To Read Or Not To Read

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This Is The Question

My early schooling was spoilt by the fact that I found it almost impossible to learn to read. My friends were running through the programme as if it was a ride in the park. They were fast readers, accomplished learners who never had to endure the torture of actually learning something from scratch. Me? I was just a dumbo whose brain had not evolved to the level required to decode the books that were placed before me.

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These two little ‘lovely’ children made my life hell, on a daily basis.

It was common practice to let children read aloud. It was a way of getting everyone to participate in the story. It ought to have been good, but I found it excruciating.  

I grew to hate these two.

I also grew to dread that long path that led towards my desk and the moment when one of the easy reading community passed on the bemusing baton for me to latch on to. I would stumble over the easiest of words, struggle with compounds and blends, and collapse over consonants and vowels. I absolutely hated reading aloud.

READING SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED!

Apart from my dad, nobody else took much notice of my lack of literacy. It was funny for many of my pals when I stumble and fell off each and every sentence that was placed before me. I discovered that the laughter was a screen that I could hide behind. I had a talent that could make my life a little easier. My talent was not reading, but it was the ability to prompt amused responses from those around me. I couldn’t read so I decided to try to make people laugh instead.

I have come across this in students that I have taught throughout the twenty-five years I have had in teaching. The class-clowns, often razor sharp, frustratingly ahead of the game (if the game is to avoid learning), practiced in numerous techniques and strategies to avoid going anywhere near their Achilles Heels in the course of any given school day. They have mastered diversionary tactics that mask their deeply-rooted anxiety about the one thing that trips them up. They build around the problem, develop new skills, nurture talents that may not have been cultivated if it hadn’t been for their issue. Often, they succeed in avoiding the literacy thing all together; that is until it comes back to bite them when they cannot hide any longer. I had the chance to become one of these kids, but something stopped me. I loved learning. Even the class-clown that I was, loved learning.

My literacy problems did not go away overnight. I still have them. When I first became a teacher, I would fret about my poor spelling. I would fret about writing on the boards. Back then, it was the old blackboards that took some rubbing clean. Any mistakes that I made would stubbornly remain, ghostlike behind my intention. Smart kids would offer up alerting hands to point out words that I had incorrectly placed before them. I would joke and point out that that was why I kept a dictionary close at hand, so that I could check before I wrote. Even now, many years an English teacher and practiced writer, I still check my words. I have mild dyslexia. A gift from God.

It was Shakespeare who first helped me.

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I loved Shakespeare because the language seemed as impenetrable as the ordinary stuff that was served up at school. Everybody struggled with Old Bill and that made me happy. All those self-satisfied smug looks fell away in one reading. All at once it was me who was finding the going amusing. I took a copy of Romeo and Juliet home and set about reading it aloud. Nobody at home worried about this because it was me doing it and I did funny things anyway. And you know what? When I read Shakespeare, I read it in role. I became a Shakespearean character reading Shakespearean English. I was not myself. I was not the lad who could not read. I could read and I was brilliant at reading Shakespeare! It wasn’t until later that I found that I had to become someone else in order to overcome the many challenges that were to stand in my way.

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Sally Gardner From The Guardian newspaper November 2014.

(No! That’s not me dressing up. This lovely person is a writer who’s embraced her dyslexic gift.)

When I was at school nobody really knew what dyslexia was. They called it word blind. I always think not being able to spell is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a bit like seeing the iceberg and saying there is dyslexia – but it’s what’s underneath it that interests me a lot more than the boringness of spelling and reading and writing. Because before the first dictionary was written by Mr Samuel Johnson, we spelt rather imaginatively. Nobody was dyslexic, there wasn’t such a word. Some really famous writers from the past such as Chauncer and Shakespeare would have been in a special reading scheme as they hardly spelt the same word the same twice. A lot of Shakespeare’s work was written down for him.

I was sent to a school for maladjusted (which means behaviour problems) children which I eventually left. Then I was 14 went to a posh girls school, but the girls were absolutely horrid to me. I eventually learnt to read at 14 and my mother told me if I got five O levels (old fashioned version of GCSEs), I could go to art school. I just memorised everything. And did manage to get the five, even English literature. When I took that particular exam my English teacher told me write very quietly and not make any noise. She told me: “There are children here going to university and you’re not. So don’t disturbe them please.” So you can see she wasn’t a very supportive teacher.

Sally Gardner

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It has taken me my life to come to terms with the pain of not ever having been a natural reader. I think that I have passed my gift on to my daughters. And the good thing with that is that they are thriving because of it.

A Tale Before Christmas

Talk Room

“We were just driving along, the car was handling the roads easily enough, Ian was driving. I was sitting in the back with Sue. Then they came from nowhere. They were all around us, coming out of the trees.

I think Ian thought they were human because he swerved to avoid them. When he did, he lost control and that was when we hit the wall. We went straight through it and then down the slope towards the stream. We’d been travelling slowly but our momentum took us down the slope quickly. We were hitting trees and stuff, bouncing from one to the other. We were getting thrown around a bit in the back because we had not bothered putting out seat belts on. When we came to a stop, we had straddled the stream, bank to bank, and that’s when we saw them.”

Each of his sentences carried a note of dread that was transferred to congregation around him. Each word built on the one before to create a deeper realisation of what they could be facing.

“We knew we had to get out. There were  child-locks on the back doors and Ian was slumped over the steering wheel. Blood was everywhere, coming from his head, I think he was dead. Louise was panicking. I’ve never seen her like that before. She had the baby in her arms, it was a surprise that she hadn’t dropped it in the crash, but she was out of the door. Sue was screaming, she was puling at the handle, begging Louise to let her out. For a moment I thought that Louse was going to leave us there. She had that look about her, survival and all that. At the last moment, she undid the door and Sue managed to get out. I’d climbed over the front seat and was in the stream. Those things were almost onto us. I just ran.”

“What about Sue?” somebody asked.

“I thought she was alright, I thought she could run…” hesitation precipitated confession. “I left her. She was on her knees in the stream and I left her. They were there at the other side of the car and I left her.” 

Jason started to sob heavily, the recognition of his sins now standing before him. Heaving his way through the pain, the faces of some of the others showing reproach, he was lost at the lacerated point of his original decision. It was replaying itself on a loop, his hand reaching out and then puling away, Sue there in the water, the dark figures splashing madly towards him. This could be his purgatorial landscape, forever.

Laura, seeing his struggle, touched his arm. It was only the lightest of touches, one that was meant to remind another that they were not alone, a touch that suggested that others had travelled on that path. Still down there in his own depths, Jason felt the pull of the woman and started to climb towards it..

“I just ran. I ran. Louise had got to the other bank and she was starting to make her way up the hill. Those things were right behind us and we had the baby. I heard screams, screams that came from Sue but I didn’t look back. We ran.”

The room was quietly waiting for the rest of his narrative.

“We managed to get to the top of the first hill. Well, almost to the top. Louise was carrying Tom, the baby, and she was tired. No she was exhausted. She fell in the snow. I was in front of her when I heard her shouting for me to come back. The things were only about thirty yards away. I wanted to run some more but I looked in her eyes and I heard the baby cry.

I shouldn’t have left Sue there for them to get her. I turned back and tried to lift her. All she said was that I should take the baby. She pleaded me to take Tom and save him. I said I could help them both, but we knew I couldn’t. They were closing in and I got Tom. I just ran and ran thinking that my lungs would burst, that I’d have a heart attack or something. I must have been running for a while, up and down those hills with those things always behind me. Eventually, I reached the top of another hill. I fell most of the way down and then these people showed up. They saved me.”

Nobody spoke. A solid silence had been thrown across the gathering in the library, each individual having been transported to that cold landscape where only demons kept one company. Jason sat motionless with the hand of Laura still upon him. Most people were doing everything they could to avoid making eye contact with anyone else.

“There but for the grace of God go I, “ uttered Mr. Dale.

Addressing the library, Graham said, “Well, I think that this may have changed our plans somewhat. In the light of this I think we ought to open up the debate. Out there are hundreds, possibly even more, of these things. I hate to say the word Zombie, but that seems to fit.”

“We call them Leathers. We fought one and he was certainly not one of the ‘recently dead’. I don’t think  they go in for whole scale cannibalism or can infect anyone they bite, but they are dead. The one that we came in contact with was all hide and nothing else. It was as if he had been dry frozen or something. He was strong, not super strong, but strong like it would have been if it had still been alive. We burnt ours. It didn’t like that, but I have a feeling that it was not fully finished with.

The second one we ran into was a more recent one. His skin hadn’t turned to leather, but he was one of them,” Laura looked anxiously towards where Michael was standing with the mother and children but he had taken them and left the room. “Michael, my son, killed him by blowing up the house we’d been staying in. It was a massive explosion and that, most definitely, finished him off.”

“Do you think that other things could kill them?” asked Judith.

“They move around in daylight, they are not afraid of water, they have obvious strength, perhaps not superhuman but something. We haven’t tried silver bullets or crosses or holy water or garlic or wooden stakes. Just the fire so far.”

Everybody was listening intently to this modern day ghost story. 

“So they are still made of skin and bone,” asked Keith Rains, “and if they are then we have a chance. I’ve seen a fair share of horror movies and there’s always ways of killing the evil dead things. What would they do if we managed to chop off their heads or legs? If they are skin and bone, leather and bone, then we have chance.”

“And we are in a castle. There are suits of armour all around,” added another enthusiastically.

“And there’s an armoury,” Zack Borthwick, a twelve year old from St. Agnes suggested, “with loads of swords and stuff. We could use them.”

“That’s a great idea,” Graham said seizing upon it, “we need to sort out some defences, get armed, make sure we know all the castle’s strengths and weaknesses. We need places to defend and places to fall back to. At the moment, we hold the advantage, this s a castle after all and the have to try to get in. Fortunately for us, these castles were built with an eye to both attack and defence. We could hold out here indefinitely. All we have to do is get ourselves organised.”

There was a flicker of understanding in the eyes of Dawkins. He had spent his incarceration listening to all that had been said. He was not just looking for his opportunity to get away from these people, but was looking for an advantage, something that he could take back with him and a tribute that could serve him well. 

“How long have we got?” enquired Mr. Dale looking at Laura. His reply came from another place.

“I think that we have another day before they get here. Some may already be here watching us and working out our weaknesses, but the main body of them will take at least another day.” Heads turned towards Michael’s impassive delivery.

“Thank you Michael. In that case, haste shall govern our preparations,” the history teacher replied to his once pupil.

Christmas Memories

Lovely, dark and deep.

Lucy’s Diary 22ndDecember 

Will everyday be like these? I sometimes wonder if we are meant to be living through or just suffering them.

Last night would have constituted one of the best of my life. ‘David’ who still likes to be known as Chris. I can’t help calling him David and it’s becoming a bit embarrassing. Anyway, last night was one of the first normal nights that the world has possibly seen since The Purge and Graham led a celebration for our deliverance. More importantly, Chris kissed me for the first time.

I know that it has been coming, right from the start the signs were evident, but it would have been magnificent if he had not seen ‘The Giant’, as he is now commonly known, snooping around in the grounds. That put a stop to the kissing and started that look again, the look that becomes increasingly unsettled and suspicious, the look he had been wearing when we first met. There is part of me that likes ‘the look’, it’s deeply handsome and mysterious, but then there is another part of me that feels uncomfortable when its appears. There is a story behind that look and I don’t think I want to ever know about it. The result of that was that David kept awake that night, all night, believing that I was asleep. He kept a watch for the thing that he had seen. As soon as it was first light, he was ready and out, I watched him from the window as he covered the area where he thought the thing had been. He found something alright, footprints, made by bare feet, and he followed them out of the grounds before turning back. I was fully dressed at this point, about to follow him.

When he returned to our room, the one in which we made a solemn promise not to share a bed, he told me all about what he had found and we went to Graham and Judith’s room to spread the glad tidings. Graham and Judith are good people and they are also good at meetings. I think they like meetings as a way of bringing about a democracy. Even in these times, they have held onto their principles and one of these must be to be completely upfront with all of the group around them. I think ‘upfront’ should be rationed out so that people don’t get it into their heads that ‘upfront’ means that they have the right to do exactly what they want to do. Louise, the woman with the baby, who wanted to execute Will, obviously thought that ‘upfront’ meant that she had a right to scaremonger and convince some of those closest to her that leaving was their only sensible option.

Graham, Judith and Mr. Dale, managed to quieten any mutiny and we were just drawing up plans against a possible attack when a car horn was sounded. Knowing that Louise’s group had taken a four by four, we thought that it must be them returning, but, at a sprint, Chris was up and running for the main entrance. Most people were too surprised to react as quickly and it took us some time to get to where he had headed. By the time we had gotten there a woman, who I had never seen before, was standing just inside the main doorway and she was holding a child in her arms, the baby that belonged to Louise. People were confused and some became a little angry, one woman who knew Louise well snatched the baby from the other woman’s arms and another asked viciously where she taken the baby from. Fortunately, before things could get any worse, Graham came to the front of the group, looked at the woman, called her Mrs. Andrews, and hugged her.

“This, ladies and gentlemen, is Chris’ mother.”

There were a few embarrassed apologies after that but I was busy seeing where Chris had gone. At that moment, Jason, a grey cloud covering him, came inside. Behind him came another woman and two children who were obviously brother and sister. The woman was being led along by the boy and she had the appearance of one of those people who have been confined to an institution for a long, long period. A little after that came Chris, helping to support a boy who was draped between him and another stranger. The stranger I had seen before, just when Will had fired that bullet at Chris’s head way back in the school woods. I remember thinking that he looked like Chris, but darker. That’s when I saw the Labrador and the cat (that had an ear missing). They just sat there on the top step watching the people who were gathering around the new arrivals. There was a strange wisdom about them that seemed more human than animal. All in all, this little group was another ingredient all together.

The questions were coming in waves and Jason started to look more and more like a man who could not face what had happened. Tears were in the backs of his eyes and the now familiar haunted look sat upon him. When he sat down to tell his story, we understood why.

Charles Manson, David Cassidy, the dying mouse, and me.

Re-writing The Past

As part of a generation that grew up within twenty-years of the end of the Second World War, I was always keen on weapons. Any decent human being would assume that the dropping of two nuclear bombs on Japan ought to have persuaded me of the error of our human ways, but it seemed to have the opposite effect.

A fascination for Spitfires consumed me and drove me into playing parachute games (obviously I did not have enough true belief in my aeronautical abilities). From there, my friends and I moved into the realms of Japs and Commandos. The Japs had been depicted as a race of people totally devoid of human empathy. They captured our brave soldiers and made them into slaves on the railway of death. The problem with our game was that all of us wanted to be commandos. Subtle selection strategies were required in order to have an even contest; in which the commandos always won.

The game involved an awful lot of running and hiding, finding and shooting, being found and escaping. It was just like the real thing that we had seen on countless films. We used sticks for guns and sticks for long Samurai swords.

Quite often, the battle would devolve into a medieval melee of hitting each other as hard as we could with said sticks. There was the Chinese Strangulation which was a way of subduing captives. This was an extremely effective method of inflicting the best type of pain; the slow-burn oxygen deficiency method. That way, you knew who had won. The second form of torture was the Indian Wrist-Burn. This involved placing your hands on your enemy’s wrist and then quickly rotating them in opposite directions. It had the exquisite inbuilt reminder of its execution with the angry red mark that refused to shift for days.

Those were the days of innocence, before we moved onto imitation plastic rifles, botched affairs that only vaguely looked like the real thing, but with our ‘dak, a dak, dak!’ it was enough to convince us of their potency.  Hand-grenades were invisible and exploded exactly where you wanted them to. All you had to do was to make a big boom sound, cover your ears and then throw yourself to the ground. If only all wars were so simple.

Things started to get more complicated from the moment that we started to grow up. One of our mates had an air-rifle bought as a Christmas present. He spent all that holiday practising on sparrows and robins. He even shot the cat. Our friend always seemed to be the one who got things first. He had one of the best bikes, he had golf clubs, he had a number of cricket bats, he had ridiculously bright blue eyes, he had a level of freedom that we longed for, he was a talented sportsman, and he shot Robins. He had everything that made him a top friend.

On some of our summer holiday excursions, he would take his air-rifle, slung in a purpose-made rifle bag, casually over his shoulder. At any point in our journey, he would swing it off his shoulder, unzip it and take aim at anything that dared to move. We were once walking along a path that ran beside a golf-course. We had been on this route many times before on ventures of golf ball discoveries. The golf balls often got lost in the rough and they were of sufficient value that we heard some other kids had set up a rather profitable little business finding them and then selling them back to the golfers. Sometimes the treasures would disappear mid-play only for them to be strangely reunited sometime later with their true owners, for a small fee. We also prized tees, but nobody thought that they would provide a realistic sell-back option.

It was a lazy afternoon and we were mooching along, dragging through the dog-end hours, kicking pine cones and providing accompanying commentary for the excellence of each strike. I measured a masterful strike and my pine-cone flew straight and long down the path. When it finally rolled to a halt, I provided the commentator’s awe-struck admiration.

“It’s Best! What a goal! What a strike! What a player!”

My arms shot into the air in a triumphant reaching for the skies and I raced off down the shaded path to acclaim my glorious feat. I almost slipped on the badly wounded body of a mouse.

The mouse wasn’t dead, but it was dying. In such an event, we should have done the merciful thing and caved its head in with a brick. There were no bricks to hand. We could have stamped on it head with the heels of our shoes, but none of us wanted to be seen as the heartless perpetrator of such a heinous act. Instead, we turned to our rifle toting friend to provide the humane solution. He, however, never saw himself as one who would administer the coup de grace nor was he one to pass up the opportunity of a real-life kill. He was a sportsman and would execute his task in a manner befitting such a regal profession. He walked up to the soon to be corpse, turned and took thirty strides, checked the direction of the wind, took his rifle out, loaded it, knelt and took aim. We were in awe.

After he missed for the third time, he changed his tactics. He strode forward another five paces, loaded, knelt and was about to take aim when he realised that he had forgotten to double-check the strength and direction of the prevailing wind on that most breathless of afternoons. Satisfied, he took aim and fired.

After another five pellets had missed their target, the rest of us thought to check upon the unfortunate creature. It still lived. Its tiny breaths evident in furry inhales and exhales. I was thinking about the heel of my shoe when my friend angrily strode past me and aimed a final pellet, at point-blank distance, into the belly of the beast. It lived no more.

As kills went, I suppose this counted for something, but there was no commentary this time and no overt display of triumph. We had killed a dying mouse. It had died. It would have died if my perfect kick of the pine-cone had not found it. We had had sport and now we were somewhat ashamed.

Our friend went on to kill many other tiny creatures, specialising in birds that frequented his garden. This went on until he discovered girls. After that, he hung up his trusty weapon for ever.

Sometimes it is good to hang up your guns. For one thing, you look silly when you’re older, toting an air-powered, pellet firing rifle. There is also the problem with killing defenceless little birds, tiny ones with redbreasts. Nobody wants to be seen in any social situation with a bird slaughtering psychopath. At some point, many boys give up their pursuit of prey and bloodlust for everyday distractions like life. But it all came back to me this week when the deaths of Charles Manson and David Cassidy were announced. I am too long in the tooth to cheer about the eventual demise of a cult-leading murderer whilst I am not too old to feel a spot of sadness for David Cassidy, my elder sister’s dream boat and reason for having a bedroom wall. I asked a woman who I work with if she was saddened by the death of David and she told me that she was a Donny Osmond fanatic. I accepted that and was instantly taken back to my last adventure with an airgun.

Some years ago, in a land far away, in a kingdom of grey cold, lived me. Another friend of mine lived around the corner. We were both at Sixth Form and the Punk era was well and truly upon us. So, in a situation like that, what would any decent human being do if they discovered a Jimmy Osmond single in their collection? It was obvious. We decided to put it on trial for crimes against humanity.

“Jimmy Osmond, you have been tried and found guilty of unleashing your ‘Long-haired Lover From Liverpool’ without care or regret as to the damage that you have wreaked. And, as you have since shown no remorse, this court finds you guilty. You are to be taken from here immediately and be shot until you are dead.”

And so it came to pass that the said 45 was taken from the kitchen of a council house overlooking the industrial greyness of West Yorkshire and shot to pieces by two rather judgemental youths with an air rifle.

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Since that day, I have vowed never to touch one of those instruments of death ever again.

A Cold Embrace

Baptism

The car was wedged between the banks with the stream reaching the door sills.

When they came to a final rest, they were facing back up the slope down which they had unintentionally travelled. Ian was slumped over the wheel, a deep cut to his temple letting blood at an unhealthy rate. Sue and Jason had not been wearing seat belts and they had been thrown around significantly, causing minor cuts and bruises, but also bringing about a concussion in Sue that was just on the verge of announcing itself. Louise had held on to Tom and neither of them had sustained anything more than shock. She could see dark shapes inching their ways towards them. She had been here before and she knew what to do.

She quickly unbuckled herself and was opened the door. She grasped Tom, intent on never letting him go, and planted a foot in the stream. The brutal waters flowed in through her boots washing away any residue of fuzzy thinking. In the back, she heard the thick voice of Sue, swimming through the first stages of concussion, but still aware of the danger they were in.

She was struggled with the door handle, wondering why it would not open; the previous owner of the car had been a father of three small children and used child locks. The more Sue struggled, the greater the pressure mounted in her head. A hammer was being swung.

Jason pulled at the handle before deciding to take the rooute that Louise had taken. Outside, in the cold, rising waters, Louise ppulled hard on the passenger door and Sue was free. Her face was painted with a ghoulish grin of gratitude and she almost fell out.

“What about Ian?” asked Jason seeing the motionless form of the driver slumped at the steering wheel. But Louise had crossed the short distance to the other bank and was climbing up the other side. Sue was attempting to do the same, but her steps where heavy and unsure and more than once she stumbled forward onto her hands and knees. Through the driver’s side window, Jason was left in no doubt about the his plight so he followed the others.

Louise was at the top of the slope when she heard Sue scream. The first scream was one brought on by shock, the ones that followed were different. Louise did not look back even as she heard something clambering up the bank behind her. He arms were aching from the exertion needed to hold the child, but she kept climbing. 

Before her was a hillside rising away, its flanks covered in virgin snow, untrodden. Then something crept upon her from behind.

“Wait for me!” 

The first thing she saw was her own daughter, arms outstretched at the end of a long day, welcoming mummy. The second thing she saw was Jason and behind him their pursuers.

Bad Man Cometh

For Christmas.

‘The mother’ shifted uncomfortably and a low moan escaped her.

“Yes, that’s what your dad became. He wasn’t always like that.”

The conduit had opened and the boy was released from his silence.

“Was it the bad man who did this? Was it he one with the sweet songs?”

A little perturbed, Michael decided to press the younger boy.

“Have you seen the bad man?”

“Oh yes. He comes in my sleep. He tells me that he has a place where all children can be. He says that there it is good. No bossy grown ups, no worries. He tells me that we will be happy there, me and Rachel. Rachel is my sister.”

The boy nodded to the girl who was still snuggled in her mothers arms, a hand clasped around her head and over her ears as a form of protection.

“He asked me to promise that I would not tell anybody.”

“But you’re telling me.”

“I wouldn’t promise. I don’t like him.”

“What’s your name?”

“Josh. Mum calls me Joshua. Everybody else just calls me Josh.”

“I’m …”

“You are Michael and that is Laura and she is your mum.”

The boy had obviously been paying attention to their conversations.

“You have a brother called Christopher and another called Pete.”

Laura stood on the brakes sharply and the car skidded a distance on the frozen surface.

“How do you know about Christopher and Peter?” she demanded.

The boy was not put off by the urgency in Laura’s voice but continued as if he was relating back a day at school.

“I see them all the time. Since the day it all happened, since Dad joined the bad man, Chris and Peter have come to us. The sat with us in the cellar and said it would be alright, that you were coming and that you would save us. The bad man said that it was all lies and that only he could help us, but we didn’t like the bad man. He took our Dad. Now he has got Mum somewhere and he’s not letting her leave.”

Laura, who had known the dark places The Piper could take one, touched the boy’s hand.

“It’s going to be alright. Your mum will come back.”

“Like you did?”

Again the shock of him knowing sent a wave against her fragile barriers that guarded what was left of normality.

“Yes, like I did.”

“They are going to a castle. That’s where the Resistors are. A castle.” 

‘The mother’, the manic stare less unnerving than before, reached out her own hand and closed it upon Laura’s wrist. The white heat of the connection was not lost upon her and the image of her long lost sister flashed upon her mind.

“Christopher is in danger!” then the woman fell back to her previous state. 

Rachel, the young girl started to move. Unhooking herself from her mother’s grip, she sat upright and smiled momentarily it was snatched from her face once more.

“He’s looking at us,” she said pointing to the leather who was staring into the car as if noting each of the faces in turn. It then moved towards them and tried the door handle on Michael’s side and, not being locked, it opened easily. 

The girl let out a peel of horror as the leather lay hold of Michael’s neck before it recoiled, struck by something that sent it reeling across the icy surface and falling flat on its back with an unnatural thump. Michael, his expression impassive, closed the door. His mother, another bolt of the supernatural to deal with, found a smile.

“What happened there?”

“Sometimes they get more than they bargained for. Now let’s get going before he decides he wants some more. Is there a map in here Mum?”

“I think there’s one underneath your seat. It’s probably old but so is this castle.”

The car was moving again, leaving the twitching leather to perform its rendition of Bambi on ice. Michael quickly found the pages he needed remembering the road signs they had passed.

“Castle Stewart. Here it is. It’s near a village called Hepley. I think we need to carry on along this road for another fifteen miles or so. We should reach the National Park and then it’s lots of small country roads. We’ll have to take care.”

With renewed optimism, the group re-launched their journey. Michael and his mother were happy at the thought of finding Chris knowing that they still had much to do to locate Peter. The ice that was protecting ‘the mother’ and her young was starting to melt. Soon all channels could be open.

Dawkins, their unwanted passenger remained still in the boot space. For his fellow passengers, he seemed little more than another spent victim of the evil that was being played out.

However, spent was not the word he would have used to describe the plans he was devising. 

Big Footed Naked Guy With Bells

No goodwill to all men.

Chris could not wait. As soon as the sky began to lighten, he rushed towards the bedroom into which Graham and Judith had returned. His knocking, so insistent, awoke more than those he had intended to awake. A very tired looking Judith peaked through the gap between door and frame. She had been asleep for no more than four hours.

“Christopher, what is it?”

Chris detected a vague note of annoyance. Judith, he was sure, had a side to her that would very rarely tolerate irrational behaviour from any body. Although he was certainly forever in her good books, he saw a spark if impatience flash past her eyes.

“Judith, is Graham awake?”

“No, he’s still sleeping,” a self piteous groan crept from the bed that told otherwise. “He had a lot to drink last night and now he is suffering. Could you come back later perhaps? When he is better.”

Chris stood and thought for a time before he answered.

“No, I can’t. It’s really important.”

“It’s not about you and Lucy is it?”

“Me and Lucy? No. Why would it be about me and Lucy? It’s about something I saw last night, something on the edge of the lawns.”

“What did you see?” demanded a voice from within the room. “Come in immediately and tell me.”

If drunkenness had sat upon him when first knocked from sleep, it had now been shrugged off. Judith opened the door and allowed the boy to enter. Sitting up in a huge bed, Graham Hunter looked every inch of a man to the manor born. Clothed in complimentary silk pyjamas, bleary eyes and self-standing hair, he was the epitome of an eccentric aristocrat.

“What did you see, Chris?”

Chris took a intake of breath before starting. He told them about the library and how he and Lucy had gone there to talk. At this point he noted the exchange of almost imperceptible looks between the two adults yet continued without bothering to explain. When he reached the point about the figure standing partly hidden by the tree-line, there was a change of mood.

“What type of figure,” asked Judith, “male or female?”

“I think it was male. From where I stood, I think it was pretty well made and tall. I watched it for some time without it noticing me. We had no lights on in the library. Well, we did, but only a little torch and that was placed on the floor. I don’t think it could have been seen from outside. Anyway, I watched this thing and it just stood there watching the castle. I looked away for less than a second to tell Lucy about it, but when she looked, it had gone, completely disappeared. I watched from window of  my room for most of the night just to see if it would return. It never did.”

“It might have been a trick of the light, or an animal,” was Judith’s addition.

“Yes, I thought about that. So, I went outside as soon as it got light. I went to the place I thought I had seen the figure and do you know what? I found some footprints.”

“What type of footprints?” asked Graham.

“Human ones. I followed them for a while and they led all the way out of the grounds. There was a sharp frost last night which meant the surface of the snow turned to think ice. When I walked on it, my weight barely caused a crack, but these footprints were massive, almost twice as big as mine and they must have carried some weight because they sunk deep into the lower layers of snow. I could have carried on following them but I didn’t think it would be the best thing to do. So I came back.”

“Well there’s nobody big enough to fill shoes like that in our group,” mused Graham weighing up the possible solutions.

“It wasn’t wearing shoes. The footprints were of bare feet.”

“So,” Judith submitted, “we have a big footed naked guy prowling around the grounds when everyone has gone to sleep. Did anyone bother to lock the front door?”

Chris smiled ruefully, “I’m afraid not. It was open when I went out this morning.”

Graham was already climbing out of bed; the luxury of a hangover would have to wait.

“But you locked the door on your way back in?”

“I locked every door I could find.”

“That’s my boy. We need to get everybody together as soon as we can. Don’t panic anyone. Just make sure we can have a meeting. I don’t want somebody to wander off outside on their own. Can you and Chris do that for me Judith?”

“Certainly, but it would be best to shower first. I would not wish to be seen by anyone looking like this. Not even a ten foot tall naked guy.”