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The Empty Chair

A friend of mine, Rob Jenkins, almost had a nervous breakdown last year. I told him to go to the doctor.

Doctor: Hello, Mr Jenkins. What can I do for you?
Rob: Well, doctor... I'm very tense and nervous. I haven't been able to sleep for several days.
Doctor: Hmm... Have you been working hard?
Rob: Oh, yes. I've been very busy. I've been working twelve hours a day.
Doctor: Have you been taking any pills?
Rob: No, but I've been smoking too much, and I've been drinking a lot of coffee.
Doctor: Well, you should take a holiday. You should go somewhere quiet and peaceful, like Cornwall. Why don't you go there?

Rob decided to go to Cornwall the next weekend. Penquay was a very small fishing village on the north coast of Cornwall. There were no trains or buses to Penquay, so he had to drive. It was a long journey, and Rob arrived late on Friday evening. The landlady of the guest house, Mrs Doone, answered the door and showed him to his room. Rob was very tired and went straight to bed. He slept well and didn't wake up until nine o'clock the next morning.
Rob went downstairs to have breakfast. Because there were no other guests, Mrs Doone invited her to have breakfast with her and her daughter, Catherine. Catherine was already sitting in the dining room. She was about thirteen years old, with long, black hair and clear, grey eyes. Mrs Doone went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. Rob and Catherine looked at each other nervously for a few seconds.

Rob: There are four places at the table. Is there another guest?
Catherine: Oh, no... We never talk about the empty place.
Rob: The empty place? What do you mean?
Catherine: Well, that used to be my father's place.
Rob: Used to be? I don't understand.
Catherine: My father was a fisherman. Three years ago he was out in his boat, and he never returned.
Rob: What happened to him?
Catherine: Nobody knows. They searched everywhere, but they found nothing. My mother always keeps that place for him, and she makes his breakfast every morning. She thinks he'll come back. That's a photograph of him... over there, on the wall. My mother's been waiting for him for three years.

Rob said nothing, but he looked very worried. At that moment Mrs Doone returned. She poured four cups of tea, and put one cup in the empty place. Rob looked more worried, and he stared at the empty chair. Suddenly, he heard footsteps outside the door and a tall man, with a black beard, walked into the room. Rob looked terrified. It was the man in the photograph! He jumped up and ran out of the room.

Man: Who was that? What's the matter?
Mrs Doone: I don't know. I don't understand. He's a guest from London. He arrived last night while you were asleep.
Man: Catherine! Do you know anything about this?
Catherine: No, I don't, father. But he's here because he's very nervous. He says he's hiding here because a tall man with a black beard is trying to kill him.
Man: Catherine, have you been telling stories again?





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