This is a work of fiction. A short story of 1390 words.
Val and Terry were watching a late-night film, when they saw the advertisement in the commercial break.
A free mattress, any size, delivered to your door within two days. Nothing to pay at all, and free to return if you were not happy with it. The company are looking for testers for their new design, so giving them away free, to anyone who applied. Just call the number on the screen, and leave your details.
Terry snorted. “That has to be a con, I guarantee it. Who gives away anything these days?”
Val nodded. “True, but we could certainly do with a new mattress. Our one is ten years old, and it’s going flat on my side.”
“Well I for one am not falling for it”. Terry settled his feet on the sofa as the film came back on, having already forgotten the ‘free offer’.
The next afternoon, Val arrived home from her part-time job at 2 pm. She made a cup of tea, and settled down in front of the TV to watch her favourite quiz programme. During the break, she saw the advertisement again. This time, she not only noted down the telephone number, but also the website details. After the quiz, she checked the website on her laptop. It seemed genuine enough to her, like any normal site. There were the usual reviews from happy customers, and just the occasional moaner, talking about how they wouldn’t take away the old mattress, when they delivered the free one. But nobody even suggested it was a con, and not one said they had been asked for any money. You could apply for the free mattress online too, just choose the size, and how firm you wanted it. Val bookmarked the site, then closed her laptop, and went into the kitchen to start preparing dinner.
As they were eating later that evening, Terry suddenly looked up, seeming to remember something. “Oh, you know that bloke Don, from the warehouse? I’ve mentioned him before, always talks too much. Well, it seems like he got one of those free mattresses. Says it’s great, a king-size, well made, and very comfortable. Only trouble is, he is now stuck with the old one, as they don’t take them away.”
Val smiled. “So, not a con then? Did they ask Don for any money, anything at all.”
Terry shrugged. “Seems not. Don says it’s for testing purposes, but you get to keep it, which is just as well, as they could hardly sell it after. All you have to do is fill in a survey they send you. Don says he knows loads of people who have got them already. They even do small ones for kids, single size, all sorts.”
“I looked at the website today”, Val said after swallowing a mouthful of meat pie. “Seemed OK to me. What do you reckon, shall we order one while they’re still available?”
Terry put down his knife and fork, his plate almost clean. “Might as well, I suppose.”
Within a week, everyone they knew had a new free mattress. The delivery lorry was always around, and all their friends, family and neighbours were talking about the crazy new offer. It didn’t seem possible how any company could give away all those mattresses without going broke. There were now so many old ones needing collection, that men with pick-up trucks were knocking on doors, offering to take them to the dump, for a modest fee. It made the national news, such was the excitement. The company attracted the attention of an investigative reporter, who was sure it was a scam. But after being invited to tour the factory, and being granted an interview with the respectable grey-haired managing director, he could find nothing to criticise. The man was adamant that the free testing would establish the reputation of his company, and enable them to become the market leader, They had factored in the losses, and decided to use this unusual marketing strategy.
The fuss soon died down of course. Everyone in the town stopped talking about their new mattresses, all except the woman opposite Val and Terry, Mrs Noakes. She couldn’t believe her bad luck. Just one week before the advertisement appeared on television, she had taken delivery of a new mattress that she had paid over £1,000 for. She was probably the only person who hadn’t taken up the offer of a free one. She was not about to get rid of her expensive purchase, after all.
Val loved the new mattress, and went on about how comfortable it was, and why she liked it so much more than the old one. Terry was unimpressed though. “Just a mattress, what’s the big deal?” He was secretly pleased to have got it for nothing though.
Three months went by, and Terry began to notice something lumpy on his side of the mattress. Val found him pushing against it one night. “There’s something not right here, Val. I can definitely feel a lump, when I turn over. I reckon a spring’s gone or something. So much for the free offer.”
Val sighed, and walked around to push it, to see for herself. “It’s just settling in love, I don’t know what you are going on about.” Val had felt something, but she wasn’t sure what it was, and not about to give her husband the satisfaction of being right.
It was almost six months to the day it had been delivered, when Val finally had to admit to herself that there was something wrong with the mattress. When she had woken up that morning, she could feel something sharp digging into her side. After she wiggled around for a while, it had gone, and she got up to get ready for work. Waiting for the bus, she felt unsettled. Maybe Terry was right, and the offer had been too good to be true. She would check in the bank to see how their savings were doing, and perhaps order a replacement from Bedmaster, that big shop on the new trading estate. When that survey form finally arrived in the post, she would give the free mattress a bad review, that’s for sure.
When Terry got home from work that evening, he looked smug. “Told you that free offer was rubbish. Don and all the blokes from work are complaining about the beds feeling lumpy or sharp. Everyone’s moaning, you want to hear it. And to think we paid someone £15 to get rid of a perfectly good one.”
Val didn’t really want to tell him, but it was the same at her company too. “Rachel has phoned the mattress company, and they suggested turning the mattress over, and sleeping on the other side.”
“Terry stood up. “OK then, lets do that, give it one last chance.”
It was much heavier than they had both imagined, and it took the two of them all their effort to get the thing off the bed, and over on one side. The bedroom wasn’t large, and they had to do an awkward shuffle to tip it over, and get the reverse side into position. Once it was slid back onto the base, Terry pointed at the uneven surface. “See, no better on that side.”
Val heard a ripping sound, followed by a piercing scream the like she could never have imagined. The scream was coming from Terry. Something had burst out of the mattress, something shiny and blue-black, half man, half insect. Huge pincer-like jaws were clamped around Terry’s neck, and a hissing sound was coming from the creature, like steam escaping from a pot that was boiling over. Blood was pouring down over Terry’s chest, and six claw-like arms held him tight. Val ran for the door, and almost fell down the stairs, she was moving so fast. Her heart was beating rapidly, and her brain whirring, as she tried to take in the scene she had just witnessed. She burst through the street door in her stockinged feet, running into the middle of the road, her mouth opening and closing with the repetitive scream.
All around, similar cries and screams could be heard coming from every house. All except one.
Looking across to Mrs Noakes’, Val could see her at the window, smiling.
Standing next to her, was a respectable grey haired man.