By the Fruit it Bears

See Emily PlayThe clouds hung low, black as the shadows they cast upon the ground. Brimming radiance of the sun behind them promised a day of both bright and rain. The sort of contrast that would perplex a city dweller.
Edward, known as Eddie, hopscotched between the shadows from the sky. His feet were more used to skipping on stonier streets, but now they danced on fields of grass. And danced alone.
Eddie had become acquainted with entertaining himself since coming to the village of Pex with his father to stay with a relative, Aunt Vi. His mother was away at a sanatorium on a rest cure, though the actual nature of her illness was kept from him and only ever whispered about.
Being only a couple of years since the end of the war, many villages were short on young men. Pex was strangely more devoid of children, which left Eddie to spend his days imagining friends to share adventures. Though at home with his own company, he did secretly wish for that of another.
Aunt Vi, warned him not to stray from paths or go into the woods, but the trail he followed came to a forest and continued deep within it. He figured as long as he stuck to the path, he would not actually be stepping into the woods, just crossing through them.
Birds twittered in the canopy of leaves above as Eddie ventured deeper into the forest, enjoying the serene calm of the place. Then he reached a clearing and led straight though the gateway of an old church standing within its own grounds. It was little more than the size of a chapel, with cracked stain glass windows and a small spire crooked from years of disrepair.
The headstones of the graveyard that surrounded it were similarly neglected, slanted and hideous with moss. But what really caught Eddie’s eye was the enormous tree standing in a corner. The base of its huge bark sinewing with artery like roots sprouting from the earth into gnarled branches that reached outward and upwards, ascending into a jungle mass of browning leaves. It struck him as odd they should be turning already, being only July.
Approaching the tree, he was further intrigued by a pair of ropes hanging down from one of the branches. A wooden seat dangled from one of them with the air of a hangman’s noose and Eddie realised it was a broken swing. Even his ten year old mind perceived something distinctly odd about a child’s swing in a grave yard.
Standing directly below, he became aware of rustling up in the dry leafy branches and looked up. A boy’s face looking down, half hidden and peeking through a cluster of leaves, the one eye on show focused directly on him. It followed as he moved to get of view of the rest of the face which turned slightly more into the camouflage of leaves, remaining obscure.
‘Hello?’ he shouted, but the lone eye continued to stare. ‘What you doing up there?’
‘I live up here.’ The boy replied.
‘That’s silly. Who lives up trees?’
‘I told you, it’s my home.’
Eddie tried another gambit. ‘Something wrong with your face?’
‘Might be. Why don’t you come up and look?’
‘Come up there? How?’ He could see no way of scaling himself up.
‘Oi! What you doing there?’ Eddie turned to see an older man strutting in his direction, probably the groundsman from the way he was dressed. He approached with the words ‘who you talking to?’
He glanced back up but the boy was gone, and instinct told him not to say anything of this mysterious acquaintance. ‘No one, really. Just talking to the tree. It’s something I do. Having no friends, like.’
‘Well it could tell some tales, that tree. Dark tales. Been there centuries, even before this was Christian ground.’
‘What happened to the swing?’
He shook his head. ‘Bad business. Very bad.’ He pointed over to a gravestone and advised ‘You get yourself home, you hear?’ And then turned heels to head back in the direction of the church.
Eddie looked back up and there was still no sign of the boy. He could not have slipped down, leaving Eddie to surmise he must have retreated up among the camouflage of leaves and branches.
Turning his attention to the headstone, he slowly edged closer to it, stopping as soon as he could read the inscription. It belonged to one James Hawk, no older than he when death claimed him some seventy years earlier. But the significance was lost on Eddie.
He returned to what was presently termed home, just as Aunt Vi was serving tea and crumpets. His father sat by the fire, cradling a brandy as he watched the flame crackling.
‘So how was your day?’
Eddie shrugged his shoulders. ‘Okay. Got talking to a boy up a tree.’
‘Oh?’
‘Yea, in a churchyard.’
‘Would that be St. Ednoch’s?’ Aunt Vi interjected.
‘Yes. Seemed deserted, apart from a man there.’
‘That’ll be Joseph. He watches over the place. About the only one who goes there.’
‘What do you mean?’ his father queried.
‘No one has gone there for years. Doesn’t even have a rector.’
‘Well, if there is no congregation…’
‘It should be deconsecrated and burnt to the ground.’ She then turned to Eddie, adding ‘And don’t think you should go back there!’
‘Why? I may see that boy again. We were becoming friends.’
She cut the conversation short with a change of tact. ‘I was enquiring at the school in the next village today about you attending. You start next Monday. I was keeping it as a surprise.’
‘Oh… So we’re going to be here a while?’ His father nodded as the aunt smiled. ‘Yes, and you’ll make new friends. So forget about boys up trees. That’s not healthy.’
But Eddie could not forget the mysterious lad and he returned there on the following morning.
The tree was as silent and solemn as the previous day when Eddie approached it, passing the headstone Joseph had pointed out. Standing beneath, he looked up to find nothing but branches and leaves. Perhaps the old man had sent him packing.
But then the boy’s face revealed itself from behind a cluster of leaves. Or rather part of it as the rest remained hidden. A single eye stared down at Eddie.
‘You coming up this time?’
Eddie remained cautious but spoke back. ‘You been up there all night?’
‘Told you, this is my home. Come up and take a look. I can be your friend. You haven’t got any friends, have you.’ It was more a statement than question.
‘I will on Monday. I’m going to school.’
‘You won’t make friends there. They don’t like outsiders.’
‘Well, I usually good at making friends.’
‘They’ll taunt you about your mum.’
‘What do you know about my mum?’
‘She abandoned you for the bottle.’
Eddie shook his head in denial as the boy continued. ‘Sorry, but I think you should be told. I’m looking out for you, cos we’re friends see?’
‘Did someone tell you?’
‘No, I just see everything from up here. Come up and look for yourself.’
Eddie moved closer to the bark but was unable to identify any foot hold.
‘Use the rope,’ the boy suggested. ‘It’s what brought me up here.’
Carefully clasping the rope and bringing his knees up, he began to steadily push himself up. As he progressed, the half hidden face came closer enough to perceive a rim of scarred tissue bordering its secreted side. He paused and held his position.
‘What are you waiting for?’
‘What happened to your face?’
‘It’s a secret but get up here and I’ll share it with you.’
Suddenly his hips were grabbed and he was pulled downwards, a voice sounding ‘No further you stupid brat!’
With his feet hitting the ground, he was faced by an angry looking Joseph.
‘What you doing up there?’
‘I was going to join the boy.’
‘Those who climb that tree don’t always come down again!’
He gestured to the gate, ‘Now go and don’t come back here. This is no place for games.’
The old man began to walk away when Eddie shouted ‘Wait! That grave you pointed to me?’ He stopped and turned back with a curt ‘Yes?’
‘You said it was a bad business.’
Joseph pointed to the broken swing. ‘He was playing on it when it snapped. Threw him on the ground so fierce it ripped half his face away. Been left there ever since as a warning.’
Eddie shuddered at the implication. ‘Then I’ll stay away.’
‘If only others had.’ With that cryptic comment, the man left.
Eddie similarly took his leave, unaware he was being watched from within the leaves of the tree. Watched by the eyes of despairing child faces. Many faces.


			

A Walk on the Wyreside

Wyre

Like any renaissance chappie, I pride myself as a person of varying creative outlets. Feature writer, author, speaker, lecturer, performer and even photographer.  But one thing I have never aspired to is writing poetry. I like a good poem, and value poetry as a medium; from the O level days of studying the works of John Keats and his various odes, to A level and the jolly stanzas of Phillip Larkin…. though This Be the Verse was conspicuously absent from our reading list. Well, it was a college run by nuns.

As a speaker/teacher of creative writing, one does appreciate how poetry works in its rhythm and metre, to rhyme or not to rhyme, the importance of structure and economy of words. Just not that interested in being a poet myself.

Last year I was asked by Adele Robinson of the Lancashire Dead Good Poets Society about taking photographs for a poetry based project called Walking on Wyre, which was being financed by the Arts Council England and Left Coast. The River Wyre runs through north Lancashire from the estuary of Fleetwood and Knott End, and then 28 miles inland to the Forest of Bowland. My initial job was to photograph various locations along and around the river, which would be used in the published anthology.

But where would the poems come from? Adele set up a number of writers’ workshops at various locations around Wyre country, tutored mainly by writers from the Fylde coast. She also suggested that perhaps I would like to attend some of these and have a go, to which I thought “why not?”

The first was a full day at Wyre Estuary Nature Reserve, which was tutored by poet Sarah Hymas. We were given a tour of the area by a local historian who informed us it had been a working port in centuries gone by and a farewell point for passengers migrating to the Americas. Back at the tutorial, my thoughts pondered this history of the now silted up mudflats as an echo of the ghostly past. That resulted an eight line stanza entitled We Sailed, the second half of which concludes

The fading echo hailing

Lone ferry to cross bank

The photo sepia

The memory vivid.

My next workshop was evening more intriguing. Rossall Point is a coastal watchtower near Fleetwood open to the public and with a commanding view of the sea, which was fairly rough the day we attended. I actually arrived before the others and got chatting to one of the volunteers there. As we spoke, he suddenly pointed me to the crashing waves and the black head of a seal bobbing up and down, the only time I have seen one in the wild outside of California. He informed me that the drawn out baying of a seal sounds remarkably like a wolf. That information, coupled with the sight of isolated sandbanks and knowledge that sacred sites of pagan worship lay along this part of the coast, invoked a two stanza piece I called Release the Sea, the second of which reads

Alone on a sandbank

The sea witch casts circle

Sirens rising to her summons

A seal baying to the moon

So having had a go at the medium of poetry, what lessons did I take from it?

  1. Keep it tight and ensure a consistency of rhythm. This is especially important with blank verse.
  2. Be economic with language and resist the temptation to over enrich. Opulence can work if handled sparingly, but can just as easily spill into the verbose. Spare a thought for your poor reader.
  3. Similarly, a good image can save an awful lot of description, and is far more memorable. It’s important to catch the reader’s attention in order to engage them with the poem, and a striking image will do that. Over descriptive detail is likely to have the opposite effect.

But those are just my conclusions. Other writers and editors may think differently.

Walking on Wyre was published in the form of a fold out map containing over three dozen specially composed poems by various writers and is available from to purchase from Amazon. And will I try my hand again? Maybe once I have Ode to the Taxman sorted out.

Eva’s Song

My first contribution to Lancashire Archive’s Tide & Time project, based in Morecambe. It is based on the case of Eva Wilcox to drowned herself in Morecambe bay after seeing her estranged boyfriend for the last time. Thank you to Vicci McCann for encouraging me to take part, and Sarah Hymas for her help and advice.

Eva’s Song

Eva’s Lover

She just turned up on the doorstep, like a memory come back to haunt. We had been an item, but she were back in Sheffield and I were here. Then I get the letter saying it would be better if she got a boy in her own town. I felt the same way and didn’t even reply. She were a chapter closed and my life turned a new page.

So I walked her back to her digs in Morecambe and things were fine enough. Met her next day on the prom and we spent a few hours. Then day after, she reappears as words. A note suggesting suicide. But her last letter had not resulted in the new boyfriend it promised, so I didn’t heed the heartbeat of this one. I never thought she’d really do it.

Eva’s Witness

Just before ten, was on my way home along Marine Road when I saw her. She was stood on the landing stage by clock tower with her hat off and holding it in her hand. She seemed somewhere else. Like a ghost. I knew she couldn’t be going for a walk on the beach, not with tide in. But then she suddenly jumped into the water, in her clothes. I got nearer and could see her head above the water. Being such a warm evening, I reckoned she were bathing and modesty prevented her from undressing first, so I walked on and left her to it. Did wonder what happened to her hat, though.

Eva’s Father

There was no warning, not even hint. On the day she went, she was full of her usual spirit. Did chores as normal, even spoke of joining the W.A.A.C.

Then she went out and never came back. And I hear nothing for three days. Then the letter arrives, postmark Morecambe. It’s signed by her but from someone else. Someone troubled. Not my Eva.

Suddenly, constable turns up. As soon as I opened the door to him, I knew it were trouble. They’re like lawyers, always bearing bad news, especially when they take their helmets off. Quiet chat, consoling cups of tea. Then I follow Eva to Morecambe. And the next time I see her, is the last time.

Eva

You had expectations of me, Dad, as any father would. However, truth was, there were two of me. There was dutiful Eva, the one I let you see. The one you cherished. But beneath her ran deeper waters, an Eva with desires elsewhere. And that elsewhere was George, who drifted beyond my reach.

I thought releasing him would be my release, but the longing became more and more. So I made a pact with myself and swam after my George, even if this meant the way back would no longer be open. In the end, I had to let him go forever and the promise of a future was broken. A crossroads where I could only bury my heart.

You see, Dad, there could be no return to the life we had. George had changed everything, and that changed me. And the change in me, changed you in my eyes. So, I surrender to the sea and drift away with the outgoing tide. A siren without a song.

Barry McCann

Visit the site

http://www.timeandtide.xyz/blog/evas-song

Though Palaces Do Slope

Resorts come, and resorts go. Some find news ways of maintaining their glory days, while others eventually lapse into a somnambulist existence, trading on the grey pound and memories of what they once where. Torenton was a semi sleepy former spa town, grown on the back of Victorian bathes and water cures. Not a commercial attraction like Blackpool, but a more graceful alternative that appealed to residents and visitors who preferred a more sedate time. However, as holidaying fashions changed with cheaper flights to sunnier Spain, the place gradually retired from the tourist industry and, itself, became more of a retirement destination. However, things had not been so quiet of late, with the town’s populace now split in the biggest controversy they had known. And it was all over the former Palace Theatre.
Built in 1934, the Palace was originally an art deco theatre which, over the next 30 years, became known as the Grand Old Lady of Torenton. And this was a lady who boasted a fine array of leading players with many of the top names in the acting and entertainment world treading its hallowed boards, while still finding room to accommodate local talent shows and amateur dramatics. For decades, it was the heartbeat of the community. But by the late 1950s this heart was beginning to falter.
It proved a dream not destined to last and, in 1964, it shut its doors to the performing arts for the last time. Audiences had steadily dwindled, lured away by the burgeoning medium of television. Hopes of it adapting into a cinema evaporated when none of the major chains showed an interest, themselves struggling against the one eyed monster that had done for the theatre. However, fears this would mean losing the beloved building altogether were dispelled when a leisure firm took over and reopened it as a Bingo Hall. At least this ensured the building be preserved and the hope it may return to its original purpose in better times.
However, this life support had now itself run out of time. Bingo began going the way of the theatre, with membership numbers dropping badly as the pastime became unfashionable with a younger generation more interested in on line gaming. The management tried initiating some ambitious promotions to attract new punters in but, while this brought some second wind, the downward curve persisted and the writing was on the wall. Eventually, The Palace closed its doors for the second time, and were boarded up while its fate was decided.
It had been closed barely two days when the local paper revealed the council were considering a planning application from the European retail chain, Nosfra, to demolish the Grand Old Lady and replace it with a modern supermarket. The plan was championed by Councillor Doris Fletcher, who issued a statement claiming “Torenton is currently only served by a small retail outlets. Residents deserve a wider choice and Nosfra will deliver that.”
The claim was met with puzzlement by locals, as there was already a supermarket just a couple of hundred yards up the road, delivering pretty well the same sort of range Nosfra promised. But the councillor maintained a blind spot to this little detail, avoiding the question altogether. She stayed guarded as public knowledge of Nosfra’s discreet dealings with both her and several others in strategic places could very well jeopardise the project.
A barrage of letters began to appear in the local pages, protesting at the council even considering the destruction of the “iconic” building, and demanding it be re opened as performance and exhibition space run by a charitable trust. Doris quickly attempted to deflate the point with a reply claiming “The Palace is not an iconic building. It had its use, but has now outgrown it. I understand some people are upset about the impending demolition of the building, but that is progress. Live theatre ceased paying years ago and the current structure is no longer of use. I suggest they get over it and allow this town to get on.”
Her provocative words were blasted by local historians, demanding to know what qualified the councillor to declare the building as “not iconic.” A group called “Save the Palace” was formed, and quickly set about an internet campaign against the development, declaring “The show ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” The councillor retorted with the statement “It’s this lady who will be singing when the show is over.” Her lips remained tight in the fall out that caused, confident they would not guess the existence of a hidden agenda. And it was motivating enough for Doris, and her associates, to get the application approved by one of the most unpopular council meetings in Torenton’s history. Once it was rubber stamped, she discreetly exited the chamber via the back to avoid an angry crowd and went home gloating in triumph.
It was a gloat continued when the local press office unexpectedly phoned Councillor Fletcher and offered her a photo opportunity. One of her taking the first sledgehammer to the Palace building in a symbolic gesture of laying it to rest, and making way for the new development. It was an irresistible proposition, as this would seal her last word over those who tried to tried to stand in her way, and an extra piece of free publicity for her public profile.
The morning came and Councillor Doris Fletcher arrived at the site, delighted to see the building fenced off for demolition. Donning a hard hat, she was introduced to both the site manager and the press photographer, as well as being re acquainted with the area manager of Nosfra with whom she had been dealing. It was then explained what was to happen. “I’ll get a shot of you holding the sledgehammer, as if ready to deliver the first blow” the photographer proposed. “And then do I get to blow the place up?” Doris laughed. “Not in an area like this” the demolition manager explained. “Men are on the roof, ready to dismantle as soon you have done your bit. They will manually take down the exterior and then we will bulldoze the structure.” The area manager then chimed in with “As soon as the site is cleared, you can come back and lay the foundation stone.”
“Really!”
“Yes” the photographer added. “Another publicity shot for you.”
The posed photo was taken and the manager got onto his megaphone, ordering his men to start work. The photographer left for his next assignment, while Doris and the demolition manager stepped back to look up at the activity on the roof, the banging and crashing almost causing the area to vibrate. The councillor’s eyes glanced down the length of the building and caught sight of something in one of the upstairs windows. A shadowy figure looking straight down at her from behind dirty glass, or at least that is how it seemed to her. Strangely, while no face was visible, she could sense eyes straight at her, almost burrowing into hers. Then the shadow moved, as if walking away from the window and out of sight. She turned and shouted to the manager. “Should any of your men be inside?” He looked back at her, quizzically. “No, its not safe.”
“There’s someone in there. Just saw him through the window.” The manager looked up, asking “Where?” She strolled across and stood below the window in question, her hand pointing up and shouting “There!” That became her last word.
The vibration from the sledgehammers erupted into a rumble. Both figures on the ground looked around to see what was causing it when, suddenly, part of the side of the building came crashing down in an avalanche of bricks and concrete. The manager instinctively dived to the ground, covering his head until the deafening sound stopped. When it did he cautiously lifted his head and, through the thick fog of dust, could just make out a large pile of rubble where the councillor had been standing.
The emergency services arrived and, with the aid of the demolition crew, dug out the body that had once been Doris Fletcher. Mercifully, the coroner reported she had been killed in an instant and probably not known what hit her. An inquiry took place into the incident, but no one could explain why that section of the building should suddenly give way as it did. With no other conclusion arrived at, a verdict of accidental death was recorded.
It was a terrible tragedy for the town and tributes were paid from all sides, regardless of what they had thought of her personally. However, some opponents of the development whom Doris had alienated did secretly muse on her fate as poetic justice. But for those who were privy to the councillor’s last moments, and words, there was possibly something deeper at work. For her final performance, the Grand Old Lady of Torenton had sung the final song.

Originally appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post May 3 2014)

The Shadow Inside

Golden mile

There is nothing but the sound of my own footsteps brushing the ground of an empty promenade. Where colour once met laughter, buildings now lie shuttered and cries of seagulls echo in the breeze. A town has closed shop for season’s change and the Golden Mile is haunted by absence.

I pass Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, its loudspeaker invitation to roll up now, mercifully, silent. Once, I did step inside and didn’t believe a word. But I do know the plastic façade that is the museum’s frontage masks a building‘s secret. A past hidden from the outside. Cross that threshold into within and walk through a living memory of window bays with no view. Nothing to look out to but a plywood cocoon. The lonely soul of a house that once was.

Where now reside two headed sheep and men with four eyeballs, landladies ruled over troops of servants. Breakfasts and dinners were cooked, linen washed and beds changed. Guests home by 10.30 before the bolt went on the door. The Friday changeover as old residents were traded for new.

They say ghosts still stalk these floorboards like ripples across a pool of time. But, no, the building is a ghost. One that sleeps beneath the modern sideshow layer. And would Mr. Ripley’s clientele believe that… Or not?

Written and narrated by the Barry McCann for a sound sculpture created by Lucy Stevens, December 2011. Broadcast Grundy Art Gallery 2012 for the launch of  ther Walls Have Ears anthology by Blackpool Heritage.

Whisper in the Night

If legends be true, tis a rare old lane in Lancashire that boasts neither a boggart or some other queer doings. Indeed, during the dawn of the 1800s, there were tales of a particular pathway troubled by an apparition that local folk referred to as Dobbie. Connecting Clarke Hall to Holker House, the lane was narrow with high hedges that overhung with claw like menace. Even on a summers day it breathed a melancholic air of tunnel like gloom.

Clarke House was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Stockdale and their quartet of servants. The housekeeper, Cook, Tom the page boy and scullery maid, Nola, the most recent arrival below stairs. Aged between 15 and 17 years, the girl had no knowledge of a birthday, her only history being a written reference from the orphanage from which she came. Nola was lowest in the pecking order of servants, something Cook was forever taunting her about. Consequently, the girl was meek in manner and tended to carry herself with head slightly bowed. While the other staff had their own rooms in the houses attic, Nola was confined to an outhouse at the end of the back yard, facing the old lane and cut off from human company.

Not that Nolas lot was all bad. Mrs. Stockdale had taken to schooling the girl in reading and writing for an hour every mid morning, which she practised during the evenings in the sanctuary of her room. The others did at least encourage her in this self betterment, except Cook who professed Nola to be as dim as a smouldering candle and that educating her was like teaching a dog to perform tricks. She never said these things in front of the mistress, of course, and confined any bullying or beating of the scullery maid to the kitchen when they were alone.

It was early one autumn evening that Mr. Stockdale sent Tom across to Holker House to deliver some newspapers, a task he performed once every week. The boy was usually back before dusk, but this time seemed to be taking longer than usual. Nola had just finished putting away the dried dishes and asked Cook if she could now be excused to practise her lesson.

Suppose so, the woman shrugged, being more concerned about what was keeping Tom now the night was drawing in. Nola took her leave and Cook busied herself preparing the breakfasts for next morning, while the housekeeper caught up on her sewing. Later, as the clock chimed eight bells, the two women were startled as the kitchen door burst open and Tom ran in like a man possessed by a thousand devils. Coming to a halt in the middle of the kitchen, he tried to speak and then promptly passed out, crumpling to the floor.

The housekeeper and Cook were attending the unconscious boy when Nola came running in through the same door, exclaiming

I saw him racing from lane like a fox hunted. Is he right? The sight of the boys current state answered her question, as Cook ordered Dont just stand there! Go fetch the Mr. And Mrs! As Nola made haste, the housekeeper then turned to Cook, suggesting Hartshorne and burnt feathers be the best restorative for this lad.

By the time Nola returned with Mr. and Mrs. Stockdale, the boy had been applied with the remedy and was stirring awake. Mr. Stockdale crouched down to take a closer look, when Tom suddenly shot upright, yelling Dobbie! The Master grabbed the boys shoulders, saying Take it steady, lad. Having been calmed, Tom was sat up on a chair to relate his story. I usually set off home before dark, but master at Holker House insisted I stayed a while and shared libation with him. Couldnt say no.Quite right, lad, Stockdale interjected. So what happened.Was nearly home, when I heard whispering behind me. Looked around and there was this great white ball, glowing and following. Then whisper became singing and in ball I could see sprite dancing round in circle fashion. She then came at me faster, laughing horribly. So I ran and darent look back. It were Dobbie, I know it. His master looked doubtful. Are you sure about all that?I swear it, sir! The housekeeper then testified Toms not one for spinning yarns. Hes an honest lad. Stockdale patted the boys arm, commenting I dare say you saw something. But maybe not as it were meant to be seen. Dark nights and lanes with strange tales can do much to deceive the eyes and ears.

Tom sighed, realising he was not going to be fully believed. Nola leapt to his defence with Ive heard notorious happenings regarding Dobbie Lane, sir. Tis said that is where Jack OLantern tricked the devil. Stockdale laughed I had that tale as a boy. And it be not of our parish, but of our Irish cousins.Take no heed of her, sir, Cook insisted. Girls head is full of fancies and she probably filled Tom with them. No wonder he took frightI never, she began to protest but the Cook cut her short. Speak not to your betters with such a tongue! Ill fetch wooden spoon. She bowed her head in quiet submission, having once again been reminded of her place. Then Mr. Stockdale made his announcement. Tell you what. This very evening I shall walk the lane there and back. Maybe I will get to the bottom of what menaced you so, Tom. All present agreed this to be a satisfactory course of action, except Nola who continued to look downwards in resignation.

Mr. Stockdale was as good as his word. As the sun began to set, he took to the lane confident that the whole business would be resolved. The staff busied themselves with chores, except Nola who suggested she wait in her outhouse to watch for the master returning. The housekeeper agreed a lookout was a good idea, even if Cook opinionated this to be a ploy to skip chores, concluding Girls not as daft as she seems.

Night fell and all those present in Clarke Hall began to wonder what had become of Mr. Stockdale. Then as the eighth hour approached, Nola came running through the kitchen door announcing Masters back! And he look fair troubled! She jumped out of the way as Stockdale ran in behind her, breathless and distraught. He ordered the housekeeper to assemble the others while Cook fetched him a brandy.

The housekeeper returned with Tom and Mrs. Stockdale, whose husband was now sat on a chair with the consoling glass in his hand. He waved Tom over with a Come ere, lad and gripped the boy by the hand. Forgive me for ever doubting you. Its just as you told. The whispering, the singing, the glowing sprite. It followed me back too. Tom looked down on his master with relief, while the others looked at each other in disbelief. After taking another swig, Mr. Stockdale stood up and proclaimed Tomorrow word shall be put around. The lane is henceforth closed once dusk sets in. No Christian soul should traverse it after dark. With that, he dismissed the staff and then returned upstairs with his wife.

Cook looked at Nola whose head was held in its usual forward tilt, but with eyes silently looking straight up at the woman. You neednt expect apology from me, girl! It were Willo the Wisp master saw, not your Jack OLantern.May I be excused? Nola asked politely. Aye, away to your lesson with yer. For what its worth, Cook sneered. She then added Careful Dobbie dont come for you, out there in your little shack. All alone. And with that, the woman laughed as Nola picked up a lit candle and nervously made her way out across the yard to the only place she could call home. Entering the outhouse, she closed the door and sat by her window, watching through the curtain and waiting.

An hour passed before she was confident that all in Clarke Hall had retired to bed. Blowing out the light, Nola turned away from the curtain and stood up straight, raising her head high in a change of countenance. She pulled off her bonnet and threw it to the floor, her raven hair falling shoulder length. She then removed the servants garb, revealing a silk dress underneath that shimmered with a white glow. The girls face opened up a powerful smile of satisfaction and she swung right around in a pirouette. Nolas hair and flesh now radiated the same white glow as her dress, her figure illuminating like a brightly burning candle. Raising her arms upwards, she gave a reverberating laugh of triumph. The Lane was hers. And now, hers alone. Opening the door, she left the quarters of the human self and twirled into the night, dancing her infernal dance. And making mischievous plans for Cook.

Originally published in the Lancashire Everning Post March 1st 2014

The Spider’s Song

 

Photo by Tuesday Hathor

The vibration told her that a visitor was calling. The strand that pulled signalled the direction and she quickly scrambled across her webbed tapestry. Sure enough, another fly was entangled and struggling to escape. And, sensing its host’s presence, it struggled and screamed even more.

She rounded about her panicking guest and calmly tried to reassure it. ‘I’m sorry, little fly. I have to devour you for that is my lot in life. But I will be gentle, my friend. I promise.’ To steady its quivering body, she began to wrap the fly in her own silk, while singing the lullaby she always sang to comfort her prey.

Be still my little friend

Don’t you cry

Let me nurse you now

My little fly.

Be silent now

Don’t you weep

The day is closing

Time to sleep.

Even within its silk corset, her guest continued to struggle in vain. She gently crawled around to the back of its head, with the soothing sound of ‘Shhhhhh, now.’ Her fangs penetrated and the venom entered like a mother’s milk, while she continued to hum her song. Why do they fear this so? She pondered to herself. My husbands all loved it.

Withdrawing her fangs, she said ‘There. That was not so bad, was it. And now you shall never again feel any pain, any fear. Never starve, never be hunted. You will join the others who came here, within me. And there you will be at peace.’

The struggling stopped and she backed away, watching as her guest stiffened with paralysis, its insides beginning to change. ‘Soon, my little friend,’ she gently soothed. ‘Soon.’

Barry McCann