A Skulk – Part III

by Timothy J Jarvis

Part III of ‘A Skulk’. The first part can be found here.

Soundtrack: Goldmund, ‘My Neighborhood

...the pub’s battered, out-of-tune, upright piano.

After the paramedics had stretchered away the injured man, Waclaw, queasy with shock, wandered off, out onto the common, and, hunkering down, was sick. As he walked back towards the site, he heard the noise of blows and a bitter clamour, then, rounding a corner, saw several of his workmates kicking at something with their steel-capped workboots. Nearing the scuffle, he saw they were venting their fury on the carpenter who’d dropped his hammer; he was prone on the ground, spitting blood and teeth.

The site foreman, who Waclaw knew well, liked and respected, stood by, watching, saying nothing. Waclaw called out to him.

‘Why aren’t you stopping them? Doesn’t make it better, wasn’t really his fault. Must’ve been some flaw in the hard hat.’

‘The fucker was high.’

Waclaw nodded.

‘Right. Watch they don’t kill him, though.’

As it happened, the crew’s anger was quickly spent. They then hauled the carpenter off site and threw him in a skip. Groaning, he clambered out, staggered away. Work was halted for the day, and a session in the local pub proposed. They all changed out of their work gear, traipsed off to this establishment, a rough boozer, the Horse and Hounds. The crew caroused till the early hours of the next day, drank the place dry. One of the plumbers had a stash of ecstasy; he minced about, affecting a priestly air, placing the pills on supplicants’ tongues, irreverent Hosts. The night ended with a medley of filthy songs round the pub’s battered, out-of-tune, upright piano. A hoddie, a wiry red-headed Scot, bashed out the chords. The workmen bawled the crude verses, and even the usually taciturn landlord, for once soused in a cheery, not sombre way, joined in. Only Waclaw didn’t take part in the revels, though he gulped down his share of booze. He’d thought himself well-enough liked, but that night had the sense he was being shunned. Finally, over a glass of whisky, he spoke to the foreman about it.

‘You don’t know, do you?’ the foreman said.

‘Know what?’

‘They’re suspicious of you, frightened even.’


‘That hammer. It was falling such that, I mean, it should’ve hit you. It seemed just to…’

The foreman took a slug of his whisky.

‘…to jink in the air at the last. It was like witchcraft, you know?’

‘But… What?’

‘Don’t worry about it. Give it a few days, it’ll blow over.’

Waclaw nodded slowly.

‘Like witchcraft?’

‘Like something was protecting you.’

Lying in bed later, the room gyring, Waclaw repeated, again and again, under his breath, his conversation with the foreman. Every time he mouthed the word ‘witchcraft’ he saw, stark, in his mind’s eye, Melanie, naked, groaning, the vixen twined round her legs, nuzzling between her thighs.

Sometime before daybreak, Waclaw woke sweat-slick, got up, and crossed to the window to open the curtains, let in some air. Looking out, he saw a faint light in the flat of the woman he had seen drying her hair the morning of his beating. After a moment, he made her out, lying supine on her bed, naked, caressed by a television’s glimmering incubus. He lingered there a short time, then returned to bed.

To be continued