By Jake Kale
At the Kingsland Facade the 5A bus turns right and drives up, down and along several long roads, each one hauntingly familiar. These are our old stomping crowds, and here the memories come thick and fast, a blitz of imagery too fleeting to fully appreciate. The bus drives down Kinder Lane, and I actually catch a glimpse of the Northcott’s house—the tall hedges, the ancient wooden gate, the perennially drawn curtains. For all I know the Northcott’s are both dead by now, but still an atmosphere of desolation lingers over that house, exposing a hollowness in my own soul so conspicuous that I want to cry. Not far from here four childhoods were abruptly cut short, and three families were left in limbo.
Maybe I’m letting my emotions get the better of me. A perfectly understandable reaction given the nature and source of my fear, but it would certainly be advisable to try to compose myself. My journey is far from over, and more disturbing memories lie ahead.
I might feel happier if I wasn’t so alone. I had always planned to make this journey by myself, but I had not counted on the company of strangers being as sparse. Other than myself there is only one passenger—an elderly man sat at the front of the bus. There were only four of us to begin with, and two of those disembarked at the Facade. Nobody else has boarded since we left Monks Park and I’ve seen very few pedestrians on the way to Kingsland. By the time we turn into Easton Avenue I’m the only passenger on the bus.
I remember Easton Avenue well. It ascends a long, sloping rise, ultimately leading to the new housing development at Sunset Hill—I say “new”, but it must be ten years old by now. Before that it crosses Kenlis Road, and my old middle school is located along the western portion of the road. It is quite a distance, and I used to despise that backbreaking walk every morning. The traffic is light, and I realize I haven’t seen a single person in the street since leaving the Facade. Looking to my left out the window I notice the houses falling into progressively worse states of disrepair the further the bus climbs. I turn to look out over the right aisle, and the view is mirrored there—shabby council houses facing patchy, cluttered lawns.
I’m sure this part of town hadn’t been so neglected when I was a child. I know it’s probably just my imagination, but I can’t shake the idea that the tragedy that took place here all those years ago has radiated out to affect the surrounding area. That the evil that caused it is slowly sucking the life from Kingsland just as it did to my friends. And I can’t shake the thought that this is my fault, that this dereliction is the result of that evil reaching for the one child that escaped it.
And I know that, as much as I might want to, I can’t turn back now.
* * *
In the end, Elly and the others had convinced me to go with them. I didn’t agree to go because I wanted a MegaDrive—although I got one, oddly enough. I agreed to go because I was worried they wouldn’t come back and I didn’t want to lose them. I wasn’t a particularly sociable or outgoing child and had real difficulty making new friends, and I knew school would be an even lonelier, more miserable experience without them.
Elly had in mind to leave that Saturday afternoon, but Ricky persuaded him that Monday morning would be a better choice, since our parents wouldn’t be expecting us till tea time so we’d have more of a head start. Ian pointed out that the school might call our parents when we didn’t turn up, but Elly liked the idea of bunking off school so we agreed to go then. Of course that meant that I couldn’t take my dog, but I’d decided not to do that anyway—I wanted to leave my Mum something to remember me by. I was deeply uneasy about this idea, and it didn’t help that I had a terrifying dream that night. My memory of the dream is indistinct now, but I know I was in some cold, dark place and I was alone. I woke up Sunday morning feeling sick to my stomach, and I couldn’t shake the thought that none of us would be coming back.
On Monday morning I packed my school bag with a change of clothes and some crisps and yogurts I’d nabbed from the kitchen, hiding my school books under my bed. I still felt sick with guilt as well as fear, and I hardly touched my breakfast. I was sure Mum noticed something was wrong—she would later confirm that she had. I left as normal at 8:30, expecting to never return. I’d left Mum a note on my pillow, telling her I was sorry and I loved her. Oddly enough, she didn’t find that note till I got back.
I met up with Ricky at his parent’s house as usual and together we went to find Elly and Ian. We spotted them on Easton Avenue on the way to Kenlis Middle School, and the four of us made our way to the top of the road as normal. When we got there we turned right, away from the school and towards the rural outskirts of Cranford. They were decidedly rural then as well, no indication of the extensive housing development and shopping district that were to colonize the area within the next few years. Just a few short side roads marked the onset of civilization, and while taking a shortcut through one of them we spotted a milk float and stole two big bottles of lemonade from it. Elly also nicked a couple of bottles of milk, only to hurl them up into the air as we ran from the cursing milkman. We laughed hysterically at the incomprehensible Glaswegian tirade coming from behind us, and I must admit that my fears were calming a little, and I was beginning to get into the spirit of this adventure.
However, that lasted only as long as it took for me to see which route we would be taking—right through Kingsland Cemetery. I knew Elly must’ve had planned this just to freak me out, but I kept my mouth shut as we scrambled over the short wall and out of the tall hedges that bordered the old graveyard. Doing my best to control my fear I followed Elly as he weaved around headstones, and it didn’t matter that it was broad daylight, or what passed for daylight in autumn Cranford, that place was spooky. It was so quiet and still and empty. “Peaceful,” was how my Mum would later describe it when she visited my grandparents graves. I wouldn’t know about that—I’ve never been back. Elly led us up to a low hill lined with trees, past a small fenced-off children’s section—that was a particularly heartrending sight, all those tiny graves lovingly decorated with toys, dolls and flowers—and into some bushes so we could change into our regular clothes. Suddenly Ricky stopped and looked back down the hill. “Ain’t Micky Wilcox buried up here?” he asked.
“I think so,” Elly replied. Micky Wilcox was a teenager who was brutally murdered maybe five years before after he stumbled across a local shopkeeper in the arms of someone who was neither his wife nor female. Micky apparently threatened to tell the man’s wife and the man decided to stop him. I’d known Micky vaguely—his mum had been friends with mine, and my Mum had gone with her to the trial. She’d seen photos of the body there and had mentioned on more than one occasion how terrible he’d looked in those pictures—his injuries were so severe they hadn’t been able to have a proper viewing. Micky’s murderer was convicted of manslaughter and served just eight years, and Mrs. Wilcox swore she’d kill him when he got out, but she never got the chance—she’d died of cancer just three years later. The shop where the killer had lived had only occasionally been occupied afterwards and never for very long, and was almost burned to the ground in an arson attack. A couple of its former tenants claimed it was haunted, saying things used to move around in the cellar during the night, and I’ll always remember my Mum relating during the trial how one night she’d seen Micky’s face looming over her as she lay in bed. A medium told her and Mrs. Wilcox he’d come to say goodbye, though why he chose to visit her rather than his own mother she didn’t explain.
Making our way into the trees we opened our school bags and started changing into our normal clothes. I was grateful for that at least, as I hated wearing that uniform and often said so. Ian agreed with me. “I’m never wearing this again,” he said as he threw off his blazer. If only he’d known how portentous that comment would prove to be.
I turned my back on the others self-consciously as I changed into my T-shirt, keeping an eye out for mourners. “So where are we gonna stay?” I asked.
Elly was leaning against a tree as he pulled on his track suit bottoms. “I was thinking about that old barn near the pond.”
The “barn” he was referring to was a large, dilapidated stone building right in the centre of the Fields, the ring of trees surrounding it so extensive you might as well have called it a wood. While we referred to it as “the barn” we had no idea what it might actually have been used for, just that it must have been there for a long time, a couple of centuries at least. I had thought Elly might suggest staying there and it was an idea, but there was one major problem with the barn, as Ricky immediately pointed out. “It’s got no front!” he said, and he was right—as you walked up the path to the barn and the small pond beyond it the entire wall was missing, giving a clear view of the empty interior. Judging by the brick edges tall wooden doors once closed off that side of the building, but there was no trace of them now. If we needed to hide the barn would not be a good choice.
Ian didn’t appear to be too concerned about that. “So what? It’s got a roof, hasn’t it?”
Elly nodded. “’Xactly. It’s perfect.”
“I don’t care where we stay, as long as it ain’t here,” I said as tied up the laces on my trainers. Just thinking about Micky Wilcox and the creepy goings-on that had occurred during his killer’s trial had well and truly put the wind up me. I packed my uniform away, not bothering to fold it up, then I zipped my bag and stood. All the others were ready, and I was about to join them when I noticed Elly looking at me oddly. “What?” I said, but even as I said it I realized Elly was not looking at me—he was looking past me. I saw his eyes widen, and I was just about to turn around to see what he was looking at when he shouted.
With that he turned and sprinted out of the trees, running down the hill and through the headstones, Ian and Ricky following quickly after him. I started running too, and I had no idea what I was running from but I didn’t dare look back. Whatever was behind me was enough to scare Elly, and nothing ever scared Elly, so I knew I had to get out of there. But my friends were so much faster than me and I struggled to keep pace. I saw that I was falling behind and croaked, “Wait!” but they continued to pull away from me and probably didn’t even hear me. I lost sight of them long before I huffed my way to the other side of the cemetery, where it joined onto the Fields. I could feel the unseen presence at my back and it spurred me on despite my poor conditioning, and I struggled through the tall hedgerows and over the low brick wall into the overgrown grass of the old golf-course, and I managed to get another ten feet further before I had to stop to catch my breath.
There I did look back, expecting whatever had chased us to spring from the hedges at me. The hedges remained still, not even rustling from my passage through them just seconds ago, but before I could feel relief or even fully recover I realized I was alone, and some distance from an inhabited area. I scanned the hill around me, my panic rising, tears escaping from my eyes. I was alone! My friends were gone and I was alone!
The Treehouse by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.