Polly Cullen is a pen-name I use for writing fiction. I have long held the dream to become a writer having grown up watching my mother both write and review books.
My passion for words grew at school, but it is not until recently that I have given myself time to sit down and write, and now it seems I cant stop. I hope others will like the stories I create& the memories that I share.
As I rode down thru’ the streets of Laredo, As I rode into Laredo one day, I see’d a poor cowboy wrapped up in a blanket Laid out on a blanket and the colour of clay
“I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy,”
These words he did say as I boldly stepped by. “Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story;
I was shot in the breast and I know I must die.”
“Let sixteen gamblers come handle my coffin
Let sixteen cowboys come sing me a song, Take me to the graveyard and lay the sod o-er me,
For I’m a poor cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.”
“It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing,
It was once in the saddle I used to go gay.
T’was first to drinking and then to card playing,
Got shot in the breast and I’m dying today.”
“Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin,
Get six pretty girls to carry my pall
Put bunches of roses all over my coffin
Put roses to deaden the clods as they fall.”
“Oh beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
And play the dead march as you carry me along.
Take me to the green valley and lay the sod o-er me,
For I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.”
I can’t say why my father had saved the words to this song, but a typed copy was amongst his paperwork which I recently cleared. It struck a chord with me, because it seemed to relate to my father who was a very principled man. It conveys that, as a counterpoint to his playful, teasing side – he enjoyed a drink with friends or a joke of a saucy nature – his code of honour was very strong.
I know he felt the imprint of any mis-steps he’d taken for the rest of his life – I think plenty of us do. He took some wrong turns with his career, he could be hot headed and outspoken when he should have kept his own counsel. Right to the end of his life he beat himself up over moments where he lost his temper, hadn’t given enough support to loved ones, or failed to guide them in the best direction.
I know my father had regrets but in my opinion it’s too harsh to judge yourself for shortfalls in how you nurture or advise others, because the result’s very quickly out of your hands. In the end a person can only take charge of their own life, the decisions they make and the paths they take.
No matter how true the concept: “what other people think of me is none of my business,” I think we are all haunted by our past mistakes.
This post is submitted to the writing meme #4Thoughts_Fiction hosted by the site IfSexMatters – if adult content doesn’t offend, why not visit to see what others have linked up : the prompt is Haunted.
This is the chilling finale of a spooky serial – please use the menu to read the earlier parts for the full effect.
[We join our hero J in a dream encounter. He’s trying to escape Danny who has been hypnotising children into a zombie state.]
Panting hard, and gripped with fear, J stood hunched over but faced his pursuer. He bent slightly at the waist to alleviate the grasping, vice-like stitch produced by running full-tilt. Danny reached the bank of the lake, and stood knee-deep in reeds, glaring at J with menace. J kept his head low, watching Danny via his reflection, rather than looking at him directly.
“You’re gonna regret interfering kid!” Danny’s voice was loaded with fury. “You haven’t a clue what you’re dealing with.”
He pushed his hood back from his face, revealing skin which was eerily pale in the moonlight. Although not wearing his clown make-up, he must use an eye-liner because his eyes seemed huge, dominating his face.
“You won’t get the better of me. I can’t stop now, I have too much to do. My power is growing. No-one will miss those brats, they were weak and ineffectual. I can achieve so much more.”
As he spoke he glared at J, his focus never wavering. Even observing him via his reflection, J felt unable to look away. There was an uncomfortable feeling from staring at Danny, but something other compelled him. J was required to look at him, deep in his dark, unblinking eyes. J began to relax, allowing his body to drop its guard. He could hear Danny talking, but the words no longer made sense. A buzzing sound was building in his head and simultaneously he felt rather heavy and tired. There seemed no reason why he was standing by the lake; it would be so much nicer to sit down, perhaps even lie down, because he was very, very tired. As if weighted with lead, his eyelids yearned to droop and close, yet something in the buzzing made him keep focusing on the pale boy’s face, upside down on the surface of the water
At that moment the moon went behind the clouds. In the ensuing darkness Danny’s reflection disappeared as if a switch had been flicked, and his hypnotic eye-contact with J was broken. J gasped a breath in surprise, it was as if he’d been plunged into icy water. Snapping out of the trance in a nano-second he realised that watching a reflection of Danny had offered no protection at all, he’d been moments away from becoming a successfully hypnotised zombie.
Danny, however, still chanted his mystic words and used his trance-inducing stare.He hadfailed to notice that his intended subject was no longer under his influence. He continued to recite and stare, while moving his feet ever closer to the edge of the deep, still lake. He stumbled a little which was his undoing, because his wobble shifted his point of focus as he struggled to regain his balance. He continued his mesmerising routine, but now – as the moon pulled free of the clouds – he was looking at his own reflection in the lake.
Danny’s droning speech continued and his eyes were unblinking. J, however, stuck his fingers in his ears and turned his head to the side so that he was only aware of his pursuer from his peripheral vision.
No longer hearing Danny’s words, J wasn’t pulled into a trance as he had been before. From the corner of his eye he observed that the older boy continued creeping forwards, the water at the lakeside was now lapping over his black trainers. J tensed, suspecting the crazy fool was trying to reach him by wading through the water. Without knowing how deep the lake was, it seemed an extreme plan.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes, it was hard to watch without looking directly. Without his fingers blocking his ears, he detected a less commanding tone in Danny’s speech than before, and sounded almost sleepy. He had crept further forward and was, shockingly, thigh-deep in the water. J could hardly imagine he was still being chased, instead it seemed that Danny was in a trance. J risked a direct look, and what he saw amazed him. Danny’s eyes were locked onto the eyes in his own reflection. His lips were moving, reciting whatever he usually did to bring vulnerable children under his influence, but he was accidentally hypnotising himself!
Danny chose that moment to bend at the waist so his upper torso came forward, his face was almost in the water!
J gasped in shock. “Stop! Wait!” he called, but Danny took no notice.
Smoothly, calmly, as if it was the most obvious thing to do, Danny sank his face into the water.
The sky went dark again, thick clouds obscuring the moon, but even in the reduced visibility, J stumbled forward to help. His legs sank into the achingly cold water and he strode forward with big, slow steps, feeling the drag and suck of the black lake around his lower limbs. He still couldn’t see a thing, the moon remained behind a blanket of cloud, but he knew the direction to head.
J swirled his hands blindly in the water, feeling the occasional tickle of water weeds, but no arms or legs to grab onto. J began to panic, how much time had passed? When the moon broke through again, he was able to see more clearly. But there was no trace of Danny.
J was standing right where Danny had sunk into the water, but the older boy had disappeared without a trace. He scanned the lake’s surface all around while his bleak feeling escalated. There was nothing to be seen. Apart from the ripples that his movements were making, the lake was smooth as glass and silent.
‘Silent as the grave’ was the ghoulish phrase which popped into his head.
J’s electronic alarm blurted which jolted him awake. His body felt stiff and cold and, as he swung his feet out of bed, he saw they were scratched, scraped. His feet were sore, the toenails were encrusted with dirt. He’d need to get showered before his Mum saw the state of them, but first there was something he had to check.
J tiptoed onto the landing and put his head round Lulu’s bedroom door. His heart lurched with relief. His sister was sitting on their mother’s lap, arms wrapped around her neck, talking softly. His Mum looked up and, catching his eye, she smiled.
“Lulu would like boiled eggs and soldiers for breakfast.” she told him.
He grinned and backed out of the room. Around the lump that was suddenly in his throat, he called downstairs to his dad with the food order. Next minute Dad thundered up the stairs to join Mum and Lulu in the bedroom. J smiled and rubbed his head, padding carefully to the bathroom to grab a shower, a bubble of joy lodged in his chest.
Sunday rolled around, sunny and mild. J was clipping the lead onto the dog’s collar, preparing to take her for a romp in the woods and fields, when Lulu dashed into the hall. She skidded to a halt by the rack of wellies and outdoor shoes.
“Can I come?” she asked, looking at him with pleading eyes. She began sliding her toes into pink glittery boots.
“OK,” said J – everyone was spoiling Lulu this week, they were so pleased to have her back to her normal, cheeky self.
“I hold the treats J,” she told him firmly, reaching up for the bone patterned tin where they stored bacon flavoured bites that the dog loved.
He smiled to himself and grabbed bags and a tennis ball before they set off. The dog was excited to get going and fairly dragged him along the paths towards the wood. Lulu kept up a stream of little girl chatter, J listened, but an answer wasn’t required very often. When they came to the fork in the path which led to the lake, their dog dragged them towards it. She loved to paddle round the edge of the water.
J approached the lake with great trepidation. It was the last place he’d ‘dream’ encountered Danny, yet nothing had been seen of him since. J felt guilty to play any part in the boy’s disappearance, but he was glad the danger he presented was removed. Not only had his sister returned to normal, but he’d seen Katie Thompson around school, back to her bright, perky, pre-hypnotised self.
The dog pulled to be let off and scamper about, but J couldn’t shake a feeling of foreboding. Lulu sneaked her smaller hand into his.
“I don’t like this place,” she said and sidled up close.
“Nor me Lulu,” he replied, calling the dog back. “Let’s take this crazy hound to the fields, shall we?”
He called and tugged on the lead, while Lulu held out a treat which the dog vacuumed from her fingers with enthusiasm. Casting one last, wary glance at the surface of the lake and the dark secret it hid, J and Lulu walked away.
A chilling tale being told in episodes – read the previous ones first for the full spooky effect!
Jolted awake at 2:58 am, J was filled with that familiar feeling of dread and chill. Feeling as though his stomach was crammed with blocks of ice, he trod silently, but with speed, down the staircase and let himself out of the front door. This time he didn’t intend to be late, this time he wanted to get there before any hypnotism could occur, so he hustled along as fast as he could manage with bare feet over loose gravel and tarmac. Bushes scraped him as he passed which he barely noticed. He focused on his instinct leading him to the right location, as it had done previously. Up ahead was a house with green up-lighters to create a feature of the spiky blades of plants in its front garden. Near the corner of the house he made out the tall dark form of a creeping man. His cold clammy feelings ramped up several notches, he experienced an underlying buzz now he was close to the threat.
J darted forward to reach the door ahead of the broad-shouldered guy dressed in black, despite having no plan as to what he was might do. He didn’t have his phone with him, or his earbuds, this was a dream for goodness sake! How would he protect himself from being compelled by Danny?
Still he pushed forward, breathing heavily to block the looming figure.
“What d’you think you’re doing?” he said in a low but aggressive voice, stopping him from going any further.
The figure halted abruptly so the porch light illuminated his face. Despite having the hood of his black sweatshirt pulled over his head, he recognised Danny’s face. J seemed to have the advantage, Danny looked puzzled.
“Who the hell are you?” his expression both shocked and angry.
“This ends now.” J stood his ground, although his heart was beating fast. With adrenaline pumping, his legs felt as if they were primed to leap over the hedge – gazelle like. It made him hyper-aware of everything; a plan began forming in his mind.
“Not one more kid will fall under your influence Danny!”
Danny’s shadowy face looked startled, then twisted in a sneer, “How exactly do you intend to stop me?”
“I think the headmaster would be interested to hear you’ve been abusing rehearsal time and school resources. I’m surprised you keep your grade average up with the amount of kids parties you’ve performed at recently.” Even as he said it, J recognised this was not the kind of threatening talk they used in gangster movies or the Fast and the Furious, but he was winging it!
Danny laughed dismissively, making fear and disgust clutch at J’s heart. How could that monster treat this so lightly, children were literally fading away for his personal gain? That’s when another puzzle piece fell into place. All Danny’s power & strength was being drained from his victims; his grades had probably improved, his victims’ loss being his gain. Fury ran through J’s veins like white heat, his sister should not waste away just so that Danny the Clown could get good grades!
“You don’t know what your talking about!” Danny blustered. “You’ve got no proof! You’ll sound like a nut job if you go blabbing to the Head.” As he protested, his face became hard and ugly, projecting a menacing sensation. J knew he’d been unwise to pull a tiger by his tail.
J took a step back, he wanted some air between them in case Danny tried his mind manipulation on him. In fact J wanted to put lots of space between them. He should take their argument somewhere more private … J suddenly thought of a place which could give him an advantage.
“Oh I’ve got proof alright! You’ve been caught on camera, and a little girl called Lulu snapped out of her trance today and told her parent’s some pretty disturbing facts about the clown at her party. ” J bluffed wildly. ” In your shoes I’d expect the police at the house any minute now.”
J was backing away as he spoke, then he turned and broke into a run. He hoped his ‘baiting’ plan worked and that Danny would follow him.
It wasn’t easy to run in bare feet, J took a route over as many front lawns as possible, the grass was cool on his feet. He could hear Danny’s heavy footfall and laboured breathing close behind him so he daren’t ease up. There were street lights to guide him for now, but soon he’d turn down a path which was unlit and stony and his advantage might be lost. He gritted his teeth and hung a right, taking the route he often chose for its shade, walking with his dog on hot sunny days. It couldn’t be more different now, the sharp stones bit into his feet and he felt both the jabbing sting of nettles and the tear of brambles grabbing at his legs as he powered past. His eyes took a few moments to adjust to the dark, but he knew the route well and it was straight for 200 metres.
Behind him Danny was grunting and swearing under his breath, J heard his footsteps falter and stumble but he kept running. Sharp pain made him sure that his feet were bleeding from broken glass amongst the stones. J kept running, even through a stitch which twisted his stomach and lungs tightly in a grip of iron while the adrenaline flooding his system made him want to clutch his waist or throw up. He had to keep going. There was a fork up ahead and he took the turn which led to the lake.
He flung his arms up to protect his face from any low branches, continuing to blunder ahead, wanting to get to a far bank of the lake before he dared turn and confront his dangerous pursuer.
The crashing behind let J know that Danny was still in hot pursuit, but not managing to stay on the path! Desperate to make the precious extra seconds count, J hurdled the stream straight into a clump of nettles but he still dragged himself up the bank and around the edge of the lake. The water was still and calm, like a black mirror, waiting to be lit by the moon next time it emerged from the clouds.
I love to listen to music, both in the car and as I work. Sometimes I’ll choose to listen to the songs I grew up with – music from the ’70s and ’80s but other times I choose radio shows or playlists which play current music. I’ve never wanted to have that ‘old’ mindset where I’m muttering that the words were unintelligible or that the songs were better ‘in my day’. That said, I feel that a lot of the solo females are currently encouraged towards a similar ‘sound’ while some rap tracks make me feel agitated , to the point of wanting to turn them off, rather than wanting to get up and dance!
Getting back on ‘track’ I want to talk about songs that commonly get stuck, on loop, in my head. The term I have heard for it is ‘ear worm’ and I’m not sure if there is a cure! Playing other music drowns it out for a while, but often the song comes back to play on repeat. It’s unfortunately not restricted to songs I enjoy, sometimes irritating songs play repeatedly, gratingly in my subconscious mind.
I think certain songs are more disposed to getting stuck – I’m talking about the cheesy ones, and the gimmicky ones. Their ‘hook’ is designed to grab your attention and reel you in, it’s a plot to make you sing along as if you liked it or (worse still) to buy/download the track. Other times it’s a particularly tricky section of the song, one which cannot be easily be sung or hummed, so it haunts you in a different way.
A music loving friend told me that if you sang the words/tune to Happy Birthday a few times, this cancelled the ear worm. This remedy has never worked for me.
Watermelon Sugar High – Harry Styles
Love Yourself – Justin Beiber
Your Girlfriend – Blossoms
Lucid Dreams – Juiceworld
California Girls – Katie Perry
She’s Got Legs – ZZ Top
All the Things She Said – t.A.T.u.
You Spin Me Round – Dead or Alive
I should be So Lucky – Kylie Minogue
There’s Your Trouble – Dixie Chicks
Another Nail in my Heart – Squeeze
I don’t Like Cricket – 10CC
Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin
Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen
Above are a few of my recent earworms. With some tunes stuck in my head it’s a nuisance and others are a pleasure. When bands write anthemic songs, segments of their songs seem more likely to stick in your head. When songs are played frequently on the radio, they are brought to the forefront of your consciousness, but I’m not sure they’re classified as an earworm.
The other (terrible) culprit of planting a song firmly in your head is when a song is used in an advertising campaign. It’s even worse if they warp the lyrics to fit the product, because this messes with your proper memory of the original song. In my youth this was done less, they made up special ‘jingly’ tune, or used soft classical music – if you’re from the UK you will always have an association between certain music and Hovis wholemeal bread / British Airways / Lloyds bank.
I’d be interested to hear what songs have been / are ear worms for you and whether you find them a comfort or an irritation.
This is part 11 of a serialised spooky tale, Chapter 10 is here, or use the Menu to locate earlier chapters
J moved around the library racking his brain regarding where to look for more answers. In front of him was the ‘global culture’ section, from which a book had fallen on the floor, which he picked up. “Greek Mythology” its front cover declared, in raised gold script. J opened the book and flicked through the pages, realising as he did so, how many legends had been plundered and used for modern game design. Turning to the pages relating to the quest carried out by Perseus, his memory began circling the story as if it had something significant to impart. He remembered the Gorgons with their hair of writhing serpents, the one which Perseus kills was named Medusa. Pieces clicked together in his mind bringing a revelation as to this story’s usefulness: Perseus had used his mirrored shield to avoid looking directly at Medusa, which enabled him to get close enough to behead her without her enchanted gaze turning him to stone.
At last they were getting somewhere! He checked out the book then stuffed it into his backpack before hurrying off to afternoon class.
That night J went round to Alex’s house. He told his parents it was to study but really he wanted to discuss his findings and plot what action to take. Up in Alex’s slightly messy bedroom, they played music to disguise their conversation if anyone was passing his door.
Being a gamer, Alex was familiar with Perseus’ quest. He thought a reflective object to look into was a great defense if Danny was using his eyes or a swinging/ spinning object to induce a hypnotic state in his victims. Alex suggested carrying a hand mirror at all times, in preparation for dualling with Danny. J thought it was simpler to use the ‘camera’ function on a phone, its electronic ‘eye’ would be in no danger from hypnosis. They both realised the hitch was if Danny was using auto-suggestion. They could hardly stop themselves ‘hearing’ his words – using the camera wouldn’t help here. They came up with the idea to put headphones in their ears and turn the music up loud, but admittedly it would be hard to achieve in a hurry. As a precaution they would both wear their earbuds at school to make it easier to quickly start playing music.
With those practicalities sorted, the next step was where and when, and of course how to tackle Danny! Alex had team practice after school the next day, and was adamant that J shouldn’t confront Danny alone, he wanted to provide back-up. J argued that he couldn’t waste any more time, he was heart-sick about his sister Lulu. She remained a pale, frail thing, not waking properly or eating. His parents were taking her to a specialist as soon as they received a letter of referral from the GP.
J had a plan to confront Danny with their suspicions, and threaten him with exposure to the Headmaster and parents of the affected children. He hoped Danny could be persuaded to cease his serial hypnotism of small children, and release his current victims from their coma-like state. J suspected that if the older boy was enraged, he’d be likely to try hypnotising him in retaliation, but was hopeful that the phone camera would act as filter and offer protection. Alex suggested he could even play the footage back to Danny and hypnotise him with his own technique – that would be a neat way to end his wicked behaviour! It was risky though, J would have preferred Alex there as wing man.
With plans made for tomorrow, and a tube of Pringles eaten washed down with a large bottle Pepsi, J set off home with his heart racing. He felt keyed up about what he must do tomorrow. He made sure to put his phone on charge overnight; he’d need a full battery for playing music to override Danny’s hypnotic words.
J’s parents were huddled together downstairs talking. His mother’s eyes were red rimmed, as if she’d been crying, but they tried to act normally and wished him goodnight.
A spooky tale which is being serialised, see the menu for all the earlier episodes)
It was the usual helter-skelter rush getting ready for school. Mum and Dad were still worried about Lulu because, unfortunately, she wasn’t showing signs of improvement. Dad was on the phone to get her a Doctor’s appointment as J slammed the door, in a hurry to get to Alex’s house. Alex was already on the path, waiting, so they set off at a brisk pace, talking as they walked. J described the pitiful small boy he dreamed of, the most recent victim of the hypnotic menace.
“Why do you dream about it though?” Alex questioned.
J shrugged. “No idea, I’ve been wondering that myself. I wake at almost 3 am too, it always happens at the same time.”
“We could Google that. We also need to watch Danny closely, get an idea of his movements and who he hangs around with. I have a free period before lunch, I’ll do some scouting then. Meet you in the canteen!” Shrugging his backpack further onto his shoulder, Alex hustled off to form.
J pushed through double doors, moving with the flow of pupils to their classrooms, keeping his eyes peeled for Katie or Laurie, filled with concern for their wellbeing. As morning lessons progressed, J’s mind continued to puzzle over what would motivate Danny to control the willpower of the young people he was hypnotising. Finding the answer to this might influence his next worrying question – how to stop him?
J’s last lesson before lunch was maths. As Laurie moved into his classroom J’s stomach lurched with shock and fear. Laurie looked so gaunt and emaciated, his skin was chalky and unhealthy and his movements were slow and shuffling, as if his body was too heavy for him to animate. His hair looked greasy and uncared for and his eyes were fixed on the floor as he moved to an empty desk. J felt very uneasy and anxious from his close proximity and he noticed other students casting similar, furtive looks at Laurie. Once the lesson began the difference was even more marked, as Laurie (once the star maths pupil, widely tipped as an Oxbridge candidate) did not participate at all, he just sat listlessly with his head hanging, like a moving toy with the batteries removed.
J was really troubled by this. It seemed as if Laurie’s life force or spark was gone. Could this be the root of Danny’s motivation? Perhaps stealing from young, vibrant children somehow added to his power. It was no more crazy than entertaining the idea that an actual vampire went to their school!
He needed to run the idea by Alex so that they could consider how this would help them tackle him and reverse his influence. He scraped his books into a pile, dumped them in a backpack and flowed with the rest of the students out of the classroom and towards the dining hall.
He didn’t know how Alex did it, but he was already at a table shovelling food into his mouth with enthusiasm. J slid into a seat opposite him and shared his latest revelation. Alex took it in his stride, years of watching the sci-fi channel and reading Marvel comics meant nothing much surprised him.
“What did you discover?” J asked as he forked up shepherds pie and chewed.
“Danny mostly hangs about with those 2 goth girls in year 13 … and the drama group are putting on a show at the end of term. There are a lot of rehearsals for that going on, meaning he stays after school several nights a week.”
J knew the girls Alex meant, they looked like something out of the Addams Family wearing their hair straight in an unnatural shade of black. Their chalk white faces with heavy eyeliner and their choice of clothes made them appear as if they were on their way to a rather dramatic funeral. He had a feeling they were both studying textiles, so were probably involved with the costumes for the show.
J wondered if they knew what Danny was capable of, and if so did they help him? Would he need to factor them in when he tackled Danny to make him release his hold over the children? He and Alex needed to divide the tasks to tackle this without delay. He decided he would visit the library for books on hypnotism or auto-suggestion. Alex would continue to scout around to learn more about Danny’s habits and timetable.
J headed off down the corridor and up the stairs to the library where he began to browse science books, tilting his head to one side to read the titles on their spines.He wasn’t seeing any material which related to his specific problem. He began to feel agitated, as if there was a timer in operation, the sand constantly leaking through the narrow gap between the upper chamber and the lower, with his sister’s life in the balance.
In desperation he pulled out a book called The Mask of Time by Joan Forman and flicked through it’s pages. His eyes were drawn to one passage:
When a human organism dies, the matter, the physical body, is seen to change and known to decay. But a human organism is also energy, electrical, gravitational, magnetic, and on physical death, it ceases to operate through the material structure with which it has been associated. If energy cannot be destroyed it must therefore remove elsewhere where it may continue to operate according to the laws governing it.
This seemed to support his theory of an ‘energy’ which could be taken from a person, but unfortunately it made him more afraid for the lives of Danny’s victims. He slammed the book shut and pushed it back into its slot on the crammed shelves.
This is part of an ongoing chilling series, to read from the beginning, start here.
[4 minute read]
Alex was still at rugby practice when J hurried past his house with his head down. Unlocking his front door, he went straight to his Dad’s study to find out how Lulu was feeling.
“No change unfortunately. She isn’t eating and has slept most of the day, but she has no temperature. I’ve an appointment to take her to the doctor tomorrow.”
J had a sinking feeling this wouldn’t help. He really needed to talk to Alex, to plan how to force Danny to break the hypnotic trance his sister was under. He retired to his room with a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea. With his laptop on, he began trying to find new intel on hypnotism and meditation in the hope of identifying a ‘key’ to free the entranced children.
He face-timed Alex and up-dated his friend with what he had pieced together; with music on in the background he successfully masked their conversation.
“Who’d have thought? … Danny? All the plays I’ve seen him in …” Alex shook his head.
“But that’s probably how he did it! Working with Katie, rehearsing with her, he’d have plenty of opportunities to gaze into her eyes or use a pendulum and hypnotise her” J said.
“What’s with them all saying ‘they let him in’? That really fits with my vampire theories, but Danny looks the same as us. Do you think he is a vampire?”
J shrugged, he’d never given it serious consideration because he hadn’t believed vampires existed, but he tapped at his keyboard, Googling vampires and the legends surrounding them, he excitedly read one entry aloud.“Glamouring! Vampire hypnotism is called glamouring, they use eye contact to make their victims happy and relaxed about having their blood sucked. Perhaps Danny has glamoured them all.”
“Check Lulu’s neck Dude! See if she’s got fang marks on it.”
“Aargh! Don’t say that! I can’t even deal with the thought of that!” J was shocked and disgusted at the idea, but he knew it made sense. It would certainly explain the pale and listless appearance of all the victims. He planned to take a look at Lulu’s neck sometime that evening, but he needed to avoid raising his parents’ suspicions.
An opportunity presented itself quite innocently, Dad had made a snack of toast and marmite with a drink for Lulu, which J offered to take up to her room. While Dad put the finishing touches on the family’s meal, J cracked the door open and tiptoed into Lulu’s room.
She was cocooned in her duvet and facing the wall. Murmuring soothing things he gently stroked her hair off his sister’s cheek and away from her neck and peered closely, feeling tense about finding puncture wounds, but there were none. Thank goodness, her neck was unmarked. Her skin was clammy and cool but no bite marks.
“Lulu, do you want a drink? Or some marmite soldiers?” J used a coaxing tone and pulled her shoulder a little so that she rolled over. She didn’t rouse out of her sleep but he was able to look at her neck on the other side … phew! It was also unmarked. J’s relief at this discovery was intense, but looking at her sleeping form he felt sad, and a little scared, what if they couldn’t get her back to normal?
He ate supper with his parents, Then, with the excuse of pressing studies, returned to his room, where he let Alex know that he had found no sinister marks on his sister’s neck.
“Another contradiction to the idea of Danny as a vampire, is that he walks about in the daylight. He’s not burned or harmed by the sun,” Alex pointed out.
“That rule doesn’t apply in Twilight. Those guys avoid the sun because it would show their skin is sparkly.” J countered.
“Seriously? Man that’s so weird! Let’s try to look closely at him in school.” Alex was thoughtful for a moment. “I’ve never noticed his skin glittering.” Then he piped up, “Hey, Twilight’s a chick film? What’re you watching that for?”
“Hard to avoid it!” J laughed. “They’re always playing the Twilight trilogy on Film4, and my Mum’s a huge vampire fan.” J felt sure she wouldn’t be a fan if she thought a vamp had been anywhere near Lulu.
Lulu in the clutches of an undead blood sucker was unthinkable, but he reassured himself no puncture wounds on her neck was a positive thing. Catching a glimpse of the time, he wound up his call with Alex. He still had an English essay to write before he went to bed.
Somehow J was less startled when he snapped out of sleep at 3 am that night. It was becoming a grim routine, so he lay still allowing his senses to ‘feel’ the pressing darkness and whoever or whatever was out there. His eyes began to focus on the front of a house he didn’t recognise. The streetlight pooled a yellowy glow in its front garden and he could see a gate to the right. This was not latched shut, so it banged softly in the breeze. The darkness had a menace to it, was it possible that Danny was still here? J moved soundlessly, and with dread, through the gate and round the back of the property. He could see in through the conservatory as the occupants kept tropical fish in aquariums, which lit up the room with an eerie glow.
Pressing his face to a window, and with all his senses on alert, J peered around the interior. At first he thought there was nobody there, then he spotted a young boy in cartoon pyjamas. His blonde hair stuck up in all directions, as often happens with restless sleepers. The boy had an unhappy hunch to his body language. He stood repeatedly banging his head against the wall. Hearing his sobs made J’s heart twist, so he tried the handle of the door, but it was locked. His attempts to gain entry didn’t distract the child and the mournful crying continued.
His heart was heavy that another young person had fallen under the evil influence. J speculated that this boy had wanted an entertainer for his party and so Danny had visited the house, “let in” by the boy’s unwitting parents. Danny would give no clue regarding his sinister nature when he called round to make plans about performing as a clown.
J had never trusted clowns, they gave him the heebie-jeebies! As a young boy he’d found their thick make up, especially the painted on smile and eye expressions, highly suspect. He’d swerved invitations to attend any party with a clown on the agenda for just that reason. How ironic that his immature suspicions had truth behind them! Looking at the distressed boy, who he couldn’t get close enough to comfort, J knew he would be a pale and listless trance-induced state by morning, he wished fervently that he would not be proved right.
This concludes a story written in by my mother under the pen name Emma Payne. It’s pitched at the YA market and pre-dates the Harry Potter inspired flurry of supernatural tales. Previously 10-year-old Melina began to suspect that the things which made her mum perfect might have a catch, what if she was a witch! Start with Part 1 or read from here.
The final straw came when Miss Jeffers started to cast the form play. I had hoped to be the Princess, but Miss Jeffers chose Lucy Merkon. I was given the part of a lady in waiting, and Lucy’s understudy.
Lucy and I were old enemies, which made it worse. She turned round, her face a mixture of triumph and spite and poked her tongue out. I was furious and when I got home I told Mum.
“That Lucy Merkon! I’ve never liked her,” Mum said, “you’d make a far better princess. It would serve Lucy right if she fell ill and you took over.”
“She never so much as catches a cold,” I said gloomily.
“She might catch something worse,” Mum said darkly.
I thought no more about it until Mum was proved right, as usual. Lucy developed a rash and a fever after just three rehearsals, so I took over the part.
When I told Mum that Miss Jeffers said the doctor was baffled by Lucy’s symptoms, I caught her smiling and it gave me a horrible thought. Had Mum cast a spell on Lucy?
Next day when Mum was at the shops, I went into the kitchen to look at the strange book again: I wanted to compare the words with the witches’ scene in Macbeth. ‘Grockle the muncheon and slowly plebide the turlow’ did not sound much like ‘eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and toe of dog,” but then, perhaps Shakespeare had been guessing.
The book wasn’t on the shelf, so I began to rummage in other drawers in the kitchen. At the back of the knife drawer I found a strange little figure sculpted in pastry and embedded with seeds that made it look horribly spotty. I picked it up and tied round its neck with green embroidery silk was a label which read Lucy Merkon.
I dropped the figure back into the drawer as if it were red hot. That did it! Mum’s witchcraft was really out of hand now. Mrs Bearman had been talking wildly about witches and spells recently, she’d also been giving Mum strange looks. I didn’t think anyone believed in witchcraft nowadays, but the part of East Anglia where we lived historically had a strong witch tradition. It must have been closer to the surface than I knew, for that afternoon in the playground, Will Gandy said, “I hear your mother’s put a spell on my aunt and her dog. She’d better take it off or I’ll make you suffer. You’re a witch’s child.”
His friends began to chant, “Witch’s child, witch’s child,” and soon a menacing group had gathered. I was scared and began to cry, frightened as much for Mum as for myself. I burst out of the circle, through the school gate and ran home, where I threw myself sobbing into Mum’s arms. I told her what they had said.
“And don’t try to tell me it isn’t true, because I know it is.” I managed to say between hiccoughing sobs.
She hugged me tightly. “I’m not a bad witch, Melina.”
“But you are,” I wailed. “There’s Harold and Mrs Bearman and now Lucy.” I told her I’d found the strange book and the pastry person. “How come you’re a witch?”
“It’s complicated, but I’ll try to explain. Have you ever thought what would have happened if some important event in history had turned out differently? If Richard III had won the battle of Bosworth, there would have been no Tudor kings. Supposed America hadn’t fought the War of Independence and it had remained English, history would tell a different story, wouldn’t it?”
I nodded, I loved history, but I couldn’t see where this was leading us.
“Imagine time is like a huge tree, with the creation of the world the thick part of the trunk at the bottom. Each time an event occurs, that could have two possible outcomes, the tree branches so the two results exist as branches of equal thickness. Then when another crisis moment comes, the tree branches again.
“Each of those branches is another world or timeline. Beside the world where William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, there is an alternative world where King Harold won.
“My world had the same history as yours until 1590. In that year Elizabeth I was queen of England and James VI king of Scotland. James had not yet married and his heir was Francis Stuart, earl of Bothwell, who was secretly leader of the Scottish witches. Have you ever heard of the Plot of the North Berwick witches?”
I shook my head.
“No? Well it’s only a footnote in your history books because it failed in your timeline, but in mine it succeeded. Three covens of witches, under Francis Stuart’s guidance, raised a storm that drowned the King as he was bringing his new queen home from Denmark. So in my world Bothwell became King Francis I and witchcraft became an accepted way of life.
“People with second sight and people who could harness magic were encouraged, instead of being hunted down and burned as they were in your timeline. We developed communication by mind-power and human energy instead of electricity. Transport was achieved by focussing minds instead of using engines. People learned to work with animals. America was colonised by traders rather than persecuted religious minorities. Hosts of other things were different.
“I’m not saying my world was perfect, trouble was caused by greed and fear because humanity is fallible, but I liked my world better than this one.”
“If you liked it so much, what made you leave?” I asked.
Mum laughed. “I didn’t mean to. It happened by mistake. I was working on a space-travel project that involved the pooling of mind power. I was using my technical manual (the ‘spell’ book you found) and was endeavouring to add the force of my mind to that of many others. Accidentally I turned over two pages, saying half of one formula and half of another. That sent me sideways in time and into your world. While I was trying to figure out how to get back, I had to blend into this world. Then I met your dad and fell in love, so I stopped searching for a way back. When you were born my decision to stay in this world was made.
“At first I tried to live by this world’s rules, but a little bit of witchcraft made life so much easier. I used my powers sparingly and thought no-one would know. But I didn’t fool you and it seems I’ve now made other people suspicious. I need to think how to correct this.
“Why don’t you reverse the spells, Mum? That would take the pressure off.”
Her eyes lit up. “I can do better than that, I’ll make them forget and we can start afresh.”
“Wonderful,” I said “and you must promise not to use spells any more.”
“Not even to help in the house?” she said wistfully.
“We-ell ,” I said wavering, “little spells for cooking and cleaning should go unnoticed.”
“Perfect,” she said smiling, “and I can teach you spells, you’d be easy to train, being half witch.”
“No thanks, I prefer to stay the way I am.”
Mum laughed and went off to undo the magical mayhem she’d caused, while I went upstairs to do my homework. I’d forgotten, until I opened my bedroom door, that I’d rushed out that morning and left my room looking as if a tornado had struck.
“Oh fiddlesticks,” I said to myself, “I wish I could use a little magic to tidy this mess.”
There was a noise like a rushing wind and my clothes lifted off the floor and bed to arranged themselves tidily in the open wardrobe. Books floated back onto shelves and the duvet shook itself and spread neatly on the bed.
I sat down, overcome by shock. I was stunned, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been. They say blood will out and I was, after all, a witch’s daughter.
I’ve mentioned in my ‘why write’ page that my mother was a writer. Here’s a story which she wrote under her pen name Emma Payne. Pitched at the YA market it was written before Harry Potter influenced so many authors of fiction. I’ve made a couple of tweaks to keep the plot current. Part 1 is here, the conclusion will follow.
My mother was a witch, but I had no clue until I was ten. Up to that age, children expect their parents to be all powerful, but after that, they begin to question.
Mind you, she was a fantastic mother, she never said “not now dear, I’m busy,” and she was brilliant at inventing games. She could tidy up in a snap as if by magic (which is probably how she did it) and she ran the house without any fuss or bother. She was a great companion and she always took my side in any quarrels. She kept her promises and her forecasts always came true. I thought she was perfect until the fateful day I discovered her secret.
It was an autumn afternoon when Miss Jeffers sent us home from school early because she had a sick headache. On the way home, scuffing through piles of dead leaves, I planned to play a trick on Mum.
I opened the door soundlessly. The smell of freshly baked cakes drifted through the kitchen door, which was ajar. I crept across the hall and peeped in. Where was Mum? I saw a basin on the counter with a wooden spoon stirring vigorously, but no-one was holding it! I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Then I saw her: she was floating in the air just below the ceiling, totally relaxed as if she was lying down. Jason, our cat was floating beside her, washing his paws. I watched in disbelief as a tray of cakes wafted out of the oven and arranged themselves on a wire tray, while Mum drifted above them. That was my first clue that she was a witch!
I slammed the front door and stamped noisily. When I entered the kitchen, Mum was standing by the cakes spooning icing over them while Jason rubbed himself against her legs.
Mum turned round with a welcoming smile. She offered me a cake to try while I explained about Miss Jeffers.
“Never mind, Melina,” she said. “I guarantee she’ll be well tomorrow.”
[“How?” I wanted to yell, “by magic?”]
After that I began to watch her more closely.
That evening she and Dad and I were sitting round the fireplace. We were arguing about the age of different types of rock. Dad said sandstone was older than chalk, but Mum disagreed. I just sat there like a spectator at a tennis match.
“Best not to argue with her Dad,” I warned, “she’s always right.”
Dad grinned. “I bet a box of those fancy chocolates you love to a tub of my favourite ice cream that I’m right.”
Mum almost purred. “Mmm, I can practically taste those chocolates. Melina run and get your tablet so that we can settle this. You left it beside the cook books.”
On the side in the kitchen, when I went to get my iPad, I saw that a thin book had almost slipped off the shelf. As I rescued it, I noticed it had a strange iridescent cover and the pages were smoother and shinier than paper, but it was the text that stopped me in my tracks.
‘After this,’ (it said) ‘grockle the muncheon and slowly plebide the turlow; this should create a smooth felox without unsightly veblons.’
It had to be a spell! This confirmed my suspicious, she was a witch.
At that moment she called out. “Having trouble, Melina?”
I jumped guiltily, and grabbed my tablet. “It’s OK, I’ve found it.”
I don’t remember the outcome of the argument, I went to bed early to think about my awful discovery. There might be a simple explanation but I was strangely shy about asking. As she only did good things, I concluded it didn’t really matter; but I had to think again next day.
Mrs Bearman, our next door neighbour had a rather fat pug called Harold, who was the darling of her heart. Jason, our cat, teased him by using their garden as a shortcut, knowing he could outrun the breathless, overfed pug. However, on this occasion Jason misjudged his advantage and the pug’s snapping teeth connected with the tip of Jason’s tail. Jason howled and ran to Mum for comfort. She soothed the cat while saying dreadful things about the pug.
Soon after this, Harold lost his voice. When he barked, no sounds came out. I heard Mrs Bearman telling another neighbour that Harold seemed to be bewitched.
Bewitched! If that was the case I knew who had cast the spell, and was frantic in case Mrs Bearman guessed too. When I went into the kitchen to try and persuade Mum to remove the spell by hinting to her, I’m almost sure the potatoes were taking off their own skins, but I looked again and saw Mum had a potato peeler in her hand.
“Mrs Bearman can’t hear Harold barking any more, she says it’s as if he were bewitched.”
“Nonsense,” said Mum, “she’s just getting a little deaf.” And then she looked out of the window as if struck by a thought.
I sighed and went to help Dad rake up piles of leaves for a bonfire.
“Tell Mrs Bearman I’m planning a bonfire,” he said. “Don’t want to be blamed for getting smuts on her washing.”
She answered the door drying her hands. “Good morning, Melina.”
“Hi,” I was filled with the usual awkwardness at having to hold a conversation with an adult I didn’t know well. “I came to warn you we’re having a bonfire.”
“No, I am not in the choir,” she said haughtily.
She must have misheard. “Dad is having a fire, do you mind?” I said, a little louder.
“No, I do not mind that I am not in the choir. Why are you asking me this?”
“Fire!” I shouted, “fire not choir.”
“Fire?” said Mrs Bearman, alarmed. “Where is the fire? I must fetch Harold.”
I grabbed her hand. Slowly and clearly, with 100% eye contact, I said “Dad – is – having – a – bonfire.”
“Oh,” she was embarrassed. “How silly of me, I misunderstood.”
“How is Harold?” I asked, “is he better?”
“Letter?” she was off again. “Harold didn’t get a letter, who would write to a dog?”
She looked at me pityingly, but it was I who pitied her. I could only blame Mum for her deafness.
A spooky tale being told in chilling installments: read the previous episode here or use the menu to access the full series.
[3.5 min read]
J’s thoughts kept circling round a central idea. If they could identify what the victims of the menacing entity had in common, this could lead them to the zombie-maker. Lulu becoming the latest victim seemed almost personal, driving J to find a solution. He couldn’t leave his sister and the other children as mindless shells, especially as they did not care to eat so were likely to get ill soon.
He and Alex parted ways for morning lessons, but planned to meet at lunch to mindmap theories. Gloom weighed heavy on J, he couldn’t bear to recollect how frightened and upset Lulu had been in his dream. He also worried that the trance she was in could be irreversible.
He remembered that he’d seen Laurie going into the drama annexe off the main school building so resolved to investigate what could have drawn him there, even in his zombie state. Some strong need or obedience to instruction was in operation; this was likely to be a vital clue. When the bell rang he quickly scraped his books together then hustled to the annexe to nose around.
One notice board featured a display on the latest school play – photos of cast, programmes and performance times. Further towards the music rooms he saw information about a forthcoming talent show. Pupils who learned guitar and drums were getting bands together, there were ‘celebrity’ judges and that’s when another puzzle piece fell into place. Katie was impersonating ‘Sharon Osbourne’, and the lighting technician was Laurie – so they would have been rehearsing together! Boom! Sadly J came up blank as to how his sister fitted into this pattern, but it was a start. He unpinned one of the fliers and hurried off to the canteen, where Alex had almost finished eating.
“Brilliant!” Alex exclaimed, through a mouthful of chocolate chip cookie, as he examined the leaflet “this totally explains how Katie knows a nerd like Laurie!”
J made a ‘Shhh’ face at Alex. He liked Laurie and found the term nerd disrespectful. “What about Lulu Alex? How did she come into contact with these guys?”
“Babysitting?” Alex guessed, “has Katie ever come to your house to babysit for her? No, scrub that, I think you’d have said if a fit girl like Katie came round to yours while your parents were out!” Alex snorted with laughter and took another big bite of his biscuit.
J finished his panini and drained his drink with a loud slurp.
“I still haven’t given up on the Librarian being involved somehow. So I’m off to have a nose around, with the excuse of returning this.” He held up the lacemaking book with a wry grin, then grabbed his tray and rose from the table.
J peered through the glass door into the Librarian’s office, his hand poised to knock, but it seemed she was absent. He tried the handle but it was locked. Checking his watch, he decided to hang around for 5 minutes before abandoning his plan. J kicked his heels, while racking his brains who could have visited his, Katie and Laurie’s houses, and for what dastardly purpose? When the Librarian didn’t show, J deposited the book and went to class, which was art, presenting a good opportunity to observe Katie and possibly put more clues together.
Katie looked worse today than last time he saw her. With hair hanging in dull, greasy hanks, her complexion was chalky pale and her eye sockets were shadowed purple, giving her eyes a feverish glow. She moved at half speed, not interacting with other classmates, although she responded to the teacher in a robotic way. Watching, J felt overwhelmed with sadness and panic. Would his little sister be trapped in the same state? It was imperative to solve the mystery and break the evil influence she was under.
The final bell of the day rang. Chairs scraped and bags were stuffed with books as pupils prepared to head home. In the busy corridors, most of the pupil traffic was leaving the building, so it was easy to spot Danny moving in the opposite direction. The oddest moment occurred when he got near Katie, they locked eyes and she was held in the mesmerizing beam of his gaze.
Watching from 100 yards away, J felt slightly dazzled himself, then Danny blinked and the moment passed. The older boy approached J but kept walking, leaving him puzzling over what he’d seen. Alex had rugby practice after school so J set off up-hill solo, fishing the flyer about the talent show out of his pocket as he walked. If Katie was playing Sharon O, who was playing Simon Cowell? There it was, the ascerbic judge was being impersonated by Danny Randall! Suddenly J was deafened by puzzle pieces falling into place!
The common factor had to be Danny Randall – he was working on the talent show and he had been the clown at his sister’s birthday party! Hell fire! J could hardly wait to convey this break-through to Alex.