‘Tis the season to be spooky…

…and I have some spooktacular* offers for you to enjoy.

I have (for the duration of the season and maybe beyond) made my shorter works a little cheaper.

This means that my novella The Hedgeway is now just 99p or whatever the equivalent is worldwide. Here’s the blurb to tempt you:

Leading from the overgrown grass and thicket of brambles were the distinct signs of feet passing: small, bare human feet.
A child had walked here, breaking the crisp coating of hoar frost, and had stood only yards from the kitchen window.
Cathy thought: They’re only footprints, so why do I suddenly feel so scared?
Daniel’s grandmother’s house seems only a few years from becoming a ruin but the roof is still sound and unlike his rented accommodation, the whole place is his. It seems the perfect time to ask girlfriend Cathy to move in with him and together they plan to renovate the house. But the old house has secrets that it wants to share with them whether they want to know or not.

Then there’s The Wild Hunt, also for 99p:

Six short stories of encounters with forgotten deities and demi-gods and otherworldly beings.
The Piper at the Back Gate ~ a woman discovers a primeval forest beyond her night time garden and waiting there is someone from her childhood days.
The Wild Hunt ~ a wakeful woman joins the hunt first as prey, then as hunter, in a frozen land millennia ago.
Snag ~ a man meets a strange girl who seems to know all about everyone, to great effect.
Snuggle ~ as a premature baby lies hovering between life and death, a girl sits spinning wool in the hospital foyer.
Snip ~ an arrogant young man fights a battle with post-operative infection and his conscience.
The Faery Trees ~ an angry child discovers why you should never fall asleep beneath the elder trees.

And finally, also at 99p is The Moth’s Kiss:

A collection of ten short stories to unsettle, disturb, chill or terrify. From the creeping unease of The Moth’s Kiss of the title to the eeriness of A Fragrance of Roses, the stories seep into the consciousness of the reader. Shivers down the spine and a need to check doors and windows are a probable outcome of reading this collection alone at night. You’ll never look at willows or mosquitoes the same. Or moths.

If you are not keen on the spooky stuff, but do want something that reflects the season somewhat, then Strangers and Pilgrims, a book many readers have found to be comforting and uplifting as well as enthralling, is set during the three days of All Hallows Eve (Halloween) All Hallow’s Day and also All Saints day. It’s not on offer at this time but at £2.99 for a full novel, that’s not a bad deal anyway. Here’s the blurb:

“My heart is broken and I am dying inside.” 

Six unconnected strangers type these words into an internet search engine and start the journey of a lifetime. Directed to The House of the Wellspring website, each begins a conversation with the mysterious warden, to discover whether the waters of the Wellspring, a source of powerful healing, can heal their unbearable hurts. 

A journey of self discovery and healing awaits them, but will the Warden grant them their wish? Invited to spend some days at the House of the Wellspring each of the strangers comes with the hope of coming away whole again. 

But where is the Warden they all longed to meet and where is the Wellspring they all came to find?

 

All books also available in paperback. I recently did the required migration from Createspace to Kindle Direct; it was easier than I feared though I did get very stressed about it. Most of the books are a little cheaper now than they previously were.

Shares very much appreciated. For all other Amazon stores, please change the dot co dot uk in the URL to whichever dot you need. Or put the title and my name into the search facility.

 

  • sorry about that. It’s also the season for very bad puns.
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The ghost in the library

The ghost in the library

I had hoped to have some scary fiction to share this Halloween but the short story I wrote is either too scary or not scary enough, and I’d rather save it till I know which. I was also working on a longer story, but have stalled through lack of energy.

So, I thought I would entertain you all in the grand old tradition of telling true ghost stories at Halloween.

I’ve got a fair few odd little anecdotes about the supernatural from a life time of being something of a magnet for weird events, from being pelted with a potted hyacinth by a poltergeist to seeing the spectral form of a small child appear in the bedroom of our first house. So gather round, friends, and would someone shut the door lest the draught make the candles flicker? Throw a few more logs on the fire, pour yourself a glass of vintage port and make yourself comfortable.

Sixteen is a difficult age and while I was in few respects a true teenager, the world usually conspires to treat you as a being who falls squarely between being a child to be indulged and an adult who can be trusted. I was lucky that my post ‘O’ level work experience proved to be one where I was really given the opportunity to experience working in a museum.

Bedford museum had quite recently relocated to the Castle Gardens in Bedford, and the building it inhabited had an interesting history. Of the castle itself, constructed of timber shortly after the Norman conquest, only the mound still stood, and traces of the motte. The museum was a rambling old place which in its time had been a workhouse and also a brewery and when I joined for my month of experience, it was still undergoing changes. The smell of paint and plaster lingered; exhibits were being dusted down and given new labels as part of the whole programme of refurbishment.

I was originally there to work for the Archaeology Officer but I found I got on better with the curator and the Natural History Officer. As an adult I can see how hard it must have been for them to find me tasks for which I was qualified and able to do without reducing me to a tea girl, and I was first set with the task of examining and cataloguing a room full of boxes packed with magic lantern slides. They had been newly acquired but no one knew what was in most of them as there was no inventory. So I opened box and after dusty old box and methodically recorded what I found. It might have been tedious work but I found it actually quite good fun. I learned a lot about the world, too.

On occasions I got take out on trips, such as when John, the curator was asked to visit Police headquarters to help their public relations officer assess how to manage the museum housed there. That was eye-opening. I got to handle murder weapons from yesteryear and look at some quite gruesome relics of murders. Usually mid afternoon everyone at our museum came to the kitchen for a cuppa, and friends of the curator used to drop by too, several of whom worked in local government. I was included in these gatherings and enjoyed them.

The day came when I finished with my boxes of slides, and with some sense of accomplishment I handed over my inventory. I have no idea now if it was more or less what was needed but I got praised and then sent to the attic for my next assignment.

The attic was a vast long room that ran probably half the length of the building, and it was also the library. On one side of the room were lots and lots of windows, but the other walls were almost completely covered by shelves of books, floor to ceiling. It was a bright, sunny room and I suspect that it was far from the best place to store rare books but it was a pleasant enough place to work. It was reached by a steep staircase that began near the kitchen door in the private area of the museum. The stairs were solid enough but they creaked when you walked on them.

My task was to catalogue the latest batch of acquistions: a consignment of weights and measures. There was everything from the usual sets of scales (including tiny jeweller’s scales) to huge half hundredweight lumps of metal and a vast array of Chinese scales all in exquisitely made wooden cases of rosewood and velvet. I had to measure everything, and describe as accurately as I could everything about each item.

When you have measured a dozen scales, it gets boring. Really boring. On a summer afternoon, when the room has become warm, and sunshine is pouring in, a girl tends to suddenly start questioning what on earth she is doing in a museum library when she might be elsewhere. Of course, I didn’t sneak out and go and have a quiet afternoon down by the river but I did rebel a bit.

I went and found a book.

It was a bound edition of The Girl’s Own Paper from around 1900 onwards, and it was fascinating reading. From the coy problem pages to the advertisements for complexion soaps and dusting powders, I was hooked. There was a serial too. I remember little of it, because I limited myself to one paper a day. I had a guilty sense of stealing time when I read instead of cataloguing, and even though I was simply a volunteer, I wanted to make a good impression on those I was working for. So I kept the book as a secret treat.

One very warm afternoon I gave up working quite quickly. None of the windows would open and it was airless and stuffy. I worked at a big desk at the far end of the long room, and I sat side on, so that while I did not have my back to the room, I did not exactly face it. I was enjoying reading and was lost in some Edwardian beauty tips when it happened.

Directly behind me, someone sighed, loudly and with obvious sorrow. I froze, believing that one of the staff must have come up and found me shirking my tasks. I turned, ready to apologise, and saw there was no one there.

I ran through my mind what had just happened. I had definitely heard a pronounced sigh. I had felt it on the back of my neck. All the windows were closed. I had not heard footsteps coming up the creaky stairs, nor yet the same across the expanse of floor boards to my desk. I checked the room, to see if someone had sneaked up and was standing now grinning at my discomfiture.

I was totally alone. And the room that had previously been sweltering with July heat was stone cold.

I was out of that room and down the stairs in a very few seconds, landing in the kitchen white-faced and shaking. One of John’s friends was there, making tea and he was a bit shocked and my sudden arrival. Then he saw my face.

Oh, you’ve met our resident ghost, then?” he said and I nodded and was too scared to say more in case I was teased about it.

I did go back up a few days later, and while I had the eerie feeling of being watched, nothing further happened. I’ve looked up the museum now and while a lot has changed, including the name, it seems that ghostly goings on are still a feature as this Halloween they are running a paranormal investigation. http://www.thehigginsbedford.org.uk/default.aspx?page=0

 

Dry Salvages ~ a story for Hallow E’en

Dry Salvages

The sea sucked at the shingle so gently that the frenzy of the storm of the previous night seemed like a nightmare. Soft white clouds scudded along with the breeze, and a distant gull soared low over the waves breaking along the sandbar a hundred yards off shore.

This was to be the last of her yearly pilgrimages here, but she had told herself this many times before and every year she came back. It was as if she were waiting for a sign, to finally give up and turn her
back to the sea one last time, never to return. Since that wild night
so many years ago, she’d never set foot on a boat again, vowing that
the sea that had widowed her would never get the chance to touch her.

She’d walked up from the town, leaving behind the shabby shops as fast as her aching heart would carry her. The flowers were already withered after the stifling heat of the train, turned up full in anticipation of October frosts. Each year she’d tried to choose something different. Often it had been expensive flowers, as if she were trying to bribe the sea by her gifts. This year, she’d bought
chrysanthemums. She couldn’t remember whether she’d ever done so before but she thought not. Chrysanthemums were such classic funeral flowers that she’d refused to consider them. After all, there had never been a proper funeral, to her thinking. If there is no body
then it is merely a memorial.

Yet the churchyards on this coastline were surely full of gravestones of men whose bodies were long lost at sea, fish-devoured and vanished  Sometimes the inscriptions reflected this. Sometimes they did not. Her husband’s did; she’d insisted on that. Lost at sea was a common enough fate of deep sea fishermen, but these days, the fleet was also gone. Just a few inshore boats now plied their trade along the coasts. It had become rarer and rarer for the kind of loss she’d grown up with as a child to trouble the town’s folk today; now a man lost at sea was deemed a tragedy and was given two minutes on the local TV news. In her young days, you shrugged; the sea gave, but she also took what she deemed her dues. It was an accepted fact of the life they led.

Her bungalow was a long way from the sea, but every year she came back, to make this offering and remember. The breeze played with her greying hair and tossed it this way and that as she stomped along the pebbles piled in huge drifts where the storm had flung it. The strand line was thick with debris, from man-made rubbish like flip flops, to frayed and faded tangles of rope and heaps of stinking sea weed. Feathers littered the beach, masses of them, and dead gulls too lay here and there to testify to the ferocity of the storm. The smell was powerful and rank, that mix of freshness and decay that characterises the seaside, but intensified by the sheer volume of the flotsam and jetsam.

As a child, she’d found amber washed up here, dredged up and transported countless miles, perhaps even from the distant Baltic. The power of the sea storms was incredible; mines and other ordnance from wars long forgotten sometimes washed up, creating days of havoc while the bomb squad came to deal with them. But bodies were seldom washed up; the North sea was too deep and a human body too fragile to withstand both the pummelling of waves and the voracious maws of fish. Many fishermen refused to eat mackerel, deeming them scavengers who’d surely dined on the odd unlucky soul. Sometimes the trawler nets dragged in a picked-over skeleton, still encased in oilskins and even sou’wester but the captains usually said a prayer or two and threw the body back. It unsettled families to get the body back, and the paperwork was unbelievable.

After this amount of time, she knew in her heart that nothing of him would ever be coming back, yet still she came, to be sure. A lone tear trickled down her face, and she brushed it away. Too late for that, and she’d shed too many tears already. Peeling away the wrapping of her bouquet, she took each individual spray and peeled away the stems of flowers. One by one, she threw each rust coloured flower onto the water, and as she did so, she said her own secret prayers. The flowers bobbed on the water, looking out of place. The rusty colour was so like old dried blood that she shivered and turned away as the last one fell into the waves with a tiny splash.

Done then, for another year. He was never coming back, never, never, never.

The past is finished,” she said to the sea and turned to go, scrambling up the banked-up shingle.

The pebbles shifted under her shoes and made her slip, falling face first into the piles of rubbish on the strand-line and she recoiled in
horror at what she saw, poking out of a tangled mass of seaweed and feathers. Unmistakeable in shape and size, a human femur jutted above the greens and dull reds. The bone was bleached and pitted with years of salt water, an old thing surely.

She pulled herself together enough to reach out and touch it. All these years and she’d never seen a bone on the beach. Tentatively she pulled the femur out of the weeds and gazed at it. A man’s arm, for sure, she thought, comparing it to her own.

Wrapping the relic in the paper the flowers had come in, she tucked the bone under her arm and began the long walk back to the station. She didn’t know why she’d brought the bone; it would have been better to just leave it. But after all these years, surely this was a sign?

The train ride home seemed far longer and she walked home in the dark, the bone still tucked under her arm. The bright lights of her home were a welcome sight after the miserable journey and her renewed anxiety. Her husband was making tea when she came in, and she went to hang up her coat while he poured it, taking care to hide the bone in a drawer. He never liked her pilgrimage days, objected to them on principle.

You gotta let the past go,” he’d say. “Joe died doing what he loved
doing; let him rest in peace.”

He never came back,” she’d say. “I just need to check, once a year.
I know it seems silly to you, but for my peace of mind….”

Her second husband had the sea-blue eyes of the archetypal sailor but he’d never been a fisherman. He got sea-sick, in fact. It had been one of the things she’d loved about him, the fact that the sea held no draw, no glamour for him. He’d smelled of land, not sea, not that mixed aroma of fish, salt, seaweed and engine oil from the trawlers that made her feel sick whenever she caught a whiff of it now on a man. 

That night she slept poorly, tossing like a rowing boat in a squall, and in the early hours, she woke, hearing the foghorn calling like an old cow in pain. Confused, she sat up, and gazed around. Her husband snored gently beside her, but she could hear the distant sound clearly and when she went to the window, the garden beyond was filled with dense fog.

Only along the coast did the fog-horn sound to warn ships they were too close to land.

Heart beginning to pound, she dragged on her dressing gown and left the room. The big patio door from the living room into the garden stood open and wisps of mist curled their way into the room. A smell of fish and rotting sea weed and of decaying gulls made her gag and she ran to the drawer where she’d hidden the bone.

Babbling half remembered prayers, Hail Mary Queen of Heaven, she rushed out into the fog, luminous with the vulgar orange of the street-lamps. At the end of the garden, there was an area her husband had been clearing to plant spring bulbs and the spade still stood where he’d planted it. Seizing it, she began to dig.

I’ll put you in a proper grave,” she muttered. “I’ll make you stay
there. If you wouldn’t stay at the bottom of the sea after all these
years, I’ll make sure you stay at the bottom of a six foot grave.”

As she dug, her feet bare on the earth, she remembered his surprised eyes when she’d struck him with a boat-hook, and the stream of blood that had rushed down his face. His eyes had seemed to say, “What did you do that for?” before he keeled forward onto the deck, unconscious. She’d checked his pulse, strong and steady, and knew she only had moments before he woke and fought back. Getting him over the side of the boat had been hard, but the splash of water below told her he was gone. Then she’d battened down the hatches and let the boat go where it would, making sure that as the storm raged, she was safe inside the cabin. She’d not slept, for the fear that the storm would wreck their little fishing boat, bought with Lottery winnings without ever asking her what she wanted to spend the money on.

The boat was found when the storm had waned and she’d sent up a distress flare; a fisherman’s daughter as well as a wife, she knew her way round a boat from childhood. But she never wanted to set foot on it again and it had been sold, a chum of Joe’s buying it from her after the inquest. They’d believed her story; too many were lost at sea like that to doubt her tale of Joe being washed overboard by a
massive wave.

So she’d moved inland, bought her own little home and installed her
second husband as soon as seemed decent. But each year, on the
anniversary of that night, she went back, just to be sure.

The fog was making it hard to breathe and her chest was heaving as she dug in the damp soil. The stench of dead fish and seaweed was growing stronger and as she looked back at the house, she saw standing in the doorway a familiar figure, clad in waterproofs of livid yellow and she let out a shriek of such dread that it seemed to catch in her own throat and stick there.

I can’t breathe, she thought and dropped the spade and sank to her
knees, holding her chest with both hands. The paper containing the
bone fell next to her and as she lurched forward onto her face, she
saw both the shining white of the bone and the yellow clad figure
running to her before her heart stopped completely.

*

He did everything he could to revive her, bring her back from the dead but nothing worked. The paramedic stood beside him and they both looked at the  dead woman.

What on earth was she doing out her at this time of night?” asked the paramedic.

I have no idea,” he said. “I woke and found her gone, and the house was cold. I saw the patio door was open when I went through and I saw her out there, digging. I didn’t know what to think.”

He pulled his dressing gown closer, the egg-yolk yellow terry towelling beading with moisture from the heavy mist that still filled the garden.

She’s always a bit odd on this day; it’s the anniversary of her first
husband’s death,” he went on. “She’s always been a bit obsessed
by the fact they never found his body. They rarely do, but it
bothered her. He was a fisherman, just got his own little boat. The
offshore fleet had made so many cuts, he lost his job. Then they had
a windfall and he got his own boat.”

The paramedic nodded. It was often better to just let people talk but it worried him what the woman had been doing out here, digging a hole at that time in the morning. He spotted something on the grass.

Have a look at this,” he said, holding it up to the bereaved man. “It’s a bone. What do you think?”

The other man took it and held it so he could squint at it.

Seal,” he said after a moment of intense scrutiny. “Probably. But
certainly not human.”

You sound very definite!” the paramedic remarked.

The bereaved man gave a short laugh without amusement.

I was a marine biologist before I retired,” he said. “My wife
didn’t know what I did when we met. She was a bit horrified, she
thought she’d got away from the sea totally. After that awful night
when her first husband was swept away, she never wanted anything to do with the sea. Of course, by then I was mainly in a lab anyway so it was never much of a problem.”

He shivered.

You’ll catch your death of cold, standing here in your night clothes,”
said the paramedic and started to usher him inside. “There’s
nothing you can do for her now.”

I know,” he said, sadly. “What do you think killed her?”

Oh, heart attack for sure, but there’ll have to be a post mortem,” said the paramedic. “You said she had a mild heart condition, I think.”

She did.”

He took one last look at her contorted face.

But you know, it looks to me as if she died of fright.”

A Devil’s Pet

 

(Disclaimer: I think this is quite possbily the most chilling thing I have ever written. Proceed at your own risk. You have been warned.)

A Devil’s Pet

 

The fire crackled softly to itself and the sleeping baby in the Moses basket made a tiny sound and lapsed into deeper sleep, a minute bubble of milk at the corner of her mouth. Naomi relaxed again and tried to focus again on her book. One child had been demanding enough but the arrival of her second baby had put a serious crimp on her ability to concentrate on anything but the essentials. At least Joel had taken the arrival of a sibling better than most toddlers, doting on his new little sister and seeming very keen to play with her.

Mike was doing the dishes in the kitchen, humming away to himself and the sound was comforting. Apart from the sound of the fire, his was the only sound she could hear at all and she snuggled further into her shawl. The little house was warm and cosy and the scented candles filled the room with the fragrances of summer. Beyond the walls, a fine layer of snow had begun to settle and turn the mundane suburban garden into a wonderland of white icing.

A new sound caught her attention, one she couldn’t place, a faint scratching that seemed to be coming from the back door.

Mike, can you see what that noise is?” she called, keeping her voice low so as not to disturb the baby.

Mike came through, drying his hands.

What noise?” he asked and as he said it, the noise died away.

I heard something at the back door,” Naomi said. “Go and look.”

He gave her a look that clearly said, why don’t you go and look, but with a sigh, he went out into the back hall and opened the door. Freezing air flooded into the house, and in its wake came a fluttering of snow flakes like feathers from a ripped pillow and a half grown black cat.

The cat hurtled in as if there were a dog pursuing it, fur standing on end and eyes wild and frenzied, and dodged past Mike’s legs and into the living room, skidding to a halt in front of the open fire and the baby basket.

What the-?” Mike shouted and Naomi shot off the sofa and out of the door to join him in the hall.

Get rid of it, Mike,” she hissed, clinging to him and shrinking away from the living room. “You know I hate cats. Get it away from the baby. Now.”

Mike raised his eyebrows in surprise but approached the cat cautiously. He quite liked cats but he’d never really handled one before and the cat backed away, spine arched and spitting at him, and he moved away. He snatched up the baby basket and fled to the hall.

Wuss,” Naomi said. “You’re scared of it!”

So are you,” he countered but she shrugged.

Mine’s a genuine phobia,” she said. “Kick it out.”

Mike decided that he wasn’t going to risk getting mauled and he faced his wife squarely.

The poor thing will freeze to death if I kick it out tonight,” he said. “Let it stay and it can go in the morning.”

Naomi looked as if she might argue but the sleeping baby’s eyes flickered, the rosebud face became crimson and the hungry whimpering started.

OK, OK,” she said. “Leave it there for tonight. I need to go to bed now anyway; this one needs a last feed and change. I don’t want that thing here tomorrow.”

Later, under the warm duvet, Naomi moved closer to Mike and cuddled up to him.

Why do you hate cats so much?” he asked sleepily.

My Gran said that cats were the devil’s pet,” she said. “They’re evil creatures. Noah only let cats on the Ark to keep the rats from eating everything.”

I see,” he said, sleepily and drifted off into uneasy dreams.

The next morning the cat was curled up on the hearth rug,not quite sleeping to judge by the half open eyes. When Mike came into the room, it yawned and stretched and came over to greet him, rubbing against his legs and purring. It was such a contrast to its demeanour the night before, he immediately began stroking it, and the purring increased to a rumbling that seemed incredibly loud from such a small creature. This morning, the fur smoothed down, it was clear that this was scarcely more than a kitten and when Naomi came down with the baby, the cat was lapping milk from a saucer in the kitchen.

It’s starving and homeless,” Mike said defensively when she let him get a word in edgeways. “It’s the worst weather I can ever remember and until I can find where it comes from, as far as I am concerned it can stay.”

The silence between them became deafening over the next few days until Naomi found mouse droppings behind the bread bin and decided to concede that a cat might actually have a use in her home. By the following morning, a row of mangled little corpses lay by the kitchen door and that was enough for her to agree that unless someone came forward to claim the black cat, it might be considered theirs, and a collar was bought, and bowls and all the usual equipment and toys followed.

I still don’t like cats,” she said one evening. “But this little chap seems to have his uses. Just make sure he doesn’t go and sit on the baby.”

The black cat seemed to understand his boundaries and was almost always to be found next to wherever the baby was put, in basket or pushchair or cot, but never too close for Naomi’s comfort. The mouse problem vanished and fed with tinned cat food and the raw steak mince Mike used to sneak to the cat, the cat grew rapidly from an underweight scrap of rather mangy fur into a handsome glossy coated beast with a purr like a chainsaw starting.

Joel, their three year old son seemed to have inherited his mother’s dislike of cats, and had been put on the Naughty Step innumerable times for kicking out at the cat or pulling its tail. The cat had not retaliated with claws or teeth until one day when Mike and Naomi were alerted by screaming and ran into the living room to be confronted with a sight that chilled them both.

The baby basket was tipped over on the floor, the baby flung across the hearth rug and was squalling red-faced and with flailing limbs while the cat stood, back arched in fury, his mouth gaping wide to show needles of yellow teeth and yowling fiercely at Joel who was himself screaming fit to burst their eardrums, clutching his hand that bore the unmistakeable lines of a cat’s claws.

Naomi screamed too and ran to snatch up the baby while Mike scooped up his wailing son and examined his hurt hand. The cat simply vanished, leaving the scene like a streak of black lightning. As Mike struggled to calm both wife and son, and the baby quietened down, Mike picked the basket up and set it back on its stand. To his surprise, he saw that the poker had been moved from its usual place on the rack by the fireplace and lay now partially under where the basket had fallen.

The cat remained absent for the rest of the day and came in at twilight to eat and go to sleep by the fire again. Mike convinced Naomi that in all likelihood Joel had finally grabbed at the cat and got what he deserved and that the baby basket had been tipped over in a scuffle. She eyed the cat with dislike as he ate but didn’t seem inclined to take action beyond banning the cat from the house during the daytime when she was around.

Joel needs to know he can’t just treat a live animal like a stuffed toy,” Mike said, reasonably. “He won’t try to hurt him again. He’ll have learned his lesson.”

The livid marks of the cat’s claws were covered with a small bandage but Joel said nothing about what had happened. He was not very advanced in his speech anyway and the health visitor had said that his speech might well be slowed by the arrival of a new baby. At night though, Mike could often hear him babbling away to his stuffed animals just as if he were a general ordering his army around. There weren’t many words that you’d recognise as English but he seemed quite fluent in whatever baby language he spoke.

The baby was a source of concern. From initially being a placid baby who only cried when hungry or wet, she had begun to howl like a banshee for hours on end and fretted at the breast and often when Naomi thought she’d settled her, minutes after she left the room, the baby would be screaming as if in pain. Joel played on with his toys, apparently oblivious of the noise. Tiny scratches and bruises showed up on the baby’s rose petal cheeks; she cut the baby’s tiny finger nails to stop her scratching at her face but still the marks appeared.

I don’t know what to do,” Naomi said, anxiously when the health visitor came. “Joel was never like this. He was such a good baby.”

She placed the baby back in the basket and gently rocked it a little. Stiffening slightly, as the cat sauntered in and took up his old place next to the basket, she gazed beseechingly at the health visitor.

What a handsome cat!” said the health visitor.

It’s Mike’s,” Naomi said, hastily. “I wouldn’t have one. Aren’t there legends about cats smothering babies?”

Myth, in all likelihood,” the woman replied. “A way of explaining sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Pets are good for children; gets their immune systems going properly for a start. See, Baby likes the pretty pussy cat; she’s gone to sleep now.”

Sure enough, with the arrival of the cat, the baby’s cries had ceased and she was now sleeping peacefully.

Cats can be very calming; did you know their purrs can help heal broken bones?” the health visitor put in and Naomi smiled politely.

Just as long as my baby is OK,” she said. She had no faith in the idea of cats being anything more useful than mouse killing nuisances.

Baby is fine,” said the health visitor soothingly. “But Joel does rather concern me though. He’s not talking as much as we’d expect for his age. Nothing to really worry about yet, but worth reviewing properly at his next developmental checks.”

Joel heard his name and looked over.

Nothing wrong with his hearing, anyway,” Naomi said.

That evening, she and Mike sat in front of the fire and watched the television without really taking anything in. Mike could sense she was worried and upset but knew better than to try and broach it before she was ready to talk. The cat lay curled on the hearth rug, purring softly and in the basket nearby, the baby slept peacefully.

He was about to suggest they go to bed when the living room door opened and Joel stumbled in, rubbing his eyes and grizzling as only a small child can. He toddled over to the baby basket and in an instant, the cat was awake and transformed from the purring bundle of shining black fur into a demonic shape, bristling and growling as if a dog had suddenly barged in. Spine arched, the cat lashed out with claws extended, and swiped at the child’s legs.

Naomi leapt to her feet and chased the cat out of the room, furious. When she came back, the baby was starting to cry and Joel was wailing while Mike inspected his legs for damage.

It’s OK, it didn’t hurt him,” he said hastily.

Naomi sat down heavily on the sofa cuddling the baby into sleep again, and Mike took Joel back upstairs. When he got back, she was crying.

It’s no good,” she said. “I’ve done my best but I can’t have that thing in my house any longer. Tomorrow, it goes. Either to the cat rescue people or the vet’s. I won’t have it attacking my children. I told you there was something evil about cats. Look what it tried to do to Joel. He didn’t even do anything that time.”

The poor animal is scared of him,” Mike said. “Which isn’t surprising. I caught him the other day with the poker, chasing the cat with it. He should be old enough to understand it’s wrong.”

He’s only a baby,” Naomi protested. “He doesn’t know any better.”

Then he’ll have to learn,” Mike said. “And so will you, darling. It’s just a cat, but we took it in and we can’t just get rid of it like that. Think how many mice he’s caught.”

Naomi just cried harder but Mike was determined not to be undermined on this issue as he had been on so many others. She knew him of old; confrontation on something he was set upon simply was pointless. There were of course other ways. Cats would not stay in a home where they were ill treated so over the next days, she ignored the cat when he mewed to come in out of the cold and left the feeding to Mike. If the cat approached her, she made a rush at it to chase it away.

But the cat seemed just as determined to get close, not to Naomi but the baby and try as she might, whenever she turned her back, the cat came back and was settled near wherever the baby way. It made her at first uneasy and then angry.

Leave my baby alone,” she would hiss, chasing the animal away. But it made no difference. As soon as she turned away, the cat returned.

It came to a head when the cat took to accompanying them on the short walk to the shop at the corner of the street, where their quiet residential avenue met a main road. People seemed to think it was cute that the cat would walk along with them but Naomi hated it. She paused outside the shop, hoping that the cat might actually just wander off if she left it out there alone long enough, and just as she was about to manoeuvre the buggy into the shop, Joel started to reach into the pushchair to pat his little sister’s face and the cat erupted into a spitting mass of fury, striking out at the toddler rapidly. Joel shrieked and to Naomi’s shock, he didn’t rush to her for protection but instead began kicking at the cat, driving it away from the pushchair and into the road. Naomi yelled and ran after her son, snatching at him and pulling him back out of the traffic.

There was a shrill sound of brakes being slammed on and a terrible soft wet thump as a car hit the fleeing cat, crushing the life out of it instantly. Naomi felt her knees go weak and pressed her son’s face into her legs, trying to shield him from the horrifying sight. The driver was as horrified as she was; the guy came tumbling out of his car, shaking and exclaiming, “Oh my God, oh my God,” over and over again.

The cat lay limp and bloody and unmoving and the driver stood over the body, almost weeping with the shock.

Is it your cat?” he asked her finally and she just nodded.

I am so sorry, so sorry,” he said and very gently he managed to lift the mangled remains onto the pavement. “Can I call somebody? Your partner? Your mum?”

Still dazed, Naomi said nothing but she relaxed her grip on Joel and he detached himself from her skirt and turned and looked with blank eyes on the dead cat.

Bad kitty,” he said very clearly and then stamped on its head.

The next few hours were a horrible mess of emotions, guilt and anger and most of all a powerful sense of revulsion. Mike came home from work in response to her incoherent phone call and her guilt was made all the greater when he wept as he buried the cat in their back garden.

Joel should be here too,” he said, blowing his nose as he patted down the last clods of earth. “He needs to know the cat is gone for good.”

I think he already does, Naomi thought but she was unable to tell her husband of that last action of violence towards the cat. It baffled and horrified her still and she had no way of explaining it adequately.

The next morning, breasts aching with milk, Naomi went through to the baby’s room to wake her for her morning feed and found the baby silent and cold and totally unresponsive. Neither her efforts nor Mikes nor that of the paramedics made the slightest difference and she was pronounced dead at the hospital, her tiny face slightly blue.

I don’t understand. How can she just die?” Naomi said from the haze of tranquillizers the doctor had administered to try and calm her.

She held the silent bundle, Mike standing weeping at her side. Joel was playing with some toys the nurses had found for him, oblivious of the tragedy that was around him.

Sadly it does happen,” said the doctor. “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I’m afraid there will have to be a post mortem, but at least that means you can have some peace that there was nothing you could have done. I am so sorry for your loss.”

He left the grieving couple alone slipping unobtrusively from the room; as the door shut, Joel seemed to notice his parents crying steadily and came over, a large floppy teddy bear in his hands.

Naomi looked at him, her eyes swimming with tears.

Come here darling,” she said, her voice husky with crying. “Baby’s gone to be with Jesus and the angels now.”

Joel faced her with those blank eyes and leaning forward he peered at the still face of his baby sister cradled in his mother’s arms. A tiny frown appeared between his brows and Naomi thought he was going to start wailing himself. He took the teddy bear and laid it very solemnly over the baby’s face and patted it firmly down.

Bad baby,” he said, and smiled.

Red Eyes~ a story for Hallow E’en

 

Red Eyes( a story for Hallow E’en)

I’ve never been one to scare easily but when I saw those red eyes staring hard at me, their intensity dimmed by the reed blind that was partially pulled down over the glass door, I froze. I was catapulted into a state of instantaneous terror I’d never known before. They say when you are about to die, you life flashes before your eyes; well, at sixteen there wasn’t a lot to flash and like one of those flicker comics, it was over in micro seconds.

But I was still alive and those eyes were watching me, their unwavering scrutiny of me showed no sign of movement. I leaped from the sofa where I’d been snuggled down with Middlemarch and my Latin homework and turned the key in the lock. The glass door led into the old fashioned sun lounge built onto this sizeable Victorian house and with the door actually locked I felt a tiny bit safer but my heart continued to pound. Upstairs my two charges slept the peace of the innocent and I remembered that as babysitter I was responsible for their safety.

Having bought myself a little time, I considered my options. I could run down the hall and phone my dad, who lived the other end of the street and hope he got here before whatever was in the sun lounge broke through the glass and tore me to shreds. You see, I had an idea of what was out there and I didn’t like it at all.

The road I grew up in was very much the ‘in’ place to build a house in Victorian times, and the road is packed with large houses, some in their own grounds. Much of the extra land has been sold off and more houses built so the progression from the 1860s when the first houses were built to the 1990s when the most recent were added shows a range of architecture. The Ways’ house where I worked two or three times a week was one of the very first and during the excavations for foundations at that end of the street the workmen had unearthed a pagan Saxon cemetery, complete with funerary urns. According to newspaper reports at the time, urns were smashed and destroyed before the authorities could call in an expert. That was where I now stood, quivering with fear. The spirit of some angry Saxon was waiting out there, ready to crash through the glass door and annihilate me. If that wasn’t scary enough, the kids upstairs would be next. If I took my eyes off those eyes, I wouldn’t know where he was. And then somehow that would be worse than knowing.

I somehow managed to control my breathing and decided that if I was going to go, I had to try and exorcise the evil out there first. So praying under my breath I unlocked the door and stepped into the darkness of the sun lounge and waited. The room retained a little of the heat from the summer sun and it was filled with the green pungency of tomato plants.

Nothing happened. The eyes were gone. I walked round, my knees knocking with fear and saw nothing. I crept back into the living room and as I turned to shut the door behind me, I almost jumped out of my skin.

The eyes were back, shining and evil.

I twisted and lurched back into the sun lounge and waited for my doom to fall, crouching on the floor, face to face with……

…………………. two cherry tomatoes, glowing crimson in the light from the street lamp beyond the garden.

Ever since then Occam’s Razor has been my closest weapon in the fight with the world of the supernatural…..closely followed by my sense of humour.