Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland.
Going home was all that he had left. The family and friends had long since gone from the little town on the West coast of Scotland but it had been home once and would be again.
The snow fell as he stepped from the railway station. It had been a long, long journey from London and all of it spent travelling in third class. Like his family the money had disappeared, some through his own carelessness and some through the dishonesty of others. Now all he had was a few pounds to rent a small room in his old town.
Mrs Trelawney was expecting him and she seemed cheery and homely.
“Your room is all prepared Mister Lawson and I’ve had my daughter light a fire to take the dampness out of your bed. If you would like to go straight up and get settled in, I’ll show you the way.” Mrs Trelawney climbed the three floors but hesitated at the final floor. Sam Lawson assumed it was because she was out of breath and so he went to help her.
She pulled away, adding “I am fine, Mr Lawson.....really, I am fine.”
Sam thought that the woman spent as little time as possible in his room.
“If you need anything Mrs Lawson my daughter will bring it to you. These stairs are a killer for me,” said Mrs Trelawney. The thing that struck Sam as strange was that she was younger than he was.
Once he had unpacked he sat down to write a letter, the main one being to the Carters in London who had so graciously helped him in his time of need with a bed.
He placed his paper and pen on the old wooden table that sat in the corner. It would have to be used for all things considering it was the only table in the room. He had just laid his pen on it when there was a knock at the door.
“Coming, Mrs Trelawney,” he called but when he opened the door the hall was empty and his, was the only bedroom on that floor. He noticed an old store room across the way and he wondered if the person had disappeared in there. He knocked on it quietly and when there was no response, he tried to open it. It looked and felt as if it hadn’t been opened in years. Sam returned to his room.
He closed his door and sat down to write the letter but suddenly a cold chill ran up his neck for on the paper that he had left blank were scrawled the words ‘help me’. He crushed the paper wondering if there was a child in the house who perhaps had thought it all a joke. It was something he asked about the next morning as he ate breakfast.
There was a crash as Mrs Trelawney dropped her knife on the kitchen floor.
“A child you say? There’s been no child in this abode for many a year. Isn’t that right, Isabelle?”
Isabelle, Mrs Trelawney’s daughter, nodded her head but neither seemed that convincing. Sam decided he must be imagining it all and apologised.
Sam took a stroll and bought the local paper in order to look for a job. The local paper was always the best place to find something. He took it back up to his room but just as he reached the top floor he could distinctly hear a man’s footsteps run across the hall. It ran into his room and then the door slammed. His heart skipped a beat.
“Hello? Is there anyone there? Hello?”
He knocked his own door gently then decided to open it. It was so small a room there was nowhere for anyone to hide. He carefully bent down and looked under the bed; satisfied there was no one there he opened the door of the small cupboard – nothing. The window was locked from the inside so he could not have escaped that way. Sam wondered if he was having a break down, it probably was deserved given the troubles he had found himself in.
He sat down to read the paper then noticed that scratched on the table, by a fingernail by the looks of it, were those words again: ‘help me’.
He must get a job as soon as possible and get out of Mrs Trelawney’s rooms. She had been unexpectedly cheap and Sam was beginning to understand why.
He circled a few jobs in the newspaper. The first one he was going to try was the ice cream shop at the corner of the street. He had turned his hand to working in restaurants in London and in Paris and felt he could hold his own in an out of season Scottish town.
It was snowing harder as he pushed open the shop door. Mister Bertolli, the proprietor was cleaning out the ice cream making machine.
“Hold-a on, I be-a with-a you in-a minoote,” he said in a half Scottish, half Italian accent. He wiped his hands, took off his gloves and then shook Sam’s hand warmly.
Mister Bertolli offered Sam a job in helping with the ice cream making. It was hard work and long hours but he surprised himself with how much he enjoyed it. When the shop was busy, he was even allowed to serve the customers.
One day, when things were quiet, Sam and Mister Bertolli were having a coffee and Sam brought up in conversation his problem at Mrs Trelawney.
“So what-a you think it is, Sammy?”
Sam told Mister Bertolli that he thought it might be a ghost.
“I don’t-a know much about ghosts, but maybe it’s-a trying to warn-a you,” said a very serious Mister Bertolli.
“About what?” Sam asked.
Every night when he got back to the top of the stairs at Mrs Trelawney’s, the scuttling and running of the unseen man would welcome him.
“Are you trying to tell me something?” Whispered Sam but every time he spoke to the room nothing was forthcoming.
At 2.27am every night there were cries from the fireplace of ‘help me’. Some nights Sam lay there waiting on it and other nights, especially if he had had a busy day at the ice cream shop, he would just turn over and go back to sleep.
“Help you what?” shouted a frustrated, Sam.
It got so common and frequent that Sam was starting to get used to it all and on the nights that there wasn’t the scuttling or the noises, he would feel that there was something missing.
Finding his room unwelcoming, Sam spent more and more time in the Trelawney’s company. It was not unusual for Sam to spend the whole evening with Mrs Trelawney and her daughter, eating, reading and talking about the troubles of the day.
He even felt comfortable enough to mention the noises in the top room but neither of the women had heard any disturbances or even heard it mentioned by previous tenants.
Sam was happier than he had been in a long time, now that he finally had a family of sorts and a place to call home.
One morning a telegram was delivered to the house to inform Sam that his old boss in London had died and left him some money. Not a fortune but enough to keep him in comfort for a few years. His first action, as a thank you for their friendship and company, was to take Mrs Trelawney and her daughter on a holiday to the Isle of Man. They all stayed at the best hotel in Douglas and fine dined every evening.
Over the next few weeks Sam spent time and consideration buying his new family presents for Christmas and hiding them in his room. It was going to be a great celebration this year.
One Saturday evening Sam tried a new soup that Mrs Trelawney’s daughter had made that day. Sam thought the soup delicious and said so, but felt he should retire early as it had been a tiring day and he went up to his room.
When Mrs Trelawney and her daughter came to check on him at 1am he was already in a coma. They realised that this would make things a lot easier. They tied him up and dragged him from the bed; they had both already worked out what they would do with the corpse.
Mrs Trelawney’s daughter tied the body into the crevice and then they both started to place bricks over the fireplace, he would be dead soon enough.
At 2.27am they had finally bricked up Sam and as mother and daughter went back downstairs, they were already discussing how they would spend his money.
Mrs Trelawney would inform Mr Bertolli that Mr Lawson had been called unexpectedly back to London.
Just before he died, while he was entombed in the fireplace, Sam Lawson managed to whisper his last words: ‘help me’.
bobby stevenson 2012