The Treehouse – Chapter VI

By Jake Kale

My journey has reached its conclusion. I stand at the end of the gravel pathway, deep within the dark grove at the heart of the old golf course, the derelict barn behind me, the stinking, putrid pond visible through the bushes ahead and to my right, my gaze raised and centered on the tall oak tree that still stands in front of me.

There is no sign of the treehouse.

*          *          *

My recall of what happened after I ran from the Fields is disjointed and hazy. I know I made it to Abbeyville, and I sat crying in the road until a kindly old woman stopped to ask what was wrong. She couldn’t get any sense out of me—hardly surprising, really—and the police were called. If I remember rightly they had to identify me by checking with the local schools because I’d left my schoolbooks at home and had nothing on me with my name on it. I was delivered back into the arms of my frantic mother later that afternoon.

The police immediately began a full-scale search for my missing friends, centering on the Fields but extending all the way up to Sunset Hill. Unfortunately I was of no use whatsoever. I’d been so badly scared I couldn’t talk, and I didn’t speak a word until almost a month later. Even then I couldn’t bring myself to tell the patient WPC what I’d seen, what had really happened to my friends—I thought they’d lock me away in the nuthouse. The police continued their investigation as best they could, and a suspect was even questioned, a drunk who frequently dossed in the Fields and who was suspected of being a flasher. But the police had little evidence to begin with, and nothing that pointed directly to him. Just days after being released the drunk turned up dead, his brutalized liver having finally given out on him. With his death the investigation stalled, and was quietly wound down.

No trace of Henry Eallis, Ricky Northcott or Ian Farmer was ever found.

I never went back to Kenlis Middle School, and within weeks my Mum had finagled the exchange with the family in Arrowhead. How she managed it given the circumstances I don’t know. Her bosses at Rosewoods Supermarket were very understanding. They owned several other supermarkets in Cranford and found a place for Mum at the one in the town centre. I know she was sad to leave Kingsland as my grandparents lived just round the corner from us, which had come in very handy when I was at lower school, but she knew I’d never feel safe there so off we went.

At Arrowhead we struggled to rebuild our lives. Mum acclimatised herself to the daily drive into town, while I started receiving counselling. My recovery was arduous, but one side effect of the trauma I’d experienced was that for a while I didn’t eat, so I began to lose weight. I started at Arrowhead Middle School the following year, and school life was not easy by any stretch, especially when my fellow students found out who I was. At one stage things got so bad we considered leaving Cranford altogether, but luckily I made some new friends and slowly my life improved. I bucked my ideas up and concentrated on my schoolwork, concentrated on beating my weight problem and started building a life for myself, and as the years slipped away I tried to forget about Kingsland, I tried to forget about what happened, and I tried to forget that I’d ever known Henry Eallis, Ricky Northcott and Ian Farmer.

For the better part of the last sixteen years, I was successful.

The trigger that brought it all back and prompted my return to the Fields occurred a little over a month ago. I got in from work to find my girlfriend waiting for in what can only be described as a state of cautious and barely contained jubilation. Before I got the chance to open my mouth she broke down, and amidst the teary babbling I just made out the word, “pregnant.” I’ll tell you in full candour that that was the single happiest moment of my entire damn life! The weeks since then have been a blur. The baby is due February next year, and we’re getting married next Saturday. I would have preferred to wait and actually plan everything properly, and I even suggested a Christmas wedding, but Charlie wants to do it before her bump begins to show.

The other night we were discussing baby names, and Charlie suggested “Henry” for a boy and “Ellie” if it’s a girl. She knows about my past—or at least she knows what I’ve told her—and she knew that the anniversary was coming up. She thought that’s what I’d want, but just hearing our future child mentioned in the same breath as my old friend, and the hint of a connection between them made me extremely uneasy. So I declined Charlie’s suggestion, but I didn’t tell her why. I didn’t tell her because I’ve never told anyone, and I never will. And I certainly don’t want my child to ever know about the evil lurking within the Kingsland Fields. But in order to be certain of that I knew I had to confront it.

That’s why I’ve come here today, on the sixteenth anniversary of my friends’ deaths, to lay the past to rest for good. But I can’t do that because there’s nothing here. The treehouse is gone, it’s as if it was never here, and now I can’t be sure that it ever was. So I’m left to wonder about those last few moments between the deaths of my friends and my terror-stricken run to Abbeyville, when I realized there was no way I could outrun the thing from the treehouse, so I stopped and dove into the bushes near the barn, the very bushes I’m staring at right now, and waited.

And watched.

And saw movement coming from inside the shadowy doorway, and a figure emerge and start to climb down the rope ladder to the base of the tree and stand right were I’d been just a few seconds before. And I watched as the figure started walking away from the tree and towards my hiding place, and I sat rigid, my mouth tightly closed, only my eyes moving as they followed what looked like a large man in a grubby brown shirt moving up the path and stopping just a few feet from the bushes where I waited to die. He was looking away from me so I couldn’t see his face, just a patchy covering of coarse black hair on the back of his head, and I realized he hadn’t seen me. I waited a little longer and the figure moved away, vanishing around the other side of the barn, and once I was satisfied he was gone I began my senseless, terrified run through the Fields to Abbeyville, certain that he, no, it would spot me, the muscles in my arms and legs pushed to breaking point, my lungs heaving loudly, but not loudly enough to drown out the still fresh memory of the screams of my friends, and the throaty clicking sound I heard when those four glistening black mandibles opened, their hooked ends poking out from the side of that monstrous thing’s head.

Chapter V

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The Treehouse by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Treehouse – Chapter V

By Jake Kale

Having circumnavigated Kingsland Cemetery without incident—and still without sight of a single local—I find myself walking on the withered grass of the overgrown golf course where I’d spent a huge portion of my youth for the first time in sixteen long, tortuous years. Oddly, setting foot in here has not provoked a reaction anything like what I’d felt at the cemetery gates. I can’t decide if that’s a good sign or not.

I look down over the rolling hills and scattered groves of woodland, and the view is both familiar and subtly altered. Such an impression might be expected of someone returning to a place they had not visited in years, and maybe it’s the result of the muted light on this typically dreary Cranford day, but to my eyes the grass appears greyish and sickly, and the distant trees seem to have lost their lustre. Perhaps it was always that way, perhaps nostalgia accentuated colours to match my previously fond feelings of this place. But I think of the houses in Easton Avenue, and the fact that signs of recent human activity have become rarer the closer I got to the Fields, and my paranoia begins to climb again. There has been a decay here, and whether it is the result of the otherworldly nightmare lurking in the centre of the Fields or not, I can no longer deny that it is real.

I can’t turn back now. I’ve told myself that over and over again on this journey, convincing myself that it was true so that I wouldn’t turn around and leave Cranford for good. But now it is true—I can’t turn back. I’m more afraid than I’ve been since that day, yet at the same time I experience a total acceptance of my fate that allows my to make this final journey down the slope, the exact route I took when my friends were chasing me, when I thought I was running for my life. Little did I know that we were all heading unthinkingly towards death.

I reach level ground and ahead of me I see the narrow stream leading into the large grove of trees that marks the centre of the Fields, the edge of the barn just visible within.

*          *          *

We’d reached our destination—the long gravel path leading into the grove lay in front of us, the old barn with its missing left wall partly obscured by trees but still visible. We made our way up the path to look inside. The barn was empty as always, just a scant carpet of what I assumed was hay covering the floor, the remains of ancient wooden beams dotted here and there. The cracked ceiling hung high above us, vaguely discernible shafts of light attempting to penetrate the gloom. I inhaled and wrinkled my nose. The barn smelt musty and dank, and was probably crawling with bugs.

And this was supposed to be our home for the next few days.

I still felt deeply unsettled. The chase through the northern ridge of the Fields might have been nothing more than a cruel practical joke, but I still detected an undercurrent to this place, one that was particularly strong here. It was as if the presence I thought I’d felt was in fact real.

And observing us even now.

Next to me Ricky sniffed, and verbalized my first thoughts about the barn in his own inimitable style. “It fuckin’ stinks!”

“It’s not that bad,” Elly said.

“Just ’cos you’re used to it,” Ricky sniggered, and Elly thumped his arm hard.

“So, what do we do now?” I asked.

Elly thought about it. “We could have something to eat,” he suggested finally.

“Good idea. Kevin’s looking a bit thin,” Ian said. I ignored him.

Elly made his way into the barn, Ian following after him. Ricky and I exchanged a glance, and looking past him I saw something I’d never noticed before. At the end of the path stood the tall, thick trunk of an oak tree, and nestled within its branches I saw a conspicuously angular shape.

It looked like a treehouse.

Ricky noticed I wasn’t looking at him—he probably thought I was about to pull the same stunt Elly had in the cemetery. Regardless, he turned to follow my line of sight, with predictable results. “Fuckin’ hell!” That drew the attention of Elly and Ian, who’d been sat on one of the decomposing beams rummaging through their schoolbags, and they came out to see what the fuss was about. The four of us ambled bewilderedly up to the oak tree, staring into the branches above us at this strange new feature we’d never detected before.

It was a simple box-shaped structure constructed from grey-green planks, with a single tall entrance and no windows, at least on this side. The roof was flat with no overhang, and an extension of maybe a couple of feet jutted out from the floor in front of the doorway. The interior was thickly shadowed. It looked like a garden shed that someone had balanced within the branches of the oak tree. In a weird way it made me think of Monks Park Bus Station in town—its shape was very reminiscent of that bleak looking building.

Speaking for all of us, Ricky said, “I’ve never seen that before.” I could tell he was nervous too because he wasn’t swearing.

Elly said, “Someone must’ve just built it.”

Ricky shook his head slowly. “I dunno, it looks old.” He was right—it looked almost as old as the barn.

“Well, how come we’ve never seen it before?” Ian asked.

“We probably just didn’t notice it,” Ricky said, and Ian gave him a decidedly dubious look. I wasn’t too fond of Ian at that moment, but I certainly shared his appraisal. We’d been coming to this spot for years. The pond was just ahead and to our right, we’d fished for tadpoles there during previous summers, and I vividly remember the time myself and Elly tried to ride our bikes across it and they sunk right to the bottom, so that we couldn’t get them out. There was no way in all that time that we wouldn’t have noticed an old treehouse sat snugly in the oak tree at the end of the path!

“Why would they build a treehouse out here?” Ian said, and I wondered at the time who he thought “they” were.

“Maybe it belonged to whoever used to own the barn,” Ricky suggested.

I tuned their conversation out and looked over at Elly, and saw that he wasn’t listening either—he was looking up at the treehouse. I guessed what was coming next. “We could stay up there,” he said at last.

I was conscious of my mouth falling open as I craned my neck to stare at that odd little wooden shelter. Again I was reminded of the bus station, and I thought of the titular ghost said to roam the pathways underneath that building. The entrance to the treehouse seemed thoroughly uninviting.

“How’re we gonna get up there?” Ricky asked him.

“How d’ya think? We’ll climb up.”

I stared at him. “I can’t climb up there!”

Ian quipped, “You can stay down here then!”

I was getting so sick of his smartass comments that I finally broke my self-imposed swearing ban. “Piss off, Ian!” I snapped. He looked surprised, but didn’t stop smirking.

Ricky was too busy studying the treehouse to notice I’d joined him on the dark side. “It looks a bit fuckin’ rickety,” he said. Actually it looked like a small breeze would send it, and us, tumbling to the floor.

“That’s just ’cos it’s old,” Elly told him.

“Exactly!” I said, “It’ll probably fall to bits.”

“You mean it won’t take your weight!” Ian said.

That was the last straw—I’d well and truly had enough of Ian Farmer. It was probably his idea to play that trick on me earlier. I whirled on him and shouted, “I said, fuck off, Sambo!” I’d heard Mr. Northcott call him that, and I knew he hated it. The smirk disappeared and his eyes went wide. I’d crossed a line, but at the time I didn’t care.

Number ninety-eight on my list.

Elly had apparently had enough of both of us. “Oh, just shut up, you two!” Then to me, “Kevin, we can either stay here or go back to the barn. It’s up to you.”

I stared up at those dull grey beams, that murky, mysterious entrance, and silently cursed Elly for forcing me into this. Twice. All I wanted was to go home. “Alright, we’ll stay here!”

“That’s if you can get up there!” Ian said, but his tone didn’t sound particularly humorous this time.

“Ian, shut your fucking mouth!” Elly said, and Ian finally took the hint. Elly shook his head. “Right, you three can wait here, I’m gonna climb up there and have a look inside.”

Elly sauntered up to the trunk, and I wondered how he was going to do it on his own, but he obviously wasn’t in the mood to ask for help. Instead he reached up for a low branch, gripping the rough bark with his fingers, and tried to haul himself up. He misjudged his grip the first time and had to let go. Then he tried again and this time he managed to lift himself partway up so that he was hanging from the branch, his legs flailing against the tree as he struggled for purchase. I thought he was going to fall, but he managed to find a foothold and yanked himself up so that he was draped over the branch. He then turned awkwardly sideways to lay on top of the branch, and used the trunk to steady himself so he could stand. I worried that the branch wouldn’t take his weight, but it held firm. From that point Elly had little difficulty clambering up to the treehouse entrance, though I knew there was no way in hell I was going to get up there. Rather than risk pissing him off even more I kept my mouth shut and watched as Elly reached out and grasped the lip of the entrance, pulled himself over it and disappeared inside.

I stood with Ricky and Ian, waiting anxiously. We heard scuffling coming from the treehouse floorboards, then nothing for a while. I was about to shout up to Elly to see if he was alright when a muffled cry came from within. “It’s empty!” Half a second later Elly was grinning audaciously down at us, holding something in his hands. “Look what I found!” He let go and a long rope ladder unfurled, enough to reach to the ground with some to spare.

“Nice one!” Ricky said, and he ran over to it and started to climb up to the treehouse, somehow making a clumsier ascent than Elly had done without the aid of the ladder. Ian followed him, his weight helping to stabilize the swinging ropes so that Ricky’s climb was easier. I stayed where I was. My suspicion had been roused the second I saw Elly unroll that ladder, and alarm bells were ringing loudly now. This was all too easy, too convenient, and I swear in could feel that otherworldly presence from the cemetery so intensely I almost expected to turn and see it.

I knew we had to get the hell out of there.

“Elly, I really don’t think we should stay up there,” I shouted up to him.

“Why not?” Elly called back. “It’s OK, it’s strong, it’s probably been here for years.”

“’Cos I don’t like the look of it, alright?” I said.

“There’s nothing in here!” Elly replied, a slight edge creeping into his voice.

“What if whoever built it comes back?”

“There not gonna come back! They’re . . .” He didn’t finish, probably because he didn’t want to spook me any further, but I knew he was going to say, They’re probably dead by now.

Joining Ricky and Elly at the entrance, Ian said, “Oh, leave him out there.”

Ricky agreed. “Fuckin’ chicken,” I heard him say as he went inside.

But I ignored them and focused on Elly Eallis, my best friend since I was five years old, because I knew I had to convince him to come back down. But he was looking at me now with undisguised contempt, and I suddenly realized that all the times he’d stuck up for me against the taunts of the various bullies we’d encountered, including Ian and Ricky, deep down he had shared their opinion of me. He had actually thought all along that I was a useless, fat coward. He sighed and said, “Look, Kevin, either come up here, or fuck off home. You just better not tell anyone we’re up here.”

With that he turned away from me and went inside, and I heard Ian and Ricky ripping into me unchallenged. I stood pathetically staring up at the entrance of the treehouse, slowly beginning to appreciate that the longest and closest friendship I’d ever known had just come to an end.

Then something happened that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Inside the treehouse I heard Ian say, “What’s . . ?” but he didn’t finish, and instead his question turned into a long drawn-out scream of pure terror. I heard Elly yelling something, then Ian stopped screaming and I heard the sound of scuffling, followed by a loud, wet crack and the thump of something hitting the floor, and the treehouse began to shake violently and Ricky was sobbing, I couldn’t hear Ian or Elly anymore, just Ricky pleading desperately, and I stood unmoving at the foot of the tree, listening as my single surviving friend’s cries turned into screams, then cut off so suddenly it took my breath away. The treehouse stopped shaking and I heard the shifting of some ponderous object inside, and I knew it was the thing from the cemetery, the thing that had tracked me and my now dead friends through the Fields, and that it was going to come out to get me. So I turned and I ran, away from the treehouse, away from the barn, through the Fields and all the way to Abbeyville, not daring to look back.

Chapter IV ChapterVI

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The Treehouse by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Treehouse – Chapter IV

By Jake Kale

The bus turns left into Kenlis Road, and I have to ride a short distance down the road until it reaches the next stop. There I get off, and I consider going to have a look round my old school. But that would only be putting off the inevitable.

I start walking back towards Easton Avenue, then cross over as I make my way to the cemetery that I have steadfastly avoided my entire adult life. I don’t even bother to check for oncoming traffic—there is none. There are still no pedestrians, either. Despite the years separating my journeys to this place I manage to retrace the route we took with no difficulty. I can see a smattering of houses to the north. Sunset Hill. I notice those houses do not look as decrepit as the ones on Easton Avenue, and I feel a little better. Maybe the foreboding impression of decay was only in my head after all.

Then I reach the low wall of Kingsland Cemetery, and despite having the advantage of several inches over my younger self its hedgerows look every bit as imposing as they had that day. Here I deviate for my previous path and follow the wall until I reach the cemetery gates. There I stop. The gates are closed but not locked, and looking through them I see the graveyard is every bit as still and empty as it had been that day. “Peaceful,” my mother had called it. I would have said lifeless.

Just like this entire section of town.

I can’t do it—I can’t bring myself to go back in there. I know that worse is still to come, and that it might serve me well defy my fear and fortify my nerve. That this soulless place is just a precursor to the true horror I encountered that day and must confront on this one. But still I can’t go in there.

So I turn away and walk on, deciding to take the long route around the cemetery, and I hope my nerve holds long enough for me to do what I came here to do.

*          *          *

Standing amongst the unkempt grass on the northern slope of the Fields, I was on the verge of full-blown hysteria. I looked back and saw nothing following me, but whatever it was that Elly had seen could’ve been anywhere by now. I started to sob quietly, and I knew I would draw attention to myself but I couldn’t help it. I knew this was going to happen! I’d dreamed it Saturday night and now it had come true. My friends were gone, and soon I would join them in that dark, cold place.

Unless I got out of the Fields quickly.

But how? I couldn’t go back through the cemetery, but the only other options were to follow its outer wall until I came out at the very edge of Cranford or walk two miles south to Abbeyville. Two miles through wide, open fields surrounded by distant woods. It was a terrifying prospect, but I knew the further I got from that cemetery the happier I’d feel, so Abbeyville it was.

I started walking, keeping my eyes forward and moving at a hurried pace, and soon the tall grass gave way to scraggly greens carpeting low hills. I made my way between those hills, staying well clear of the thick, irregular thickets of trees that dotted the Fields, deliberately averting my eyes from them. Those were the same thickets I’d gleefully explored with my friends many times, and these were the same hills I’d ran through with Nobby, my loyal Labrador cross who I worried I might never see again. I suddenly wished I had brought him with me. He would have provided absolutely no protection, and probably would have bolted at the first sign of danger, but he would have company at least. The Fields where I’d spent so much of my young life, that had been a source of countless hours of care-free adventuring, had abruptly transformed into a remote, exposed and horribly threatening place. I knew that whatever had been terrifying enough to cause my friends to turn and run, and stealthy to take them without eliciting so much as a single cry for help, would have no trouble spotting and overpowering my plump, defenceless frame.

I found myself thinking about Micky Wilcox, about what his body must’ve looked like when they found him, and about the stories of moving furniture in the cellar of his murderer’s shop. About the vision my Mum had seen during said murderer’s trial. I wondered whether he’d really come to say goodbye, as that weird old woman had claimed, or if he’d actually come to warn her about what would someday happen to her own son. I thought of my Mum and fought back tears.

Somewhere to my left, I heard the swishing of foliage.

I went rigid, listening. There was a small grove of trees quite close by in that direction, and while I’d kept as far away from it as I could I knew I’d be visible to anything lurking within. I heard the faint whistle of cool air in my ears, and the distant sound of traffic. But no more rustling. I wondered if it was just the breeze, or maybe a fox—I knew there were foxes living out here, and badgers, too. But I couldn’t bring myself to look and see, and I was too scared to move. So I stood quietly for while, waiting, wondering. Seeing if I could sense that formless presence from the cemetery.

Nothing happened.

Finally I plucked up the courage to start moving again slowly, testing to see if whatever it was I’d heard would react. It didn’t, so I upped my pace slightly. Then a bit more. And as I put some distance between myself and that particular stand of trees I started to relax. The Fields sloped gently as I continued south, following the contour of Easton Avenue. The only sound I heard was the soft crunch of grass under my feet, and I’d almost convinced myself that the rustling really had been nothing more than the air flowing through the branches.

Then I heard it again.

Again I froze. It had been fainter than last time but I’d definitely heard it, coming from the same direction, and I knew no breeze had caused it this time. It had not come from a fox or a badger or any other natural source, either. It was the thing from the cemetery, it had to be, and it was following me. Playing with me.

Stalking me.

Then I heard more rustling, only now it was coming from a grove of trees on my right. I almost turned to look out of sheer surprise—it had somehow moved across the Fields without drawing my attention, without making a sound. Except when it wanted to.

And it was getting closer.

Then I heard another sound, the clear cracking of twigs underfoot, and I started to run again, as fast as I could, and I knew it wasn’t nearly fast enough, because if my friends couldn’t outrun that thing what chance did I have? I was slowing down too, I still hadn’t recovered from that flight through the cemetery. I was too bloody fat, too fat and useless, but soon it wouldn’t matter because I would be gone, just like my friends. I was so panic-stricken I wasn’t paying attention to where I was running, and my foot landed on a pine cone or something and I slid and tumbled sideways to the floor, landing on my left arm with a heavy thud. I rolled over, heaving strangled cries as I struggled to stand, and I managed to get up but nearly fell straight back down again, and I’d just steadied myself enough to attempt running again when I heard a voice calling, “Kev, where’re you going?”

I stopped mid-stride, unbelieving, but when I looked behind me there were my friends standing unharmed a few yards away, just to the side of some trees where they’d obviously been hiding, actually smiling at me. They’d been following me the whole time!

This was nothing but a sick joke!

“You, you sod, Elly!” I tried to scream at him, but it came out as more of a wheeze. Ian and Ricky creased up laughing, laughing at the terror they’d just put me through! And Elly, my best friend Elly was laughing with them!

“Sorry, Kev! It was just a joke!”

I’d never felt such humiliation and seething hatred in my life. I started walking back the way I came, striding right past them without so much as a glance, and I was so mad I was sweating. I’d had enough of my so-called friends—I was going home. I heard Elly calling after me, “Oh, Kev, come on! It was just a joke! Kevin, come back!”

“No!” I yelled without looking back. I didn’t want to look at them, I hoped I never saw any of them again. They all deserved to die out here.

But then Elly came running up to me, and I tried to keep going but he blocked my path. “Kevin, I’m sorry, OK? We were just messing you about. We won’t do it again, I promise.”

“Yeah, come on!” Ricky said as he jogged over to join us.

I didn’t know what to do. They both looked genuinely sorry, though I could still hear Ian sniggering behind me, and Elly shouted at him to shut up. I wanted to beat their brains in for what they’d just done, but I could see they felt guilty. “Come on, Kev. Please?” Elly said.

I stared at him hard, taking my time just to make him squirm. Then finally I said, “OK.”

Elly grinned broadly, and my anger lessened somewhat. Looking back, I wish I’d said no and kept going. Maybe they would have followed me back home and we all would have survived. Then again, they might just have gone on without me and I would never have known what happened to them.

Frankly, either of those options would have been better than seeing what I did.

Chapter III Chapter V

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The Treehouse by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Treehouse – Chapter III

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.

“Shit, run!”

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!

Chapter II Chapter IV

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The Treehouse by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Treehouse – Chapter II

By Jake Kale

I give up looking at the bays for the bus to Kingsland and ask at the information desk. A bearded man in a reflective jacket tells me I want the number 5 or 5A, leaving from bays B and D respectively. He tells me that the 5 stops at the Kingsland shopping area before continuing up Elwood Road, while the 5A goes all the way through central Kingsland and up to Sunset Hill, and advises me it would be cheaper for me to purchase a £2.50 day-saver ticket. I walk all the way back to the other end of the waiting area and take a pew as I wait for the 5A. I remember it used to be the 13. Unlucky for some. Unlucky for me.

As it is a Sunday I end up waiting forty-five minutes. The 5 arrives, and I toy with the idea of taking that bus to Kingsland and walking the rest of the way before it departs again. I may have conquered the weight problem that blighted my early adolescent life, but I’m still a lazy sod at heart. At last the 5A appears, and after waiting several minutes longer for its new driver to grace his few fares with his presence I board, pay for my day-saver and find a seat, steeling myself for the journey ahead. The bus pulls away and drives through the cavernous enclosed lane, orange ceiling lights flitting past and giving me the unsettling mental image of plunging deep into some dark, abandoned mine shaft. The bus briefly exits into overcast daylight, then turns left and enters the second lane before exiting again at the other end and driving back into Loughborough Road.

Then north, towards Kingsland.

Just as it had in the bus station, reminiscence cues on dimly familiar locations and objects, evoking impressions long forgotten, yet searingly fresh. I look to my right as the bus passes a set of traffic lights, and I think of how Elly, Ricky, Ian and I used to take turns pressing the button and jeering as the traffic came to a standstill. I catch a glimpse of Barrack Park slipping by, and I recall the time we took our bikes there, and Elly snatched the turban off Mr. Khayum’s head as we cycled back past his shop on Kittinger Street. And as I turn my head to watch said street recede I remember that final journey through this road, several weeks after what happened, when my mother decided it would be better for us to make a new start as far away from Kingsland as possible. She’d gotten an exchange with a family in Arrowhead, on the opposite end of Cranford, and within a couple of weeks we’d moved in there. Neither of us had ever looked back.

Now, sixteen years to the day after it happened, I sit on the number 5A bus travelling up Loughborough Road, tasting a faint metallic tang in the back of my throat as I look ahead through the windscreen and see the shops of the Kingsland Facade drawing near.

*          *          *

The weekend before it happened I’d gone to meet Ricky at his mum and dad’s house in Kinder Lane. Ricky’s parents were quite old compared to the rest of our mum’s and dad’s, probably around 40 or so, and they were very old-fashioned and very protective. They didn’t like him hanging around with Elly—they thought he was a bad influence. They liked me, though, so he was allowed out with me. We had to meet up with Elly and Ian a few streets away. Ricky’s parents weren’t too fond of Ian, either, because he’d once thrown stones at Ricky when we were in lower school. I was involved in that too, but while they forgave me they would never forgive Ian. I suspect his being half-cast had something to do with that.

Even after I left Kingsland I’d still see Mr. Northcott in central Cranford from time to time, but he wouldn’t talk to me after what happened. I never saw Mrs. Northcott again. I used to joke that that was because she too busy resting under the floorboards.

After we met up with Elly and Ian we headed for to the Facade, a short row of shops that preceded the point where Elwood Road and Loughborough Road split. Elly was still fuming about what had happened the day before. Elly’s family was a scruffy bunch, and Elly himself rarely looked clean. Friday morning he’d been particularly dirty—he had some kind of green stain in his left ear, and I didn’t even want to guess what caused it—and Mr. Spender had apparently taken one look and loudly ordered him to go and wash himself in the sink in the toilets. The rest of the class had roared with laughter, and we laughed when we heard about it, too, but Elly didn’t find it so amusing. As was often the case, his problems at school seemed to stem from problems at home. This was something all my friends had in common.

“I hate my family,” he said as we sat in the shadow of Rosewoods Supermarket. “Dad’s never at home, and all Mum does is sit on her fat arse all day. Lazy cow.” She was lazy, too—I’d twice gotten fleas after visiting their house.

“You should be glad your dad’s never home. I wish mine weren’t,” Ian said, and while he didn’t go into details we’d all seen the bruises, just as we’d seen the botched job the doctors had done while trying to repair his mum’s nose.

“My fuckin’ old man watches everything I fuckin’ do,” Ricky added miserably.

I said nothing. Compared to them, I’d had it easy. Like Ricky I was an only child (Elly had a younger brother who he despised, while Ian had two younger brothers, two younger sisters, and another child on the way) and I’d never known my father as he died when I was a baby. Mum had never let me see her grieve, though, and made sure to raise me in a happy, vibrant home, where I was well cared for and provided for. I moaned about my family life like the rest of them, usually about some toy or other object I wanted but felt I had been denied as my Mum patiently tried to instil in me the value of earning my possessions. And I moaned even more when she tried to get me to put some effort into my education, or to exercise. But I did this mainly to fit in with them. And I’d come to realize that deep down they all saw through it and even resented me for it, particularly Ian. So now I would bite my tongue whenever they started rattling off their list of complaints. Which happened a lot.

That Saturday morning was different, though, and Elly really sounded liked he’d had enough. “I just wish they’d treat us better,” he said.

“Yeah, but what are we gonna do about it?” Ian asked dismally.

Elly didn’t miss a beat. “We’ll run away.”

We all leaned forward and stared at him. He’d suggested this before, many times, but this time he sounded serious, and that made me nervous. “Where to?” I asked.

“We’ll camp out in the Fields.”

What we called “the Fields” was actually an old golf course that hadn’t seen a putt in decades and was now mostly overgrown with tall grass and irregular copses of trees, only a few remaining sand traps giving any indication of its former purpose. It was pretty large as golf courses in non-golfing areas go, extending from Kingsland all the way southeast to Abbeyville, what is now Sunset Hill to the north. We used to walk Nobby, my Labrador cross, there, and he used to love running through the tall grass that bordered the Fields and exploring the patchy woods. I loved it, too. I wouldn’t have wanted to live out there, though. “We can’t stay in the Fields!” I told Elly.

“We’re not gonna stay in the Fields!” Elly said. He’d obviously thought this through. “I’m only talking about a couple of nights.”

Ian looked disappointed at that. “What’s the point?” he asked.

“To make ’em miss us,” Elly explained. “Maybe they’ll treat us better then. Maybe the teachers’ll leave us alone, too.”

Ian looked far from convinced. Knowing what his father was like, it probably would have made things worse. “I thought you meant for good. I don’t wanna go back.”

“Me either,” Ricky said.

“You can stay there, then!” Elly said cheerfully.

The whole conversation was making me uncomfortable. It was all well and good to joke about running away, but I didn’t actually want to do it. “We can’t run away,” I said.

“Why not?” Elly asked.

I thought it was pretty obvious why not, and I explained my reasoning in classic schoolboy fashion. “Because we can’t!”

Elly narrowed his eyes and groaned. “Oh, don’t be such a chickenshit all your life!”

“Shut up, Elly!” I shot back. Unlike the others, I was too much of a goody two-shoes to swear.

Ricky had no such reservations—outside of his parents’ presence he swore at any and every opportunity, no matter how ridiculous he sounded. “I’ll fuckin’ go.”

Ian had also made up his mind. “Me, too. And I won’t come back.”

“Where’re you gonna go, then?” I asked.

“I dunno, but I’ll find somewhere!” he replied, more energized and assertive than I’d ever seen him before.

Now they were all looking at me. I could see they were all serious, and I didn’t doubt for a second that they were going to do it. But I didn’t want to run away—I had nothing to run away from. That wasn’t my only reason, though. As much as I was loath to admit it, I was scared, and I really didn’t want to spend even one night in the Fields. “I’m not going,” I decided.

Now Elly looked disappointed. “Why not?”

“Because I don’t wanna run away! My Mum’s alright!” I snapped. That was the first time I’d openly admitted that, and it’s one of about a hundred callous remarks I’ve made in my life that I wish I could take back. Ian and Ricky stared daggers at me. Elly looked wounded.

“Fine, you can stay then!” Ian spat.

“Oh, come on, Kevin!” Elly pleaded. “You’ve got to!”

“No, I haven’t.”

But Elly was an expert in convincing me to go along with his schemes, and if he couldn’t talk me into something through the power of his argument he usually fell back on appealing to my pride or my acquisitive nature. “If you do, your Mum might get you that MegaDrive,” he said, almost casually.

I’m ashamed to say that actually made me stop and consider his plan for a second. But only for a second. “No, she won’t. She says she can’t afford it.”

“’Course she can afford it!” Elly said.

“Yeah, your mum’s fuckin’ rich,” Ricky added.

“What, because we’ve got a colour telly? Your dad’s just tight.” That was number ninety-nine on my list of things I wish I hadn’t said. Ricky’s family, in fact all three of my friends’ families were struggling to get by on meagre wages or benefits, while mine was pretty secure. Mum had worked fulltime since I started going to lower school, and while we weren’t rich as Ricky claimed we were better off than they were. That was another frequent source of tension between us and it bothered me, though I did occasionally play up to it, too.

Elly always saw past it, though, and my various other shortcomings as well. He was probably the truest friend I ever had, and I knew he’d be disappointed if I didn’t go with them. “Come on, Kev! You can take Nobby if you want,” he said, and I looked at him sitting there hopefully and felt a cold swelling deep in my chest, because I knew I’d end up giving in.

Chapter I Chapter III

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The Treehouse by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Treehouse – Chapter I

By Jake Kale

My eyes snap open as the double-decker bus jerks to the right, off Loughborough Road and into Monks Park Bus Station. It is an ugly building, squat and formed from dark rust-coloured brick, with twinned enclosed lanes on either side of a passenger waiting area that has been slowly decaying since the seventies. It has been threatened with demolition at least twice, yet this bleak monolith still stands impervious. As the bus pulls into the right lane I glimpse the car park on the second level—I remember when Elly and I had run rampant up there, spitting on or throwing things at the pedestrians using the narrow pathways on the sides of the building. I’ll always remember that one elderly man who’d stopped to give directions to a young mother struggling with an oversized pushchair. Elly had dropped an empty plastic Coke bottle on him—he’d been aiming for his balding skull, but he hit his outstretched hand instead.

The shape of the station evokes other memories too, memories unrelated to the building itself.

The bus stops and I disembark, not bothering to thank the surly driver. The man in front of me, a lumbering tattooed oaf, struggles momentarily to wrench the sliding door along on its aged, uneven metal track, and then we both enter, the other passengers following after us. The interior is much as I remember it but even filthier, and smells strongly of cigarette smoke and diesel fumes. Rows of uncomfortable wooden pews stretch out ahead of me, the escalators Elly and I used to evade the security guards visible beyond them. The escalators lead down to the underground walkways, walkways reputedly roamed by the ghost of the long-dead monk this former park was named for, and into the adjacent shopping centre, but they have apparently broken down and are now fenced off.

That doesn’t concern me—I have no intention of using them, or of staying in this smelly, depressing place for long. My first port of call is the information office further along the waiting area. I start walking, passing the pews and the escalators, passing the single lift that I remember also had a habit of stopping between floors (myself, Elly and two of our friends were once trapped inside, and I recall the cries of disgust from waiting shoppers when the doors finally opened to reveal the floor we’d used as an impromptu toilet), and I glance from left to right at the bays either side of me on the off-chance that I should spot the bus that now travels the route to my childhood home. My stomach mumbles in apprehension, and though I don’t stop walking I want to turn and go back the way I came, to leave Cranford for good and never return. But I know I can’t—I have to confront my nightmare, my shame if I am to ever have peace. That’s why I’ve come here. That’s why for the first time in sixteen years I’ve decided to return to Kingsland, and to the place where reality warped and my youth died.

*          *          *

I’d met Henry Eallis, otherwise known as “Elly”, on my first day at primary school. He was a skinny, scruffy-looking little urchin with unkempt brown hair cut in a classic bowl-style. When the teacher sat me next to him he’d been painting a picture, and he promptly covered his palms in red paint and proceeded to make handprints on the unsuspecting woman’s rear end when she turned to leave. I’d laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe, and Elly had revelled in my amusement. We’d been best friends from that day forward.

Later our double-act became a threesome and then a foursome as we entered Kenlis Lower School in Kingsland and met Ricky Northcott and his friend Ian Farmer, who transferred from another school. Ricky was a short, nervous boy with mousy-coloured curly hair, while Ian was a lanky, pale-skinned black boy with thick, black curly hair and thicker glasses that magnified his eyes so that they seemed all pupils. The four of us clicked instantly, united by our lack of motivation and contempt for authority, i.e. our parents and teachers. By the time we’d reached the ripe age of nine we already fit the classic definition of a slacker—consistently underscoring at schoolwork, never taking an interest in outside activities and avoiding exercise as much as we could. The other kids either looked down on us or ignored us but we didn’t care, and while myself, Ian and particularly Ricky became frequent targets for bullies, with the fearless Elly by our side we didn’t worry. He was a scrawny sod and he lost every single fight he started, but his irreverent humour and refusal to back down always left his aggressors frustrated, no matter how vicious a beating they gave him.

Lower school was a golden period in our lives, and we delighted in our peer’s bemusement, our teacher’s disappointment, and our parent’s embarrassment. Everything began to change when we moved up from Kenlis Lower School to Kenlis Middle School. Suddenly we had to contend with uniforms and homework, and we did not adapt to this change well. Years of sluggishness and a fondness for sweets took their toll on me as my waistline expanded, Ian started to become sullen and withdrawn, Ricky increasingly came to resent his overbearing parents, and Elly became very conscious of his ragged appearance—his uniform was slightly too big and was never ironed or particularly clean, much to the chagrin of his teachers. The fact that we were separated into different classes didn’t help. Alone, we each attempted to cope in our own way. Ian developed a studious streak and threw himself into his schoolwork, while I ambled through my lessons with the barest minimum of effort. Poor old Ricky settled unwillingly into the role of class punching bag, while Elly became more and more rebellious, constantly bunking off school and never bothering to complete his homework.

Gradually we began to grow apart, and while we each found friends outside of our group it wasn’t the same—the camaraderie, the cohesiveness just wasn’t there. The summer holiday allowed a brief reprieve and the four of us reunited, but were not especially rejuvenated. We realized that summer that as bad as school had become our home lives were worse—Elly’s parents didn’t seem to care about him, Ricky’s cared too much, Ian’s home had become a virtual war zone since his parents got back together, while I . . . well, let’s just say that my home life fell somewhat short of the ideal I aspired too. We realized that as much as we’d rebelled against lower school it had at least provided some respite, and we’d lost that now. And as we began our second year at Kenlis Middle School our depression reached a peak. The teachers always had it in for us and other friendships never lasted. We longed for a return to the old days when we had fewer obligations, fewer restrictions, and dreams of escape from the tyranny of education became common. More so, we dreamed of escaping our families. We openly discussed leaving and even planned ways we might go about it, sometimes jokingly, sometimes not. But when it came to acting on our plans we lacked the tenacity. All we ever wanted was our freedom. To be left alone, to be invisible.

For three of us, that dream came true.

Chapter II

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The Treehouse by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Out of the Depths – Chapter VI

By Jake Kale

It took Greg a while to realize Monica wasn’t following him anymore, and when he did he almost fell over again. He spun to look back the way he came but there was no sign of her! Greg turned slowly around and around in awkward, dizzying circles, scanning the road, houses and gardens, incredulity crippling his thought processes, raspy, strangled sobs emerging from his shuddering mouth. He could’ve sworn she’d been right behind him! The explosions and the screams had stopped suddenly and the village was quiet, and Greg was alone.

He lost her! He’d lost her!

Then it hit him.

She must’ve gone down the alley!

How could she be so stupid? He could clearly see that alley was bad news, it was obvious that it was a dead end, but no, Monica knew better! Why did she have to be so wilful? She always had been, and it had always driven him insane with exasperation, jealousy and sometimes even with desire. But mostly with rage.

He had to find her.

Still clutching his injured arm, Greg shambled as quickly as he was able back to the intersection, and was relieved beyond measure to find it and the streets that lead into it as empty as he’d left them just seconds before. Whatever catastrophe he had heard, it had not extended this far. It had attracted attention, though—all around him he saw lights flicking on, and even spotted a few nervous forms peeping out from behind front doors. Greg ignored them, his focus solely on finding his wife. He hobbled around the roundabout and to the entrance to the alley, and stood indecisively at its mouth. He’d hoped he might find Monica waiting there for him, but there was no sign of her—he debated shouting her name, but knew he couldn’t risk it. He really didn’t want to go down there, it was so dark.

But he had no choice.

Greg started walking down the alley, passing the locked up pub patio and the rear exits of other buildings, eventually leaving them behind and finding himself surrounded by rough dry-stone walls that seemed to get higher and higher the further he walked. The alley constricted like a black, cancerous artery, its end hidden in shadow even though he must have penetrated at least fifty feet into it. Surely Monica wouldn’t have gone this way, surely she would’ve realized her mistake and turned back? Greg certainly wanted to—he felt as if he were somehow being funnelled directly to lightless bottom of Underhill Lake.

He ended up walking another fifty feet before he finally reached the end of the alley. The last few feet was level ground and led to a small square-shaped alcove surrounded by walls at least ten feet high and topped with a chain link fence, thick bushes obscuring the view beyond them. A single dustbin sat in the right corner in front of him. The alcove was empty.

She wasn’t there!

It didn’t seem possible but she wasn’t there! Greg scanned the alcove in utter disbelief, searching for some offshoot that he might have missed, but there was none. He’d lost Monica, he had actually lost Monica . . !

Somewhere above him a bush rustled, and Greg responded before he could think better of it. “Monica, is that you?”

The rustling ceased—whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t his wife. Wincing at his own stupidity, Greg began to slowly back out of the alcove. Then the rustling came again, more furious this time, and Greg’s nerve snapped. He whirled and started to limp up the alley as quickly and quietly as he could, not daring to look back. He couldn’t hear anything following him, no thunderous footsteps or sounds of destruction, and he wondered if what he’d heard was an animal, a cat or a dog or a fox or something, though even if that were the case he sure as hell wasn’t staying here. He didn’t know what to do! There was almost no chance of finding Monica now, this village was a bloody labyrinth. The only thing he could think to do was try and make it back to the car and wait there, and hope that she somehow found her way back—

—and at that point Greg became aware of that horribly recognizable reverberation, the signature call of the alien machines, only it was much clearer now, much closer, coming from the alley ahead of him! Then Greg saw the immense tower-like body approaching and his blood ran cold—he was trapped! He looked desperately for somewhere to hide and found a short recess, the back exit of some building. The door was blocked by a stuffed wheelie bin and countless black bags and was likely locked anyway, but maybe he could hide there until the thing went past. Greg dove into the recess, secluding himself amongst the carelessly discarded refuse and trying not to think about the vermin that might be lurking amongst it, and the noise was becoming louder and louder as the machine drew near, the deep base fluctuation rising and falling in volume almost melodically, so loud it seemed to penetrate his skull, and he thrust his hands to his ears to try and drown it out but couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes. And suddenly it was there, passing right in front of him, and he saw that it was one of the squid-machines but with its conical body angled vertically, the glowing feelers hanging between four oddly interconnected “legs”, and the sight of it excited a mortal horror so intense Greg knew he had to get out of there or his sanity would be corrupted beyond all redemption. By some incredible stroke of luck it hadn’t seen him, so he counted ten seconds, giving it time to reach the fenced-in alcove, then ran heedlessly out of the alley and as far away from it as his weakened legs could carry him.

During the ensuing hours Greg encountered three more of the biomechanical monsters. The first he heard just before it turned the corner of Dean Street by the village Post Office, and he managed to evade it by scrambling under a parked car. He’d scraped his injured arm on the asphalt and had to lay in silent agony as those weird legs manoeuvred past him. He then ran into two more as they made their way down a sloping road, and dived over a fence into somebody’s back garden, which again did wonders for his arm. Everywhere he went he saw evidence of their passing in the form of destroyed cars and demolished houses, and every now and then he’d hear another deafening explosion, usually followed by more screams that didn’t last very long. He saw no bodies, though he did spot a few survivors, often running for their lives or hiding, but Greg couldn’t bring himself to care about them—he’d lost the only person who mattered to him.

Just as fatigue threatened to overwhelm him Greg spotted a street sign that read “Main Road”, at last a road he recognized, and followed it back Hill Lane. Both it and Harley Road were deserted, and Greg made a point of not looking at the destroyed walls, overturned vehicles and other signs of the preceding carnage, and he made damn sure not to look back at the black, watery hell that had spawned this nightmare as he ran back to the place where his life had, for all intents and purposes, ended. He found Lakeview Cottage and his own car untouched, and he didn’t bother going back for the bags, he simply jumped into the driver’s seat, started the ignition and, steering awkwardly with good arm, sped away without so much as a glance in the rear-view mirror.

Another hour had passed since then. It was now a quarter to four in the morning, and he’d seen no sign that the . . . the invasion—call it what it was—had spread beyond Dunstone, though he had seen a military convoy heading in the opposite direction to him. Greg guessed somebody had managed to raise the alarm. Either that or the military already knew about the threat to begin with, not that it made much difference now. He still had no idea where he was going to go. For all he knew those cephalopoid machines where everywhere, and if that where the case then the human race was done. His future would most likely consist of a lifetime locked away in an army medical lab or subjugation under an alien race. That, or a swift death. None of those options were particularly appealing.

Greg couldn’t stop crying. He’d cried non-stop since leaving Dunstone, even though he knew it was pointless. Monica was gone, and he was beyond hope even if he did survive. What was the point of even trying? He might as well end it all now, might as well drive off the road into a ditch or headfirst into a tree or something, because there was nothing left to live for, to survive for. Greg started to shake uncontrollably as he thought of Monica, and as he remembered the terrible noise that resonated within his skull as that monstrous figure passed him in that pitch-black alleyway, its fat, stubby bioluminescent tentacles dragging the limb form of his wife behind it.

Her eyes open, staring at him.

Chapter V

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Out of the Depths by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Out of the Depths – Chapter V

By Jake Kale

Greg scanned the street they’d ended up on, the dim light not helping, but it was no good—the roads in Dunstone Village were all so similar they could have been miles from the cottage or just around the corner, and they wouldn’t have known the difference. They were lost. He’d gotten them lost!

Recovering from their flight a little quicker than Greg, Monica said, “It’s OK, we’re safe. We got away from those things, that’s all that matters.”

But Greg could only shake his head. “We’ve got to go back.”

“What?” Monica yelped hoarsely.

“We can’t stay here,” he explained. “We need to get to the car if we want to get out of the village.”

Now Monica was shaking her head. “No, we should try and find the police station. Remember Andy said it was near the church? We have to get to the police and get help—”

Greg stood clumsily, using the wall to steady himself, and faced her. “Mon, do you really think the police are gonna be able to do anything?”

She met his eyes forlornly. “No,” she said. “No, probably not. But what if we get away, and those things have landed elsewhere?”

That thought had occurred to Greg, but he’d decided he wasn’t going to worry about it right now. Besides, he knew what she was really thinking was, We can’t just leave these people behind, and he didn’t particularly feel good about doing that himself, but there was nothing they could do. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he told her. “For now, we know they’re here, so we have to get out.”

Monica closed her eyes and turned away from him, and Greg could see tears seeping through the cracks of her eyelids. At last she nodded her head. They really had no choice, and she understood that. They were just going to have to learn to live with it.

Greg moved away from the wall and studied their surroundings. He figured the best thing to do was to try and retrace their steps. Opposite them he saw more ancient cottages, the road beyond them curving sharply to the right and downhill, the slope so punishing Greg was amazed they’d managed to run up it. No wonder his legs were killing him. He and Monica walked over to the other side of the road and up to the corner, then warily peeked around it. The visibility was not great as the old road was characteristically narrow and densely packed with cars, but it was well-lit and looked empty. They started walking down it, eyes peeled for the slightest movement, ears attuned to pick up the smallest sound. The sharp angle of the slope made walking surprisingly treacherous, and Greg was glad he hadn’t worn his old trainers with the nearly smooth soles.

After about twenty feet the road levelled out and they were able to fully concentrate on finding the way they’d come. Greg realized they were in the interior of the village, the oldest part of Dunstone. Their path gently twisted and turned as they walked past houses with low thatched roofs and lovingly landscaped front lawns, past antiquated shops and the occasional bus shelter, and one incongruously modern supermarket whose opaque windows were uncomfortably reminiscent of the lake. Just a few hours before this same street would’ve excited a deep affection in Greg, a longing to spend the rest of his life here. Now it inspired only disorientation and intense paranoia, and he could only hope that both of them would get out of it alive.

Greg couldn’t stop thinking about the thing he’d seen reflected in the picture frame in the cottage. It was hard to tell because he was tired as hell and couldn’t be sure how much of his memory was accurate and how much was his imagination filling in the blanks, but the closest analogue he could conceive was a kind of mechanical squid. Or possibly biomechanical—he’d taken to thinking of it as a machine but he wasn’t certain it was, at least not as he or anyone else on Earth understood it. The only things he could picture clearly were those fat tentacles, glowing yellow like the oil in the lake, and Greg could have sworn he even detected the same swirling, liquidy texture on their surface. He wondered again what the hell had emerged from the depths of Underhill Lake, and remembering the legion of silvery shapes sweeping up the hill Greg picked his pace, wanting nothing more than for the both of them to get the hell out of Dunstone Village and never come back.

Soon they saw an offshoot on the opposite side of the road that Greg thought he recognized, but Monica felt sure they’d run by it earlier. Another fifty or so feet from that the road forked, and they stopped—neither of them could remember that at all.

“I told you we came through that other street,” Greg said pointedly.

Monica ignored him and glanced back and forth between the fork and the offshoot. “Maybe it looked different from the other side,” she said.

“I really don’t think so, Mon . . .” Greg said.

She flashed him a brief conciliatory smile, and Greg knew his wife well enough to realize a compromise was in order. “Look, I tell you what,” she said. “We’ll just have a quick wander down the right road and see if it looks familiar. If not, we’ll go back to the other road. Deal?”

Greg considered making a politically incorrect joke about women and directions, but held his tongue. “OK, deal,” he agreed.

Unfortunately that “quick wander” turned into a slightly longer one, as the road was so generic it was impossible to tell if they’d travelled this way or not. Eventually they came to a point where it inclined slightly to the left ahead of them, so that they couldn’t see how much further it extended. The shadowy edifices of tall, gothic-looking buildings preceded the turn, and Greg knew for a fact that they’d gotten lost again. He sighed despairingly. “The phrase, ‘I told you so,’ springs to mind . . .”

Monica said, “It’s OK, we can backtrack . . .”

Greg felt his temper flare. Her pragmatism was admirable, but their lives were in danger and she was treating this like an orienteering exercise! He whirled to face her—she’d hung back a few steps when she’d realized they’d gone the wrong way—and was about inform her that they would be going back to the first turn-off forthwith when he spotted the towering steeple of St. Francis Church rising above the line of houses on the other side of the road, and instead of yelling he broke out in what he didn’t doubt was a very goofy-looking grin. “Monica, look!”

She followed his gaze, and he saw her relax. “Oh, thank Christ for that! How the hell did we miss that?” she said.

Greg didn’t know how they hadn’t seen it, but he didn’t really care—they’d got their bearings back, that was good enough for him. Monica pointed out a footpath cutting between two houses and they ran across to it, losing sight of the steeple as they made their way through the shadowy passage. They ended up at a T-junction and turned in the presumed direction of the church—tall hedges obscured their view of the steeple—until they reached a short offshoot that led to the end of a cul-de-sac.

Emerging from the path Greg realized they’d gone past the church. He looked south, or at least in the direction he assigned as south, and soon located the steeple again. “I think we need to go out that way,” Monica said, indicating the road going “west” out of the cul-de-sac, but Greg was only dimly aware of what she was saying. He was too busy staring at the steeple—it didn’t look right, it seemed as if it were closer to the houses than it had looked from the street. It almost looked as if it were right inside someone’s back garden—

The steeple moved.

Greg’s squinted in surprise as he found himself wondering for the umpteenth time whether he’d really seen what he thought he’d seen. Then the “steeple” moved again, shifting closer still to the house, its laborious movement giving the impression of something tremendously powerful, and then it was Monica’s turn to play the leader as she grabbed his wrist and pulled him out of his terrified reverie and out of the cul-de-sac into the street beyond. They ran uphill and around yet another turning, and Greg knew they were going to get lost again but he didn’t care, and he doubted Monica did, either, because he was convinced that whatever the hell it was that he’d just seen must have seen them, too. They turned another corner onto a reasonably straight road, and good God his calves ached! Every muscle ached, and his lower back felt as though his spine was trying to pull itself apart, but somehow he found the energy to go on, at least until Monica stopped suddenly and this time Greg couldn’t stop himself from tumbling over, searing pain shooting through his elbow as it connected with the concrete pavement.

Monica was at his side immediately. “Greg, are you OK?”

Greg rolled onto his back, holding his left arm against his chest, teary eyes tightly shut. Through clenched teeth he hissed, “What the hell did you stop for?”

“Answer me, will you?”

“Yeah, I’m OK,” he said, her genuine concern softening his anger. “I’m alright, Monica. Why’d you stop?”

She pointed back down the street. “I’m sure we went came through this alley with Andy.”

Oh God, not more alleyways! Greg thought. He struggled onto his knees and, with Monica’s help, to his feet, still clutching his injured arm. He tried to move it and a fresh jolt of pain travelled up his humerus. Greg winced. It hurt like hell, but he could move it so it probably wasn’t broken. Greg realized he did recognize this area after all. They were right in the centre of the village, the intersection of three roads, and he saw that they’d actually been running past the wall that bordered Erlington Park. The focal point of the area was a grassy roundabout on top of which sat St Luke’s Cross, an ornate three-tiered monument built in memoriam to the victims of the fire more than a century ago. Andy had cajoled their camera into taking a picture of the two of them perched on its steps four days before. Andy, the friendly, helpful, gullible young man who was likely dead now, along with the young barmaid he’d lusted after, her overbearing father, and those two rejects from Last of the Summer Wine, Don and Robby, and God knew how many others. Greg felt an intense grief as he recalled how happy they’d been the day that picture was taken, how happy they’d been just a few hours ago, as well as a depthless shame that he knew would be with him for the rest of his life.

Lightly holding his right shoulder, Monica guided him to their latest potential escape route. The alleyway cut between the high wall of the park and a silent, boarded up pub, The Heart of Dunstone, and dipped in a gentle but visible gradient. It looked pretty lengthy, tapering off into shadow, which meant it either curved ahead or it was a dead end. Neither option made it a particularly desirable prospect. “I don’t think we did come this way,” Greg said, glad his throaty voice masked his unease.

But Monica was convinced. “Greg, I know we’ve come up through here. I remember it plain as day.”

“Everything looks the same round here, how can you tell?”

“No, I’m sure of it. I think it leads out onto Main Road,” she said, but Greg was in no mood to argue about this. They needed to keep moving, and they couldn’t risk taking a detour at every street, footpath or alley that looked vaguely familiar because if they did they’d be wandering around for hours. Greg was just about to put his foot down and tell her they were not going to go down this alley—

—when a thunderous crashing sound erupted in the distance, it sounded like a house being torn apart, and Greg could swear the ground actually shook. He went to grab Monica’s arm with his good hand but couldn’t manage it, so instead he shouted, “Come on!” and started running again, away from the alley, past the abandoned pub and stalwart cross and up the “northern” road. He heard more explosions behind them as that steeple-shaped thing laid waste to Dunstone Village, as well as the sound of people screaming, and he felt his own terror rise. His pace was slowing, he was practically limping, and he knew that if any of those things from the lake saw them they wouldn’t stand a chance, but Greg didn’t care, he’d lost all fear, he’d lost all hope, he’d lost all sense of direction—

And he’d lost Monica!

Chapter IV Chapter VI

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Out of the Depths by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Out of the Depths – Chapter IV

By Jake Kale

After racing to keep ahead of the terrified villagers for several minutes Greg realized it would be safer for him and Monica to get as far away from them as possible, both to avoid being trampled and to elude—well, God only knew what. He saw his chance when they reached the intersection where they’d met Andy earlier, and dodging up the left fork he yanked Monica bodily after him, while the majority of the crowd went in the opposite direction, towards Dunstone Village proper. Greg, Monica and the few villagers that followed them made their way north-west, and he lost sight of the others sometime before they spotted Lakeview Cottage on the crest of the hill. Rather than head for Harley Road they scrambled straight up the hill to the cottage, and stood at the patio doors as Greg fumbled with his keys, absurdly thinking about the game they used to play where they pretended they were being chased by an axe-wielding maniac and had to get in the house as quickly as possible. Greg forced the key into the hole, turned the lock and wrenched the doors open, shoving his wife roughly inside and glancing back to see nothing but the empty valley sweeping down towards Underhill Lake, and then he was inside and pulling the doors closed again.

The two of them stumbled their way into the living room and fell onto the sofa, overcome by exhaustion and panic, and sat gasping in the dark. Greg’s mind was genuinely spinning—so much had happened so quickly, and now that he had time for reflection he found he was too disorientated to even begin to put events into the correct sequence, let alone determine what they meant. He knew he needed to calm down, he was no use to Monica in this state. He willed himself to breath regularly, and his heart rate began to slow. Next to him the shadowy form of his wife coughed, then managed to coerce her vocal cords into action. Keeping her voice low, she asked, “Did you see what they were running from?”

“No,” Greg said, matching her volume but grateful that his voice sounded steadier. He’d been too concerned with staying ahead of the crowd to dare look back. “You?”

She shook her head. “No.”

Greg leaned back, sinking into the soft padding. “I’m exhausted!”

“No stamina,” she said, but the humour was forced and not remotely convincing. She bent over and buried her head in her hands, and for a second Greg thought she was going to cry. “God, I’ve never been so scared in my life!” she mumbled through her fingers. Then she looked up, and her mouth dropped open. “Oh, my God, what about Andy? And Selena, and Don and Robby . . ?”

Greg started to say, “They might be alright . . .”

She turned to face him, and even in the dark the abject terror in her face was apparent, and striking. “Those people were running from something, Greg!” she whispered forcefully, her fear preventing her from actually yelling, and Greg couldn’t think of a good way to answer that. Monica turned away and closed her eyes, breathed deeply, then opened them again. She repeated this several times—it was an old trick she used to calm her nerves. “Do you think we’re safe now?” she said at last.

Greg shook his head uselessly. “I don’t know,” was the best he could manage. Safe from what? Monica glared at him again, making him extremely uncomfortable, and Greg decided he’d had enough of this. He was not going to let them be drawn into this insular little village’s mass hysteria any further—it was time to find out exactly what the hell was going on. Standing up with much less difficulty than he imagined, Greg started to walk to the window. Monica just about jumped out of her skin.

“What the hell are you doing?” she hissed.

“I’m gonna take a look outside.”

“Greg, be careful!”

Humouring her, Greg clung to the wall left of the window and cautiously peeked around the edge. He wasn’t sure what he expected to see—the lake glowing bright yellow, flying saucers filling the sky, more gigantic meteors raining down upon them—but whatever it was, it wasn’t there. The hills and distant fells were empty, the sky was untrafficked, and the lake just as black and forbidding as it had looked an hour or so earlier. Speaking normally, Greg said. “I can’t see anything.”

“What about the lake?” Monica asked.

“It doesn’t look any different.”

He heard her sigh. Looking back, he saw her sitting with her hands in her lap, watching him. “So what do we do now?” she asked, and Greg was relieved to hear her voice had raised an octave or two.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Do you want to leave?”

She didn’t even hesitate. “No, we can’t just leave. We need to get help, call the police or something.”

That was more like it—the practical response. She was in control again, and that made him feel less jittery, too. He thought she was getting ahead of herself, though—they still didn’t know what the hell had happened at the lake. It probably was a good idea to inform the police anyway, but before they did he wanted to know exactly what they were informing them of. Greg said, “Before we call the police I think we should make sure we’re not panicking over nothing. How about I give the pub a ring? The number’s bound to be in the book. I’ll call them, and see if they answer.”

“And if they don’t?” she asked.

“Then I’ll call the police. And we’ll get out of here.”

She nodded, and with his eyes now adjusted to the lack of light he saw she’d actually managed a thin smile. Greg went to sit with his wife but she wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly before he could. Greg ruffled her hair, and when she let go he went to the small phone on the desk in front of the stairs, next to the telly. He found the phone book in the bottom drawer and started leafing through it, squinted to look for the pub. Now that he was sure they were safe and actually had a plan Greg could think more clearly. They’d overreacted, simple as that, but perfectly understandable given that they’d had a panicked crowd rushing at them. As to what caused said crowd to panic Greg could only guess, but he was pretty sure good old fashioned superstition had played a part. He held the phone book up close, carefully scanning each page.

Softly, Monica said, “Greg.”

He glanced over his shoulder and saw that she was now standing by the window where he’d been a moment ago, looking down towards the lake. Leaving the phone book on the desk, Greg went over to join her. “What is . . ?”

Greg spotted what she was looking at straight away, though what it was he couldn’t tell. He saw streaks of briefly exposed moonlight reflected in dark metallic undulations radiating from the woods around the lake, and his first thought was that he was looking at a tidal wave. But even as he dismissed that as impossible he realized that what he thought was one continuous object was in fact a series of smaller objects loping up the hill towards the village. Towards the cottage. Greg felt a stinging coldness flowing through his chest and out into his arms.

Quietly, he said, “We’re getting out of here, now!”

He grabbed Monica by the shoulder and steered her toward the patio doors, formulating his plan as he went. There was no time to pack, to worry about anyone else or even wonder what the hell was going on, they were just going to run outside, jump in the car and get the hell out of—

“Shit!” Greg cursed, remembering. “The car keys!” He’d put them in the draw of the telephone desk. Leaving Monica where she was he strode back around the sofa to the desk and yanked the drawer open with enough force that the keys slid to the front with a clink. Greg snatched them up, and as he did he noticed a strangely familiar sound, a deep resonating that seemed the echo intensely in his ears, and leaving the desk he was about to pass the window again when a momentary parting of cloud cover outside cast a looming shadow onto the floor through it. It was there and gone in a heartbeat, but that was long enough for Greg to understand that whatever had caused it had to be huge—and right outside the window.

Greg stopped in his tracks, thinking for a second he must have imagined it. From the patio doors Monica stared at him uncomprehendingly, and realizing that whatever was outside might see her he waved franticly at her to get over by the wall. At first she didn’t seem to grasp his intention, but then awareness dawned and she did as he instructed, moving nimbly and silently. Greg pointed to the window and carefully mouthed, There is something outside, exaggerating each syllable to make sure that she saw it in the faint light, and he knew from the watery glint in her wide eyes that she understood him this time. She looked more afraid than he’d ever seen her, but she understood.

Greg tried to think what the hell to do now. He knew they couldn’t risk going through the patio as it was just round the corner from the window. They’d have to go out the back way, through the kitchen. He pointed to the floor and indicated for Monica to crawl under the windowsill. She nodded almost spasmodically, getting down on her knees and onto all fours and starting to crawl slowly, sticking as close as she could to the wall, her whole body shaking enough for Greg to worry that she might bang against it. He could actually hear his heart beating in time with the rhythmic throbbing in his ears, the throbbing that he now knew he’d heard when he, Monica and the rest of the villagers were chased from the lakefront, that was coming from whatever was outside. Looking back up to the window, he saw a yellowish glow illuminating the glass and the movement of some immense, trunk-like object beyond it—

—and then Monica reached the other side and he bent to help her stand before shoving her past him and into the kitchen, and as he whirled to follow the room whipped past him and he saw the large framed picture opposite the window, and reflected within it a snapshot of a long, silvery, torpedo-like body with four fat, glowing extremities erupting and hanging limply from it, and then he was running after her, the two of them somehow negotiating the wooden kitchen table without tripping over the chairs and tearing out the kitchen door into the small back garden.

Outside Greg saw the edge of the hill on their left and the outskirts of Dunstone on their right, Harley Road threading west between them. There was no way they could possibly escape on foot, they would be far too exposed. At the same time he wasn’t sure they could risk going for the car. Greg turned to his wife, saw the uncertainty in her eyes, and felt his stomach lurch as he realized he just didn’t know what to do. Then he heard the crash of glass behind them, and grabbing Monica’s hand he ran with her though the garden and out into the road, finding his way to the narrow street Andy had shown them four days before through memory more than sight. Then they were disappearing into the maze of the village, the heavy thuds of what could only be enormous footfalls behind them, the two of them running up and down dark and deserted cobbled streets, past houses and the towering silhouetted steeple of St. Francis Church, blacker even than the starless sky behind it. Greg’s body ached, his lungs working wearily to draw in abrasive gasps of air, he had no idea how long they ran for but he couldn’t stop, he had to put as much distance between them and that thing, those things as possible, and he felt Monica slow and start to drag but kept a tight grip on her hand and pushed on, the blood pulsing in his ears so loud that it took several minutes for him to hear her begging, “Greg, wait! STOP!”

Greg did as she asked, almost falling on his face through his own momentum. They had been running parallel to a high wall, and letting go of his wife’s hand Greg collapsed against it, the uneven brickwork digging into his spine, desperate for oxygen but only able to take shallow breaths. Monica took position next to him, her head low and her hands gripping her knees, her feet tucked in to stop her from sliding to the pavement. Once he was able to talk, Greg said, “I think we lost them.”

Monica coughed, then said, “I don’t think that’s the only thing we lost.”

Greg’s head snapped up as the implications of the sentence set in, and felt a fresh wave of terror as he realized he had no idea where they were. He’d gotten them lost! “Ah, shit!”

Chapter III Chapter V

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Out of the Depths by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Out of the Depths – Chapter III

By Jake Kale

The Boat Inn was an isolated mock-Tudor building just off Hill Lane that looked decidedly out of place among the Victorian architecture that dominated the outer regions of Dunstone Village. Like the majority of those buildings, it was also more modern—Underhill was the site of a disastrous fire during the late 19th century, and very little remained of the original settlement, just the odd portion of sandstone wall here or there. The Boat Inn itself was constructed of the site of an older pub that had been destroyed during the Blitz. It was a fine-looking building, though, long and low and homely, and Greg found the half-timbered framing very pleasing. He enjoyed the name, too.

Greg and Monica strolled through the empty car park (most of the pubs regulars lived within walking distance) and Greg elbowed the heavy door open for them. Inside, the lighting was low and relaxing and the décor enthusiastically traditional, consisting of partitioned booths along the windows and a smattering of tables in front of a tall oak bar. Greg inhaled the heady, reassuring alcohol aroma. It looked like it was a pretty quiet night. He counted a total of five people scattered around the expansive room, and guessed that the rest were still at the lake. Greg saw Bill, the landlord, a podgy, scruffy and disconcertingly cheery character of an indeterminate age, though he didn’t look quite so cheery at the moment—he was doubtlessly wondering where the hell most of his regulars were.

Carefully avoiding the traditionally low beams, Greg led Monica to the bar. The barmaid, Selena, smiled warmly. “Hi guys, you look happy!” She spoke in a deliberately euphemistic tone, and Greg and Monica exchanged a self-conscious glance. Selena grinned cheekily. “Oh, don’t be embarrassed, we’re all grown up here! So what’ll it be?”

Selena was a slight brunette with wide, mascara-tinged eyes who looked barely eighteen, though Greg suspected she was probably older, in spirit if not in years. Andy had something going on with her, though Greg thought most of that was limited to his imagination. Selena appeared to him to be flirtatious by nature, and while he could accept the possibility that he was wrong Greg saw no noticeable escalation in her exchanges with Andy. In any case Bill was her father, and very much acted the part of the overprotective dad from what he’d seen. Greg doubted he’d approve of any of the locals going near his daughter, and certainly not Andy.

“I’ll have a white wine, thanks,” Monica said when they reached the bar.

Greg said, “And I’ll have something more manly. Gimme a Bruskey!”

“A ‘Bruskey’?” Monica repeated quizzically.

Selena’s grin broadened. “Put some hair on your chest, eh? And a little lead in your pencil?”

Monica shifted uneasily, and Greg revelled in her discomfort. “Damn right! By the way, Andy says he’ll see you later.”

“I’m sure he will,” Selena said as she fetched Monica’s drink from the shelf. “So did you guys see those lights?”

Recovering from her embarrassment, Monica said, “Yeah. Actually we just came from the lake.”

“I missed the whole thing! Typical,” Selena complained as she poured Monica’s wine. “Did you see anything?”

“Not much,” Greg told her. “Except that little green guy with three eyes.”

Selena chuckled at that, then poured Greg’s pint. Greg and Monica waited for their drinks, then Greg paid—decrying the price as “daylight robbery”, though in all fairness it was quite reasonable—and they went to take a seat at a booth near the door. They sat facing each-other, Greg on the left, Monica on the right. Coolly, Monica said, “Was that your revenge for when I took the camera?”

Greg saw through her playful baiting straight away. “Nice try, Mon.”

Monica tried to keep up the act, but finally admitted defeat. “Why didn’t you tell her about the lake?”

“Leave that to Andy.”

“You old sweetheart!” Monica said. They drank in silence for a while, the effect of the last hour’s strangeness still sinking in. Getting comfortable in the sunken leather seat, Greg stared at his wife—she looked almost wistful. Eventually she noticed him looking at her and smiled back. “You know, this hasn’t been a bad trip after all,” she said.

“Nope, not bad at all,” Greg agreed. He swilled his beer around in his mouth, savouring the taste, and thought carefully about how to word his next question. “Not that I want to spoil the mood or anything, but what did git-face have to say?”

Monica’s smile didn’t falter, but did shrink somewhat. She set her own drink down. “One of the day supervisors is leaving. He’s recommending me for the job.”

Matching her nonchalance, Greg said, “Really?”

“Yep. Which’ll mean a pay rise.”

Greg nodded and took another swig of beer. “Cool. That’d be nice.”

“True. And it also means we’ll get off at the same time in future.” Greg raised his eyebrows, and Monica cracked, blushing. “I mean work!”

Keeping his voice even, Greg said, “I wonder what made him recommend you.”

“Thank you for that vote of confidence,” Monica said, sounding insulted.

Greg realized he was letting Lionel get to him again, and tried to keep his reply jovial. “Oh, shut up. You know what I mean.”

“Hey, don’t worry. I can handle Lionel.”

“Really?”

She smirked. “Yeah. I handle you, don’t I?”

Greg did a double take, speechless, while his wife gloated, rubbing extra salt into his wounded ego—she’d got him that time, not that he hadn’t been asking for it. Taking pity, she rubbed his forearm with her hand, turning serious again. “So what do you think that oil was? Really?”

Swallowing more beer and what was left of his pride, Greg said, “I don’t know. I do think it has something to do with those meteors.”

Monica nodded. “It was weird how reacted to the light like that. Almost as if it were signalling back.”

“I know. It did look deliberate.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You didn’t say that earlier.”

“I didn’t wanna start Andy off,” Greg admitted.

“You think it was? Deliberate, I mean?”

“I don’t know,” Greg said honestly. “Why am I suddenly the paranormal expert?”

The smirk returned. “’Cos you’re into that crap.”

Now it was Greg’s turn to take pretend offence. “Why do you mock me, woman?”

Monica replied, “’Cos you’re easy!”

Greg folded his arms and turned his head snootily. “I don’t have to sit here and listen to this!”

“Hey, I kid because I love.” That made Greg look back, and he saw Monica beaming widely. He reciprocated. She was right—this hadn’t turned out to be a bad trip after all.

Suddenly the door swung open, slamming into the wall next to the entrance with enough force to make the locals look round and Monica jump. Andy barged in. Greg said, “Ah, here comes the man of the hour!”

But Andy ignored him, heading straight for the bar. He looked excited. “Selena, has your Dad got his video camera handy?”

The barmaid regarded him dubiously. “Yeah. Why?”

“Can I borrow it?”

“What for?”

Curious, Greg and Monica stood and went to join him. Monica said, “What’s going on, Andy?”

He turned to face her. His eyes were wide. “We spotted something in the lake.”

Monica glanced at Greg. Turning back to Andy, Greg said, “What?”

“I don’t know. It looked sort of like an upturned boat or something, but it was shiny.”

Selena raised an eyebrow. “Oh, yeah . . ?”

“Honestly, Sil,” Andy said. He was talking quickly. “Don and Robby went out in a boat to check it out.”

Selena looked at Greg and Monica as if expecting them to admit it was a joke. When they didn’t say anything she looked worried. “OK, hold on a second. Dad?”

Selena ran along the bar to her father, who’d been keeping a keen eye on her and Andy’s conversation from a distance. Andy stayed where he was, but looked distinctly restless. Greg said, “So what exactly did you see?”

“Like I said, it looked like an upturned boat,” the younger man informed him, “but smooth and sort of tube-shaped. We saw the light glinting off of it.” He paused, as if wondering whether to go further and risk their ridicule. “It was big, too—I thought it was a submarine to start with! Mickey said he thought the water in front of it was glowing. You know, like when we shone that torch on it.”

Greg couldn’t think of anything to say to that. Next to him, Monica said, “How come you didn’t go with Don and Robby?”

Andy fidgeted guiltily. “I told ’em to wait while I got the camera, but you know what they’re like. I’m going out in another boat when I get back. Are you two coming?”

Monica looked up at Greg. She looked excited now. “We might as well check it,” she said. Greg didn’t reply, too lost in thought. It was tempting to think Andy and the others had just got caught up in the excitement of the meteor shower and everything else and had misidentified some perfectly ordinary object, but after watching that luminescent oil responding to the torchlight Greg found he wasn’t so sure. That sense of apprehension he’d experienced at the cottage was back again, and more acute now. Greg wondered if he was getting caught up in the hysteria as well.

Andy certainly had been, and was growing more impatient by the minute. “Where’s she got too?” He took off down to the other end of the bar, where Selena was still talking too her father.

“We’ll wait outside for you, OK?” Monica called after him.

Andy shouted back distractedly. “Yeah. Sil, you got it yet?”

Greg heard Selena say, “No,” as he and Monica finished their drinks and headed out the door into the small car park. Outside the air was surprisingly brisk compared to earlier. Monica folded her arms and snuggled close to him. “What do you think?” she asked.

Greg shrugged. “It’s probably just a boat.”

Monica nodded, her expression unreadable. “Yeah.” She cocked her head, listening. “What’s that?”

Greg noticed it, too—a faint but sustained noise, coming from the direction of the lake. It sounded like combination of high-pitch and deep base that built rapidly, and Greg had just worked out that it was the sound of people screaming when the crowd emerged from the wooded path down the road, running straight for them. It looked like the entire population of Underhill sweeping towards them, and Greg saw some of those familiar faces from the shoreline, including Andy’s friend—Mickey?—and the man with the torch, but now those faces were pulled taut, eyes bulging and mouths gaping, and as the crowd rushed past them Monica grabbed Greg’s hand and they started to run with them, racing to try and keep ahead, Greg terrified that he or Monica might trip and be trampled to death, the noise of the terrified villagers deafening but still not loud enough to drown out the faint undercurrent that caused his eardrum to vibrate, and even as sheer panic flooded his body Greg wondered just what the hell they were running from.

Chapter II Chapter IV

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Out of the Depths by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.