Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Northlay Falls – Chapter Two

My mother didn’t say a word all day after that ominous mumble.

“He dined early this month.”

I followed her into the kitchen and watched her as she began washing the breakfast dishes, pouring the porridge she had made for Ray and I in the bin, just carrying on as if her son was just sleeping in, instead of dead.

I tried to speak to her a few times, but my questions couldn’t break through her catatonia, so I gave up, grabbing my own coat and heading towards the lake.

Mr Hithe was still wandering the village, wailing out his warnings to ignorant ears, and as I walked past the same old people, who carried on, just like my mother, he caught up with me.

“You saw it too, didn’t you.” I nodded as we walked briskly in the direction of the swaying trees up ahead. “And it took your brother.” I nodded again, grateful that someone else seemed to understand what was happening. “I’m sorry, Ivy.” We were approaching the forest, and I fell into his arms, sobbing as he held me to his shoulder and waited for the storm of my grief to pass. “They do believe you, they just don’t want to rock the boat.”

That was the moment I had my epiphany about the boats. I suddenly remembered the many times I’d seen them coming and going across the lake. All the kids would go and watch them in the summer, always staring at the boats, early in the morning, never looking at the lake.

We didn’t have much else to do.

“We could get help on the boats.” I whispered, looking up at him. “If we get across, we can find somebody to help us.” He nodded, wiping the tears from my eyes.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” He asked, glancing around to be sure nobody would hear us. “This is a big risk.”

We both knew the stakes, but we had both lost too much to be deterred.

That night, I didn’t get much sleep, but the few hours I did get were filled with visions of the beast. It’s bright, soulless eyes, sharp teeth and long, leathery wings followed me through restless nightmares.

The next morning, I snuck out, just as the sun was rising, meeting him at the farmhouse. We trekked up towards the lake in silence, until we reached the forest, and I couldn’t resist asking the question that had plagued my mind since I’d seen the creature.

“What is that thing?” Mr Hithe stopped in his tracks, leaning up against a tree and sighing deeply.

“My father told me about how this place came to be.” He said, solemnly. “It used to be free, back when my great grandfather farmed here, but things just stopped growing.” The wind whistled and ruffled the leaves of the trees as he continued. “Livestock started to disappear and the people began to starve.” I sat on a tree stump beside him as he continued. “Nobody could understand why, but they sent a group of young men out to try and find help in one of the neighbouring villages.” He sighed again. “But before they made it out of the forest, they met a man, who promised to fix all their problems.”

“What did he say?” I asked, struck by the rising fear across his face.

“He said that if the people stayed in the village and fed him, he would keep make sure they were never went hungry again.” He motioned for us to continue walking, and I stood, rushing to keep up with his long strides. “It was a trap, of course, but they agreed, because they were hungry and ready to believe anything.”

“Who was he?” I asked as we went deeper into the forest, falling back into darkness as we walked where the sun could not reach.

“He was that thing you saw in…” Mr Hithe suddenly fell silent, grabbing me close and raising a finger to his lips. The wind whipped against the trees, and I could hear a loud, piercing shriek above us. “He appeared as a man to trick them.” Mr Hithe whispered as I looked up at the trees. “My great grandfather was convinced that the beast destroyed the land and took the animals, so that people would have no choice but to make a deal with that particular devil.”

Through a gap in the leaves, I saw the creature, seeming to circle the forest. His eyes, huge, shining like rubies as his wings flexed and flapped, shaking the trees with their force.

“But why here?” I shook in Mr Hithe’s arms as I asked the question. I needed to know how things had ended up this way, but it terrified me. The creature shrieked from high above again. I’d heard it so many times, but we had always been told so many cover stories. It was birds, or it was leaky pipes. None of them made sense, when I thought about it, but we had no choice to believe.

“Nobody ever knew why he came here.” Mr Hithe muttered, after a little hesitation. “I think he just wanted a place to toy with, and we were remote enough that we couldn’t get help and stop him.”

“Until now.” I whispered, hopefully, watching the beast get further away as his growls and snarls faded into the wind.

“Yes.” He replied, with a slight smile. “Until now.”

There was a deafening crash up ahead, and I clutched Mr Hithe’s hand tightly, hiding behind him as the ground shook.

“He’s just going into the lake to rest.” He mumbled, taking another few, slow steps. “The boat will be here soon.” Again, I’d heard those crashes before, but we were always told that it was an accident at a far away factory, or rock slides, and we just believed it, because there was nothing else to do.

We made our way through the forest until we reached the clearing by the lake. I was about to step forward when he grabbed my shoulders and stopped me.

“Slow down.” I nodded, mirroring him as he crouched behind one of the many bushes that surrounded the shore. “The search party didn’t tell the rest of the village what they’d signed up for.” He said, with another weary sigh. “By the time he took the first sacrifice, it was too late to stop him.” I nodded, not taking my eyes off the still, silent lake. “Desperate people will do very stupid things.”

In the distance, I could see the water starting to ripple, as the sound of the boat’s engine travelled, faintly towards us. There were a pile of boxes and crates filled with empty bottles by the edge of the forest, waiting to be picked up by the boat men. It turns out, our captor is big on recycling.

“There’s something you should know Ivy…” He whispered, turning to me, with a solemn stare. “The search party… one of them was your great, great grandfather.” My heart sank. I’d always been bitter about being trapped in that place, but knowing that it was partly my family’s fault made it sting just a little bit more. “And the boatmen are more familiar than you think.”

The boat was approaching the shore, loud and clear before us, the crew with their eyes fixed on the cargo that crowded the deck.

As they stepped off the boat and began unloading boxes onto the bank, Mr Hithe motioned for me to stay quiet, and crept, slowly towards the sailor closest to us.

He pulled the man by his neck into the bush, covering his mouth with a hand, throwing him to the ground and pressing his weight against his body. The man struggled, trying his best to scream but coming up short.

“Willard, meet your great, great Grandaughter, Ivy.” I stared in shock, as the captured sailor wriggled and fought back against Mr Hithe. It seemed so impossible, but I lived in a village ruled by a winged demon, so perhaps it was a little naive to believe that anything could be impossible. “And that pile of bones on the bank is your great, great grandson Ray.” There was a sting in my chest at the mention of my brother. All he was now was bones, and that’s all he’d ever be.

“But he’d be dead…” I whispered, unable to stop my curious stares at the man, who I had to admit, had a striking resemblance to my Father.

“The search party was granted eternal life in exchange for agreeing to the monthly sacrifice.” I looked down at the man, my ancestor, in disgust, unable to fight back the forming tears as I thought of my brother. “They just didn’t know that the beast tricked them into an eternal life of servitude.” For these traitors to live forever, while my brother lay, without rest, without life, as a pile of bones at the bank was an injustice that I couldn’t accept.

“You have to help us onto one of the boats.” I spat at him, watching him continue to struggle against Mr Hithe’s grasp. “You owe us that at least.” He shook his head, scratching at Mr Hithe’s hand, until he finally managed to free his mouth.

“I’m sorry. I can’t.” He cried, breathlessly.

“Why not?” Mr Hithe aimed a kick at Willard’s ribs as he spoke. “It’s not like they can kill you.”

“Yeah!” I kicked him too, consumed by rage and grief as I remembered that all that remained of my brother was a pile of bones, a few feet away. “You’re immortal, what’s the worst they can do to you?”

“Okay!” Willard groaned, clutching his hands to his body and trying to back away from his. “I’ll help!” Blood was pouring from his nose as he struggled to his feet. “Meet me back here in three days, just the girl.”

He didn’t fear death, but I’ve thought about our meeting, and I think that Willard fears his guilty conscience getting any heavier. As he cleaned himself up, and returned the the crowd of sailors, he didn’t say a word, but he collected up the bones of my Brother, placing them in one of the empty boxes, and returned to the bush we were hiding in, laying them solemnly at my feet.

“Don’t drink from the pubs.” He said, quietly before he turned to leave. “It’s all tainted.” After that, he was gone, running back to the boat, leaving us with many questions and no answers.

We watched the boat creep away from the shore and off into the lake, and then we headed back to the village.

It was difficult to act normal, knowing all that I had come to know, but it was important, if I was ever going to free us all from the beast.

I had dinner, in silence, did my homework in silence, and went to bed in silence, but I barely slept, my mind, racing with thoughts of what would happen when I next saw Willard, and if I’d ever escape the village of the damned.

It was all up to me.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Northlay Falls – Chapter One

Nobody comes to Northlay Falls. Nobody leaves Northlay Falls. Nobody looks into the lake. That is just how it is. We are born here. We live here. We die here, of boredom, or natural causes, whichever comes first.

Seven generations of my family have wasted away here, and it’s the same for everyone else I know. Nobody really knows how our ancestors got here, and nobody really cares, we’re just trapped here.

It is what it is.

It’s the ideal tourist destination, with great views, pubs, a lake to swim in, and all the picturesque cottages a tumblr blogger or budding influencer dreams of photographing, but nobody ever comes here.

Nobody goes to University. Nobody moves for work. We don’t get tourists. We don’t get Royal visits. We don’t get campaign knocks from the Prime Minister. Our member of parliament has never actually come to the village. He was parachuted in, and he won the seat, but he’s never set foot in this place. Nobody from the outside has. I don’t blame them.

It’s like time stopped and then restarted, but we got stuck. Everyone went on without us.

Nobody comes in. Nobody leaves. Nobody looks into the lake. I’m sorry if I’m repeating myself, it just gets to me. Nobody comes in. Nobody leaves. Nobody looks into the lake. I watch the rest of the world, coming and going, living their lives online or in the newspapers (sent across on boats, like all other supplies from the outside), but I’m trapped, and I never knew why, not until today.

There’s a farm, but everything grows bad. Old Mr Hithe has never been able to charm anything from the soil, so we rely on the boats bringing stuff over on the lake.

They say that the farm drove him a little mad. He knew how to plant and sow. He knew how to care for animals, but it just never worked out. The soil would scowl up at him, refusing to let anything but weeds leave its earthy embrace, and the animals would go off into the night, every single night, in a neat little line towards the lake. Sometimes, he’d be able to stop a few of them, but they’d just try again the next night, and the next, until eventually, they were all drowned.

Nobody ever knew why. Nobody has the energy to ask anymore. The animals would die, the soil would keep the crops captive, and crazy old Mr Hithe would run around the village every morning, screaming about a monster in the lake. Everyone pretends they can’t hear him, but I know now that he’s telling the truth.

The same happened to his father, and his grandfather before him. The Hithes have always been farmers, just incredibly unlucky ones.

Crazy old Mr Hithe was the last of his line. The lake saw to that. After he ran out of animals, his daughter went walking, then his wife, and finally his son. I saw him, out of the window, sobbing and pleading with them, doing his best to drag them back to the farm house, but off they went, to the lake, doomed to wash up on the shore the next morning, or, what was left of them, anyway.

Sometimes, I think crazy old Mr Hithe isn’t crazy, he is just aware, in a way that most of us can’t handle.

I haven’t even told you about the lake. There’s a lake on the far north side of the village, past the forest. People will go into the forest, and they’ll go as far as the shore, if they’re very brave, but only the bravest will go near the lake, and nobody will look directly into it.

The lake is the only way out, I’m sure of it. The sailors on the boats that bring our supplies aren’t from here. We order stuff from across the way. There’s another village on the other side, and after that, a town, and I guess, the rest of the world. The sailors come from that town. They never look down, they just keep their eyes on the cargo, or each other, never looking at the water. They know what happens if they look at the water. We all do.

Looking at the water is certain death. Nobody is sure how, because only a few have ever seen it, and they’re long gone, but it’s certain death, and it certainly isn’t pretty, or so I’ve been told, in terrified whispers.

There are things that everyone knows but pretends to be clueless about. I suppose for those on the outside, the things are less troublesome, but we all have our secrets.

Looking at the water is death. That is our secret. There’s something in there, but whatever is down there let’s the boats pass. The sailors go back and forth every few days, unharmed, and if I could just get on one of those boats, I’d be free.

I’ve tried every other way. It didn’t take me long, because there really was only one other way I could think of. There’s no trucks or cars to sneak out on, so I tried walking. That sounds simple, but it really wasn’t.

When I said that nobody leaves, I didn’t mean that people like it so much they never leave. I mean that nobody has left, because they can’t. There were rumours about people disappearing after trying to cross through the forest onto the road, and considering how often that happens without people wandering towards freedom, people have been put off from trying.

We decided we knew better. As night fell, I snuck out of the house with my brother. He had just turned eighteen, and didn’t want to follow my father down the traditional path of marrying a girl from the village and popping out babies, in between shifts at the pub.

I understood him completely. There are six pubs in this village, because that’s all we can do. Eat, exist and binge drink. It takes the edge off, I guess. Most people here aren’t smart, but they’re not dumb either. They know that they are trapped. They know that this is a strange place. They know that their lives aren’t normal. They know that every month, someone goes missing and we just don’t talk about it. I suppose the drinking is how people cope with the boredom, and the pain. It’s not like there’s anything else to do.

Ray was smart. He was the best at school by far, and he longed to go outside, to study. He could have gone somewhere like Oxford, but he was trapped, just like me, and just like me, he was sick of it.

We headed towards the south border. There wasn’t a wall to keep us in, or even a fence. Just a cheerful, weathered sign past the trees, that welcomed visitors who never came, and the scary stories we’d heard since before we could talk. We stood, hand in hand by the sign as the wind whipped around us.

Nobody leaves. I keep saying it, because it’s true. Nobody left that night either. I was afraid, but Ray was too excited at the thought of freedom to be afraid. He let go of my hand and took a step past the sign. The night was still and we both breathed a sigh of relief as he reached a hand back towards me.

And then, he was gone. It all happened so quickly, like the frantic flashes of a nightmare. Huge, dark wings descended from the trees as my brother yelped, almost drowned out by a deafening roar that seemed to surround us.

I stared up, awestruck as the creature took to the sky, my brother’s struggling body clenched between its huge jaws. It’s wings seemed endless as it circled above me, my brother’s screams faded as I saw the creature’s blood red eyes staring back at me. It didn’t speak (I suppose it couldn’t, with its mouth full), but the cold, scarlet stare told me to stay inside the bounds of the village, or else.

Frozen in place, my eyes streaming with tears, I watched the creature carry Ray, dripping with blood as the life left him, across the village, towards the lake.

I couldn’t believe what I’d just seen. I stood there for a few moments until the creature was out of sight, and then I just wandered the village until dawn.

I suppose I was in shock. I had briefly considered going to the lake, to try and find Ray, but I guess, like him, I was smart. We’d all heard the stories about the lake, and I’d seen his lifeless body, carried away in the mouth of whatever that thing was, so there was no reason, other than sentimentality to go looking for something I would never find.

I saw crazy old Mr Hithe by my Father’s pub, and he looked at me, with this incredibly sane clarity. He knew, and now, so did I. I nodded to him and carried on, walking mindlessly, like one of his sheep, or one of his children, heading to the lake, despite my earlier arguments with myself over it, but I never quite made it there.

My fiancé (his words, not mine) found me and took me back to my parents. That’s perhaps the worst thing about this shithole. Nobody comes in, so we’re all bullied and forced into arranged marriages if we can’t make it happen organically, for the sake of continuing the population. I’d honestly rather let it die out, than fuck a man, especially one as loathsome as Richard Burgess, but unfortunately for me, I won’t have a choice once my sixteenth birthday comes. I don’t have much time left. Ray had his reasons for wanting to get out, but that was mine.

My parents bundled me into the house and pushed Richard back out the door, and for a few seconds, we all just stood in silence.

“Something took Ray.” I had tried to speak but it was barely a whisper. There was more silence, and I could feel tears again. “It had wings and these red eyes and…”

My father pressed a hand to my lips.

“Well, I should go and open up.” He said with a sigh. I gaped at him, astounded as he grabbed his coat. It was like he hadn’t listened. One of his children was missing, probably dead, and it didn’t seem to phase him, at all.

“Didn’t you hear me?” I cried, rushing across the room and grabbing him by the collar. “That thing took Ray!”

“People will be wanting their drinks.” He muttered. “It’s a sunny day.” He pulled away from me. “Got to get the people their drinks.”

Without another word, he kissed my mother on the cheek and headed out the front door.

“He dined early this month.” My mother whispered, disappearing towards the kitchen. I could swear that I saw tears in her eyes, but I knew that she wouldn’t say anymore.

I stood, motionless and full of emotion that I couldn’t express. My brother was dead, and nobody seemed to care. His own parents acted as if it was another day. I couldn’t understand then, but I do now, and the things I have learned will change the world, if I can ever escape into it.

I’m going to get out, and I’m going to show you all the secrets that they’ve been hiding.

Nobody comes in. Nobody leaves. Nobody looks into the lake, but I will.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Spooky Season, Writing

Pumpkins – Part One

They all come to the midnight screening to see him. One by one. Every night. I always watch them, watching him, but I’d never have the guts to go and see him for myself. I never look at the screen.

That’s the mistake they all make. They look at the screen.

The funny thing about people is that they have no patience. They always want to know the ending before they’re even half way through.

They call him Pumpkins. It sounds weird, because it is. Nobody ever found out his name, and he wears a mask, so nobody knows his face, just his piercing, eerie orange eyes. Everybody just calls him Pumpkins, because he always has a pumpkin with him. Nobody knows why. He doesn’t carve it. He doesn’t eat it. He just carries it around. Like I said, it sounds weird, because it is.

When I first started working at the cinema, someone told me about him, and I thought it was a joke, but the first time I worked the midnight showing, he was waiting in the projection room. I didn’t know whether to laugh or run away screaming, but he just pointed to the empty seat next to him and waited in silence. I stared for a little but then I sat beside him. That sounds like a stupid thing to do, but everything I knew about him so far was that he wouldn’t hurt you if you did as you were told, so it seemed the only option.

Everybody who worked in the cinema knew about him, it turned out, and everyone just seemed to accept it. You’d go to start the midnight show, and you’d put on something for Pumpkins first, instead of the trailers. The ticket holder he’d selected would watch, and then the screen would fill up for the actual film. Pumpkins would be gone, until the next night, and you said nothing about it to anyone on the outside.

It’s messed up, but at first, it made me feel cool (once I’d got over the fright), because we were all in this secret little club, sharing this experience, never telling another soul, but I can’t pretend that it’s fun anymore.

Something really bad is happening, and talking about it is my only hope of keeping people alive.

He was always there, when I went to the projection room for the midnight show. It didn’t matter what film was supposed to be showing, one of his movies would be on first, always unadvertised, and always a screening for one person. He’d hand me the reel, and I’d put it on without question. I didn’t know what would happen if I didn’t, but I didn’t think it would be something enjoyable, so I just played along.

He only ever said one thing as I set up the movie.

“Don’t look.”

I heard that the movies would give people a glimpse into their futures, and I guess that was the appeal, so the instruction not to look was confusing at first, but as time went on, I began to understand.

People always looked, no matter how much I’d ask them not to. Pumpkins would tell them once. Only once, but I would be in the aisles, begging, pleading, trying to push their faces away from the screen. It never made a difference. They always looked. I guess their curiosity got the better of them.

You might wonder why I was so insistent, or why I cared at all, and the answer is simple (to me, I guess), but you might not believe me. I’ll tell you anyway, you just have to promise not to look, when Pumpkins finds you, and gives you your ticket. He will, by the way. He’s working his way through and one day, it will be your turn.

I didn’t notice anything strange at first, because I shut my eyes, really tight, the second he told me not to look. As the projector whirred into life, there was the sound of distant thunder, followed by nothing but the faint, busy melody of the projector. That was all I heard as his film played. It didn’t seem to last long, just a minute or two, and then the lights flickered into life and the projector fell silent. The bright ceiling lights poked through my eyelids, and I opened them, staring around the now empty projector room.

He was gone. The reel was gone too. There was no trace of Pumpkins, and the screen below was beginning to fill up with customers, so I tried to focus on my work.

It wasn’t until the fifth time that I dared to open my eyes a little early. I could still hear the projector beside me, and I figured it did no harm to take a little peek, as long as I didn’t look at the screen. I took my hands down from my eyes and gazed down to the front row, where the lucky ticket holder was sat. That was when I knew something was wrong.

They were levitating from the seat. Crazy, I know, but there they were, high above the seat, a blanket of orange light surrounding their lifeless body, and Pumpkins stood beneath them, his arms in the air, pointing to the fire exit, like he was signalling an aeroplane. There was blood all around the ticket holder, and their skin was pale and ghostly. The blood seemed to float in the air, dancing around them in a circle, and their mouth looked like it was trying, so desperately to scream, but nothing was coming out.

Lightning suddenly flashed, high above their body, and that’s when I saw them. Little creatures in the corner of the screen, right by the fire exit. They had bright orange eyes, long straggly hair, and masks just like Pumpkins. In their hands were little pumpkins, carved and lit up, horrifying little jack-o’-lantern’s, with that same orange light within them.

I locked eyes with one of them and it held the lantern high above it’s head, pointing a finger in my direction. I ducked behind the desk and covered my eyes, hoping that nobody else had noticed, and within seconds, the ceiling lights were back on and the room was silent.

I sat for a moment, trying to figure out if it was safe to come out, or to even open my eyes. There was a hand on my shoulder, and I jumped, my eyes opening.

“Don’t look.” It was Pumpkins. I stared up at him, unable to speak. He snatched the reel from the projector and with a snap of his fingers, he was gone.

I heard once that you’re never supposed to know the future, because it drives you mad, and at first, I thought that was the reason for telling people not to look, but as time went on, I realised that the films were just bait. Pumpkins wanted to draw people in, show them what was possible, and then snatch it away. Maybe it was a test? Maybe it was a game? The films might not even be their futures, just what people wanted to see, just enough to lure them in, and make them go quietly. Go where? I still don’t know.

Every night since, when he tells them not to look, I join in the calls, never looking at the screen, never looking at the fire exit where those… things wait, but nobody ever listens. Everybody looks.

Not me though, I never look, and I never will. I don’t know where Pumpkins takes them, or what those creatures want, but I’ve been given a ticket for tonight’s show. I won’t look, because I don’t want to know.

Hopefully, I’ll see you on the other side.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Spooky Season, Writing

Flashback – The Bride Wore Blood

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Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Spooky Season, Writing

Old Scratch – Day Two

I wore gloves to bed last night. I wanted to be sure my nails were not responsible.

Last night, he spoke.

It was the same, at first. The corridor, drowned in darkness, except the distant, flickering light. The glacial air whipping all around me, the tell tale crunch of the floor I couldn’t bare to face, and the echoed laughter that seemed to follow me.

I walked, resigned that there was nothing else to do, just hopeful that soon, the light would be within my grasp, and I would be free by the mercy of waking up.

I could hear him breath now, as if he was stood behind me, but his laughter still danced around in the darkness.

I could do nothing but walk. The light was getting close again, beginning to flash, and I didn’t want to walk any further but I couldn’t stop. The light was so bright.

Yellow. Red. Yellow. Red. Yellow. Red.

“Don’t be afraid of the dark.” His voice was scratchy and strained, and suddenly I felt hands on mine, scalding my skin, but I couldn’t scream. He pushed my hands towards the lantern. Towards that one, familiar frightening hand, leering from the darkness.

The darkness came, and I was afraid.

My eyes snapped open. My gloves were still on my hands, just as I had left them, but there were holes on the top, with charred outlines, as if they had been burned.

Fresh scratches covered my legs, and my stomach too.

He was there. I could almost feel his fingertips, thin and rough against my thighs.