Here is my little tale for Halloween. Always make sure you ankle doesn’t dangle over the bed. Enjoy.
The month of April brings much new life: the blossom of trees, caterpillars crawling, eating, waiting for their moment to become something new, wild birds making nests to lay eggs and from them comes a tangled mess with a heartbeat, chirruping their entrance into the world.
A boy of twelve was standing in his new garden. To him it was less of a garden and more a large space to explore. It had a small orchard and every so often he would see a squirrel climb up one and stand on a branch attempting safety from where it could look for food. The boy enjoyed looking at life scurrying, especially when it was on the ground. He was lifting rocks and finding earwigs or woodlice and he smiled as they attempted to find solace after having their homes destroyed by something alien.
The garden belonged to a rather attractive and neat semi-detached house in a leafy part of Birmingham. When Jack was told that he would be moving to the place where they make chocolate, his mind imagined vast and strange shaped buildings from where the smell of chocolate would waft and taint everything. He was disappointed that Bourneville turned out to be a rather similar place to where he had been living; rows of houses with not much happening inside them. Many changes had happened to Jack. His father had gone to sleep and never woke up. That was how death had been explained to him. At least, that was how he tried to explain it to himself. Some strange organism had entered his father’s body that made him weak and tired. It made him fall asleep forever. In his new garden of his new house, Jack wanted to look for life.
He stood on the edge of his favourite spot. A large pond that was alive with insects, tadpoles and even small fish. It measured four metres across with plants along the edge and one side a rockery with stones on which mossy clumps grew without fear. He had already imagined himself to be a pirate looking for treasure and a brave fisherman fighting a sea monster. The pond was a place to escape to new imagined worlds.
“Don’t get too close Jack.”
He turned around to see his mother standing over him.
“I’ve told you that it’s very deep and we don’t want you falling in.”
“I’m being careful.”
His mother was with a man that he didn’t recognise, but Jack had seen lots of people that had come and gone over the year. Lots of people who he was told were there to help him and for him to talk to. They all wanted to know how he felt. He didn’t really understand what they expected him to say. He was angry, he was sad and nobody he saw could possibly feel what he felt. So he learned to say things that made them think that he was “opening up.” He had heard that phrase once. He still didn’t know what it meant.
“This is Mr. Green. He is here to make sure that we got everything we need from this house.”
The man stretched out a hand. Jack took it and gave it a shake but didn’t say anything.
“There are still a few bits of paperwork that need doing Alyson. I know it’s taken a long time. Sometimes a sale can have unforeseen problems, but this is your house now.”
“I know that, but with all that has happened to us, I didn’t want the buying of the house to turn out the way it did. Has the old house definitely sold?”
“The ink has nearly dried. I still think renting it out would have been better but I understand why you are so eager to sell it.”
“I just want…” she stopped and looked at Jack. “Can we go inside to talk about it?”
Jack watched his mother and Mr. Green walk back up towards the house. He strolled around the perimeter of the pond watching for anything that was interesting. He ended up at the rockery and he saw a slab of rock that formed a lip over the pond. He carefully stepped on the rockery and began to kick the slab loose. He didn’t know why he was kicking it, but the anger which he was feeling stopped when the slab fell into the water. The vast ripples created a frenzy as spiders, tadpoles and other creatures searched for safety. Jack picked up the jam jar that he had brought with him and went to a shallow spot where he had seen a few tadpoles swimming with uncertainty. He scooped them up and looked at them trying to escape the glass prison. Little legless ink spots are what his dad used to call them and he couldn’t help speaking to them.
“Hello, little legless ink spots. This is your new home.”
His study of them in the jar was interrupted by the feeling of being watched. It wasn’t that safe warm feeling when his mother looked at him but a sense of something hidden, peering from unseen eyes. He began to walk back to the house and although he wouldn’t admit it, he walked with a slightly quicker pace than he would normally have done. By the time he got to the house it was less a walk, more of a run.
He went through the kitchen that, like the rest of the house, looked old. In Jack’s mind, old was men with walking sticks, the smell of damp and brown furniture that his grandparents owned. Old was a place where loud noises, games consoles and big televisions didn’t exist. His mother had told him that everything would be changed and decorated the way he liked but at the moment that seemed a long way away.
He saw his mother and Mr. Green in the dining room, sitting at the dinner table that had become a resting place for lots of paper, and not for plates of food.
“Look what I’ve got mum.” He displayed the contents of the jar with reticent pride.
“Oh Jack, what have I told you about bringing things from the garden?”
“But mum, these tadpoles are really big.”
“Okay sweetie, I will look at them later. Could you put them somewhere safe and then make sure you wash your hands. I won’t be much longer. I will start cooking some dinner soon. Okay?”
Jack entered his bedroom and placed the jar on his bedside cabinet. There were still some cardboard boxes that were unpacked but he felt that the house was not yet home so didn’t feel the urgency to empty them. His mother wasn’t in a hurry to empty them either. He viewed his mini aquatic tank and spoke to the inhabitants again.
“Don’t be scared. I’ll look after you.”
He was convinced that one of the tadpoles was listening as it floated in front of him and peered through the glass. Jack then heard the sound of a girl’s laughter, but it could have been the sound of crying. He went to the window that faced the garden and searched for the source, but he couldn’t see anyone, although the pond did appear strange. Like a blur or a smudge on a computer screen. He wiped the window with his hand and then went into the bathroom. He ran water in the basin and washed his hands carefully and methodically. An action that he learned from his father and one that Jack ensured he completed. Every gesture and movement was an acknowledgement that his father had existed. He splashed water on his face and once again he could hear that combination of laughter and crying. It lingered in the bathroom. He needed to be downstairs.
Jack watched his mother in the kitchen. She didn’t see him as she was heating food in the microwave and she was occupied by thoughts that had nothing to do with what she was doing. Mr. Green must have left as Jack couldn’t see him.
She jump-started back into the world.
“Sweetheart, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there. Dinner will be ready very soon. We’re going to eat on our laps again in the front room. I haven’t had time to tidy anything away.”
“Okay.” Jack decided not to ask about the laughter. He thought that it probably wasn’t her that had been laughing, but perhaps she had been crying.
Jack lay in bed staring at the ceiling. His Spider-Man lamp was on and casting web patterns. He always had the light on. The dark was a reminder of things that he would rather forget. His mother always had her bedroom door left open, and his too, just in case he had bad dreams. He wasn’t having as many as he used to, and the last few months she stopped having to change his sheets in the mornings.
He looked at the tadpoles in the jar. He was told during dinner that they should really be put back into the pond otherwise they wouldn’t survive. It was agreed that they could stay with him just one night and then he would free them. He felt his eyes close but forced them open again. All the tadpoles had stopped moving, apart from one who had now swum to the top of jar. Jack saw it begin to try and get out by climbing. Now Jack knew many things, and he knew that tadpoles didn’t grow arms or legs instantaneously, but this one had grown arms and hands and these hands grabbed the edge of the jar and was pulling it up. It was also growing legs and climbed over the edge. It fell out, hit the cabinet and then landed on the floor. Jack couldn’t see it but he could hear it. A slithering wet sound of gurgling breath. Jack knew that all he had to do to get to the safety of his mother’s bedroom was get out of bed, put his feet on the ground and walk. But that meant putting his feet where the sound was coming from. He slowly lowered himself down into his duvet until he was completely undercover. Not seeing didn’t mean not hearing and whatever was on his bedroom floor was no longer small and harmless but something larger and growing. Jack raised his head out of the duvet and saw what was in front of him. Covered in pondweed, mud and decaying matter was a creature that looked like a man, but its dark tentacled arms moved like snakes entangled together. The head was bulbous and without clearly defined features. This image in front of him would have made a brave man cower, but the thing that Jack was staring at the most was the face; a girl that was trapped under the creature’s arms; a face of loneliness, fear and sadness. Jack didn’t know how he got into his mother’s bedroom, but he was screaming and crying and didn’t know when he would stop.
He held onto his mother’s hand as they walked towards his bedroom. He had slept in her bed and refused to look until the morning. She entered the room without him and then turned and stretched out a loving hand.
“Come inside,” she said softly. “There’s nothing to fear. I promise.”
Jack cautiously entered his room. It looked the same as it had done when he had gone to bed. He immediately glanced at the jar. All the tadpoles were still inside it.
“It was a dream; a horrible nasty dream, but still a dream.”She held him tight and kissed his face.
They both stood at the edge of the pond. Jack insisted on pouring the living contents back himself. They both watched the tadpoles swim away.
“I’m going to have to call school and let them know you’re coming in today. I’ll say that you’re sick. It’s Friday anyway.”
Jack wasn’t listening as he was still following the tadpoles’ journey in the water. For a moment, he saw the girl’s face that he had seen at night, reflecting back, but only for a moment.
The images on the laptop always made him feel better. His mother was making telephone calls while he sat and generated pixels of a happier past. He clicked from photograph to photograph. Photographs of him, his mother and his father together, sometimes separate but always a family. His favourite photo was when Jack had made a comic book for his father’s birthday. THE GREATEST DAD IN THE WORLD. His father was raising the comic book and facing the camera with a huge smile. Jack had taken the photograph himself. His mother said the image was a little blurred. His father said that Jack was the best photographer in the world.
The garden pond appeared on the screen. It was a photograph that surfaced without it being related to anything else that he had been viewing. He tried to click and make it go but it remained on the screen. There was someone standing by the pond so Jack zoomed closer and saw it was a girl. The face had now become so familiar that it was no longer a stranger. The fleeting encounters with that face had formed a connection; one that could not be severed. She was staring straight at the camera, but more than that, her eyes were boring into Jack’s. He noticed a strange shadow by the girl. It was the shape of a man and there was a hand on her shoulder. His mother walked into the room, he looked up and was about to show her when he realised that all there was on screen was a photograph of him at a park.
Jack decided to sleep in his own bed that night. His mother had told him that he could stay in her bedroom but he insisted that he wanted to sleep on his own. He lay awake until he knew that his mother was asleep. He quietly dressed and then walked downstairs, went to the kitchen, picked up a torch and entered the garden. It was chilly and he felt cold but there was something inside that made him carry on and walk straight to the pond. He shone the torch onto the rockery. All he saw was the damp and glisten of a cold night. The sky was clear and the moon was high enough in the sky to decide that the torch was not needed. He stared at the dark water again and saw his reflection. He walked closer to the edge and knelt down and put his hand in the water. The surface rippled and he saw his distorted image shake and move and then begin to reform, but not as him, as somebody else. It was the girl and he was no longer surprised. She began to speak to him, but no sound came, just the incoherent shapes of moving lips. She turned her head round as if someone was behind her and then turned back looking straight at him with an expression of fear. A shadow crossed the pond’s surface and then Jack felt himself falling.
It is a strange occurrence when you are expecting one kind of sensation but you experience something else. Jack thought he would be feeling wet, instead he found himself back inside the house, or at least something that felt like the house. It was darker, emptier and colder. He stood in what could have been the sitting room but it was not quite the same. There were thick brown curtains that were closed, but Jack knew that behind those curtains was nothing. He didn’t know what nothing looked like but he was sure that it was behind those curtains. He tried to look for a door but couldn’t see one. The girl was in the room. Whether she had always been there and he hadn’t seen her was unclear, but there she stood. She walked towards him smiling and Jack didn’t know whether to run away or just stand. She had black hair that was just above her neck. There was a parting down the middle and she wore a brown jumper that matched the pattern and material of the curtains. He was going to speak but she put a finger on his lips. Her finger was cold and his lips tingled. She placed her hands on his shoulders and leant over and whispered in his ear.
“You don’t belong here. I’ll make sure you get home.”
Her voice was soft but her breath was cold and Jack couldn’t stop himself from shivering. She stepped away and her smile disappeared. He thought that she was crying but then realised that what he thought were tears was water gushing out, not from her eyes, but from her very skin. What made Jack take a step back was not the water but the limbs sprouting from her body; the same slithering tentacles that he had witnessed in his bedroom. These arms wrapped themselves around her until all he could see was her eyes. He recoiled at the creature that was standing in front of him again. A creature that was hate and anger and Jack was now alone with it. The girl was fighting to escape but she seemed unable to set herself free. The creature extended a tentacled hand towards Jack. Beckoning, clutching and claiming him but Jack knew that whatever the thing was, he needed to be away from it. He was deciding what to do when imperceptibly, the girl freed herself and ran straight towards Jack. She held him tight in her cold arms.
“Time for you to go home.”
He heard his mother’s voice crying and pleading.
“Please Jack, wake up.”
He opened his eyes and saw his mum and two men standing over him. He felt sick and he turned to his side as the taste of stagnant water came out from his mouth.
“Please stand back” said one of the men. He felt his eyes closing again but the man made him open his eyes. He felt something warm being placed on his body and then was lifted into the air and then he fell asleep but it was a good sleep.
A lot happened in the following weeks. Jack was kept in hospital but he was recuperating. The hospital staff were unclear on why he kept saying that he wanted to speak to the police. His mother thought it was just the shock and the doctor agreed with her, but Jack was quietly resolute that he wanted to speak to the police.
When a police officer came he asked to speak to her on his own. She wrote few notes on her notebook and looked shocked as she left. Jack’s mother asked the officer what he had said but the officer just said that she had to check a few details first.
Jack could not explain to anyone how he knew the body of twelve year old Sally Harding was buried in the rockery of the garden pond. She had gone missing from Leicester in 1976 and the investigation at the time didn’t have any success in finding her. The police were now sure that the person who had lived in the house, before Jack and his mother moved in, was responsible. He had died in the house and had no living relatives so his home had been auctioned. Jack didn’t try to explain to anyone what had happened to him but asked his mother to stay with him while in hospital. She slept by his side as much as she could but he seemed calm and free from all the anxieties that had plagued him.
One night, as she was watching him sleep on his hospital bed, she heard him talking in his sleep. She couldn’t quite hear everything and she was concerned that he was having a nightmare but then he went into a deep and peaceful sleep. Before doing so, she clearly heard him say: