Come back at a later date….
The forest is not half a mile from our house. The area is unsuitable for cultivation, or so I am told. So, the trees continue to grow and the moss gathers ever thicker, continuing the trend that has perhaps lasted centuries; and if secrets are kept there, they remain hidden under heavy canopies of leaf and darkness.
There have been tales. Stories recited from the mouths of parents as they gather in the fading light of day. From my vantage point on the stairs I have heard them speak of children lost to the woods, and of the mothers and fathers spending the remainder of their days calling out the names of their loved ones as they search as methodically as they can amongst the elms and oaks; for no man can truly claim to know the depth and breadth of such a land. I hear claims that the children were lost to the many bogs that litter the terrain, or, in mores hushed tones, that the woods themselves stole each child, and that is the blood of the young that causes the forest to grow so tall, the foliage so lush.
I listen. But, I know these things not to be true.
Yet, for all this talk, there is an undeniable beauty to such a place. On warmer days the denseness of the branches gives the promise of a cool place in which to retreat for the sun, the many streams and brooks dance with flickering light, and the fauna, colourful and abundant, has long been the inspiration of artists and poets, their number creating bodies of work that have been pored over by scholars and academics alike. It is these summer days which draws it’s many visitors, each eager to take in the forests splendour, to paddle in it’s cool waters, to walk amongst it’s branches, and for some, to experience the wonder that drew the poets to tears, the painters to frustration. And although, on these days, the stories of lost children are almost forgotten; for there is nothing to fear in the light, the fathers and mothers instinctively keep their offspring in sight, and each feels a weight lifted from them as they leave the cool confines of the trees, and step back into the light.
Today, though, it is the midst of winter. The morning has brought a light snowfall, with more, perhaps much more, forecast for later. It is something on an inconvenience, but I shall make good on my promise. I retrieve the thickest jumper I own, along with a scarf and my boots. I take my Parker from off of it’s peg in the hallway, and on opening the back door of the house, step into the chill morning air.
I then walk to the forest.
I feel their gaze as they watch me walk across the open field that leads to the trees. I have come to know that they often observe from a distance, only showing themselves to the young, the least threatening, that they look and evaluate, take measure of the those who venture near. Even now, with it being more that a year since they disclosed their presence to me, they are guarded. Wary of my actions, of their secret being revealed. And so, I approach slowly, with my palms facing outwards. It is a simple gesture: I mean you no harm. And in the still air between tree and grass I hear them whisper ‘He is coming’.
The bracket is thickest by the woods entrance, but I have taken the trail many times and manage to step through without snags or tears to my clothes. The air is cooler here, moist. I stop for a second, taking a deep breath, forming a steam of mist upon the air as I exhale. It’s something that I know they like to watch; it magical, one once told me. I found that amusing. I don’t know why.
A stream runs eastwards, and it is this that I follow. The trees are at their thickest here, the roots gaining substance from the waters. I watch each step I take, for the ground here is treacherous and eager to trip the unwary, the forest floor sodden and slippery with mulch. It cakes my boots and dampens the bottom of my jeans, and more than once I have to pause for a branch to grip or bank to ascend. In time, I reach the clearing.
The fallen tree is, of course, still there. I have no idea when it fell, though it’s bark has long been stripped by the creatures of the forest, and if one was to take the time to count the rings that run through it’s centre, a number of 122 would be reached. So, I have been told. One day, I intend to see if that is indeed true. But, not today. Today, is for other matters.
I sit down, the Parker I wear a barrier between myself and the rotting wood. Usually, I find the coat too large for my frame and am not inclined to wear it, but it cushion my bottom, here upon the tree, and for once I am glad of the size. I rub my gloves together and then survey my surroundings. The light above cuts through the softly swaying branches and dances particles upon the air, I watch them for a time, following their slow descent, mesmerised by the simple beauty of it all. It is only when I feel a chill to my neck that I realise that I am not alone.
She is sitting next to me. Her tender frame modestly covered by a dress once white, now browned and threadbare. Her fingers, pale as to be almost translucent play at the hem, she is looking down, her face obscured by a storm of dark hair, it rains down her shoulders, the flow ending at the middle of her back. I notice she isn’t wearing shoes, her toes are muddied, her ankles stained.
She moves her arm and I feel a coldness as her hand envelopes my own. An icy chill spreads through my body and I instinctively shiver which draws a look from her. Her face is very pale, her lips colourless which makes her black hair seem all the darker. Her eyes I can’t help but notice are completely grey, like the colour has faded over a long period of time. She reminds me of a black and white illustration from one of my many comics. One where the artist having coloured the background became tired of his work and left the character unfinished. She is out of picture, I think. Separated from her surroundings and forgotten. I want to ask her her name, but I don’t. She will tell me in time, and I am afraid of saying the wrong thing. Especially, when it has taken me so long to gain her, and the others, trust.
As it is, it is she that speaks. Her voice is soft, quiet, and I find myself holding my breath just to catch her words. ”Are you ready?’ She asks.
I nod and she releases her hand from mine. As she stands I see marks upon her legs,she pats down her dress, then begins walking back towards the tress. ‘Wait” I say, and she pauses. She mummers something that I can’t quite catch then moves once more. The pale of her form darkens, and then there is only the tress, the clearing and I. A boy alone in the forest. Cold from the touch of a girl who no one thought to finish.
The snow is reaching through the branches now. It gathers upon the clearing, spots of white laying a blanket before me, making the tress heavy, the air colder still. I do not know how long it has been since the girl left, only that I am to wait. Are they watching me? I think so. Perhaps, they are testing my resolve. Making certain that I am true to my conviction. They need not do so. I decided long ago the path I wish to take. And, so I sit and I wait. Pulling my Parker tighter around my body, pushing my hands deeper into my pockets. And the snow continues to fall; a bed of cotton suppressing all sounds but the breath that now labors in my lungs.
It is perhaps this that allows him to move in close without my knowledge, only signalling his presence with the removal of the rag from his pocket that he now pushes into my mouth. I struggle… an instinct that proves useless. He is too strong. Too practiced in his role. I kick the ground, making dirt of the snow as he grips me tighter. Now stars appear where there were none, the last light triggered by a lack of oxygen to my brain. And, then, they too are gone. Replaced by a darkness so absolute that in extinguishes the all of me.
Not of all of me.
Just the finishing touches of my being.
The essence is here still. A pencil drawing that cannot be fully erased. And I can move, yes. I move now. Walking, like an imprint upon the page of a painting of the world. Unseen, but for those who look beyond the brush strokes.
I am sitting once more upon the log in the clearing. I feel little, though my clothes appear to be made for one larger than I. They hang upon my frame and the breeze makes flags around the bottom of my legs. The Parker I wear is no longer blue, but it doesn’t bother me. Little bothers me now.
We play in the forest, the girl and I. Sometimes the others join us, but mainly we chose to be alone together, for I enjoy her company and she mine.
For a time there are those that come to search the forest. They call out my name, and on odd times I try to tell them that I am here, and that I am not alone, but whatever road passes between us is untravelled by the foot of men, and so they move without interruption, searching in vain, until even in time, they appear no more.
It was many months before my parents stepped into the woods. Perhaps, they thought people were wondering why they hadn’t searched for their offspring and decided to quash the rumours of beatings and other violence forced upon their boy. I watched them for a while as they pushed bushes aside and prodded bogs and streams with the broken branches in their hands. It was all for show, I have no doubt. Even as they searched I could not hep but notice the smiles upon their faces, they were as fixed as the bruises upon my body, and just as ugly.
During the summer months we watch as families once more appear in the forest. We witness the love between parents and their children, and then we observe the others, the children who sit further away, who are quieter, nervous. It is these we observe more closely. We see the darkness in the father, perhaps the cold that emanates from a mothers heart, and when their backs are turned, we learn towards their child and whisper. We tell of how to stop the pain. And whilst many close their ears, there are those who listen. The ones broken, those that fear the night, and what it brings. And we watch as they walk behind their parents, tugged this way and that. And we know we shall see them again.
And we tell the one who walks the forest. And he nods and folds rags to his pocket.
The girl and I play. And over time our bruises fade. The colour washed, until finally…..
We are clean again.
Art by Irene Shpak
When I first moved into my present home, the building wasn’t actually complete. I always thought there was a story there, but like so many other ideas it sat at the back of my mind, gathering dust, waiting for the moment when like a forgotten gift it is retrieved once more. Yesterday, I had a clear out, and there, dusty and buried under notes about this and that, discovered the tale of the apartment. I quickly jotted out the little piece that you will find below and found that it could be worked into a larger story. I doubt the scene I share here will find it’s way into the finished product (it’s rough, having been written in half an hour or so), but I do think it raises a little chill. And I do so like to shudder in company….
I was a quiet child, and like many quiet children my days were spent alone. Perhaps, it was this loneliness that saw me turn to books for company, that in the lives of others I would find the companionship I silently yearned for. And so, days were spent brooding over the contents of my parents shelves, seeking out adventures to partake in, characters to enjoy, and then, alone in my room, with a lamp by my bedside, I found the friends that I sought. Continue reading
My vigil is showing upon me. It etches lines upon my face, it fades my once dark hair to a sullen grey; eyes once eager to see the world now no longer want to view it’s wonders, for they have seen enough. And know what hides in the dark. Yet, still I sit, fighting against the sleep that entices me with release. For it is an empty promise. There is no comfort to be found behind closed eyes. A momentary escape perhaps, but that is all, and that too demands a price, one that my heart could not bare. So, my hair greys, my face ages and I sit. Sit in the wooden chair in the corner of my son’s room. Watching over him throughout the night. Keeping him safe. Safe from what I know to be also be waiting, there in the dark.
And unlike me, it’s eyes are always open. Continue reading
There is a path not far from where I live. To the uninitiated it is by all accounts, a path like any other. It’s flank is lined by trees, which though bare in winter, bloom greatly in the spring, locking overhead to create a canopy from which one can take shade from the sun. The route of three miles or so follows the river Nene, which itself runs from Northampton through to Peterborough before branching out to the nearby town of Wellingborough, On summer days it is indeed a pleasant walk, but we are not passing through those months at present, and it is the winter days, and more particularly nights that concern me here. For it is during these times that the path draws me.
To understand it’s power I must go back a little. Twelve years in fact. A time when I was renting a small one bedroomed house a stones throw away from the Peterborough city centrer. The house itself has little baring on this story, only to say it was located in a small cul-de-sac in which 6 flats were situated at the entrance, with my house and one other at the rear. The two houses were joined and the builders of the properties, wanting to save money, had skimped on materials. The plumbing and heating was inadequate and the walls, made from plasterboard, were paper thin. One could hear just about every word that passed between their neighbour if they so wished just by pressing an ear to the wall. The rest of the time brought a muffled background noise consisting of television noise and footsteps on stairs. Quiet was not an option. Continue reading
I recently offered to help friend of mine deliver some Thomson Direct books. They, in what I can only surmise as a moment of madness, took the job of posting some 3000 books through doors up and down the city in exchange for payment, and I owed them a favour, so why not?
How hard can it be right? Exactly.
Yet, it has caused me sleepless nights. I’m to deliver the books this Saturday. I shall be working during the day, the sun will hopefully be shining and it may even be fun. But, for all this, the thought of doing it is causing me some concern. And here’s why. Continue reading
Some of you may have seen me write about a number of re-occurring dreams that I have had. Some may have not. For the latter, know this: One such dream involves a dark haired woman who has frequented my sleeping worlds on and off for a great many years. To this day, I have no knowledge of her name, whether she actually exists or is just a phantom of my imagination. Only that she haunts me, and that we have a shared bond. We are connected in some way. Today, she made her presence know once more… Continue reading
Great Yarmouth, a town thirsty for miracles. Thriving in the sixties it had drank deeply, gorging its self on new home owners and holiday camps, but now, just six years into a new decade, it’s glamour was fading. And quickly. The home owners had moved, the camps closed; unemployment was rising and the town was only spoke of by those who wanted to leave it. Perhaps, it was precisely because of this that events like the circus were so popular. That people needed a bit of colour to brighten lives darkened by lay-offs and power cuts. That they, like the town had pallets dry and looked for something to quench their appetites. The carnivals sensed such desperation and even with the summer season over, some still endeavoured to travel to the sea-side town. If not to make a fortune, to at least ease the harshness of winter trade, and so it was that the people of Keruul loaded their wares and stowed their animals, and made their way eastwards. Just as eager for custom as the townsfolk were to slake their thirst.
I spent new years eve re-watching the 1973 film ‘The Legend Of Hell House’. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a haunted house picture based on a novel by Richard Matheson (Incredible Shrinking Man, Twilight Zone.. Etc), which is in turn based on the classic ‘The Haunting Of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson, which was brought to the screen as ‘The Haunting. LEGEND is a great spooky film. Lots of lingering shadows and empty corridors and fog filled exteriors with great performances from Roddy McDowell and Pamela Franklin, a wonderful actress who never really achieved the fame and recognition she deserved.
Anyway, watching it made me think about ghosts, spirits and all other manner of supernatural occurrences. Mainly, ones that I have experienced first hand. Funnily enough, I had one such ghostly encounter but days ago, which I shall recount later, but for now, allow me to express my thoughts and views on what is commonly referred to as ‘ghosts’. What they are and why we see them. I do, of course, have no evidence to back up my observations or theories, but that’s half the fun of theorizing. With that in mind, first let me begin with some examples of strange occurrences I have bore witness to. Do you have a cuppa? Yes? Good. Here we go then. Continue reading