy into bits and ate her for supper?”
We heard Mr Creepings thudding about overhead, buckled boots clicking on bare floorboards. Mary glared up at the ceiling. “What does he do all day?”
“Trashes my eardrums with punk rock and mopes about in crypts.”
Mary shuddered. “Why doesn’t he get a girlfriend? And why does he wear black eyeliner? And black lipstick? I wish he’d learn to comb his hair, and wash, and shave. Poor Fluffy. When did you last see her?”
“About a week ago. I put food in her bowl, but she never ate it. She’s gone, just leaving a few tufts of fur on the sofa. I think Mr Creepings sneaked in and kidnapped her…”
“Anything’s possible in this mad house,” said Mary, shaking her head. “And it’s so cold outside, worst winter ever. Do you think Mr Creepings cast a spell to freeze us all to death?”
“Could he do that?”
“Why wouldn’t he?” said Mary, pursing her lips. “Oh, I do miss Fluffy. I loved the way she always licked my hands after I scratched behind her ears. You’re an angel for adopting that stray bundle of fuzz!”
I smiled. “Have you time for a coffee?”
“I’m so busy,” she said, “but why not?”
In my kitchen I ground Guatemalan beans to brew piping hot coffee, inhaling the rich, soothing aroma.
But when I took it to Mary, she had gone. Why did she not say goodbye? How busy was she? Why would she be rude? Had something upset her? Had this got anything to do with Mr Creepings?
Every night he strummed his electric guitar. Zinging, zanging rhythms hammered down the walls so loud my windows rattled. I rammed cotton buds into my ears, burying my head under the duvet, damning his name as he crooned love songs to ghouls, goblins, and gargoyles.
I tried not to blame him for Fluffy’s disappearance, but felt certain he had poisoned her. I rang the cops. They did nothing.
A blizzard swept over town. Snow drifts five feet deep blocked roads. Ice skaters twirled on the frozen river. Icicles hung from withered trees.
I bumped into Mr Creepings on the stairs. I questioned him again. “What did you do with my dog?”
Mr Creepings smirked, brushing fallen snow from his black cloak. “Who cares about your stupid mutt? Anyway, I’m too busy carving tombstones to waste time on Fluffy…”
“I heard you worship ancient demons?”
Mr Creepings sneered down his crooked nose at me. “I’m no stranger to animal sacrifice in graveyards.”
I glared at him, getting really angry. “Did you kill Fluffy?”
“No,” he said, “but I wish I had! She wouldn’t stop yapping, would she? Where did you find the mangy cur?”
“How dare you insult my dog,” I yelled. “Why don’t you drop dead, you freak?”
His face flushed crimson as he clenched his fists. He threw a punch at me.
I punched back, my knuckles exploding in his face, squashing his nose into pulp.
He yelped and ran away, blood streaming from both nostrils.
Good riddance, I thought, nursing bruised knuckles. I wonder if he’ll ever come back?…
That night I sat dozing on my sofa when it moved.
In seconds my fingers felt velvet cushions turn to rough, leathery scales. Upholstery springs squealed as if cursed by witches. My sofa took on a squat, prehistoric shape like a stunted stegosaurus, its dark hooded eyes glinting with savage cunning. The beast lunged at me, mouth open wide, rancid jaws stinking of rotting flesh. Sharp teeth snapped like a crocodile as jagged talons tore at my legs.
Terrified, I sank into its gaping maw.
It nearly swallowed me whole in one cavernous gulp.
I struggled to my feet and escaped.
In its gullet I saw Fluffy’s collar beside Mary’s handbag.
My sofa had eaten my dog and my neighbour…
I was nearly sick with shock, heart pounding, stomach heaving.
Someone knocked on my door.
The devil sofa instantly transformed back to normal.
Horrified, shaking and trembling, I opened the door to see Mr Creepings.
“You look pale,” he mumbled, a plaster on his nose. “Anyway, I’ve come to make peace…”
“To apologise for playing loud music, and our fight. Can you forgive me?”
My eyes narrowed. “What do you want?”
“It’s late,” he said, shivering. “It’s freezing cold and my key snapped in the lock. The locksmith can’t come until tomorrow, so I’ve nowhere to go…”
“Come on in.” I grinned. “Stay all night. You can sleep on the sofa…”
Stephen Duffin writes in London, UK.