Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
In the first story, two war veterans, both of whom flew fighters, bombing enemy cities, discuss how they killed more people than would die were the bartender of the public house in which they buy one another drinks were to poison his customers’ drinks. They decide to leave the establishment and go somewhere else, where there is either but the two of them and a bartender or to “a place with a hundred thousand people in it.” Apparently, the former warriors can be comfortable in only these two locales, among killers of their own kind, who have shared combat experience and the horrors of killing other human beings on a massive scale, or in a place that is large and populous enough for them to lose themselves in the anonymity of the crowds. However, neither man, it appears, is likely to be comfortable for long in either set of circumstances, for each is haunted by his past deeds.
In the second story, a seventeen-year-old man takes a room in a rooming house in which two other young men, before him, had lived for a time. The landlady seems a bit scatterbrained. She has trouble remembering the names of her former tenants and asks her current renter to sign her guestbook, so she can look up his name if she should happen to forget it. Then, despite his having declined her offer to serve him a snack, she insists that he have a cup of tea and “a ginger biscuit” before he retires for the night. Her mention of the previous tenants arouses the young man’s curiosity, for he seems to remember having seen their names, linked in a newspaper account of the disappearance of two young men in the vicinity of his landlady’s rooming house. A few clues alert the reader to the possibility that the landlady is not as innocent and harmless as she seems and is, in fact, likely to be extremely dangerous and, rather than merely scatterbrained, insane: she stuffs parrots and other animals; the last names to have been entered in her guestbook are three years old, and it was three years ago that the young men who’d been traveling through the area were reported missing; and, even though she is confused about her former tenants’ names and speaks of them in the past tense, she tells her latest renter that neither of the young men have left her house. On the contrary, she insists, “They’re on the third floor, both of them together”--together, the reader is led to believe, and dead. Moreover, like the parrot, they have probably been stuffed. The current tenant himself seems likely to meet the same fate.