Brought to Book
A story of delayed justice of magic and mystery
The book’s introduction began: Hi, your name’s Arthur, right? Your wife is called Janet, yes? You’re reading this whilst waiting for her to choose some library books wondering, a little impatiently, when she’ll finally emerge, smiling and saying, ‘sorry I took so long, Arthur, I couldn’t find what I was looking for.”
‘Sorry I took so long, Authur, I couldn’t find what I was looking for.’
Arthur Bright jumped, startled, almost dropping the book, his eyes opening wide ‘what the…? Oh, it’s you, dear…’ Arthur’s heart was racing, and his knees felt weak.
‘Well, who do you think it was, silly?’
‘Ah, er…yes, sorry, sorry my love… I was miles away…’
Janet raised a quizzical eyebrow ‘Yes, you were, Arthur. Interesting book?’
Arther cleared his throat, ‘oh, you know, one of those quirky ones that one encounters now and then.’
‘Well, that’s the odds and sods table of orphan books, why don’t you just take it and either bring it back or put it into a charity shop when you’ve read it?’
‘Yes, I think I will.’
Arthur pocketed the book, it seemed to nestle in his raincoat pocket like it had found its place in the world. He was always conscious of its presence during the journey home.
After dinner, Janet said, ‘are you going to read that book tonight, Arthur?’
‘No, dear, it’s quite slim, I’ll take it to work and read it in my lunch hour.’
Sitting at a pavement café, an untouched salad before him, Arthur skipped the book’s introduction and began chapter one.
Once upon your time, there was an extremely good-looking young man at university who was popular with the female students. He’d been successful at bedding every young woman he’d gone after for the last three years. He fancied himself a master par excellence in the art of seduction. He broke many hearts and caused much misery, but he didn’t give a damn; girls were all grist to his ego.
That was until he met Magdalena. She was different. Her huge brown eyes, upturned nose and generous, pouting mouth were framed in a halo of golden hair. Her slender body moved in a magical, melodic rhythm that drew him like gravity. Arthur set his sights on her and moved in.
After several polite refusals, Magdalena told him bluntly ‘Sorry, Arthur, you’re not my type at all and you know I have a boyfriend. Just forget it, OK? Move on.’
This hurt Arthur’s pride, He did try again but, try as he might, she remained completely indifferent to his blandishments. This drove Arthur wild with wanting, needing, lusting after her like a drooling dog.
Magdalena’s boyfriend was a tall, geeky-looking bookworm type named Horace Botts, a divinity student. Arthur couldn’t see what she saw in this unworldly man. Seeing them together on campus was an affront to his ego. He must have Magdalena and he would have her, he decided, whatever the cost.
Arthur laid his plans to snare Magdalena at the summer ball, he’d have to divert Horace first and then he’d have a clear field. She would not be able to resist the approach he had planned.
Halfway through the ball, Arthur saw his chance. When Horace went to the bar, Arthur moved behind him. As Horace turned, drinks in hand, Arthur bumped hard into him, spilling the drinks. He apologised profusely, pretending to be slightly the worse for drink, ‘sorry Horace, so sorry old man.’ He insisted on buying fresh drinks ‘Please, Horace, sit down, I’ll bring them to your table.’
Arthur smiled to himself, so far so good. He slipped a powerful emetic powder into Horace’s pint and GHB into Magdelana’s wine. He stood at the bar watching the couple, waiting, a sly smile on his lips.
A little while later, Horace got up and rushed to the gents’ toilet where he began projectile puking. Arthur moved in. Magdalena was sitting glassy-eyed looking vaguely after her boyfriend. ‘You look like you could do with some fresh air Magdalena, please, let me help you.’
Arthur guided his unresisting victim through the crowd of inebriated revellers who took not an eye blink of notice of them. Out of the venue, her guided her, his arm around her waist, down to the riverbank and into a tree and shrub clad area.
‘Where are you taking me?’
‘To paradise Magdelana’ he whispered, his voice hoarse with lust. He slid his hand up her gown. His joy was complete when he discovered she was a virgin.
‘No, please…’ Magdalena protested feebly, feeling unable to offer more than token resistance as he laid her down and removed her underwear.
The next day, Magdalena awoke in her room confused and disorientated, her memory of the night before hazy. It was some time before she realised the full horror of what had happened to her. She had no notion of who her attacker was. She showered for an hour rubbing herself vigorously and weeping bitterly before she rang Horace. He, poor man, was still debilitated and hardly able to think straight, let alone suggest what to do.
Feeling violated and filthy despite her long shower, Magdalena burned every stitch of the now hated clothing she had been wearing that night. She turned her loathing in upon herself. She must have done something to provoke it, she must have, she told herself. If only she could remember what.
In his room, Arthur Bright felt triumphant, fancy her being a virgin, what a bonus that was. The drugs he’s used had not been cheap, but he thought it money well spent. He took out his phone and studied the photos he’d taken a feeling of renewed excitement quickening his blood. ‘Not so high and mighty now miss ex-virgin, eh?’ he muttered before reluctantly deleting them. He was far too smart to keep incriminating evidence.
Of how Magdalena felt now he neither considered nor cared. He’d had her and that was all that mattered to him.
Keeping to her room and refusing to see friends, Magdalena spoke only to Horace about what she could remember of the night.
Horace confronted Arthur Bright who said he’d found her wandering. ‘She appeared drunk, Horace, and in distress so I took her to her room and left her there.’
Horace didn’t believe him and accused him of spiking their drinks to which Bright reacted by grabbing the mild-mannered Horace by the shirt and threatening violence. ‘You spread that kind of shit about me, Botts, and I’ll put you and your girlfriend in hospital.’ Horace, fearing for Magdelana’s safety and lacking any hard evidence, backed off.
A week later, still distraught and burning with shame, Magdalena, felt unable to go on. Horace had suggested reporting it to the University authorities, but she could not face the prospect of being questioned, or of the police becoming involved. The thought of her religious parents finding out filled her with dread
At dawn, eight days after her rape she made her way to the river, sobbing softly in the new day. She stood on the parapet of a bridge for a few seconds, her misery all-consuming. ‘Sorry, Horace, sorry mummy and daddy’ she whispered and plunged headfirst into the shallow waters of the river, striking her head on the bottom.
She was found floating face down by student revellers returning from a party. Rushed to the hospital, she was resuscitated but her neck was broken. Magdalena was paralysed from the shoulders down. Oxygen starvation and a fractured skull had left her blind and unable to speak. She was a prisoner in her own body.
The attempted suicide was attributed to the pressure of study. Only Horace and Melba, Magdalena’s older sister, would not accept that conclusion.
Horace voiced his suspicions about the spiked drinks and told the police and her family but, lacking witnesses or DNA evidence, the authorities could take no further action.
Horace and Melba visited her regularly for almost twenty years until she passed away.
The more he read the book the more Arthur became fearful; this was the story of his guilt known only to himself. He had never confided in anyone and yet here it was, chapter and verse. He was a few pages from the end when a voice said, ‘Hi, I see you’re reading my book.’
He looked up startled to see an attractive woman in her mid-forties sitting across the table. He closed the book quickly and looked at the front cover, it was the same person.
‘How… what..?’ he stuttered but she held up her hand for silence.
‘Relax, Arthur, you’re not in any danger here. I want to tell you a little about myself. My name is Melba Forton. ‘I read anthropology at Cambridge, specialising in African studies. I became fascinated with witch doctors and their magic. Most of their rituals were just so much colourful mumbo jumbo except for one tribe, a desert people. I lived with them for two years studying.’
‘What’s that got to do with me?’ asked a nervous Arthur.
‘Well, as you see from the book, I know all about you and what you did, Arthur.’ She smiled bleakly ‘I see you doubt me, you think this is clever trickery.’
‘Of course it is,’ snapped a red-faced Arthur. Anger was his standard response to being challenged in any lie or deception. ‘This book is all nonsense and even if it weren’t you’ve no way to prove anything after all these years.’
‘That’s true, Arthur, but I have ways of ascertaining the truth as well as other gifts. Let me offer you a token of my abilities, something to allay your doubts.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘The bookmakers across the street here’s ten pounds,’ she slid the note across to him, ‘put a treble on the first three horses listed at odds of twenty to one or more. If they win, you get to keep the winnings, would that convince you?’
Arthur thought for a moment, was this a clever ruse to scare him, to make him confess after all these years? Was he expected to scoff and get into an argument and maybe say something he’d later regret? He smiled slyly there was no chance of that. ‘OK, you’re on, wait here and I’ll show you the ticket.’
Five minutes later Arthur returned and showed her the betting slip. ‘There, a complete waste of your money but, hey-ho, what now?’
‘We meet here again same time tomorrow. You can ask the bookmakers to put your winnings directly into your joint account, your wife will need it.’
When she had gone Arthur felt an intense sense of foreboding. He took out his phone and called the office saying he’d eaten something that disagreed with him and was taking the afternoon off. The book remained closed, he wouldn’t admit it even to himself, but he was scared. He certainly didn’t want to read anymore.
At home, he was quiet all that evening, Janet thought he might be coming down with a cold. ‘Why don’t you take tomorrow off, Arthur?’
‘I’m perfectly OK, Janet, don’t fuss.’
After a sleepless night in which long-buried guilt assailed him, Arthur rose and readied himself for work.
The morning passed slowly. At lunchtime, he went into the bookmakers, hardly daring to read the previous day’s results. He was shocked to the core when he discovered he’d won eighty-four thousand pounds. The surprised counter assistant congratulated him and arranged to have his winnings paid into his bank account.
Arthur crossed the road to the café. She was sitting at the same table her expression neutral. ‘I see you haven’t read the rest of the book’ she said.
‘No, no, I haven’t had time.’
‘May I suggest you do so now?’
‘Not until you tell me what the hell this elaborate charade is all about, lady.’
‘Not grateful for the win, then, Arthur?’
‘Well, yes, I suppose,’ he reluctantly conceded ‘but that might have been just pure luck.’ He gave her an appraising look ‘If this tribe of yours is so damned clever how come they are not the richest people on Earth?’
‘Their values are different from we Westerners, Arthur. For instance, there are no words in their language for murderer, thief, liar or-’ she stared him hard in the eye- ‘rapist.’
Arthur exploded, ‘who the fuck are you, lady? What the hell do you want?’
Melba’s sigh was long and drawn out ‘OK, Arthur, my name is Melba Forton, nee Bradstock. I’m the older sister of Magdalena Bradstock, the girl you raped in…’
‘I didn’t rape anyone he hissed, ‘she was keen, eager. That wimp Botts wasn’t up to the job, so I stood in for him. It was consensual sex.’
Melba’s mouth turned down at the corners and her eyes hardened into slits, disdain radiating from her. ‘Tell yourself what you like, Mr Bright,’ she said, ‘but you are going to share her fate, nothing more, nothing less. I could have punished you sooner but I needed to know the exact measure of your just deserts. You will experience every miserable moment she suffered, with one exception, no one will visit you after the first few weeks, no one will stroke your hand, no one will kiss you. You will suffer and die in misery like my sister. She paused, ‘if you’d read the rest of the book you’d know this already.’
Dripping sarcasm he asked, ‘so, why, if you’re so vengeful, did you give me those winnings, Mrs magician?’
‘They are not for you, Arthur,’ she said calmly, ‘they are for your wife to help offset your loss of earnings.’
‘I see you still doubt me. See that cyclist? She waved her hand and the passing man wobbled, clipped the curb, and came off his bike rolling and rising unhurt. He looked around confused for a moment then remounted his machine and peddled away none the worse for his mishap.
Melba waved her hand again and he felt their table float two inches above the floor unnoticed by the other diners. After a few seconds, she whispered some quiet words, and the table came down again. ‘What I have done, Arthur Bright, cannot be undone and there’s nothing you can do about it. You will suffer as my dear sister did. She transfixed with a stare, her eyes daggers of ice.
His soul froze. ‘Look, Melba,’ he said, his hands spread in supplication, ‘is there anything I can do to make amends, give you the winnings or something, please…?’
Her lips curled in a contemptuous snarl ‘I’ve told you your fate, Arthur Bright, no amount of money or pleading will change that.’ She rose and left.
Arthur sat in the café for a long time in stunned silence. Eventually, he made his way cautiously home and locked himself in his study, refusing food and the best efforts of Janet to get him to say what was the matter.
The next day, force of habit had Arthur get showered and dressed for work, but he didn’t go. Instead, he drove very carefully to the town centre and into the multistorey car park. At this early hour, it was almost deserted. How could he escape the dread fate he now believed was his? He was convinced that what Melba had said would come to pass unless he did something about it. Well, be damned to her, he would do something about it.
He drove to the top storey pale-faced and trembling and slowly climbed out of the car. He crossed the empty parking spaces and sat on the safety barrier staring straight ahead into the rising sun, his feet dangling in space. Pigeons cooed on a nearby ledge. His insides quivered at the thought of what he was about to do.
Sixty feet to the pavement, a couple of seconds of painless falling then wham! Dead and gone. What of her predictions then, eh? He smiled to himself, less than three seconds to eternity or twenty years locked in a useless body? No contest. Without a thought for Janet or anyone but himself, he closed his eyes and launched himself into space.
At that moment, directly beneath Arthur, the owner of the café pulled out his heavy canvass sun awning over the tables his breakfast customers would soon be using. Arthur’s body hit the canvas, breaking his fall as the material split allowing him to fall through onto a table that collapsed under his weight.
Arthur awoke to hear the doctors discussing him. He realised he was still alive but couldn’t feel his body, see or move. He tried to scream but to his horror, but no sound came.
A vision of a sardonically smiling Melba floated before him. ‘I told you, Arthur, that you couldn’t escape your fate.’