Beedingwood

Mick squeezed through the chained and pad locked gates as the rain turned heavy. Rise To Remain sung through the noise cancelling headphones, blocking out the vibrations of the fence. Pulling the stolen rain coat’s hood further down, he clicked on the torch. The beam of light circled on the overgrown road.

Thick branches from a dead tree lay snapped in the tall grass and weeds. The sudden image of himself and Rohan collecting them appeared. It hadn’t been raining that night and the wood had all been dry. Mick shone the torch upwards and the light darted up the trunk of the tree in question.

Aaron appeared balanced in the branches. He’d been cutting through the limbs with a small saw when Rohan and Mick had arrived. He had explained Sam and Ty- who was sort of their leader-were trying to get a fire going. Mick could dimly recall the sounds of the sawing and the dead tree snapping. Aaron had climbed down afterwards and collected an arm full of sticks before they had headed back with their loads.

He dropped the torch back to the overgrown road. There was no point in gathering the rest of the wood, it was far too wet. Hoping there might be some dry sticks still left over, Mick started on the road. The faces of his friends seemed to join him as he scrambled through the dripping foliage. Rohan with his bright red hair in a stubby ponytail, was the shortest of the group. He also had a pinkie finger missing on his left hand and was colour blind. What had he been wearing that night? It had properly been black or dark coloured like the rest of the Goth gang wore.

Aaron, trailing behind them, was the strongest and the tallest. He went to the gym and took steroids out of habit and addiction. His dyed black hair was the shortest and he spoke very little. His boots and ripped jeans had been covered in mud. Though he wouldn’t say where he’d been and it had seemed too dry for so much wet dirt.

The road went upwards and Mick followed it, banishing his friends from his mind. A few minutes later, he stopped to catch his breath and look around. He was standing at what seemed to be the top of a large hill in a field. The road headed to his right and climbed another hill. The bushes and trees stretched out on either side as far as he could see. He shook out the rain coat, which was doing a great job of stopping the rain soaking him. However, he really was starting to feel cold and wet. It couldn’t be much further now, could it?

He moved off again and System of a Down came on his IPod and through the headphones. It was hard going on the slippery grass, but under them small stones gave his boots some stability. His torch light shook across the ground and he was finding it hard to catch his breath. He stopped on the decline and forced his breathing to steady. Opening his eyes, he stared through the growing darkness and sheet rain to see the outline of a massive structure a few feet ahead of him. System started to fade and the IPod shuffled another of their songs on.

The road met a widening driveway, which was divided by another pair of gates, half hidden under ivy. One of the gates was open slightly because the hinges were broken. Mick stepped through and gazed up at the building now in his sight. Once it had been a glorious early Victorian mansion, but now it had been left to rot. The white paint covering the roman columns had peeled away. Ivy and other climbing plants had wrapped themselves around everything. A handful of ground floor windows had been boarded up and the others were either missing or broken. An eerie atmosphere hung over the place as if it was a dead body.

Forcing away his fears, Mick walked up to the front doors just as he had done a week before. His light hit an orange glob on the floor and he aimed the torch down. Sat by the right side door, a rotting pumpkin had sunken in on itself and collapsed. He recoiled at the sight and pushed against the other door. In a flash, he could see the Jack O’ Lantern grinning at him. The candle inside had been casting burning welcoming light on to his face.

The door gave way with a loud shuddering groan and Mick, hurrying inside, pushed it shut again. Iron Maiden’s Chains of Misery echoed through the headphones, filling his head with calming notes. The foul air of the house flooded his nose with each desperate breath he drew. He still couldn’t put his finger on all the different scents that rose within the thick dust. Waving the beam of light, he ordinated himself and crept into the first room to his left.

Alongside the music in his ears, he could hear Ty’s voice telling him and the others about that room. It had originally been a guest waiting room in the mansion and had stayed that way when the house had become a school and home for mentally and physically disabled children. Mick shone his torch about. There were two long sofas and a small table set before a fireplace. This was where it had all began.

He went over to the fireplace, which contained a heap of ashes and bits of burnt wood. Off to the side was a pile of sticks, logs, newspapers and a match box. Thanking his luck, Mike began to build a fire, recalling as he did so Ty and Sam building one as he and the other two had arrived. Sam had been scrunching up balls of newspaper mismatched painted finger nails. His multi-coloured hair covered his face and his glasses were sliding off his nose. Ty had been lighting candles, his leather jacket clinking with all the metal elements adoring it. His spiked up Mohawk seemed to dominate the room and his piercing purple eyes had fixed onto them as they entered.

Removing the coat, Mick also slipped the headphones off and let the last few moments of Maiden echo in the room. He struck a match and set a ball of newspaper a lit before dropping it into a circle of more paper and wood. The flames took and licked around the wood hungrily. The fire cracked and sparked, adding its own sound track to the beginnings of a Disturbed song, which Mick only half recognize.

As he feed and watched the fire, his thoughts swirled back again. He had lied to his parents and the police, telling them he was at a Halloween night out with his friends in Liverpool. He had gotten drunk and couldn’t remember much of the latter part or what his friends had been up to. Truthfully though, he knew all the details with an odd clarity.

Mick poked a long stick into the fire, stirring it up a little, which caused the fire to hiss. They had gathered here, in this place that Ty had called his second home and had been his escaped from foster parents. They had drunk straight vodka, JD, cider and Morgan’s, had talked girls, music, movies, life, had laughed and shouted over ghost stories. Then Ty had offered around some tablets. Taking them, they had left to hit their favourite night clubs and bars. More drinks and loud music had flowed, washing together and creating a never ending night.

They had ended back here with some girls. Rolling around on the sleeping bags covered floor and the creaking springs of the sofas. Sweaty bodies shimmered in candle light, gasps and delightful cries had roamed through the room, black lipstick had coated skin and bite marks had been left behind. He couldn’t remember the girls’ names, or what they looked like clearly as it seemed they had been a reflection of themselves. Laying there, in a tangle of naked skin and displaced dust, Mick remembered one of the girls’ asking the name of the house.

Beedingwood, Ty had replied then in a smoke haze had told tales of the manor house and the school. They had listened, hooked to the horse voice as they smoked and drank. Mick tried to recall one of the stories but couldn’t. They had all sounded so legendary and mysterious. Afterwards, Ty had offered them another hit and there had been more sex. Sleep had come, restless and hot. Mick had woken from it with the soft voices of the girls in his ears. They were dressing and leaving. He lay still, listening to them until the doors had shut and their voices had faded with the remains of the night.

It was then that all the trouble had started. Mick had woken, struggling into his clothes and boots before going to relief himself. Coming back, he’d found most of the others awake with only Aaron still wrapped up in a sleeping bag. They had tried to wake him, but he wouldn’t budge. Mick had shook him and noticed his chest wasn’t moving. He had stuck a hand over Aaron’s mouth and nose and felt no breath tickling his skin. Cautiously, he had called Ty over, who confirmed his findings. Together, they had come up with a plan and they had carried Aaron out of there in a sleeping bag. They headed to his house, carefully sticking to side routes and avoiding everyone. Somehow, they had made it and arranged Aaron in his bed.

Ty had given them further instructions and gone over all the possibilities as they had left and headed separate ways. His predications had come true and the next day there police at their doors, announcing Aaron’s death and questioning them. They had all stuck to the story Ty had told them, which beside from Beedingwood, the drugs and the girls, was the truth.

Mick threw some more wood on to the fire and looked across at the sofa Aaron had died on. He couldn’t help wondering if his spirit was now trapped here, like the other ghosts Ty had talked about. Though, he didn’t really believe in ghosts or an afterlife. The police had now concluded their case as an accidently overdose via a drug and alcohol cocktail. The gang had never been to blame, but Mick knew he’d feel haunted by it for the rest of his life.

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The Soldier’s Piano

 

russian

Boris was walking through deep woods with his troop when something strange caught his eye. He paused and aimed his rifle automatically. As his eyes adjusted to the distance, he thought it was a piece of furniture. He lowered the weapon and cast a look at the back of the soldier ahead of him. Private Coss was disappearing behind a tree, a stripe of cigarette smoke drifting behind him.

Lowering his gun even more, Boris slowly moved a few paces. He knew he should really be following Coss or else he should have pointed out the object. It was probably nothing, but back up was always useful. The enemy hadn’t seen or heard from in days. The rumour was that they had retreated back to the boarder. However, patrols like Boris’ still went out daily.

He carried on cautiously. His heavy and mud splattered boots crunching loudly on leaves and sticks. As he got closer, he saw it was a straight back piano. He stopped and shouldered the rifle. He turned and began stepping away. There was no threat from a musical instrument.

I wonder how it got there?

The thought caught him off guard and he twisted around. The piano stood silently with a small bird perched on top of it, which watched Boris curiously. Rearranging his gun, he marched up to the piano. The dark wood looked freshly varnished, but it was already showing signs of being exposed to the elements. As the bird took flight, Boris wandered around the piano and saw that there was no one hiding on the other side.

He strolled around again and slid the cover off the keys. They looked intact, just like the rest of the instrument. He doubt it would work or even been in tune. He chuckled and pulled up the rifle’s strap. He stretched out cold fingers and hovered them over some keys. It felt like a life time since he’d played.

He brought his fingers down and they struck the keys loudly. He jumped back, his heart racing at the sudden blast of sound in the quiet woods. Clutching his rifle, Boris looked around. A flock of birds had taken flight and were circling the sky. They called out to each other and then flapped out of sight. Running footsteps and hushed voices came from behind him and Boris readied the gun. From out of the tree line came Private Coss. His gun was in firing position. As they saw each other, they lowered their weapons.

‘What was that?’ Coss said in a low voice.

‘The piano,’ Boris replied, nodding towards it.

Another two men, who Boris recognised as Privates Ivchenko and Pokrovsky joined them. They scouted the area, moving in out of the trees like alert deer. The vibrations of the notes faded and Boris turned back to the piano. This time he touched the keys more slowly and gently. They played their softer notes and in perfect tune.

‘What’s it doing here?’ Coss asked coming to his side.

‘No idea. Must have been dumped,’ Boris answered.

He looked over the top, trying to see a house or smoke or car tracks in the mud. He saw nothing but trees and undisturbed ground. Somehow, he knew it hadn’t been there very long, but it was a mystery to how and why it had ended up here.

‘What’s that?’ a deep voice spoke from behind them.

‘A piano,’ Coss explained, with a glance over his shoulder at Ivchenko.

Boris’s fingers were still playing across the keys. Notes rippled out of the piano forming a familiar song. He didn’t realise he was doing so until Coss grabbed his hand. Boris shot him an anger look and then followed Coss line of sight. A stag had appeared at the edge of the clearing. Boris’s breath caught in his throat, he’d never seen the animal up close. Beside him, Coss was grabbing his gun and resting it against the piano.

‘Don’t,’ Boris whispered.

‘Why not?’ Ivchenko rumbled.

He forced his way between them and balanced his gun as well.

‘What’s going on?’ Pokrovsky called. ‘Is it the enemy?’

‘No. It’s a mighty stag. Biggest I’ve ever seen!’ Ivchenko hissed.

‘Let’s take it down together,’ Coss cut in.

‘I said no!’ Boris shouted and he pounded the piano.

A blast of notes shot up in the air, backed by gun fire. However, the stag had startled at Boris’ voice and had already jumped off. The bullets sunk harmlessly into the trunks of trees, but the piano’s notes carried on with their warning sound.

Ivchenko swung his gun and threw the butt into Boris’s face.

‘What the fuck did you do that for?’ he yelled.

Boris stumbled backwards, a hand rising to the side of his face. Ivchenko went to hit him again, but Coss grabbed the muzzle of the gun. Pokrovsky stepped between them, facing Ivchenko with his arms spread.

‘Stop, stop!’ he cried.

Pressing a hand to his face, Boris spat blood. He watched it fall on a crumbled leaf and then turned back to the other soldiers. The notes had faded away and the natural sounds of the woods had returned. Boris rubbed his jaw; it felt numb and swollen already. He tongued the cut inside his cheek and spat more blood.

‘Let’s get back,’ Coss said calmly.

He lowered Ivchenko’s gun, letting go. Mumbling and swearing under his breath, Ivchenko went to shoulder his rifle, but suddenly he took aim and fired. The shot deafened them and caused Coss and Pokrovsky to move backwards.

Boris held his ground and looked down. He expected blood to blossom across the khaki uniform and pain to rocket through him. When nothing happened he raised his head and observed the piano. A massive chunk had been ripped out of the side. Bits of wood and string lay across the ground and there was a dull groaning vibration coming from the instrument as if the piano was dying.

Boris glanced at Ivchenko, catching the look of satisfaction across the soldier’s face as he shouldered his rifle and turned away.

The Writers’ Retreat

Freda sighed and looked at the blank screen of the laptop. Nothing was coming to her and all her notes were a helpless mess. Picking up the laptop, she went to the window box and plonked her large frame down. She had come to Grange Manor to write and escape. However, from the moment she had beheld the eighteenth century house from the taxi writers’ block had struck.

She wasn’t sure what had happened, but whenever she went to write something distracted her. She had been struggling with her latest novel as it was and with the deadline looming, coming to a writers’ retreat had sounded ideal. Sweeping back her black hair and pushing up her glasses, Freda connected the laptop to the Wi-Fi and waited for the internet to load. She thought about how she had first discovered the Manor and liked the idea that the now modernised house still clung to its past roots.

In her readings, Freda had found out that it had been a private family home for a hundred years. It had passed through a lot of hands as misfortune seemed to plague the generations and other families. It had then become a private school; first for boys, then for girls and then for women. Apparently, those times and the people had seen hardships and tragedies too. When the last school closed the house was saved from demolishment by an American business man. He sunk thousands into reinventing the Manor as an expensive hotel.

Freda had thought the history had ended there, but after arriving and settling in, she joined a tour group at the last minute. The tour included parts of the house that had been closed off and a wondered through the many acres of gardens. At the end she had talked to the tour guide and found out one of the Grange Manor’s dark secrets.

Sixty years after the grand opening of the hotel, the owner’s luck ran out. He was forced to sell the hotel to his competitor, instead of giving it to his children. Afterwards, in a deep depression, he hung himself in the attic. The current owners hadn’t bothered to change much, other than downgrading some rooms and offering more events to accommodating more people.

Freda had felt oddly saddened by this news. She had grown to understand that a lot of death, illness and unhappiness had happened within the Manor and a part of her had wanted a happy ending to come out of the place for a change.

She had never quite laid her finger on why she had become fascinated with the Manor. Freda had put it down to the writer in her and all the known and unknown stories that surround the place. Even now, she could recall a handful of them and each ended in heartbreak.

With the internet page almost loaded, she looked out of the window. A storm was taking its anger out on the moor. Heavy rain swept across in mighty waves, driven by the wind, whilst the clouds sparked and rumbled. Light pouring from the manor house made it stand out like a lighthouse in a black sea. Freda suddenly felt like all the days had swept into one and it seemed she was replaying this single day over and over.

The page loaded, she stared, then closed it. Clicking open a blank page, she took a deep breath and begin typing. Without thinking, she let the words flow and didn’t pause to read or edit.  Minutes later, she stopped and with the storm still raging outside, she read the first words on the screen:

Bethany Halls’ scream ring out from the third floor. She had her hands pressed to her cheeks and was staring down over the banister, right to the ground floor hallway. Laying there in a tangled heap of limbs and blood was Miss Branes, the school’s music mistress. She was clearly dead.

Postcard #2

girl in hat

pcs2

Empty Door

surreal door to nowhere spotted in the Alps

Mish saw the door when he reached the top of the mountain. Catching his breath, he shrugged off his rucksack and sat on a rocky ledge. The half open door, he noticed, was standing in a frame which had been strapped in place by rotting ropes. Wondering why it was there, he pulled out a bottle of water and chugged it down. The cold liquid felt good on his parched throat and he felt a little better. Screwing the lid back on, Mish wiped his lips, then swept away strands of his long black hair.

With his breathing steadying, he took stock of the view. The German Alps stretched in all directions with their ragged tops cutting into the sky. Banks of grey clouds charged above them as if to stop their attack. A lazy breeze was waving the short grass, causing a constant change of colour. Foreign bird songs repeated themselves in the distance and the door stood out like a broken window.

Mish went to inspect it. He pushed the door fully open without a problem or a sound. The view captured within the frame was breath taking. The mountain slopped bumpily and dipped out of view as the next peak rose up, with another range shadowed behind. They reminded Mish of ocean waves. He took a hold of the latch handle, which was the only thing on the door, and pulled it shut. He faced the weathered wood for a few moments and then opened the door again. The view hadn’t changed.

He searched the ground, but couldn’t see the remains of a house. Someone had put the door frame here deliberately. Probably an artist or a photographer, he thought. Mish closed the door and put the latch down. He walked to the other side, careful of the loose stones and stood in front of it. This side looks the same, he decided. He lifted the latch and released the door.

A different view was now before him. He recognised it from the glances over his shoulder as he’d walked here. The dirt track he had followed faded away around a curve going downwards. Other peaks towered up alongside and with the low clouds blocked the way. Mish eased the door to and walked back to his rucksack. Putting it on, he set off following the track once more. However, as he looked back he saw that the door had disappeared.