The London Umbrella Company

The London Umbrella Company by Jan Kaneen

The vibrations sink through the Plexiglas and marble, through the pavement, underneath the city that always sleeps, into my basement office. They’re so loud down here, a million footsteps marching home. The heartbeats are louder though, cars and trains and tube carriages rammed with them aching, pulsing, throbbing.

You have to zone them out or you’d go mad, block them out by taking in every detail of the space around you, grey floor tiles below your feet, low plaster ceiling above your head, boarded on one side a hundred years ago against the lethal trickles of light that used to slink through the ventilation shaft. You had acolytes then, to do your bidding. Now, you watch the dark slivers of artificial light from the single bulb, study your ornate, mahogany desk and green velvet chair, the ebony filing cabinet, carved, Gothic, tall as a coffin, seven drawers high, all relics of opulence long gone. The distraction is fleeting so you switch focus to the black metal spike stabbing up from the desktop, set in a block of weighted oak, stuck with newspaper clippings almost to the top. You recall a very different use it was once put to, but not for long, the aching throb always draws you back. You try focusing on the job in hand, searching the quality newspapers, the Times and Telegraph, scouring the obituary columns, encircling names in black ink, cutting carefully around those earmarked for transcription.

“In memorium,” they say, the epitaphs to the great and good, “to Sir George Such-and-Such or The Right Honorable Lady Sarah…dearly departed…to be mourned at Cripplegate Church…or Bevis Marks Synagogue…on such a day…at such a time…send flowers to…charity donations accepted by…all inquiries addressed to…”

There are so many prestigious dead, a never-ending supply.

You address and seal the final envelope and place it on the pile of fifty others. You spike the fulfilled clipping and allow yourself to listen to the hubbub above. The after-dark sounds are back—the blather of night birds, scratch of rats, the stir of ghosts in long-forgotten graves deep beneath your feet—and you let the familiar gnaw start up. The city has decanted. It’s time.

You walk round the piles of newspapers, turrets and battlements of them. They remind you of another home but your castle days are long past, you’re smaller now, stooped and insignificant in your beige slacks, safely stripped back, your needs modest, no cooking, no abluting, no phone, no computer. You go undetected in this all-seeing age.

You take your grey raincoat from the door hook and put it on, Count Nobody.

You pick up the post, unlock the door, take up your tatty Brigg umbrella made of hand-carved hickory wood and silk, your final concession to bygone grandeur, and go out into the night-lit corridor, the furthest corridor, deepest down, deserted by all but the shadows. No one chances this way even on the busiest workdays, beyond the hypnotic charms you wove to conceal your bones. The CCTV camera whirs as useless as mirrors.

You take the lift up and nod to the night watchman behind the reception desk breathing deeply to stay in control. His pulse is deafening.

Outside, the italic rain falls slant. The city stinks. You open your umbrella and creep unseen through the deserted streets following the beat as the gnaw bites deeper. You post the envelopes into the pillar-box at Finsbury Circus. Fat raindrops fall from the city trees staining the envelopes darker white as you push them through the slit. You walk to the cashpoint, pay in today’s cheques and withdraw £100. You’re losing yourself to nature as you track the heartbeat to the burial ground at Bunhill Fields. You don’t check for witnesses. If anyone was watching you’d feel it acutely, like pain.

You leap the railings, striding in time to the pulse under the monument, among the rubbish, wrapped in cardboard, stinking of gin and tobacco and urine. It smells delicious. You close your umbrella, slowly.

You kill at first penetration, an immediate climax, using fore and hind fangs, slicing through arteries and vertebrae alike leaving no telltale signs or bitemarks for other Nosferati to find. Sated, you stand tall once more, then soar, flashing through cloud above the rain into a clearer night where the moon and stars shine bright white light. You fly fast and free, the icy wind in your face.

At the all-night 7-Eleven, you pick up newspapers, stamps, envelopes.

Back indoors, you nod to a different doorman. The guard has changed.

“Regular as clockwork, Sir,” he says tapping his watch, his pulse bearable. He hands you yesterday’s post.

Back in the office, you sit at your desk, open the Times and noose the names of the deceased elite. You make out each invoice for £10.00, add a compliment slip with scribbled condolences, “Sorry for your loss…hate to bother you at this sad time…umbrella repair outstanding…make cheques payable to…The London Umbrella Company.”

They always pay, the privileged bereaved. Who would query something so commonplace among the well-to-do? It’s a small, victimless crime devised to always go undetected. Ironic really, the dead maintaining the undead.

You sense the imminent sunrise, the returning herd, feel the coming of their blood and turn to the filing cabinet. The drawers are a counterfeit door. You step into the waiting shade and rest, in something like peace.

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About the Author

  1. Avatar Jan Kaneen (1 story )

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    Jan Kaneen's often weird and surreal flash fictions have won prizes in places like Flash 500, Bath Flash, Retreat West and Molotov Cocktail. Her debut memoir-in-flash will be published by Retreat West Books April 22nd 2021.

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