I woke this morning to the sound of chainsaws and to my horror found the powers that be were cutting down the branches of the tree outside my office window. It’s not in my garden so there was nothing I could do, but watch as it was stripped of its lush branches. Hours later its been reduced to a stalk, its limbs jutting like skeleton arms towards an unforgiving, grey sky. I know some will think, “So what, it’s just a tree,” but its not. I watched it grow over twenty years from a sapling to a might elm. Its branches was home to countless generations of birds. Their nests now lie like dark blood spots on the green grass and the owners circle the stump in confusion. Not only did it hang with leaves and blossoms, but in its youth it was a climbing frame for many of the neighborhood boys. If I close my eyes I can see them hanging upside down by the ankles, glossy hair swinging as they screamed with life and laughter. Those little faces are lost to me now, the boys all grown and scattered to the four corners of the world. I judged the seasons by its leaves and watched as it grew from bud to green, then orange, red and gold. It will, no doubt, recover and come to life in time, but I will miss its familiar greeting, when I open the blinds each morning and the birdsong. Ah, that I will miss most of all.
Well folks, we’re back to the rain. Not that it makes much difference when you’re manacled to a desk. I was determined to take some time off after completing Shadow Self, but the blank screen kept issuing a challenge and I’m not one to back down. I’m hoping to make the story in to a trilogy and have written the first three chapters of Beyond Bargamore. You’ll understand the title later on. Have a great day and stay safe.
There was nothing beautiful about the house, but it obsessed her from the moment she saw it. Its fascination had nothing to do with anything strange or otherworldly; it was just that she had never had anything of her own before; not a house, a room, not even a bed. Everything had been leant to her; as though the giver warned “this will be yours for a while or for as long as I say.” Well, all that was at an end and she was now the proud owner of Bracken House, a Gothic monstrosity set in a remote location and lacking any of the charm that such buildings can sometimes have. The front of the house was a mismatch of tower rooms and angles, as though the builder, uncaring of where he placed each brick, let the house rise from the foundations of its own accord. This gave it a rather simple, moronic look and were it to vie for place among other buildings of its era, it would, in all honesty, be thought of as the court jester, it’s misshapen limbs a joke among the majesty of finer houses. Still, its new owner saw none of this and after the bare cells and cold stones of the convent; she saw only her new home and the start of a new life.
It had come as quiet a shock to the Mother Superior and her other sisters when she told them she was leaving. The look of outrage and disbelief on each face still sent her in to giggles of delight and she relished the upset she had caused by abandoning what was a depleting calling.
“But, you’re sixty eight years old,” Mother Superior gasped.
“It’s never too late or so they tell me,” Sister Anne, as she was then known, replied.
“Where will you go; what will you do?” The Mother asked.
“As you know, my mother recently died and it seems she has left me her whole estate, “Sister Anne said. “I intend to use the money before it is too late.”
“We are always short of funds, Could you not stay here? It had been your home for over fifty two years after all, and it seems only fair that the other sisters should share in your wealth.”
“I have no intention of sharing one penny with any of you,” Sister Anne replied, before getting to her feet.
The Mother Superior’s face was ashen in the fading light, her lips drawn in to a thin line of anger and Janet; she had reclaimed her old name, wonder if it were not for the large, mahogany desk that divided them, would the woman have struck her? How glad she was to leave the office that day and know that she would never return. The image of that room was imprinted on her retinas and the smell of trapped heat and old books seemed to have lodged itself in her nose. The idea that she would share her new found wealth with others! But then, Janet had never been one to share anything. Truth be known, she would not be missed by those she lived and worked beside and she knew that there was those who had breathe a sigh of relief when she walked out through the gates of the convent. There was nothing wrong with her; she decided many years ago, it was other people who had the problem. She had no time for the fake friendships they offered and the harlots who were placed in her care were a burden to be endured. She was a strong woman with even stronger principles and if they thought of her as cruel in her treatment of others, that just showed their weakness in both morals and spirit. It was time to go anyway, as the years changed and the unmarried mother was no longer an outcast and therefore of no value to her order. The other sister had become fat and lazy from decades of inactivity, while she stayed lean and unbending in all, especially her beliefs.
The rather stupid young man in the estate agents office had tried to dissuade her when she picked out the house from a stack of leaflets. It was very remote; he said and had the audacity to add, for a lady of her age and should she need help it was miles away from a hospital.
“I have never known a day’s sickness in my life,” she snatched the leaflet from his hand. “And I don’t intend to start now, even at my great age,” she added.
He had the grace to blush then and agreed to take her to view the house. Even as they drove, he pointed out, what he believed were more suitable properties, but she had ignored him, refusing to turn her head to look.
She loved the house on sight.
“Your photograph does not do it justice,” she told him.
“Really?” He stared from the leaflet to the house and scratched his head in wonder as she drank in the mottled brickwork, trailing ivy and peeling wood. “It has quite a reputation round here.”
“In what way?” She thought this just another ploy to put her off buying.
He shuffled from foot to foot and kept his eyes on the ground.
“Come along, young man. I have no time for dawdlers.”
“They say it’s haunted,” he mumbled. “That’s why no one wants to buy it.”
“How ridiculous,” Janet huffed. “Haunted indeed!”
One of the former sister’s downfalls was, like all salesmen familiar with a particular product, she knew all its faults and so it was when it came to spirits and religion. She feared nothing and no one and if that young upstart thought he could frighten her away with his tales of hauntings, he had quite another thing coming.
“I would like to see the interior now,” she said, her lips drawn in to their usual line of disapproval, her eyes thin slits in her skeletal face.
There was no arguing with someone like his present client and the young man took a large, rust-stained key from the glove compartment of his car and led her towards the house. Whatever Janet’s beliefs, the house did have a bad reputation. It was well known that it was haunted. In fact, it was the glue that held most ghost stories together. It was included in most tales of terror and one told by the old women of the surrounding area, round winter fires they whispered its name and crossed themselves with fear, to add substance and terror to the telling.
Janet felt a delicious thrill when he opened the creaking front door. The hallway smelt mouldy and clouds of dust rose from the threadbare carpets and muffled their footsteps as they descended further in to the house. She scanned each of the downstairs rooms, making a shrewd assessment of what it would cost to repair and what she might knock off the asking price.
The rustling ivy outside the windows sent darting shadows across the bare walls and their grotesque shapes made her shiver. It was all that young man’s fault; she glared at him for putting such thoughts in to her mind. The noises in the wainscoting were nothing more sinister that the scuttling of mice and the creaking floorboards overhead signalled that other wildlife had made there home within the house. She was right; there was a life of sorts within the house, but it was not one that could be easily explained away.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a story, but there never seems to be enough hours in the day to fit everything in. I’m 99,144 words in to my new novel for young adults and trapped in a world of fantasy and folklore. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember where fantasy ends and reality begins. The fact is that fantasy has become more preferable as I create worlds filled with color, where we know who the bad guys are and we can root for the goodies. If only things were more clear cut in our mortal world.
In most of my writings I combine history with horror. Not a hard thing to do as history provides us with more gore than our fragile senses can handle, but something struck me as really odd and a little bit scary last week. When I was researching my novel Whispers, I travelled to a few of those dreadful industrial schools that the catholic church were wardens over. I went to these long-abandoned places for the atmosphere and to get a sense of what the tiny prisoners must have felt when walking through the echoing hallways. All traces of the children have disappeared, except for the markers on the numerous graves. The saddest thing of all was the read the inscriptions, some proclaiming that the child lying beneath the earth, “Died as a boy.” That was all, no date of birth or death, but I digress. I do so, because the horror of that time has been bleached in to my soul and its memories make me angry. Anyway, to get back to what happened. I was reading the Sunday papers and there was an interview with one of those invisible children. He’s a man now and still bears the scars of what happened to him. His story is like so many other that I’ve heard, but there was one thing that made the hairs on the back of my neck rise. He mentioned that twice a year, every year, a child disappeared. I wrote about this very same thing. I am now left to wonder at how much I wrote was fiction?
“I’m seven-years-old and I’m tired of the taste of my own blood.”
The child’s eyes were bright with tears, and the fingers he used to stop them overflowing, looked red and sore.
“They come for me at night,” he sobbed. “I’m hurt and I can’t sit down. Won’t you help me?”
He glanced over his shoulder then turned back wild-eyed.
“They’re here, don’t let them take me. Oh, help me.” His tiny hands reached out in supplication for mercy, and receiving none, he turned away and was slowly enveloped by the darkness, until only his pleas echoed from out of the abyss. “Jesus help me, Holy Mary help me.”
It was then the screaming started.
Sarah fought her way back to consciousness and bolted up in the bed. Her nightdress was bunched around her waist and she tugged at the sweat-soaked material, but it was useless. In her weakened condition this small task left her breathless, and she knew she would have to get up to untangle herself. The room glowed white in the pre-dawn light, and the cold air pricked at her fevered skin. Brushing the perspiration from her forehead, she swung her legs on to the bare floor and struggled up. The uneven, wooden boards caused her to lurch, and she grabbed at the headboard for support. The only sounds within the room were those of her laboured breathing, and the wake-up call of the birds in the trees outside. But she had heard someone screaming.
Her legs shook as she walked towards the window. The thin curtains were almost transparent in the harsh light, and their rose pattern became crimson bloodstains. Unsure of what she would find waiting, she closed her eyes and with trembling fingers grasped the material and drew it back.
The early evening mist had overnight turned to a fog that swirled and twisted, causing small shapes to move within it. Just above the skyline, she could see the tall spires of the old school, gothic, dark and forbidding. The latch on the window was rusted and stiff with age and she hit it with the palm of her hand, until it gave way. Freezing fog crept in to the room and wrapped itself around her like a wreath, she gasped at its touch. Outside nothing moved, the silence deepened and even the birds had stopped singing. The sheer loneliness overwhelmed her, a feeling so extreme and absolute she almost cried out in pain.
It was then, in that quiet time, when the world struggles between sleep and wakefulness, when the air lies heavy with dreams and the wind whispers its promise of tomorrow, that Sarah was reminded of her own unbearable loss. The memory sent her staggering back to bed and she lay shivering beneath the heavy duvet and tried to forget the nightmare image that woke her, but it was useless. Every time she closed her eyes it was there. The figure of a small, naked, bloodstained boy, his hands outstretched, pleading and surrounded by a dark malevolent evil. She reached out to him and for a moment felt his fingers brush against hers before he was snatched from her grasp. Lecherous hands moved across his pale flesh and sinister, mocking laughter mingled with his cries. The bed shook with the force of her sobs, as she recalled his face as it was swallowed by the darkness, blue eyes wide in terror. His voice calling her name over and over until it faded into nothingness, and only then did she realised the screams she had heard, had been her own.
For all those who died-stripped naked, shaved, shorn.
For all those who screamed in vain to the Great Goddess, only to have their tongues ripped out by the root.
For those who were pricked, racked, broken on the wheel for the sins of their Inquisitors.
For all those whose beauty stirred their torturers to fury; and for those whose ugliness did the same.
For all those who were neither ugly nor beautiful, but only women who would not submit.
For those quick fingers, broken in the vice.
For those soft arms, pulled from their sockets.
For all those budding breasts, ripped with hot pincers.
For all those midwives, killed merely for the sin of delivering man to an imperfect world.
For those witch-women, my sisters, who breathed freer as the flames took them, knowing as they shed their female bodies, the seared flesh falling like fruit in the flames, that death alone would cleanse them of the sin for which they died-the sin of being born a woman who is more than the sum of her parts.