The May Second Selected Writer is Nicolette Heaton-Harris
Please feel free to email Nicolette at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE OLD LADY
The Resident’s Association all agreed, without a hint of a shadow of doubt, that the house on Summer Street, number thirteen of all damned things, was the biggest eyesore and problem that they faced.
It wasn’t just the fact that it was having an effect on their house prices. It wasn’t just that it was ugly and dilapidated, sagging like a body without bones.
What it was that affected them the most, though nobody said it, was the fact that it gave you chills to walk past it. That the temperature appeared to be colder around the house. Which in itself was odd and mysterious. Even Graeme, their weather hobbyist, was unable to ascertain or explain why this was so.
Nobody mentioned that you couldn’t stare at the house for long, without chills running down your spine and making you hurry on by. Nobody mentioned the ghost stories that the local children spread between them when they played on the street. No-one liked to think that any of that could possibly be true.
After all, they all lived in the real world, didn’t they? They were all sensible people, with respectable histories. Their chairperson was an ex-police inspector, the secretary a secretary (oh, how they loved the irony!), their treasurer a retired milliner and among the rest of the assorted number they had among them a glass-blower, a manager of a retail organisation and a dog groomer.
Sensible people with clear heads. Definitely none of those weird people on the board that believed in witchery and hocus pocus! Ghosts? Pah! Don’t exist.
So they simply –sensibly– decided to focus on the strange phenomenon of the cold surrounding the house. They simply agreed that there had to be a straightforward, scientific cause or reason behind it. It was just something they hadn’t discovered yet.
But what the Resident’s Association wanted more than anything, was for someone to come along, knock down the monstrosity and build a brand-new, beautiful looking house to match all the other aesthetically pleasing buildings that surrounded it.
“It’s like an ugly, hairy wart in the middle of a beautiful face,” complained Joan Fossick, the dog groomer. Like the animals that left her care, she herself was perfectly groomed and clipped to within an inch of her life. Joan, more than any of the others, hated the ugliness of Number Thirteen.
Douglas Camber, the Chairman, had raised his large mug of tea in agreement, then rested it on the rise of his enormous paunch. “You’re absolutely right, Miss Fossick! Something has to be done about it and soon. Mrs Camber and I will be wanting to rent out our house next year, whilst we’re abroad and it’ll be hard to get tenants being next door to that monster!”
Edna Sharpe frowned behind her glasses. “But, Mr Chairman, and with the greatest of respects, nothing actually gets done in this association, does it?”
The face of the chairman reddened as he prepared to bluster and protest, but before he could say anything, Edna continued.
“What we need in this association is new blood. We need new members. Members that are prepared to do something about situations that cause problems for us all.”
Joan’s face curved into her condescending smile. “But, Edna, where exactly are we going to find these new members? We can’t force everyone on the street to come to our meetings, can we?”
“We could send out fliers. My grandson, Charlie would be more than happy to deliver them to each house if I persuaded him with a pound or two.”
Douglas nodded as if considering this possibility. It was action, definitely. Something Edna wanted. Something they all wanted, if truth be told, only none of them were energetic enough to do it themselves. But if this young Charlie-boy was prepared to do it...
“Would you run-up the flier, Edna?”
“Of course. I’ve been taking computer classes at the library, so I’d know what to do.” She smiled. “So you want me to? Shall I do it?”
Douglas looked around their small group and imagined the room filled with people from all the houses on the street. They’d be a Resident’s Association to be reckoned with! “Raise your hands if you want Edna to post out a flier for more members?”
They all raised their hands, pleased that someone else was doing all the hard work and not them.
Douglas slurped from his tea and grinned. “Motion carried!”
Charlie set out from his grandmother’s house with a quick step, determined to have delivered all the fliers by four-thirty. By then, he’d have enough time to cycle down to the sweet shop to spend the two pounds his Nan had promised him.
He’d given the flier a brief scan, but hadn’t really read it. The words on the page danced before his eyes and wouldn’t hold still. His dyslexia meant he usually needed a yellow overlay to help with the problem. Still. He couldn’t imagine it was anything interesting. Something about the Resident’s Association, she’d said, which was enough to put him to sleep right away.
The one thing guaranteed to keep him awake, however, was Number Thirteen, Summer Street. It was like a troll. Or one of those gargoyles you see on churches. He could feel the house watching him as he passed by on the other side, even though he knew, realistically, that the house didn’t have eyes and there definitely wasn’t anyone living in it, not unless a stupid tramp had squatted in there, which he doubted. No-one in their right mind would go in that house, never mind sleep in it, he thought.
As he came back from delivering a flier to number forty-eight and was directly opposite Number Thirteen, he risked a quick look at the place.
It looked the same as always. Broken, decayed, mossy and grey. Its windows blackened by age, rotten frames like bad gums holding wobbly teeth. The garden was overgrown with high, yellowing grass and rich, green nettles and thistles. About waist-high, he reckoned.
A flicker of yellow behind one of the lower windows caught his attention, but as soon as he tried to focus on it, it was gone. Shivers shot down his spine and goose bumps prickled his skin. He rubbed at his arms to bring back some warmth.
Damn! That place is weird!
He moved on to number fifty. Long ago, his Nan had told him that an old lady had lived at Number Thirteen. No-one knew how old she was, she’d just always been there. Like an old cobweb no-one had thought to clean away. There’d been stories about the old lady. That she’d killed her family. Her husband and her four children. Slaughtered them all in their beds one night with a bread knife. That she’d gone to prison, done her time and then come back to the house to live with the ghosts. Apparently the old lady had hardly left her house. Only venturing out after dark to get food. No-one ever saw her during the day. They assumed she was sleeping as she always had a light on at night. Candlelight by the looks of things. People reckoned she hadn’t even got electricity installed in the house, she’d been there that long. But, as she kept to herself and didn’t cause a problem, people left her alone. Hayling Island itself wasn’t a place for thugs or young people looking for trouble. It was an aging population. Most of the twenty thousand residents were aged over sixty. Only a few young families with children at the local schools. Nice young families, with good kids.
The old lady had served her time for what she’d done. She was no danger to anyone else and so she was left alone.
A little bit too much.
One day, someone had said to somebody else that the old lady hadn’t been seen for an age. Even at night. That someone suggested that the old lady might have died there. That her body was probably rotting away on its own in there, visited only by the flies and the spiders on the walls. The fear of this grew bigger and bigger and one day the police were called to check it out.
They’d forced their way in. Broken down the side door –even now there was still a piece of rotten MDF covering the hole in the door where the policeman had kicked– and gone in to find...
...well, nothing. The place was empty. No signs of recent activity, only the old stuff of a raggedy old blanket on a steel-framed camper-bed parked in the sitting room next to a stained and rusty gas ring, she’d used for cooking.
The police looked for her. Found no trace. Nothing to suggest she was dead there, or that she was planning on returning. Stories were told that they’d still found the blood stains on the floor where she’d killed her family in her frenzied attack, never having cleaned them away.
Some said it was those stains that drove her away. That the guilt of what she’d done had finally gotten to her.
Others just said she was a crazy old woman anyhow and who cared what had happened. The place was empty, let it be cleaned up and let some other poor souls live in the house. Do it up good and proper. Perhaps a builder could tackle it?
Only the building was listed. Grade II. Nothing could be done. So it sat there, like a fat frog, a troll, a gargoyle, a hairy wart on the pretty face of Summer Street.
But there was something about that house...He tried to take a good look at it, to figure out what it was, but it was like his eyes wouldn’t stay where they were meant to! His gaze would flick out to look at something else. As if the house itself somehow controlled what you saw!
Charlie decided to get closer. See how far he could make himself go down the path.
Crossing the road, he walked towards the property. The grass was high and still, despite the slight breeze, but he couldn’t hear anything moving within it, thick as it was. Surely there were mice? Or –he grinned– rats! Charlie loved anything scary like that. His Nanna said that horror films and things like that were stupid. What was the point of scaring yourself? Charlie thought she was boring.
The house began to loom over him, dark and forbidding. It almost didn’t look real. There was no life to anything! No colour, no light, no movement. No signs of anyone living in it. Clutching his fliers, he stepped up towards the front door. The MDF panel at the base of the door was attached by rusty nails and one had come away.
Biting his lip, he checked to make sure no-one was watching and then knelt down to see if he could move it a bit. See inside the house.
Wait till I tell everyone about this!
He put the fliers down and pulled at the panel. It was difficult to shift, but he managed to move it a bit and peer into the darkness beyond. It took a while for his eyes to adjust, but he could make out shadows. Maybe an old bureau, or something at the far end. And then there was the drip, drip, drip of something.
It sounded close! Very close! Intrigued, his stomach dancing with thrilled delight, he put his hand in through the gap to see what it was. His skin shivered as something cold dripped onto it and he pulled his hand out, expecting to see water from a burst pipe or something.
There was blood on his hand.
“Shit!” Charlie fell backwards, then scrambled to his feet. He couldn’t run fast enough. Couldn’t get away quick enough, wiping his hand against his shirt, squirming at the feel of the sticky blood upon his skin.
When he got to the pathway, he slowed to a walk and passed the house without looking at it again. He didn’t care about the fliers anymore. All he wanted was to get away and not think about that house ever again!
Charlie pulled up his hood and wondered if anyone would ever be brave enough to enter Number Thirteen?
Edna had put a returns slip on the flier, asking people who were interested in the Resident’s Association to let her know if they were interested in coming to the next meeting, by sending it to her with their name and details on. That she would supply them with details of the time and the place.
On the Sunday, just after she’d finished watching ‘Songs of Praise’ on BBC1, she heard the rattle of her letterbox and curious, got up to see what it might be.
Even from down the hallway, before she reached the door, she could see that it was a reply slip and she felt pride surge through her! Her suggestion was working! People were interested!
She groaned as she picked up the piece of paper. Her back was playing up, though she felt that maybe it was something to do with her neck as she had a mean pain there, too.
The paper was icy cold, but then again, it was cold outside. The reply slip had been filled in with a beautifully scripted handwriting;
‘Dear Mrs Sharpe,
Edna couldn’t quite believe what she’d read and had to do so again a number of times! Someone was living in Number Thirteen?
She pondered on the name. It wasn’t in the least familiar. She didn’t know any True’s on the Island and she knew most people, having worked and lived on it all her life. But, she decided, Clara sounded an old lady’s name and she knew of no old lady that was horrible or nasty or creepy in any way, so perhaps this Clara True would be an asset? To actually have the resident of Number Thirteen at the meetings would help enormously! If the work of altering the house was too much for one woman, then perhaps the others might consider helping out in some way? After all, the quicker that house was sorted the better!
And I can get to know you before everyone else!
Edna liked that. Eight o clock on Monday was going to be fine. She turned the paper over, looking for a phone number, so she could call to say that the time suggested was okay, but there was nothing else written on it. Hmm. Charlie hadn’t said he’d delivered a flier to that house, but she hadn’t asked him, had she? He’d been so pleased to get his two pounds, he’d been off to the shop and then home again to his mother’s before he could tell her that someone had moved in.
Odd...I don’t recall seeing a removals lorry.
Still, Edna reasoned with herself, she didn’t stay indoors all day did she? She had a life to lead. She went out to the shops and the library, or the post office. She couldn’t sit and watch that house all the time!
Pleased with her small victory and the superior knowledge that she would astound all the others when she turned up at the next Resident’s Association meeting with the very tenant of Number Thirteen, she smugly took the slip of paper into her sitting room and placed it onto the mantelpiece.
Edna was looking forward to Monday evening very much indeed.
As Monday evening approached, Edna began to wonder some more about Mrs Clara True. What it would be like to enter that house that everyone had wondered about for so long? Would it be as cold inside as it was to pass it outside? What sort of decor did the old lady have? What sort of person was she, that she could live in such a house with such an astounding history?
What she did know, though, was that she wanted to make Clara feel welcome to the Association. She didn’t want Clara to feel that she was being victimised. Little old lady on her own being bothered by a Resident’s Association? They didn’t want to end up in the newspapers for harassment, did they?
So she thought long and hard and decided a good welcome gift to soften the old dear up, would be to bake a nice cake. A good old traditional Victoria Sponge, with cream and jam in the centre, all lovely and sweet. What little old lady would be able to resist?
So Edna baked. She baked with more care and attention than she’d ever baked with, until she had her results standing proudly before her. She’d even placed it on a doily and sprinkled icing sugar over the top! It was a marvellous cake.
At seven-thirty, she began to think about what to wear. If there still wasn’t any electricity in the house, then perhaps the old dear didn’t have any heaters. It would be best to wear something thick and warm. So she picked out a nice skirt, twinset and tights and then draped her old sheepskin jacket over the top, for an extra added layer. Her mother had always said that ‘you can remove layers if you get too hot’ and it was wise advice. Edna liked to think that she was wise.
She checked her hair in the mirror and reapplied her lipstick. First impressions certainly counted and she wanted to make a good impression on Clara. As her hand held the lipstick to her mouth, she noticed in the reflection that her hand was shaking. And it was only then that she began to realise how nervous she was.
Bad things had happened in Number Thirteen, if the stories she’d heard about the place were true. Murder. And of children, too! Surely Clara True would have cleaned away the bloodstains that were supposedly seen on the floor?
Stuff and nonsense! Of course she would have! What sort of person would you be if you moved into a house and didn’t cover up or clean away such awful reminders? There was bound to be carpets down now. What kind of absurd nonsense was she allowing to fill her head?
Edna kept trying to convince herself that it was all going to be alright. Briefly, she considered calling Douglas Camber, the Chairperson, and letting him know where she was going, but the desire to just turn up with Mrs True at the meeting got the better of her. She wanted to surprise them all. Spark some excitement into them!
At five to eight, she set off from her home and walked the short distance to Number Thirteen.
Darkness surrounded the house like a crouching monster and everything seemed very still. It was like sound had been sucked from the world, as she couldn’t hear anything. No cars on distant roads, no voices, no televisions blaring out from other houses.
Her neighbours had their lights on, but Number Thirteen sat in complete darkness and as she got closer, the chill that surrounded the house enveloped her and pulled her in. She shivered, staring hard at the black windows, wondering if Clara was in fact in. Whether she had forgotten the invite to ask her round? As her steps took her closer, her hands holding the cake began to tremble and her fingers stiffened from the cold. Edna wanted to stretch them, crunch them, get some feeling back into them.
She got closer. The front door with the MDF panel just a few feet away.
Her imagination began to run riot. What awful beasties lay in wait in the high grass? She felt sure something could pounce out at her at any minute! That something awful, black and screechy would swoop down from the roof and scrape the top of her head.
Edna gulped and stepped up to the front door, rapidly knocking on the wood.
Get a grip, Edna. If Clara can live here, then you can bloody well make it to the front door!
Glancing about her, she checked the dark shadows, sure that she spotted movements out of the corner of her eye each time, but then she heard sounds. Sounds of movement from deep inside. Mrs True had to be coming to the front door, sidling up from within the bowels of the house.
The door opened with a protesting creak.
Clara True was not a dainty old lady. She was old, yes, her rheumy eyes gave that away, but she was tall and stooped, well-built, her head hanging forward, her bottom lip stuck further out than the top one. Lips that were blood red, thick and bulbous, against a white, pale face and long, lank, black hair, streaked with wiry grey.
Mrs True smiled, a grimace really and Edna couldn’t help but notice how yellow and small her teeth were! They were tiny! Like they’d never grown out of her gums properly, or had been worn down over the years.
And she wasn’t wearing a cardigan, or a twin set, or pearls, or anything like that. Nothing a sensible lady of her age ought to be wearing. Mrs True wore a long, black overcoat, tied at the waist and heavy black boots.
“Yes. Edna Sharpe?”
“Yes! I’ve brought you a cake to say hello and welcome to the neighbourhood!”
Clara looked at her oddly, her head cocked to one side. “But I’ve been here for years. Probably longer than you.”
Edna frowned. How was that possible? Unless...Could this be the actual woman who had massacred her husband and four children? The very woman who had slain five other people in this house? Suddenly, Edna didn’t want to see the inside of the house at all! This wasn’t what she’d signed up for when she’d suggested sending out a few fliers. Perhaps other people ought to deal with Mrs True?
“Come on in,” Clara stepped back to welcome Edna in and British politeness overrode every other sense that was screaming at her not to. She plunged into the dark, not knowing which way to go, flinching at the sound of the front door being closed behind her.
Clara flicked on a cigarette lighter, illuminating the hallway and her strange face. It was the face of a haunted woman, that was for sure. Shadows dug deep beneath her eyes, showing the whiteness of bone that was her eye socket. Lines riddled her skin and drool threatened to drop from her protruding bottom lip at any moment. “Down the hall to the left.”
Still brandishing the cake, Edna stumbled forward, her legs shaky and weak. She wanted to be sat down. And in her own, safe, warm, well-lit home.
The door locked.
Clara shuffled past her and led the way, showing Edna into what had to be the sitting room. The walls were grey, the paper peeling from damp and age. The floorboards were still bare and Edna couldn’t help but look hard at them for signs of blood and to one side, by the empty fireplace, was a steel-framed camper-bed and gas-ringed stove.
It was all laid out as the stories said! It was all so true! Like the woman’s name!
“Er...where should I put this?” Edna indicated the cake.
“Give me a moment to light the lamp.”
Clara’s body blocked the cigarette lighter as she bent over to reach an old fashioned lantern which she lit and laid to the floor on one side, lighting the room considerably. Then she took the cake and placed it onto the camper bed. “The cake was very considerate.”
Edna felt a piece of spittle hit her cheek at the word ‘considerate’ and grimly smiled, trying to ignore the desire to wipe her face with her handkerchief.
“Please sit down, Edna.” Clara sank onto the camper bed and waited for Edna to do so too. She cast about looking for a chair and noticed an old single-seater, mildewed and smelly, that she reluctantly sank her bottom onto.
“I can’t stay long,” Edna began, trying to think of how best she could get this over with and then leave. “My son said he’d call me about nine.” Edna didn’t have a son. In fact, she didn’t have anyone, except the people she knew in the Association. It was the only reason she’d joined, to have someone to talk to occasionally, to get involved with, to feel like she had something.
Clara nodded. “A son? I had a couple of those once.”
Ah. Edna wasn’t sure that this was the way she wanted the conversation to go. She didn’t need to hear about the old lady’s killing spree!
“Yes, lovely, I–“
“And two daughters. Terrors they were.”
Edna blinked. What was she talking about? “I’m sorry?”
“My children. They’re terrors.”
Edna swallowed hard. How could she possibly be talking about them in the present tense? “Mrs True, I’m sorry, but, how could they...” her voice trailed off as an odd smell filled the room. Then the temperature dropped significantly. Edna’s breath pooled out in front of her face, freezing as it left her body. Then something moved. In the corner of her eye and she looked madly to one side. “What was that?”
“It’s them.” Clara stood up and looked down at her. “I’ve been dealing with them for so long now, but I’m getting old, I need help.”
Edna stood up, too and glanced about her. The shadows were moving! In the corner of the room. Or something in the shadows was moving! “What’s happening?”
Clara glanced down at the floorboards and Edna’s gaze followed too. Horrified, she watched as blood overflowed between the wooden slats and began to run over the floor.
“Jesus Christ!” Edna clutched the cross she had on a necklace and twisted from side to side, trying to avoid the blood, but it was pooling now. Had reached her shoes. She had to step on it, she had no choice! She wanted to run. Run faster than she’d ever run before! But her feet were rooted to the spot. No matter what she did, she couldn’t move!
Clara looked at her with pity in her eyes and then reached into her long, black jacket and pulled out a carving knife. It glinted maliciously in the lamplight, the flame emphasising the length of the blade, the sharpness of its edge.
“My husband will be along soon.” Clara mumbled, as if in a trance.
“You killed them!” screamed Edna, tears flowing freely down her face. “You killed them! How could they be here?”
The shadows in the room began to take shape and Edna realised, with horror, that there were four smaller shapes and one large. The darkness began to solidify, gain features. The four smaller shapes became two boys and two girls, each with mussed-up sandy hair, wearing pyjamas, stained with blood. Old blood. Puncture wounds that no longer bled still marked their tiny bodies.
She gasped, feeling her chest tighten. Struggling to get enough air into her chest, she didn’t know whether to scream out or cry.
The bigger shape formed into a man. What Edna could only assume was Clara’s husband. His face was dull and pallid, an eye hanging from the left socket, squashed and dribbling as it swung about on the cheekbone. His stab wounds were multitudinous. His chest bare, showing how many times he’d been attacked, his trousers sodden where his wife had mutilated him after his death.
The dark figures began to converge on them both. The circle of the dead, getting smaller and smaller.
Clara raised her knife. “I didn’t want to do this, Edna! But they haunt me! They haunt me every night! They come to terrorise me. At the same time that I killed them in their beds! I can’t keep fighting them, Edna! I need help!”
“Wha–?” Edna couldn’t understand. How could she help? These people were dead!
“I need someone on my side, Edna! Someone to fight them off on their terms! I can’t do it alone anymore, they’re driving me crazy!”
And that was when Edna realised what Clara wanted.
She tried to stop her. Tried to stop the old lady from bringing the knife slashing down into her chest and stomach.
It was like slow motion. Watching the knife rise and fall, rise and fall. Splatters of blood throwing off the knife and Clara’s hand, hitting the wall, joining the flood of blood that already covered the floor.
Edna sank to her knees, her voice silently protesting, but nothing coming out. She was getting weaker, weaker. The knife was raining down on her back now, she could hear Clara crying, begging her to fight the ghosts for her when she got to the other side. To help her out. To be a good neighbour...
Clara True was tense waiting for the next night. She was older than she should be. Punished by God only knew what, to live beyond her time, to suffer the visitations of her dead, tortured family night after night.
She’d tried everything to stop them coming. Torturing her, hearing their wailing cries. She’d researched curses, read whatever she could and had come to the conclusion that only a ghost could fight another ghost.
Edna would have to be on her side, wouldn’t she? She’d begged her! Had known the minute that she’d seen Edna Sharpe standing at her front door, that this was a woman with a heart of gold. A good neighbour. Willing to help, a woman who wanted to find solutions.
Edna would battle Clara’s demons, she felt sure of it. And then, and only then, would Clara be able to get a good night’s sleep.
She sighed and waited.
Watching as the shadows began to gather...
Nicolette Heaton-Harris is a UK writer, based on the south coast of England and has grown up reading stories from the greats - Herbert, King, Poe, Hutson, Laymon. Her first published story was about a kitten that had undergone a mutation and wreaked revenge on the owner that had tried to get rid of it by throwing it into a river. Since then, she has had numerous short horror stories published. This story titled The Old Lady was inspired by an old, dilapidated--and supposedly haunted--house from around the corner to her own home and she can only hope that her story is not based on the truth! Nicolette is currently writing a novella for Proxima Books.
You can visit Nicolette Heaton-Harris HERE.
Non-fiction by Nicolette Heaton-Harris:
Fiction under the pseudonym Emma Pierce: