It’s that time of year again where all things turns to the spooky.
Here’s a little tale of horror for you.
The house with the enormous oaks in the garden was always in shadow as if a cloud hung low, touching the top of the tree with gloom. The other kids hated walking by. Ivy grew on the wall, thick fingers reaching out onto the pavement. It was said that if you walked by and even the smallest ivy leaf touched you, you would be entwined, forever bound, sucked into the depths of the garden.
Belle didn’t believe it but she always held her breath as she walked by, sticking to the kerb, as attentive as someone who didn’t like to step on cracks. Belle saw her once. The lady who lived in the house. She was digging holes in the garden. When Belle told Audrey about it she said she must have been burying shrunken heads, her victims. Audrey believed the woman was a witch. Belle thought that maybe she was just planting bulbs. She had seen daffodils there last Easter.
Tomorrow was Hallowe’en. Audrey and her new best friend Paulina were planning to go and knock on the witch’s door. Throw flour in her face. Belle thought it was a stupid idea. Almost as stupid as Audrey’s tendency to rank her friends according to how new or old they were. Belle didn’t think it was right to put people into categories.
The old lady looked harmless. Her mouth was flat, thin, the way people’s mouths are who live alone. As if they never have anyone to laugh with.
The next day at school Belle had to endure Audrey and Paulina plotting and giggling over what they were going to do to the witch. ‘You two are over the top,’ she said. ‘She’s just an old lady, that’s all.’ When it got dark Belle followed Audrey and Paulina to the house. They had been joined by Bobby and Blake, two of the nastiest boys in school. Belle felt her heart sink as they opened the lady’s gate and crept into the garden. They had an enormous bag of flour which had a tiny hole in the bottom. A trail of white powder followed at their feet. Like gunpowder.
Full of bravado, egged on by the giggling girls, Bobby and Blake marched on to the front porch, rapping at the door. No one answered. They tried again, banging on the windows. Still no answer. ‘Let’s go round the back,’ said Bobby. ‘We can break in, make a real mess.’ ‘You can’t do that,’ Belle’s voice sounded weak, small. ‘She’s just an old lady. She’s all on her own.’ ‘Get lost, loser,’ Bobby said. ‘We don’t need you here telling us what to do.’
He pushed her down the steps so that she fell, gashing her leg on a rose bush. A single speck of blood stood on the tip of a thorn, deep red in the evening light. Belle hobbled home, clutching at her leg. ‘I’m going to call the police, tell them what you’re doing,’ she muttered.
The cut on Belle’s leg was so deep it took her over an hour to stem the bleeding. She was feeling so dizzy and sick by the end of it she couldn’t remember if she had heard Audrey and her idiot friends pass by the house. She had a glass of water and went to bed, hoping they hadn’t done too much damage to the old lady’s garden.
As the sun slipped into her room in the morning there was a banging at her door. It was Audrey. She was covered in dirt and moss, still wearing the clothes from the day before. ‘They’re dead,’ she screamed. ‘They’re all dead.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ Belle asked. ‘Bobby, Blake, Paulina. The garden. The trees. They’re in the trees. They’re in the trees.’
Audrey was hysterical. She wasn’t making sense. Belle pulled on her clothes and ran along the street, the pain in her leg acute. The old lady’s gate was wide open. All the shades were drawn. The line of white flour was still there leading round to the back of the house. Belle walked round, expecting to see the other kids. There was nothing there but trees, thickly grouped as a forest. ‘There’s no one here,’ she said.
And then she saw the shoes. One pair after another at the base of a tree as if dropped from above. Three pairs in all. Belle ran to the trees, calling out, searching through the branches. The canopy was lush, deep green but she would have been able to see them nonetheless.
And then she heard it. The groaning. Soft as a whisper. Coming from the trees. And then she saw it. Saw them. Their faces. Embedded in the trunk, their entire bodies. They were facing outwards but already the bark had almost completely covered them.
‘Help us,’ they whispered. Belle ran round to the front door, her leg throbbing. She battered on the door. ‘Help me,’ she cried. ‘Set them free.’ She banged and banged, pushing on the door with her hip. It gave way and she fell inside.
The house was completely empty. No furniture. Not even a stove in what must have been the kitchen. Cobwebs hung from every corner. Grey balls of dust lined up along the skirting boards. Belle felt panic rise into her throat. Fear. She ran out into the garden, to the copse of trees. The groaning had stopped. The faces had disappeared. The trees had swallowed Bobby, Blake and Paulina whole. Only their shoes remained.
Image Shadow Steps by Kampasi at Deviant Art.