Gullsville-on-sea is a filthy, disgusting cesspit and possibly the most boring place in Britain. The seafront is rubbish, the rusty pier looks as if it longs to fall under the waves, the town centre shops are about as inviting as a crypt, and I mistook the museum for a public lavatory. I wouldn’t visit this hell on earth if my life depended on it. . .
As the deputy editor of ‘County News’ magazine, I sat in my office and cringed with horror as I read my contribution to the latest issue, which should have been a lively upbeat description of the popular seaside town. There were similar articles with my by-line on two other towns in our county, which were equally excoriating.
I wasn’t alone. In the office with me was the editor, and the director and advertising manager of our parent company, who had just fired me from the job I’d had for six years.
Our job at County News magazine, is to plug the good points about towns in our county, carry adverts for businesses and generally bang the drum and ‘talk up’ the county, so that local businesses advertise with us.
“Have you gone completely mad?” asked Tony, my editor. “For goodness sake, why on earth did you do it?”
“I’ve just told you! I didn’t do it!”
“But you wrote these pieces, saying you hated the towns, I recognise your style, the words you often use.”
“Yes, I wrote them, but it was just as a bit of fun, as a joke. I showed my girlfriend, Flash, these ‘joke’ articles and she thought they were funny. How was I to know she would go the trouble of substituting them for the real articles, and then sending them from my computer to the printers direct, so they couldn’t even be checked first?”
“Why would she do that?”
“To get rid of me. So she can get my job.”
“Come on, Ben. Flash is a sweet girl, you can’t expect us to believe that she would be so underhand as to do something so despicable.”
“She did and she has.”
“Sorry Ben.” Tony gave me his ‘kind editor’ smile. “I think you’re having some kind of mental trouble. Frist you publish insane articles that have wrecked our reputation and lost us most of our advertisers, and now you have this crazy paranoia about a woman who’s been a breath of fresh air in this office, and who I understood was your girlfriend. I suggest you take a long break and then look for a job outside journalism.”
I had had a whirlwind romance with our recently promoted ‘office girl’ Brigitte Bogworthy, and she had moved into my flat a fortnight ago. I had thought she was wonderful, as did everyone else at work. Indeed she was so good at the job that she had soon earnt the nickname ‘Flash’, because someone had said that she caught on to instructions, ‘faster than a flash of lightning’. The name suited her, for she was a flashy dresser, wore flashy make up, she spoke at breakneck speed, and when she came into a room, it did actually feel as if she was a force of nature.
She had walked out on me last night with no explanation, and now I knew why.
‘Flash’ was incredibly beautiful and sexy, yet she had been a strange girl in several ways. Once I had walked in on her in the living room. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, humming some kind of chant to herself, with a large old book open in front of her. As soon as she saw me, she closed the book and tried to hide it, but not before I’d glimpsed the title, Demonica something or other, I think – I never saw the book again.
And I remember once when we were passing a church, I suggested we go in and look at the lovely old building, and she had a strange look of panic in her eyes.
“No, no, Ben, I couldn’t possibly go in there!”
She had gone white as a sheet and was visibly shaking as we hurried past.
Dogs were another thing. Every time a dog came anywhere near her, for some reason it would bark and even bare its teeth at her, and she glared back with equal hatred.
“Sorry Ben, I don’t like dogs or cats. And the feeling has always been mutual. I’m just not an animal person.”
On another occasion I found the Bible I had had since my schooldays, the pages torn up and thrown into the rubbish, and I couldn’t understand why, nor her explanation that “I got rid of it because I couldn’t stand looking at that horrible old book.”
And, ironically considering her nickname, she told me that she had always had a morbid terror of thunderstorms and was especially scared of lightning.
A week after losing my job, I discovered that she had stepped into my shoes at County News. It seemed that she was well liked by some people in the office, especially her immediate bosses, who thought she should be fast tracked for promotion.
It was hard to believe that I had known her when she was the office junior, little more than a maker of tea and runner of errands, before being promoted as my assistant, due to the sudden illness of my previous assistant, Carol.
It turned out I wasn’t the only one to suffer at her hands. Soon afterwards, my editor, Tony, retired early after allegedly suffering a nervous breakdown, and Flash took his job. A couple of my old colleagues were dismissed for sexually harassing Flash, which I found truly astonishing, since neither of them had ever behaved in that way before.
Flash went onwards and upwards, causing illness and catastrophe to anyone who stood in her path. Two girls at County News who I knew had disliked Brigitte became so ill they had to leave their jobs. One man who had once had a row with her, had a fatal car crash the following day.
A couple of years passed, and I read about her career which was going from strength to strength.
From being the editor of County News magazine, she went into higher management, and soon was in charge of ten magazines. Then she was in charge of a multinational news organisation, with offices in ten European countries and the States.
Brigitte Bogworthy, aka the Flash of Lightning, was certainly making news in a big way, moving with jet-setters and celebrities.
And then, a year after that, came the news that Flash had become engaged to Rupert Burdock, the octogenarian multi-billionaire newspaper and media tycoon, whose media empire spanned the globe.
I watched her on television, partying on the roof of the skyscraper, Burdock Towers in New York, mixing with senators and actors, while her fiancé stood nearby, grinning like an idiot, hardly able to believe his luck that his current wife had unaccountably fallen so seriously mentally ill that she had been confined to a private hospital, and divorcing her had been quite a simple matter, that she didn’t even try to fight. It was a hot summer’s evening, and the recent heatwave presaged inclement weather.
Flash was holding a goblet of champagne up in the air to drink a toast, apparently the ancient metal drinking mug was some antique from the Burdock family.
And just as she did so, suddenly there was a flash of lightning that lit everything up like a silver scene from hell, followed by an almighty clap of thunder.
The camera closed up on Brigitte’s face, and suddenly I saw the self-same terror I had seen on her features when I had tried to persuade her to come into the church with me.
It was as if she knew what was going to happen, just a fraction of a second before the bolt of lightning shot through her body, frying her to death.
(image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay)