by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
The next morning, as the sun streamed through the window and over the breakfast table, Herbert White laughed at his parents’ fears. The volume on the television was turned up as usual, blasting BBC Two over the table, and there was an air of prosaic wholesomeness about the room that had been lacking the previous night. The dirty, shriveled paw had been left on the sideboard with a carelessness that spoke of no great belief in its power.
“The idea of our listening to such nonsense!” Anna White said, laughing at their foolishness. “It’s the 1980s. Nobody believes in wishes being granted in this day and age. And even if they could be, how could two-hundred-thousand pounds hurt you, Barry?”
“Might drop on his head from the sky,” joked Herbert.
“John said the things happened so naturally,” said his father, “that you might easily pass it off as coincidence.”
“Well, don’t break into the money before I come back,” said Herbert as he rose from the table. “I’m afraid it’ll turn you into a mean, avaricious man, and we’ll have to disown you.”
His mother laughed and followed him to the door as he left for work at the Leyland automobile assembly plant and then watched him from the window as he drove his old BMC Mini down the muddy road. Too bad the talisman wasn’t real, she thought. Then her son wouldn’t have to work so hard.
Returning to the breakfast table, she felt none of the apprehension her husband still felt. Of course, that didn’t keep her from scurrying to the door at the postman’s knock or prevent her from referring somewhat shortly to a certain scruffy blond man of indulgent habits when she found that the post had brought nothing but a bill.
“Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect, when he comes home,” she said that evening as the couple sat at dinner.
“I daresay,” Barry said, pouring himself some beer. “But for all that, the thing moved in my hand. That I’ll swear to.”
“You thought it did, luv,” Anna said soothingly.
“I say it did,” replied her husband. “There was no thought about it. I had just — What’s the matter?”
His wife made no reply. She was watching the mysterious movements of a man outside who, peering in an undecided fashion at the house, appeared to be trying to make up his mind to enter. In mental connection with the two-hundred-thousand pounds, she noticed that the stranger was well-dressed and wore a somewhat expensive-looking suit and had an even more-expensive car, a Jaguar, parked behind him on the driveway. Three times he paused at the gate, then with sudden resolution he flung it open and walked up the path. At the same moment, Anna placed her hands behind her and hurriedly unfastened the strings of her apron, putting it beneath the cushion of her chair.
She brought the stranger, who seemed ill at ease, into the room. He gazed furtively at Anna and listened in a preoccupied fashion as she apologized for the appearance of the room. She then waited as patiently as she could for him to state the reason for his visit, but he was strangely silent.
At last he said, “I’m an attorney representing British Leyland, which runs the plant where your son works.”
Anna started breathlessly. “Has anything happened to Herbert? What is it? What is it?”
“There, there, dear,” Barry said hastily. “Sit down, and don’t jump to conclusions. You’ve not brought bad news, I’m sure, sir.” He eyed the other man wistfully.
“Is he hurt?” demanded the mother.
The attorney bowed in assent. “Badly hurt,” he said quietly, “but — but he is not in any pain.”
“Oh, thank God!” she gasped, clasping her hands. “Thank God for that! Thank–” She broke off suddenly as the meaning dawned upon her. Catching her breath, she turned to her husband and laid her trembling hand upon his.
“He was caught in the machinery,” said the attorney in a low voice.
“Caught in the machinery,” repeated Barry, in a dazed fashion, “yes.” He took his wife’s hand between his own. “He was the only one left to us,” he said, turning gently to the visitor. “Our other boy was lost in the Falklands. It is hard.”
The attorney coughed and said. “My clients wished me to convey their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss.”
There was no reply. The woman’s face was white, her eyes staring, and her breath inaudible. On the husband’s face was a look such as his friend John Constantine might have worn after a particularly bad bit of business.
“I also came here to say that, in consideration of your son’s services, his employers wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation.”
Mr. White dropped his wife’s hand and, rising to his feet, gazed with a look of horror at his visitor. His dry lips shaped the words, “How much?”
“Two-hundred-thousand pounds,” was the attorney’s answer.
Unconscious of his wife’s shriek, Barry smiled faintly, put out his hands like a sightless man, and dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor.