Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Things that Go Bump in the Night

Things that Go Bump in the Night
My senses were on full alert, but there was nothing to awaken them other than the mysterious noises of the countryside, the breathy night air, and the shifting moonlit sky. No house showed the smallest glimmer of light: the occupants were either in bed or their blackout was well in place.

I reached Gables Corner without mishap. The screech of an owl startled me. Owls are a bad omen. Other than that, nothing stirred. I turned myself into a spectre of the night and glided ahead, ready to freeze or flee at the slightest alarm.

From under the railway bridge I scanned the road across the water meadows to the footbridge. Was there someone lurking in the shifting shadows of the hedge? Of course not, I reassured myself. I slid silently along to the footbridge over the river, and crouched in the uncertain shelter of the parapet. The river gurgled ominously below.

The church spire was close now. It lanced through the torn clouds and stabbed awake my unavowed apprehension. I would have to go under its fang into the funereal graveyard. I began to regret my incautious boasting to Selena and my subsequent wager. Perhaps the shades of those buried there really do slither at night from their ghastly tombs in the lurking loom of moonlight.

I tiptoed to the graveyard gate. It was nearly invisible in the sombre shadow of two huge guardian yew trees. I must pass through the inky void between them. Should I run?

I crouched by the gate, trying to still the deafening tom-tom of my heart. Every woeful wraith beneath every baleful tombstone must hear it. My hand shook as I reached for the handle.

The latch flew up with a clack to waken the dead. I trembled. I could go no further. The emptiness between the yew trees was an evil, black barrier.

God lived in the church. God was my father. He loved me. I'd be safe in there.

This frail comfort got me through the gate. I sprinted for the porch. Gravel scattered under my feet to deter the waiting wraiths. The porch engulfed me in its gloom. I clutched a pillar of the inner door and hugged it, panting. Nothing had got me. But they were waiting— just waiting—

I slipped inside and leaned against the inner door. The church was cool, and quiet, and dark, and— spooky. My heart hammered. This was my father's house; I ought to feel safe. But I didn't feel safe; not safe at all. I felt terrifyingly alone. I didn't want to stay; so please help me, God!

Exactly how I did it, I don't know. I made no specific resolution to defy the demons. I began to walk slowly and deliberately to the centre aisle and then up to the chancel. There was just enough light from the moon flickering through the windows, to see my way between the black rows of pews.

I felt my way up the three chancel steps.

The familiar choir stalls gave some slight protection from the terrors of the dark. I collapsed trembling into Selena's seat, and listened intently.

My thumping heart covered all other noise. I must find the envelope and get out of here. Fearfully, I switched on my torch and found the hymn book. There were two envelopes inside. One was marked, ‘Selena’; the other bore my name. I stuffed them into my pocket and prepared to flee.

There came a soft thump from the nave.

I switched off my torch and cowered, terrified, in my seat. My ears, like huge alert saucers, turned towards the sound. I heard a stealthy, horrifying shuffling. I became an icy block. I stopped breathing. The shuffling came closer. Something awful was coming. My heart stopped.

‘Peter?’ it whispered.

I died. It knew my name. Was it God calling me?

‘Peter?’ it whispered again. ‘B'ist thee?’

My heart restarted. I drew a deep shuddering breath as I recognised a friend. ‘Daniel?’ I murmured.

‘Aye lad— 'tis ol' Dan'l.’

‘Are you dead?’

‘Nay, Peter lad. Shine a bit o' light so's ol' Dan'l c'n see the steps.’

I switched on my torch. Daniel came up the steps, eased his bulk into the choir stalls, and sat beside me with a sigh.

‘What are you doing here, Daniel? I've never seen you in church before.’

‘Nay lad— the church bain't fer the loikes o' ol' Dan'l: all them fine folks in their fancy clothes. Better fer Dan'l when there bain't be nobody else around.’

‘You only come to church at night?’

‘Aye— at night.’

‘Aren't you afraid?’

‘Dan'l frighted? Frighted o' what, Peter lad?’

‘All those dead people in the graveyard.’

‘Dan'l bain't be frighted o' the dead. 'Ee be more frighted o' them wot's livin'. O' them wot'll turn 'im off'n the allotments an' outta 'is hut.’

‘Is that why you came to the church: to pray?’

‘Pray? Nay, Peter lad. Dan'l bain't be 'avin' the words. 'Ee don't rightly know 'ow to be a-prayin'.’

‘Why do you come to church then?’

‘Arrgh. It be roight peaceful in 'ere when there bain't be no other folks around. Ol' Dan'l c'n rake together 'is thinkin'— loike 'ee does the leaves, come autumn, afore they be burned up. An' loike when little lettuces come a-pokin' through the dirt.

‘An' there's that feller Jesus, wot they put up on the cross in the olden days. Arrgh— reckon as 'ow 'ee were worse off 'n ol' Dan'l.’

‘You think of all that, and then you feel better?’

‘Arrgh— reckon as 'ow we both be a-diggin' in the self-same patch.’

‘I reckon, Daniel.’

‘Didst come too ter rake up some leaves?’

‘Not exactly, Daniel— not exactly.’

I was tempted to tell him about the bet and the money for our project. But suppose we failed. It would be cruel to raise his hopes until we were more certain of success.

‘No need ter be a-tellin' ol' Dan'l. Heh, heh— loike my dad allus said: A seed is all secret 'till it shoots. Bain't it be so?’

‘Aye, Daniel— it be just so. Are you going home now?’

‘'Ome? Ol' Dan'l bain't roightly got no 'ome. Not now the allotments be a-goin'.’

‘Sorry, Daniel— I meant back to the lockup; or rather, your room above.’

‘Heh, heh— When Dan'l drinks a pint 'o beer, folks shake their 'eads, an' then tis one or t'other. Wicked ol' Dummy, they say. Don't faze ol' Dan'l overmuch. Then them wot shakes their 'eads when 'ee sings a bit in The Street, they comes in 'ere an' they drinks some wine an' they sings their sober 'eads off. They be good, straight an' narrer folks they be. Heh, heh— That don't faze ol' Dan'l none neither.’

‘Daniel, I need to be getting back. If my aunt finds out I'm not in bed, I'll be for the lockup too.’

‘Heh, heh— Loike ol' Dan'l said: we both be a-diggin' in the self-same patch.’

‘Yes, except you don't have an aunt to keep you on the straight and narrow.’

‘Ye bain't be wrong tha: ol' Dan'l's got the whole village agin 'im 'cept thee an' thy friends.’

‘Like Molly an' Winnifred?’

‘Aye, an' the others in thy gang.’

We moved towards the door. The church was calm and peaceful. The silver-black of the graveyard welcomed us. It was not in the least threatening. Why had I been so frightened before?

(Adapted from "Gang Petition" chapter 11.


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Gang America

Jennospot 106  Gang America

Aw cripes, 'ee's at it again: P St J is preparin' ter write anuvver book. Well that's orroight Oi suppose, 'cos 'ee said as 'ow Oi c'd be in it, but wiv 'im it's jus' loike all them ovver boys; they say one fing an' then they go off an' do somefink quite diff'rent.

Still an' all, 'ee's made a start on a plot outline. But Oi don't know as 'ow 'ee really needs one o' them plot fings. Loike Oi always tell 'im: why not write it jus' the way it 'appens, 'cos Oi c'n always remind 'im if'n 'ee gets somefink wrong. Trouble is 'ee's real pig-'eaded when it comes ter advice, 'cos 'ee reckons as 'ow 'ee knows best; but 'ee don't never listen. 'Ee goes rushin' at ev'ryfink, but then in the finish 'ee always 'as ter ask an' then put fings roight afterwards so's it comes out true. Dunno why 'ee can't listen ter me in the first place; it'd save us all a whole lot o' work.

Any'ow, 'ee's says as 'ow 'ee's goin' ter write about the American invasion of Widdlin'ton (wot is the village where Oi live). Now don't yew go runnin' away wiv the wrong idea. Oi say it's an invasion, an' so it is, 'cos 'ere they come wiv great big aeroplanes, build an airbase, and are takin' over most ev'ryfink wot is in Widdlin'ton. All that 'as some real roistering' repercussions, Oi c'n tell yew. Only it's a friendly invasion loike (though sometimes yew wouldn't fink it) not loike the 'orrible one wot we was always expectin' from 'Itler an' 'is Nazi thugs, only it ain't 'appened yet.

Any'ow, Oi'm gettin' off the point, wot is that wiv all these American Army Air Force chaps around the place, in their super smooth uniforms, it upsets a whole lot o' apple carts, an' it upsets our soapbox cart racin' an' all. Us kids 'ave got a real ol' battle on our 'ands over it, an' the adults don't seem able ter see our point o' view, wot wiv the war an' ev'ryfink.

The only one wot seems ter be able ter see 'ow it is wiv our problem is a real noice American airman wiv an 'appy black face, only nobody 'cept us seems ter take much notice of 'im, even though 'ee 'as got a ribbon on 'is chest. 'Ee don't go up a-flyin' over Germany neither, wot also makes a diff'rence, Oi suppose.

Any'ow, PStJ is goin' ter write it all down, but it'll take a real long toime, 'ee says; so maybe the war will be over by then. Oi 'ope so, 'cos it ain't noice when yew see them shiny new bombers come back from raidin' Germany wiv big 'oles in 'em. An' lots of 'em don't never ever come back at all…

Yeah, it's sad, an' it makes yew fink real big thoughts, even when yew don't want to…

But it don't do no good ter get too upset 'cos "Gang America", is goin' ter be about a real big gang, even if'n it makes problems fer our little one. So don't worry too much; yew c'n leave the worryin' ter PStJ.

Luv from Jenno.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


Jennospot 105  Barfrooms

'Ave yew got a barfroom?

We ain't got one neither, loike most of them wot live in Widdlin'ton village, but some of 'em 'ave got piped water so's they don't 'ave ter go ter the well no more.

We didn't never 'ave no well, 'cos our 'ouse is new compared wiv them up The Street, but then The Street is real old, loike the church, but the church is even older.

My 'ouse were built around the toime wot the railway come, 'cos they 'ad ter 'ave some place fer the people ter live wot 'ad jobs in the works up Pepper Mill Lane out towards Clayton. That were afore Oi were born o' corse, 'cos them works ain't a-workin' no more. They left some good places in the soide of the valley though, loike the Clay Pit, an' the Mountain Glide where we race our soapbox carts.

Any'ow, that ain't got nuffink ter do wiv barfrooms, 'cept when yew get a bit mucky from fallin' off yer cart. When that 'appens (or even when it don't) an' moi mum stops fussin', Oi 'ave ter 'ave a good wash all over. So Oi go outside ter fetch the big tin barf wot's 'anging on the wall by the shed an' bring it in ter the kitchen. Moi mum takes the big kettle an' several of our biggest cookin' pots; she fills 'em wiv water, an' puts 'em on the stove ter 'eat up.

When they're good an' 'ot, she calls me an' moi bruvver ter come inter the kitchen an' get undressed, only moi bruvver goes first 'cos 'ee's a year older than wot Oi am. Oi reckon as 'ow that ain't altergevver fair 'cos Oi ought ter 'ave first go sometoimes. But it ain't no good me complainin' too much, 'cos moi mum don't take no notice. Mum pours the 'ot water inter the tin barf but it's too small ter sit down in now, so we 'ave ter stand up so's she c'n soap us all over, scrub us down wiv a rough bit o' cloth, an' then rinse off the suds.

Loike Oi said, moi bruvver goes first, an' cripes, the water ain't 'alf dirty sometimes, by the toime 'ee's finished wiv it.

The best is Mondays when it's a school 'oliday, 'cos then we c'n wash in the copper laundry tub, when mum'as finished doin' the clothes, 'cos you c'n sit on the edge of the copper an' put yer feet in the water. It's noice an' warm too wiv the fire underneath an' all. It ain't no good on schooldays though, 'cos by the toime we get 'ome, mum 'as finished the laundry an' its all 'angin' on the line outside. If'n it's rainin' on a Monday, an' yew've got big stuff ter wash, loike bed sheets, well yew jus' 'ave ter wait till the wevver improves. Yew 'ave ter wait a long toime sometimes, in the winter.

Peter's lucky, 'cos 'ee lives in one o' them new posh 'ouses up Lions Avenue. Bungalows they call 'em, an' they got barfrooms wiv a geyser wot goes by gas. Must be noice ter be able ter 'ave a barf any ol' toime wot yew loike, but Peter ain't so 'appy about it. 'Ee 'as ter 'ave 'is barf on Saturday evenin' so's 'ee's all noice an' clean ter go ter church next day. The fing 'is, it's 'is aunt wot takes 'er barf a-fore 'im. She's a real stickler fer doin' things real correct, an' yew're only supposed ter 'ave three inches o' water so's we c'n win the war by savin' gas, an' that at the deep end an' all. She's got a special depth gauge 'angin' by the geyser so she c'n make sure she's obeyin' the regulation.

So Peter 'as ter take 'is barf after 'is aunt, in three inches of gray, second-'and water wot's nearly cold. Cripes, it ain't much fun.

 Winnie, wot lives in an old 'ouse up The Street, 'as got a barfroom. It were put in by 'er dad in the junk room at the top o' the stairs. That were jus' before the war, when the electricity came. The water gets 'eated by a posh electric system wot 'angs on the wall. Winnie says she takes a barf real often wiv proper perfumed soap an' not the carbolic kind. P'raps that's why she always smells so noice.

P'raps one day after the war we c'n 'ave a proper barfroom too. Maybe Peter'll 'elp me bring the geyser in…

If'n yew want ter know more about Peter an' Winnie's barfrooms, yew could read "Gang Territory" http://www.peterstjohn.net/index_2.htm, but only if'n yew've got a barfroom yerself, 'cos Oi wouldn't want ter make yew envious; wot is a sin.

Luv from Jenno.