The Flypaper is a scary episode of Tales of the Unexpected about a girl on a bus who is accosted by a creepy old man. It’s based on a short story by Elizabeth Taylor (the writer, not the actress). It’s not very well-known, but everyone who has seen it describes it as “chilling, disturbing and terrifying” In his introduction, Roald Dahl says it’s “so neat and nice and spooky that I only wish I had thought of it myself.”
When the story begins, the police are dragging the marshes looking for a missing school girl.
“The hunt for 12-year old Elaine Phillips continues. Elaine has been missing from her home for 5 days now and police have issues another appeal today for any information that might help in the search for the Northwoods schoolgirl. Elaine is slender and 5-feet tall. She was wearing a school uniform of grey skirt and maroon blazer when she was last seen by two of her classmates.”
The story centers around an 11-year old girl named Sylvia. Ever since her parents died in a car crash, her life has taken a turn for the worse. She is quiet, sad and sullen and can’t stand living with her grandmother who cares more about her roses than she does about Sylvia.
One day, when she is on her way home from her piano lessons, Sylvia notices a strange man watching her. He gives her the creeps and every time she looks over her shoulder, the man is there.
Sylvia suspects he is following her, so she runs all the way home. When she gets back to the house, she tries to tell her grandmother about the man who was following her, but the old woman isn’t interested.
“Never talk to strangers,” her grandmother says, “That’s a basic rule for girls your age.”
“But I wasn’t talking to him,” Sylvia protests.
There’s another news report on TV about the missing girl.
“The body of Elaine Phillips, age 12 has been found in the Northwoods marshes. Police and frogmen have been searching the area since Friday…”
Every Wednesday, after school, Sylvia has to go to piano lessons. She feels trapped in her life. She doesn’t have any friends in school. She hates school, she hates church, she hates piano lessons. She wishes she could be invisible or maybe just disappear.
On the bus, a man sits down opposite her. Sylvia thinks she recognizes him. He’s the man who was following her the day before.
The man attempts to strike up a conversation with her.
“I believe I’ve seen you before,” he says, “wending your way either to or from a music lesson, I imagine.”
Sylvia puts her head down and tries to ignore him.
“I used to do that when I was a child,” the man says. “Make myself invisible and goodbye nasty world.”
When the bus conductor comes to collect the fares, Sylvia pays for her ticket. The man buys a ticket for the same destination.
Sylvia is disgusted when the man changes seats and sits down beside her.
“I’m very fond of children, you know,” he says. “I treat children on my own level.”
Another passenger, an old lady, sees that the man is bothering Sylvia and making her uncomfortable.
The old lady shoots him a disapproving look and says, “I know your sort!”
Sylvia gets off the bus one stop early to avoid the old man. She runs to a phone box, intending to call the police, but the phone is out of order.
All of a sudden, she hears the dreaded voice behind her.
“Looking for some spare change?”
She spins around. It’s the creepy old man from the bus.
“It’s broken,” Sylvia replies in a trembling voice.
“Oh what a pity,” the man giggles.
The embarrassment she suffered on the bus gives way to terror.
“Go away or I’ll scream,” Sylvia warns.
Just then, the old woman from the bus appears. Sylvia is relieved to see her. She hits the old man with her umbrella.
“Be off with you,” she shouts. “Leave that little girl alone.”
The old man reluctantly leaves, muttering to himself.
“Didn’t your mother ever warn you not to talk to strangers?” the old woman asks sternly.
“She’s dead,” Sylvia replies.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” says the old lady. “Well, you can come with me. I think we ought to phone the police, don’t you? I think the police would be very interested in what happened on the bus today.”
They start walking and when Sylvia glances back, she sees the man standing in the distance, glaring at them.
The old woman brings Sylvia to her house and makes her a cup of tea. She tells the girl to put some biscuits out on the table while she phones the police.
Sylvia hears the front door opening.
The old woman turns around and smiles.
“Hello, Herbert,” she says. “You’re just in time. The tea’s ready.”
Sylvia is horrified as the dreadful truth finally dawns on her.
The old man locks the door.
There’s a roll of flypaper hanging in the window, with a few flies stuck to it.
“Aha, caught another one,” he grins. “It’s the sweetness that attracts them, you see, and then the stickiness that prevents them getting away…”
As the old couple pull down the window blinds, Sylvia makes a desperate attempt to get away.
The old man and woman grab her by the neck and shove her back into the chair.
“You haven’t had your tea,” they say with a smile.