Introducing "The Unexpected Guest" by Connie White, the first place winner of the Horror category of the 14th Annual Writers Digest Popular Fiction Awards. See a complete list of the competition winners and read the first place entry in each category here. For an extended interview with the grand prize winner, visit this page. Read the grand prize winning short story here.
The Unexpected Guest by Connie White
The room was cool but clean, heavy Victorian curtains pulled open to reveal a clear view through a large plate glass window. She sat in an overstuffed brocade chair with Queen Anne legs, beside her a lamp and an ornate cup and saucer full of her favorite tea. In front of her a small coffee table with a covered glass dish of wrapped hard candies.
Virginia Merriweather was waiting for the neighborhood to come alive. She loved to watch the children play outside her window at the park across the street. She was concerned the neighbors might keep them in due to a recent spate of deaths within a couple of blocks. Though the police had ruled most of the deaths accidental and one a suicide, Virginia thought the parents might take additional precautions for their children’s safety but she noticed nothing new. The children were still allowed to come and go at will. Virginia was glad that nothing had changed because she loved to watch the children.
Virginia glanced at the clock to remind herself of the time. She knew that soon families would be finishing their breakfast and then the activity would begin. There was a calm air about her this morning, she moved slowly forward in her chair and reached out a weathered hand to take a hard candy. Her head was slow to drop as she unwrapped it. Small sounds encompassed the large Victorian sitting room, the slow tick tick of the Grandfather clock was so pronounced at times that she had considered taking it down. She didn’t need any reminders of time passing. She felt every minute of her eighty-five years. Her skin once fat and peachy was now thin and colorless and wrinkled, her mouth once full and plump was now only defined by the outline of pink lipstick feathered on all sides, her hair once long, black and shiny was now grey and pinned in a tight bun, her eyes once clear and intense were now dull behind her thick wire-rimmed glasses. She looked every bit the old spinster down to her calico dress and brown sensible shoes. The grandfather clock began to chime ten and she noticed people moving out from their homes. Like ants, she thought. As the clock finished it’s chimes, there was a knock at her back door. She couldn’t imagine who it could be as no one but her sister had ever knocked on the back door. Now that her sister had passed, it was strange to hear a knock.
She was slow to answer, using her cane to cross the smooth mahogany floors and then over the linoleum and into the kitchen. She unlocked the door and pulled it open. The neighbor child stood just outside the door. He was no older than ten she imagined.
“Hullo,” he said. No smile graced his face as he said it. “Hello dear,” she replied. She smiled a small smile.
“May I come in?” He answered himself by skipping past her through the kitchen and into the sitting room.
“Why didn’t you come to the front door, dear?” she asked. She closed the door and locked it.
“Because, I felt like coming to the back door,” he said. He now stood in the middle of the sitting room. He scanned the huge room and the sweeping staircase. “Your house is big,” he said. “Too large for just one person.” He looked at the candy dish on the table and then watched her intently as she moved to her chair with her cane.
“You’re right,” Virginia sat. “My sister used to live with me.” “She died,” he said plainly.
“Yes, she did,” she said. “I miss her terribly.”
"How did you sister die?" he asked.
“She fell, dear.” She took a slow sip of her tea. “And when people our age fall, it can be very dangerous.”
“You’re very slow today when you walk,” he observed.
“I suppose I am, dear,” she said with a small laugh. “These bones of mine are old and unforgiving.” Comments like these usually elicited a laugh or at least a smile. Not so with this child. She thought him odd. Virginia reached the chair and sat. “What is your name again?” she asked in her sweetest voice.
“My name is George, but you already knew that,” he said. “You know all the names of all the children. Your name is Virginia.” he said. “Virginia Merriweather.”
“Yes, that’s right, dear,” she smiled and stirred her tea. She pulled the china cup to her lips and took a tiny sip. “You may call me Miss Merriweather.” George continued looking through the room. It was as if he were studying it. “Did your mother send you, dear?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “She said I shouldn’t bother you.”
“Oh, you’re not bothering me at all,” she said. “I like to have visitors. It gets lonely here all by myself.” Virginia smiled at the boy but his face remained unchanged.
"You know, everyone around here thinks you're just a nice old lady Virginia, but I don’t,” he said bluntly. He looked at the candy dish again.
“Would you care for a candy, dear?” she asked. She didn’t know what to make of the boy and his rude responses.
“I don’t like that kind of candy,” he said skipping to the window. He looked at the children playing, blocking her view. “You’re not nice at all, Virginia. I know you’re not because you’re just like me.” He turned all the way around to look at her as he said it. His look grew into a stare. She stared back and examined him. He appeared normal and to the unstudied eye he would pass without concern. But Virginia knew different. She could see what he was.
“How about a special candy, Georgie?” Virginia asked. She pulled a clear candy out of a paper bag stuffed into her knitting basket on the floor. It was unwrapped and an amber color. “Isn’t it pretty?” she turned it in the light. She held out her hand and to her surprise he quickly walked over and took it, closing his hand around it tight.
“Don’t call me Georgie,” he said. He frowned as he glared at her “I don’t like it.”
"You know," she said. "It reminds me of a rhyme that we used to say in school." Her voice was more controlled now, smoother, coarser and lower almost like a growl. In a loud shrill sing-song voice she mocked him “Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie!”
“Don’t call me that!” he said stomping his foot.
“Kissed the girls and made them cry!” she clapped her hands along with the rhyme, ending the last word with an hysterical laugh.
“I told you to stop it!” George’s face contorted with rage. She continued with her laughter but then ended it abruptly, sitting up straight. She put one hand on her chest in mock surprise. “What’s wrong, Georgie? Don’t you like my joke?” He glared at her standing stone still, one of his fists balled up at his side. Then after a bit he relaxed, stood up straight and smoothed out his shirt with his hands.
“You know, I wasn’t sure about you, Virginia. Though I had my suspicions the moment we met” he said. “It was the strange way you stared at me, as if you were assessing me, measuring me. I wondered if you and I might be somehow similar. So I decided that I would spy on you whenever the opportunity arose.” George turned and moved back to the window. “You gave me the perfect opportunity last night.” He put his hands behind his back and waited.
Virginia, who had grabbed her cup of tea to take a sip, placed it back down quickly. "Did I?” It was more a statement than a question.
“I watched you for almost two hours through the open window in the kitchen. Do you remember what you did last night? It was really pretty interesting, Virginia.” George ran his open hand across the curtain fabric without touching it and turned back around. He grinned for the first time.
Virginia said nothing but her eyes held his.
“I hadn’t intended to spy on you, honestly I hadn’t. I was over on the side of the house having a pretty good time poking a frog with a long stick when I heard music coming through the open window in your kitchen. It was dark and I knew my parents wouldn’t miss me so I came over and peeked in. You were a real mess, Virginia. You had this old white nightgown on” George giggled “and you were drinking out of a big brown bottle. You had about five or six drinks out of it in about five minutes. Kind of like a drunk on the street drink might do. I wasn’t expecting that from you Virginia. I really wasn’t. You were a real sight to behold, Virginia! A real sight!” George laughed again. Virginia didn’t move.
George continued with enthusiasm. "The you started, Virginia!" George began to giggle and emulate Virginia’s drunken movements. His voice was loud and abrasive. “Dancing, dancing, dancing, Virginia, dancing around in a circle like a witch! Barefoot, and in that ugly nightgown!” George danced for a bit not saying anything. Then, he stopped. “I was disgusted by it, I really was but you see I just couldn’t stop watching!” Virginia shifted her weight to the front of the chair and sat up straight. George began to giggle again, “Oh and then the singing. That was really great, la la la … you sang. La la laaaaa …” George trailed off with his impression spinning around. “It was all just so crazy, I couldn’t stop!” George leaned back with a huge laugh. He grabbed his belly and kicked out a foot with glee.
Virginia glowered at George. Her hands gripped the arm chairs and her jaw was clenched tight.
“Then, you were really out of breath from all the dancing so you leaned against the counter and drank from the bottle again. Some of it went down your chin and onto your nightgown but you didn’t care, you just wiped your face with your dirty old sleeve. Then you turned the music down and this is really the best part Virginia, you started talking to yourself. You talked to yourself for at least an hour. At first you were standing there talking about your hate for the neighborhood and the neighbors but then after a while you kind of slid down the kitchen cabinets and sat on the floor with the bottle.”
“Do you remember what you did next, Virginia?” George paused for a bit.
Virginia said nothing.
“You began planning how some of the neighbors might die, Virginia. Out loud and with great detail you planned their deaths. You said how Sonya Pierce might be killed by her stupid husband Joe’s hunting rifle. You talked about how old Rueben Jennings could have his brakes cut. You talked about how Gertrude Steinblatt might be killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. I guess you really must hate her because that set you to laughing so hard that I thought for a moment you might wet yourself.”
George turned to see if there was any measurable reaction from Virginia. There wasn’t so he continued.
“Then you talked about someone named Alberta. You talked about how you got rid of her. How you kicked her cane out from underneath her and pushed her down the stairs. How you couldn’t believe she was dead but then you were happy about it. You talked to her as if she were right in front of you.” George clasped his hands dramatically under his chin and in his best old woman's drunken voice said "Oh, Albie. Why did you make me do it, Albie?" Why did mother have to put you in charge? I told you not to try and sell the house but you didn’t listen Albie. You didn’t listen.” George laughed at his own impression as Virginia relaxed and sat back in her chair. “Then you took another drink from the bottle and lay down on the floor. You kind of rolled around with the bottle in your hand and said” George imitated drunk Virginia again “you deserved it, Albie. They all deserved it. All of ‘em. Every goddam one of ‘em. All of ‘em. All of ‘em.” George went back to his regular voice. “You were muttering down there for quite a while but I couldn’t make out what you were saying. Then you just stopped moving and went to sleep right there on the kitchen floor with all of the lights on. I waited for a couple minutes but you didn’t move so I went home and went to bed. What a show it was, Virginia! What a show!” George took a long deep breath after his dramatic reenactment and recounting of Virginia’s night. “I had a great night wondering what I should do next. I thought maybe I’ll tell the other kids or maybe I’ll tell my mom. She’s a real gossip, you know. Or even better, my dad, he’s a cop. Or maybe I’ll just bring the whole neighborhood over to see it for themselves!” George clapped his hands for emphasis and doubled over with laughter.
Virginia waited until George finished laughing. She looked at him and this time no smile was at her lips. “Georgie boy, did you ever eat the candy I gave ya?” she asked. “I put it in my pocket,” he said brightly.
"Well, I tell ya’ what. Since you didn’t eat the special candy I gave you, I’m going to get you a nice slice of pie. Do you like pie? Mrs. Shultz across the street made it. It’s blueberry, do you like blueberry?”
George was giddy now, knowing how uncomfortable he had made her and he was now in a good mood. “I do like pie,” he said. The only pie I like is blueberry pie.”
“Well, it’s your lucky day then. Let me get you a slice.” Virginia rose from the chair with ease and walked quickly to the kitchen, no need for the pretension of the cane. She pulled the pie from the counter and removed the foil that covered it. She took out a knife and sliced into the juicy pie.
Virginia placed the pie onto the plate and carefully removed the top crust. She continued to talk, “You know Georgie, I’m so glad we could be friends. It’s been so long since I’ve had a friend.” She reached up into the cupboard and pulled out a vial from behind some boxes, undid the top and sprinkled some powder onto the pie. She mixed it in with a fork and replaced the crust. "I haven't had a real friend since my sister passed. She wiped her hands on a dishtowel on the counter and threw it into the sink. She brought the pie to George and placed it on the coffee table with a napkin and the fork.
“Don’t you want me to eat it in the kitchen?” he asked. “What if I make a mess?” “We needn’t stand on ceremony, Georgie boy. After all, we’re friends, remember?
Besides, I removed the rugs long ago. Too hard to keep clean.” George took the fork and cut into his pie. Virginia grabbed a flask out of her knitting basket and poured an amber colored liquid into her tea. The cup nearly overflowed. Virginia drank it down quick.
George held the fork for a bit with the large bite of pie balanced at its end. The juicy blueberries dripped onto the plate below. “It sure looks good!” he said. “Eat up, Georgie boy,” she said with enthusiasm.
George smirked. He lifted the pie to his mouth, then staring at Virginia dropped it back down on the plate, fork and all. It made a loud clanking sound and the berries splattered out onto the table.
“I told you I might make a mess,” he said.
"It's fine ..." she said. Virginia began to cough. "Just eat your ... pie." Virginia coughed some more.
“What’s wrong, Virginia?” asked George. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back and walked to her chair.
She gasped for air coughing. She tried to grab onto him but he danced away backwards like a prize fighter so she couldn’t touch him. In fact, he had been careful to touch nothing in the house except for the fork. He hadn’t even touched the door knob.
He stared at her again, this time up close. Her eyes pleaded with him to help her but George walked away.
He grabbed the fork full of pie off the plate. Virginia’s head was all the way back in the chair now face up toward the ceiling, and her mouth gaped open as she desperately tried to breathe. He placed a big bite of pie in her mouth being careful not to touch her and pushed it into the back of her throat. She tried to talk but it was no use. He leaned down and whispered into her ear. “The special candy you gave me … I put it in your tea.” George watched as Virginia’s eyes grew wide with horror.
George walked to window and looked at the children playing outside. "In a couple of days I suppose someone will notice that you haven’t closed your big drapes or that you haven’t picked up your mail and then they’ll notice you here. After they figure out how you died, they might guess that you poisoned yourself out of sheer loneliness. George began to zoom happily through the room with his arms out as if he were an airplane. “Zoom zoom zoooooooom!” Then, George stopped zooming and turned to watch.
Virginia clutched the chair, her coughs grew louder and longer until they were faint whispery gasps. There was no other sound but the tick-tick of the grandfather clock. Right before her final breath, George whispered in Virginia’s ear, this time repeating the rhyme:
Pudding and Pie
Kissed the girls
And made them cry
George pulled away and stared at Virginia's lifeless face. "I told you not to call me that but you didn’t listen Virginia. We could have been friends. Good friends.” He wiped down the handle of the fork with a paper napkin he had stored in his pocket and let himself out the back door cleaning the door knob on each side as he left. Georgie boy skipped all the way back home.