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Authors: Justin Richards

Creeping Terror

BOOK: Creeping Terror
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T
HEY WERE LOST, IT WAS GETTING DARK AND the ghosts were leaving town.

A long line of them, pale in the dying light of the sun, walked towards the car. One man pushed a wheelbarrow laden with boxes. Another was carrying his small daughter. A woman held the hands of two toddlers, their faces smudged and indistinct. All of them looked grim and resigned.

‘Who are they all?’ Tommy wondered out loud.

‘What’s that?’ his dad said, oblivious to the figures. ‘Did you see someone?’

Usually the ghosts were not as distinct. Usually they were just vague shapes and Tommy had to use his mobile phone to see them properly – the special phone he’d been given when he joined the ‘extra maths’ group. They did some maths, just to keep up the pretence. But the three gifted students were actually learning all about the ghosts and demons, the Grotesques and the spirits … Their tutor
Mr Fothergill, worked for the School of Night.

‘It’s nothing,’ Tommy said. ‘Nobody. Have you worked out where we are yet?’

His dad sighed. ‘Well, somewhere between Bournemouth and Wareham, I think. We must reach a main road, or at least a signpost, soon.’

Tommy nodded. Dad had been saying that for nearly half an hour.

Making sure it was angled so Dad couldn’t see the screen, Tommy flipped open his phone. The last few figures walking along the side of the road shimmered and glowed on the screen, their features sharper and more focused, their auras clearly visible like white haloes. Then the road was empty again. In the distance there was something else – another faint glow. A tall building, like a castle or …

‘There’s a church,’ Tommy said. He snapped the phone shut and slipped it back into his pocket. ‘Look – over to the left.’

‘At last. Civilisation. There’ll be signs there. Or if not we can ask.’

The road swung round in a wide bend towards the distant church tower. Silhouetted against the red glow of the sunset, the tower looked ragged and lopsided. Tommy squinted, trying to see it properly, to make out the details.

‘I think it’s just a ruin,’ he said. ‘We’re in the middle of nowhere.’

‘Don’t say that. There must be something.’

The church tower disappeared behind trees. Dad turned on the car headlights and at once they shone across something white beside the road up ahead.

‘There’s a sign.’

Dad slowed right down so they could read it. The sign was pitted and discoloured with age. The paint had faded and one side was broken.

‘“Welcome to …”’ Tommy began to read.

Under those words was the name of the village they were entering. But the letters had been painted out with thick, careless black strokes.

‘Vandals,’ Dad muttered. ‘Nothing’s safe these days. Kids probably.’

‘I blame the parents,’ Tommy joked.

Dad grinned. ‘You’re probably right at that.’

He was happier now they’d found somewhere. From the moment he realised they were lost, he’d been snapping at Tommy as if it was his fault.

Ahead of them Tommy could see a row of houses. They passed a street lamp – old-fashioned, with a lantern rather than a modern bulb at the top. Like they were driving into Narnia. There was a phone box too. At least, Tommy thought it was a
phone box – a small hut with large glass windows. But he thought old phone boxes were red, and this one was dark brown.

The church was visible again, at the far end of the village. Tommy could see now that it didn’t look ruined at all. He must have imagined that.

‘Pub,’ Dad announced. ‘Just the place. Funny …’ he added as he slowed down. ‘No other cars about.’

‘Maybe everyone’s in the pub,’ Tommy said.

‘There must be a car park somewhere. Not to worry. We’re not staying.’ He pulled up at the kerb.

They got out of the car and Dad locked it. The pub was on the other side of the road. A sign outside read ‘The Green Man’. It showed a picture of Robin Hood, dressed in Lincoln green and holding his longbow.

‘Rude just to go in and ask where we are. Might as well have a swift half while we’re here,’ Dad decided. ‘And a Coke,’ he added quickly.

‘We might not have to,’ Tommy told him. ‘Someone’s coming.’

At first he thought she was another ghost, but Dad obviously saw her too. The elderly lady was leaning heavily on a wooden stick and her white hair was tied back with a black ribbon. The last rays of the sun picked out all the lines in her
tired-looking 
face and made her pale eyes glitter as she peered up at them.

‘The green,’ she said. Her voice was as old and cracked as her face.

‘Yes,’ Dad agreed. ‘We were just going in. But maybe you can help? We’re a bit lost. Need to get back to the A350. I think we missed a turn somewhere.’

The woman nodded thoughtfully. ‘We’ll all be lost soon.’

‘If you could just point us towards the main road,’ Dad tried.

The woman turned away, her face falling into shadow. ‘Beware the green,’ she said as she made her way slowly down the road, fading into the gathering darkness.

‘Well, that was helpful,’ Tommy said.

‘We don’t like strangers here,’ Dad told him, in a mock West Country accent. ‘Let’s hope they make more sense in the pub. It’ll be dark in a few minutes.’

The street lamps weren’t on and nor were the lights in any of the houses so far as Tommy could see. No lights anywhere. Just the faint sound of organ music coming, he guessed, from the church.

‘You’d think they’d turn the street lamps on,’ Dad said, echoing Tommy’s thoughts.

The pub too was in darkness. But there was noise coming from inside. Muffled voices, the chink of glasses, someone singing out of tune.

The noise died away when Dad opened the door. The lights were on inside, but thick, dark blinds were pulled down over the windows. There were bare, round wooden tables on a stone floor and a large middle-aged woman stood behind the bar. Half a dozen men were seated at different tables. Two of them played dominoes. Another two men stood at the long wooden bar. They were all middle-aged or older.

‘Don’t stand there with the door open,’ one of the men at the bar said loudly. ‘You’ll have old Pearson down on us like a ton of bricks if he sees a light.’

Tommy closed the door and followed his dad to the bar. There were several old-fashioned beer pump handles, and behind the bar he could see a row of bottles and a couple of wooden barrels with taps attached.
Olde Worlde,
Dad would call it.

‘You on leave?’ the other man at the bar asked.

‘Weekend break,’ Dad said. ‘Just passing through. Er, hoping for directions actually. Oh, and a drink of course,’ he added quickly as the woman behind the bar glared at him.

‘More trouble than it’s worth, getting rid of all the signposts,’ the woman said. ‘What’ll you have?’

‘Half of bitter, please.’

‘Same for the lad?’

‘Oh, God, no. His mum would kill me.’

‘Coke?’ Tommy asked.

The woman stared at him blankly. Then her face cleared. ‘Oh, sorry, love. Don’t do hot drinks. No cocoa just now. I’ll get you a lemonade if you want.’

Tommy had never heard of a pub that didn’t do Coke or Pepsi. But there was something strange about this place, he could feel it, so he just said, ‘Fine, yes. Thanks.’

‘Which way do I go to get back to the A350?’ Dad asked as the woman pulled his half-pint.

‘You what?’ the first man who’d spoken to them said.

‘Main road? Dorchester?’

‘Oh, right. You did get lost, didn’t you?’

‘Out past the church,’ the other man told them. ‘Turn left at the crossroads, then on over Hooper’s Hill and past Home Farm. You’ll hit the main road after a couple of miles. Turn right for Dorchester.’

‘Unless you’re spies, of course,’ the first man said, laughing. ‘In that case turn right and drive on till you end up in the sea.’

‘Lucky you didn’t get lost next week,’ the woman said when she’d finished laughing with the men. She put a glass of cloudy lemonade in front of Tommy. ‘Be no one here to help you then.’

‘Just the soldier boys,’ the first man agreed. ‘Moving us out, they are.’

‘I’m sorry?’ Dad said, sipping his beer.

‘We’ve been
commandeered
. The whole village has. For the duration,’ the second man told them. ‘Manoeuvres. Training. Who knows? But they’re moving us all out to Clifferton come Tuesday. God alone knows what’ll happen to this place.’

‘Can they do that?’ Tommy asked. ‘I mean, just shift people on?’ It sounded rather extreme and unfair.

The woman laughed. ‘There’s a war on, you know. They can do anything they want.’

Dad and Tommy stared at each other. Dad forced a smile.

‘What do I owe you for the drinks?’ He pulled out his wallet.

‘Half of best and a lemonade,’ the woman said. ‘That’ll be fivepence ha’penny.’

*

Dad was concentrating on the road ahead, his hands tight on the steering wheel.

‘Bonkers, the lot of them,’ he announced after a while. ‘Completely, utterly crazy. “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” I mean, what’s her problem?’

Tommy didn’t reply. He didn’t think they were crazy.

Dad went on, ‘I thought that big guy was going to thump me when I offered the woman a
twenty-pound
note. Come on! Twenty quid for a couple of drinks?’

‘She only wanted five and a half pence.’

Dad shook his head. ‘Fivepence ha’penny. That’s old pence. You know, as in
shillings-and
-pence pence. Crazy people. Must be some village pageant or something. He said left at the crossroads, didn’t he?’

‘Yes,’ Tommy agreed.

The road narrowed after the turning. High hedges rose on either side. They were so close together that the car lights shone down both sides at once, illuminating twin walls of green.

‘You sure it was left? This doesn’t look like the main road.’

Tommy had his phone out. He didn’t like what he was seeing on the screen. The hedges themselves seemed to glow on the display panel. He could feel the tightness in his stomach that he always got
when there was something strange happening. Something spooky …

At the bottom of the phone, slightly recessed so you wouldn’t press it by accident, was a red button. Tommy’s thumb explored the indentation, then pressed. He held the phone up, knowing that the images it captured were being sent directly to the main computers at the School of Night. They would also be able to retrieve the images that he’d seen earlier. Everything was recorded and stored.

There was something else odd about the hedges on the display panel. It took Tommy a few moments to work out what it was. They didn’t seem solid. At least, not where they closed in on the car. Through the translucent vegetation, the road was wider. Yet, looking up and through the windscreen, the road seemed to be narrowing still further. The parts of the hedge that were only vague shapes on the screen looked all too real through the windscreen.

Dad was braking. ‘This can’t be right. But it’s too narrow to turn round and I’m not reversing a mile or more.’

‘Just keep going, Dad.’

The road was narrowing more quickly now. The hedges pressed in. Even though the car was travelling
at the same speed, the gap was disappearing fast. It was as if the hedges were actually moving.

Actually
moving
?

Tommy double-checked his phone. If he ignored the hazy, ethereal hedges, then the road was still as wide as it should be. Plenty of room. Yet very real leaves were slashing against the window beside him. A branch smacked into the windscreen, leaving a star-shaped crack.

‘Faster!’ Tommy yelled. He had to shout above the sound of the hedges scraping down the side of the car. ‘Keep going!’

Out of instinct rather than logic, Dad accelerated. The sensible thing to do was to stop the car. But somehow they both knew that if they did that the vegetation would close in and smother them.

The dark leaves pressed against the windows. The headlights were dimming, struggling to shine through the mass of branches.

‘Left!’ Tommy shouted. ‘Turn left now!’

‘There’s a hedge,’ Dad yelled back.

There wasn’t on Tommy’s phone. At least, there was only a suggestion of a hedge, and through it he could see a side turning, a narrow lane leading off the wider road.

‘We can get through. Just turn!’

The windscreen went black. There was a loud crack as a branch connected. Scraping and scratching down the side of the car. The roar of the straining engine.

Then sudden moonlight. A country lane ahead of them – white line clear and Cat’s-eyes shining in the middle of the tarmac. The car was hurtling towards a sharp bend. Dad wrenched the wheel again and the car skidded into a slide before fishtailing. It righted itself, the wheels caught on the road surface and they were speeding down the lane.

The fields on either side were empty and dark behind the low hedgerows.

Dad laughed. Soon Tommy was laughing too.

‘Must have been a farm track. Disused probably. I bet they sent us that way on purpose. Don’t you think, Tommy?’

He didn’t. ‘Yes, Dad.’

There was a figure in the road ahead. A man in uniform with his hand up, waving to them to stop. Tommy checked on his phone. There was no glow, no sign of anything unusual. Just a soldier caught in the main beam of the headlights.

Dad slowed, opening the driver’s window. ‘There a problem?’

‘This road is off limits to civilians, I’m afraid. You’re just coming up to an official military checkpoint, sir.’

Tommy could make out a small hut and a barrier further along the road. There were several more soldiers too, and a Land Rover.

‘I’m not sure we can get back that way. It’s a bit … overgrown,’ Dad told the soldier.

He glanced down the road, looking puzzled. ‘I don’t think you understand me, sir. The road you are on is off limits. You’re approaching our checkpoint from the restricted side. You shouldn’t be here at all.’

‘Sorry. We got lost.’

The soldier looked across at Tommy. ‘Just the two of you, is it?’

‘We want the road to Dorchester,’ Tommy said. ‘We didn’t mean to trespass or anything.’

BOOK: Creeping Terror
3.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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