Story by Bertie
Read by Natasha
Proofread by Jana Elizabeth
Owing to a bit of disorganisation, Bertie slept through Halloween this year, despite all ghostly moans and growns, and the fireworks going off everywhere. And so this year’s spooky story comes about a month late. I told him not to worry, because people always appreciate a chilly scare, whatever the time of year.
Mum was born on the 31st of October, which everyone knows is Halloween.
The kids liked to joke that this was because she was a witch, but actually, she was incredibly nice and totally normal.
The date of her birth caused an annual diary clash for the family. Dad liked to take mum out to a restaurant for her birthday, but the kids were excited about Halloween and wanted to dress up and go trick or treating. This year, Uncle Jeff and his girlfriend Jessica came to the rescue and offered to take the kids away for Halloween weekend. Jeff said the best place to celebrate the spookiest time of year was in the countryside, because far away from the city lights, you can see the moon and the stars, and you feel much closer to the ancient spirit of the universe. Jessica said that Jeff was talking nonsense, but she always enjoyed long walks in the fresh air with her little dog, Smoochies.
It was a long drive. Both the kids were playing with their tablets, but Jeremy had forgotten to charge his overnight, and it did not last beyond Junction 6 on the motorway.
“Let me help you with that game,” he said to Jemima, and he grabbed her tablet. A tug of war started on the back seat.
“Hey you two, behave!” said Jessica turning round from the passenger seat. And then, hoping to distract the siblings from fighting, she added: “Let’s see who can tell the spookiest story. You first Jeremy.. see if you can make me really frightened through the power of words.”
“Well let me see,” said Jeremy. “We have a teacher at school who is a vampire and everyone is frightened of him because he comes up behind your chair in geography and sucks your blood.”
“Ooh, that’s scary,” exclaimed Jessica.
“He’s not really a vampire,” said Jemima. “He just has pointy teeth.”
“Exactly, like vampires do.” said Jeremy. “Let’s see if you can come up with a scary story.. or not. Ooh I’m so frightened already, and you haven’t even said a word.”
“Well my friend’s house is haunted,” said Jemima. “She lives near the town castle that used to be a prison. There’s a secret tunnel that goes all the way from one of the cells into the cellar of her house, and the ghosts of the prisoners come along it and make spooky noises in her bedroom.”
“The sounds are just the wind in the oak tree,” said Jeremy.
“Well I think that story is scary,” said Jessica. “Mine’s more of a riddle. Why couldn’t Dracula get to sleep?”
“Because he was busy biting people?” suggested Jeremy.
“Well maybe that too, but the answer is because of his coffin. Like coughing - coffin, get it?”
But the children were not amused.
It was Uncle Jeff’s turn. He spoke as he sped steadily down the fast lane at 90 miles per hour.
“I heard this true story when I was in Australia earlier in the year. A couple were going across the outback when the satnav told them to turn off the road down a rough track. They thought it was a bit strange, but they obeyed the instructions. They drove on and on, and just as it was getting dark they reached an old deserted house. The satnav said:
“You have reached your destination,” and then it gave a wicked sort of laugh before adding: “Enjoy your stay in the haunted homestead.’
“When they tried to turn the car around, it wouldn’t move. They were way too frightened to go into the house and so they spent the night in the car. All sorts of ghosts and ghouls floated up to peer at them through the windows, and they heard dreadful moans and screams coming from the house. In the morning, the car started just as normal, and they sped back the way they had come and found their way to the farm where their friends lived. Their friends told them about the ghost that haunts satnavs and regularly leads people to the homestead where 100 years ago a dreadful murder took place. The company that makes the satnav is completely baffled by this and the only explanation is that it is supernatural.”
“Oh that’s creepy,” said Jeremy.
“Yes, Jeff wins the prize for the spookiest story,” agreed Jessica.
“Can satnavs really be haunted?” asked Jemima.
“Naaa,” said Jeff. “There’s no such thing as the supernatural. People are afraid of getting lost in the dark, and their imaginations play all sorts of tricks.”
And so they continued their journey to Somerset. A long jam on the motorway past Bristol held them up, and it was already dark by the time they were anywhere near their destination. Jeff turned on his satnav because he didn’t know this part of the world. He programmed in the name of a village. It was called Huish Cottonbois. Soon they were travelling down country lanes with high hedges on either side.
“In 50 meters, at the junction, go straight head,” said the sat navf.
“Thanks Emily,” replied Jeff.
“Who’s Emily?” asked Jeremy.
“He calls the satnav Emily after his first girlfriend,” said Jessica. “I trust I won’t end up inside a piece of electrical equipment one day.”
After they crossed the junction, they started to climb a hill. Before too long, first mist, and then fog, cloaked the road ahead. Jeff slowed down the car. It was hard to see much further than the end of the bonnet.
“I’m scared,” said Jemima.
“Don’t worry, Jeff’s a very good driver,” said Jessica.
“I know,” said Jemima, “but this place is spooky. Let’s go home.”
Jeff laughed: “Home now? We’re about 15 minutes away from our stay.”
But that proved to be one of Jeff’s less accurate predictions. Emily told him to turn right, and as always he did exactly what Emily told him to do. Then she told him to turn left, and he turned left. This was a much narrower lane than before, and the tall trees on either side made it into a sort of tunnel. It was like they were travelling through darkness and time. Eventually they passed a few houses and came to the end of the road.
Emily said: “Bear right.”
“But that’s not a road, it’s just a track,” said Jessica. And it was.
“Well Emily’s not giving me much choice,” said Jeff. “And besides, I don’t think I could find the way back. Better do as the old girl says. She’s never let me down yet.”
And he pressed his foot on the accelerator. The gravel crunched and the car bumped. They went further into the woods and it grew darker and darker. Smoochies, who was sitting on Jessica’s lap, started to howl.
From the back seat the kids were pleading:
“Please Uncle Jeff, let’s go back. That’s not Emily’s voice in the satnav. It’s a ghost, and it’s leading us into a haunted wood.”
And Jessica said: “I don’t think this can be right Jeff. Even Smoochies seems to think this is the wrong way, and you know, dogs have an amazing sense of direction..”
“Although Smoochies is indeed a clever animal,” said Jeff, “when it comes to directions, I’ll take Emily’s word for it.”
The fog had crept down again, and it was hard to see the track ahead.
And then.. Wow! Jeff spun the wheel because the car was skidding on some mud, and.. Crunch! They went over some twigs and.. Clunk!
The front wheels were in a ditch. Jeff revved the car in reverse, but the tyres slipped and they could smell burning rubber.
“That’s blown it. I’ll have to call for roadside assistance,” said Jeff.
“Roadside! We’re not even on a road! We’re in the middle of a forest!” exclaimed his normally calm girlfriend.
“A haunted forest!” clarified Jeremy. “I don’t suppose the breakdown driver will dare to come down here. It’s way too spooky.”
Jeff looked at his phone. There was no signal. “Ok, I’ll go back to those houses and ring for help from there.”
“You’re not leaving us are you?” asked Jemima.
“Well you can come with me if you prefer,” said Jeff.
But only Smoochies was keen to go with him.
Jessica tried to keep up the kids’ spirits with terrible jokes. She had written several of them down in her notebook before they left, because she wanted to be well prepared for a weekend with children. Unfortunately, all the anecdotes were to do with Halloween, and therefore inappropriately spooky.
Question: “What’s a witch’s favourite lesson at school?”
“Ha Ha,” said Jeremy, in a flat, deadpan sort of way. But Jemima’s voice was far more animated:
“Oh Oh I heard a ghost!” she exclaimed.
“It was just an owl,” Jessica reassured her.
It took Jeff and Smoochies twenty minutes to trudge back to the houses they had passed on the way. At the first gate, they were greeted by such ferocious growling and barking that they thought it wiser to back off. At the next house, the guard dog, though in full voice, was confined safely indoors. Eventually the door was opened just a crack by a farmer, who looked suspiciously out through the chained gap.
“Sorry to bother you,” said Jeff. “Our car’s stuck in a ditch down the track.”
“I expect you were following the satnav,” replied the farmer. “It sends all sorts down there. Trucks and cars. Too often we have to tow them out.”
“If I could use your phone, I could call for assistance?” asked Jeff.
“They won’t go down the track,” said the farmer. “I’d better get the tractor.”
Back in the car, the children were hugging each other - not a common sight. It was partly to keep warm, but mostly because they were afraid.
“What’s that sound?” asked Jemima with a shudder.
It was a low rumble.
“I think,” said Jeremy, “that it’s a beast of some sort.
The beast crunched and growled over the gravel. “Whatever it is, it’s getting closer,” said Jessica, who was ashamed to admit to herself that she was feeling scared. She was a doctor. Doctors are meant to be scientific and rational. They aren’t supposed to believe in the supernatural. But this was the night before Halloween and they were deep in a dark forest. All they could hear was the sound of a giant beast. How could even a doctor not feel afraid?
At least Jessica managed to keep her eyes open. She stared into the darkness. Soon she saw that the beast had two shining eyes just like - well - headlamps.
“Hey kids, it’s not a monster, it’s another car.”
In fact it was the tractor. Jeff jumped down and said: “Ghost Busters at your service.”
A good tug on the towing rope was all it took to extricate Jeff’s expensive city car out of the Somerset ditch. The farmer advised Jeff not to trust satnavs around these parts, and drew a map in Jessica’s notebook. Soon they were on their way to Huish Cottonbois. Before they reached the village they spotted a sign to a farm where the owner had converted two of his barns into holiday lets. Jeff had booked one of them over the internet.
They turned down another gravel track, but this time they were a little more confident that they were heading the right way. It led them down a steep hill through pitch black darkness. “I wouldn’t like to walk down here,” said Jessica.
“Why ever not?” asked Jeff. You’re in the countryside. It’s a hundred times safer than the city.”
“But it’s spooooky!” said the kids.
Eventually they reached the lights of the farmhouse. Farm dogs barked and Smoochies replied with shrill woofs. Their host, Jillie, came out of the main building and showed the new arrivals into their barn.
The photographs on the internet had shown a cosy place, but this was basic. The beds were bunks, the mattresses were lumpy and dippy, and whoever had plastered the walls had left big gaps. The temperature was on the cool side.
“There’s not even a lock on the door,” complained Jessica.
“That’s because nothing ever happens around here. It never has, and it never will,” Jeff reassured her.
“Besides,” said Jeremy, “ghosts can walk through walls so there’s no point in locking the door.” They slept well after their long journey, and the following day on Halloween, they visited a lake, a castle, and the sea. The countryside was stunning, perhaps because it hadn’t changed for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, and you could feel that Jeff was right. “Here nothing ever happens, nothing ever changes, life just follows its natural rhythm and the cycle of the seasons.”
In the evening, the kids carved pumpkins, exchanged trick or treats with the family in the next door barn, and dressed up in masks and costumes. Jessica painted their faces ghostly white with little dashes of rouge for blood. Smoochies wore bat wings and a hat with red pointy ears. Overall, they looked like a convincing family of ghouls.
Their aim for the night was to visit the local bonfire and fireworks display on the village green. In times past, fireworks were held on November the 5th, to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up King James the 1st at the State opening of the The Houses of Parliament in 1605. For centuries children made effigies of Guy Fawkes, wheeled him around houses asking: “A penny for the guy,” and then burnt the stuffed clothes on the bonfire. This was how Jeff and his brother had celebrated in the dark nights of their childhoods. But nowadays in our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island, we have imported American ways, and our winter fun is held on Halloween.
That night there was no fog. It was relatively warm and lit by a full moon. Jessica headed for the car but Jeff said: “The village is just down the lane. Let’s walk.”
“What? Through the spooky dark?” asked Jeremy.
“Exactly,” said Jeff. “The best reason for Halloween is to confront our irrational fears, and you’ll see, they’ll just melt away into the night.”
“But my feet hurt,” complained Jeremy.
“Come on. No excuses. Any ghouls will be scared away by that costume of yours,” said Jeff firmly. He shone his torch up the track, and that was the way they went. Jessica held Jemima’s hand. Jeremy trudged five paces behind the others, so that he could be in front if they had to turn and run from a spectre. They reached the lane where the main concern was to stay safe from cars. Jeff saw headlights ahead and made them stand on the grassy verge. The car went safely past and they marched on towards the village. Five minutes later they saw another flicker of lights.
“To the side,” commanded Jeff.
But Jessica replied: “That isn’t a car. It’s a firework. A couple of bangs and some red and green stardust confirmed that she was right.
“Wizz, fizz, capow!” went the next rocket.
“We’re late. The fireworks will be over by the time we arrive,” said Jeremy.
“We should have taken the car,” chided Jessica.
“This road takes the long and winding route. Let’s cut across the field,” said Jeff.
Everyone knew that there was no point in protesting. Uncle Jeff sprung over a gate and the others clambered after him. The field was muddy and squelchy.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” asked Jessica. They were heading into pitch blackness, only occasionally illuminated by the festive explosions overhead.
“Oooh, what’s that?” asked Jeremy pointing towards a giant shape that was distinctly moving.”
“Just a cow,” replied Jeff.
“Can’t cows trample you to death?” asked Jessica.
“Naa,” said Jeff.
“Do cows normally snort like that? asked Jemima.
The cow sounded like it had terrible sinus problems. Smoochies started barking like crazy.
“Boom boom.” The ground shook.
“Those weren’t fireworks,” said Jessica. “That cow of yours is stomping on the ground like… like…”
“A bull…!” cried Jeff. “Run!”
And they ran for their lives.
Whether it was actually a cow or a bull, they didn’t find out, because fortunately they all made it back to the gate in one piece.
“Did you see its eyes?” asked Jeremy. “They were glowing red. It wasn’t just a bull. It was a demon bull.”
“Those were fireworks,” said Jeff.
But the the kids and Jessica were convinced that its eyes really did glow in the dark.
They watched the end of the fireworks from the safety of the road, before making their way back to barn where they warmed up with bowls of pumpkin soup.
“Well kids,” said Jeff, “don’t you agree that it’s a good thing to confront your irrational fears?”
“Irrational?” spluttered Jessica. “What’s irrational about being afraid of a deadly bull in a dark field?”
“It wasn’t a bull, it was a cow,” insisted Jeff.
“It was you who told us to run for our lives,” replied Jessica.
“When you’ve got kids, you have to err on the side of caution,” Jeff explained.
“Caution? You wouldn’t know what caution was if it headbutted you up a tree,” replied his girlfriend.
There was a minute or two of sullen silence before Jeff thought of a way to change the subject: “Well who wants sparklers?” he asked.
“MEEEE!” cried both the kids. And they went outside to write their names in the night with sprinkling lights on sticks.
The next day, they went out to lunch at a crowded country pub, which offered a touch of metropolitan sophistication. They had asparagus smoothies, carrot and tangerine soup, organic lamb burgers, GM free chips, Creme Brulee, and
Honey Jalapeño Pickle Ice Cream.
After a long drive, slowed by fog on the motorway, they arrived home late on Sunday evening.
“Did you have a super spooky Halloween in the countryside?” asked Mum.
“It was spooky,” replied Jemima.
“A bit too spooky,” added Jeremy.
When Jessica and Jeff were alone in the car, Jessica said: “Next year, let’s celebrate Halloween in the city, and confront our fears with silly costumes, loads of chockies and sweets. No more lonely lanes, dark woods, haunted satnavs, or demon bulls.”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Jeff. He started the car, resigned to the fact that his family and his girlfriend were city souls through and through.