As part of our Halloween evening held in Tintagel at the end of last month, Rosamund Derry wrote the following scary tale that we are pleased to now share with you here……
Everywhere was still and silent; shadowy and silvery in the light of the full moon. In the hall of the Old Post Office, the clock ticked, big heavy ticks sounding like the
footsteps of time. It was almost midnight and everyone was asleep.
In the little bedroom above the parlour, someone was moving. The blankets and the crazy-patterned bedspread lifted up and someone peeped out from underneath.
‘Are you awake?’ Susan hissed to her brother Tom.
‘No!’ he grunted and pulled his blanket over his head.
Susan climbed out of bed and shook him, so he wriggled further under the blankets, until she pulled them off. Sooty the cat, who had been sleeping peacefully at the end
of the bed, jumped off with a loud meow and ran downstairs.
‘What did you do that for?’ Tom demanded, sitting up and trying to drag the covers round him again. The fire in the grate had long since died out and it was freezing in the small room.
Susan grinned. ‘It’s almost midnight,’ she said in a loud whisper.
‘So?’ Tom glared at her and snatched his blanket from her.
‘So it’s nearly Halloween; we should go ghost-hunting!’
As soon as she mentioned the word ghost, a nervous look appeared on Tom’s face, even though he tried to hide it. He didn’t want his sister to think he was scared.
‘Ghost-hunting?’ he said, hesitantly. ‘Um, where exactly do we go to hunt ghosts?’
‘Right here in the house,’ Susan replied and scrambled out of bed, before standing and waiting for her brother. When he didn’t move, she put her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes at him. ‘You are coming with me, aren’t you?’
He stared back at her and then sighed, slid out of bed and stood there in his bare feet, feeling the cold start to nip at him through his thin cotton pyjamas.
‘Yes, I’m coming.’
‘Goodie!’ She clapped her hands together and rushed to the stairs.
Tom looked sadly at his warm bed with the cosy stone hot water bottle waiting for him under the blankets before trailing after his sister as she raced down the stairs, her long dark hair streaming behind her. At the bottom of the stairs, she stopped and turned round.
‘We’ll have to be ever so quiet, so we don’t wake mother and father.’
He rolled his eyes. ‘Well then you shouldn’t whisper so loudly,’ he added, half-hoping that their parents might wake up and send them back to their warm beds.
Sticking her tongue out at him, Susan opened the door at the foot of the stairs, slowly and carefully, but even so, it creaked and groaned as if it was an old ghost itself, moaning in pain. They stopped dead, holding their breath. Waiting to see if anyone had heard, if anyone had woken. When there was no sound, they breathed out, looked at each and giggled nervously, as they tiptoed under the ancient wooden archway and into the hall.
The stone floor was cold underfoot, almost cold enough to turn their feet to stone. Little shuddering, mean draughts blew in through the front door, making their teeth chatter as they crept into the big hall. One of the windows was open, swinging in the breeze, so Tom closed it and latched it, shivering violently.
‘We should have brought a candle,’ he said, glancing round at all the dark, dark corners, but Susan shook her head.
‘It’s a full moon, we’ve got lots of light.’
True enough, through the narrow slit windows, moonlight fell across the floor, creating strange sliced-up shadows that seemed to follow them. Tom felt a shiver through his bones that was nothing to do with the cold.
‘How are we going to hunt the ghosts?’ he asked Susan, still whispering.
She whirled round from the window. ‘Sweets!’ she said and pulled a paper bag out of her pocket. ‘Ghosts love sweets. They love them nearly as much as Sooty loves mice.’
‘Really?’ Tom raised an eyebrow.
‘Yes,’ she said with big wide eyes. ‘All we have to do is lay a trail of sweets for them and they’ll come to get them, and then we catch them.’
‘We catch them?’ Tom asked, ‘What with? And what do we do when we’ve caught them?’
Susan wrinkled her nose. ‘Oh… Um, I hadn’t decided that.’
She sat down on the carved wooden bench under the window and looked glum. Feeling sorry for her, Tom sat down beside her and patted her shoulder.
‘Never mind. Maybe we can hunt for ghosts another time, after we’ve thought of a really good way to catch them.’ And maybe, he thought hopefully, by then Susan would have decided that hunting ghosts was boring and had decided to hunt for something else. Or at least it would be warmer. But Susan was pouting. ‘No. Another time is no good. It has to be now, on Halloween. If we don’t catch them now, we have to wait a whole year before we can try again.’
That was perfectly fine with Tom. Susan though was clearly very unhappy at the thought and sat scowling with her arms folded across her chest. ‘Why d’you want to catch a ghost anyway?’ Tom asked, helping himself to one of the sweets – sherbet lemon, his favourites. ‘What would you do with it once you’d caught it? Ask for your sweets back?’
His sister glared at him. ‘No, silly, I’d ask it what it was like being a ghost and if they can eat lots of things and read books and play with toys, and stay up really, really late and if they can be invisible, and if they like being a ghost, and…’ She stopped to draw breath and Tom popped a sweet in her mouth before she could carry on.
‘What if the ghost didn’t want to answer your questions?’ he asked, glancing round at the shadows across the stone floor. ‘What if…’ he lowered his voice and tried to make himself look menacing, ‘What if it was a really wicked and evil ghost who didn’t want to eat sweets, but wanted to eat… you?’
Smothering a giggle as Susan jumped, he had almost decided that ghost hunting could be fun, when something made both of them freeze.
‘Hear that? Yes…’ Tom gulped and swallowed the last bit of his sherbet lemon too quickly, which made him cough.
‘What… what was it?’ Susan quavered, clutching Tom’s arm.
He swallowed again and croaked, ‘I don’t know.’
It was a scratchy, scritty sort of noise, like thin little fingers, ghostly little fingers maybe, scraping on stone. They heard it again.
Louder this time.
Tom felt his skin prickle as if hundreds of tiny insects were rushing all over him.
He and Susan sat there, two statues in the pale moonlight, only their hearts thudding.
‘It’s-it’s by the window,’ Susan whispered, turning huge, frightened eyes towards her brother. ‘It’s a ghost trying to get in…’
Her voice rose to almost a wail and Tom felt a wave of fright starting to surge over him.
‘We don’t know it’s anything trying to get in,’ he whispered. ‘It’s probably… it’s probably just a stick, or-or something like that,’ he said, hoping that was all it was.
Surely it had to be just an old, dry twig, or a bunch of leaves… even though there weren’t any trees or bushes close to the window he remembered with a sinking feeling in his stomach. Too petrified to move, he and Susan sat, their hands gripping each other’s, while far away across the moon-washed fields, an owl hooted; a low breathless sound.
And the scratching sound came again, even louder, even sharper, and then something jumped onto the windowsill – a huge, spiky shadowy something, with giant fangs and claws, rising up to scrape at the glass with a wailing shriek.
Closely followed by two more shrieks in unison as Tom and Susan pelted across the hall and up the stairs as if demons were chasing them, dived into their beds and burrowed deep under the covers, lying there trembling with their eyes shut and hands over their ears.
While Sooty the cat meowed and pawed at the window, wondering why the two children had run away when he’d only wanted to show them the mouse he’d caught. When no one reappeared, he jumped down from the windowsill and stalked away in disgust, taking his mouse with him.
The house sat silently until the old clock in the parlour wheezed, whirred and struck 12 times. As the echoes shivered away, the dusky shadows in the corners of the room began to stretch and spread across the floor until a crowd of figures, which the moon shone right through, stood there, filling the hall.
‘Peace and quiet at last,’ said one of them and the others murmured in appreciation.
‘Oh, and sherbet lemons, too!’ All of them rushed to take a sweet out of the paper bag.
When everyone had one, they raised them as if they were wine glasses and wished each other, ‘Happy Halloween!’