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Authors: Beth Chambers

Petrify

BOOK: Petrify
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Petrify

Beth Chambers

For my mother, Gaynor, and
my mother-in-law, Christine.
Thank you.

Contents

1     Ma Jessop's Woods

2     A Warning

3     Keep Out

4     Inviting Trouble

5     Midnight Visit

6     Sharp Fingernails

7     Cursed

8     Stolen Gifts

9     Taken

10    Footprints

11    A Promise

12    As Good as Dead

1
Ma Jessop's Woods

No one goes into the woods. No one talks about why. It's just a matter of fact. Keep out of Ma Jessop's woods.

Of course, that isn't the proper name of the woods. The proper name has faded over the years.

From the time of the first disappearance.

I have tried to make Josh understand that the woods are off limits. But he just doesn't seem to get it.

“Ooh, trees are real scary,” he mocks.

I know what he's doing. Trying to wind me up so I tell him the whole story.

Well, I'm not going to fall for his trick. I look at my watch. “Teen Edge youth club opens in ten minutes,” I tell him. “Do you want to hang out there for a while?”

We head along the streets to the youth club.

I push open the faded red door and Josh scoots over to the pool table.

Carrie and Helena ask me to join them.

“Who's the newbie?” Helena demands.

“Josh? He moved in next door on Tuesday.”

“Cute,” Carrie whistles.

Josh picks up a pool cue. He is playing against Karl, who's in my year in school.

“Nice,” Karl admires as Josh pots the black.

Josh flashes Karl a grin. “Cheers mate.” He gives him a high five.

“So,” asks Josh, staring at me, “do you guys want to meet up tomorrow?”

“Sure.” Carrie sounds keen. She
so
has a crush on Josh. “Where should we meet?”

“The woods,” Josh says.

Karl scowls at me. “Ella should have told you. The woods are off limits.”

“What are you afraid of? Killer rabbits?” Josh raises his eyebrows.

Helena steps in. “I don't mind going. It's not like anything is going to go wrong if we're all together.”

I wait for the others to disagree but it doesn't happen. Carrie can't see beyond her crush on Josh and Karl doesn't want to look a coward.

“We'll be okay as long as we don't go too far in,” says Helena. “My brother sometimes hangs out there with his mates.”

“He does?” I'm surprised. It's the first I've heard of it.

“They've made a den on the edge of the woods,” she tells me.

As they make plans to meet up in the morning Josh gives me a smug look.

I shake my head.

I have such a bad feeling about this.

2
A Warning

I decide to walk home alone.

I don't even reach the end of the street when I hear the sound of footsteps running along the pavement.

“Why didn't you wait for me?” asks Josh.

I shrug. I'm still mad at him. We walk along in silence.

“Okay, I get it. You're not talking to me,” Josh grumbles as we turn into our street. “You haven't said a word in the last hour.”

“You want a word? How about
loser
?” I say.

Josh's eyebrows shoot up and disappear behind his messy copper fringe.

“That's a bit harsh,” he mutters.

“Okay, you want to know why we never go into the woods?”

As much as I don't like him right now he deserves to be warned.

Josh's eyes light up.

“I want to know why
you
never go,” he corrects me. “Helena said her brother and his mates hang out there
all the time
.”

Honestly! He is so annoying.

I can't be bothered to point out that Helena's brother stays on the edge of the woods. Instead I take a deep breath.

“A couple of hundred years ago an old woman was thrown out of her village because people thought she was a witch. In the middle of the woods is an old quarry. The woman moved into the caves and tunnels of the quarry. She slept through the day and roamed the woods at night. People said she cursed anyone who came near the quarry.”

Illustration 1: An haggard, witch-like old woman, peering out of a dark cave/quarry in a densely wooded area. Clothes should be very old-fashioned and tatty (circa 1800).

I stop, unable to say the next part of the tale.

And then came the disappearances.

I press my lips together. I've said enough.

“And then what?” Josh leans forward.

My nan comes into the room carrying a teacup. Silently she rinses it at the sink. As she dries the cup she suddenly says, “It's bad luck to talk about Ma Jessop.”

“Why?” mutters Josh. “She's long dead.”

Nan raises her eyebrows. “They say the wickedness inside her was so strong that it stopped her growing, so she stayed the size of a child. Evil like that doesn't die easily.”

“Well, it's not going to stop us going to the woods tomorrow, is it?” Josh challenges me.

I shake my head in disbelief.

“You'll bring bad luck down on you,” warns Nan, giving me a worried look before leaving the room.

I almost jump out of my seat as the back door slams shut. A pane of glass breaks and shatters on the floor.

“See,” I say to Josh, my voice shaking. “That's a warning.”

3
Keep Out

Once Josh has gone Nan calls me into her room. I sit on her daybed and she turns down the TV.

“There's a box under my bed,” she tells me. “Get it out.”

I find the small wooden box and look inside. It's full of old letters.

“Look for a necklace,” Nan says.

Hidden under the letters I find a necklace made of rough wooden beads.

“I want you to have it,” Nan says. “It will keep you safe when you go into the woods.”

I shake my head. “I'm not going.”

She leans forward and grips my hands. “You must go.”

I don't understand. Only five minutes ago she was telling me not to go. Why has she suddenly changed her mind?

Nan takes the necklace and places it over my head.

“You must go,” she says again. “Keep them all safe.”

* * *

The next day we walk down the lane that leads to the woods. Josh is smug. He thinks I have given in. But he's wrong. I still plan to talk the others out of going.

They're all waiting. I look at Carrie's heels and short skirt. She looks like she's ready to go out to a party, not for a walk in the woods.

“Guys,” I say, “I have
such
a bad feeling about this. How about we take the bus into town instead? We could go and see a film?”

Karl shrugs. “I'm broke.”

“Me too,” Helena agrees.

Before I can suggest anything else, Josh snatches Carrie's bag. He races along the path that leads into the woods. Carrie chases after him as fast as her heels will allow.

The others look nervous but they follow Josh anyway. I hesitate. I don't want to go into the woods. But I hear Nan's words in my mind.
Keep them safe.

I take a deep breath and hurry along the path.

I can't see the others but I can hear them laughing. I follow the sound but they are always just out of sight.

Finally I see a glimpse of Carrie's red t-shirt. Leaving the path I scramble over rotting leaves. The sun is almost totally blotted out by the trees. My heart is thumping.

We have to get out of here.

I call out their names but there's no reply.

A flock of birds fly into the sky as I stumble into a clearing. My mouth turns dry as I realise where I am.

It's the one place I had been determined to avoid.

I'm at the entrance to the quarry.

4
Inviting Trouble

There is something strange about the trees around the edge of the quarry. Then I get it. They all seem dead. Their branches are bare and their trunks twist away, as if they are trying to escape.

My friends are standing around the entrance to the quarry. They're looking at Josh edging into the cave.

“He's crazy!” Helena gasps as Josh disappears.

My heart starts to thump. I yell after him not to be stupid but there's no reply.

Minutes pass. I know I should go after him but my legs refuse to move.

“Josh!” Karl calls into the black opening. “Don't be an idiot. Come back.”

A moment later there's a rattle of small stones and Josh appears. He grins. “Did you lot think old Ma Jessop had got me?” He waggles his fingers at me like he's casting a spell.

Illustration 2: Josh coming out of the cave, laughing, Ella, Karl, Carrie and Helen all crowded round, Ella looking worried.

“You're
so
not funny,” I say as Carrie squeals and throws her arms around him.

“I don't know why we were all so scared!” Helena says, moving away from the cave.

The others are quick to follow. I scowl at Josh but he whispers to me, “I've got something to show you. Come over to my house later.”

* * *

It takes until three o'clock before I give in and decide to find out what Josh is talking about. I march around and bang on Josh's door.

“What did you think you were doing?” I snap as soon as he opens it.

“You know we shouldn't have gone anywhere near the quarry.” My voice rises to a shout I'm so mad.

Josh grins, then he pulls out a crumpled hanky and puts it in my hands. I'm surprised by how heavy and how cold it feels. Then I realise that it's made of stone.

“Where did you get this from?” I hiss.

“Where do you think?” Josh takes the stone hanky back from me.

I should have guessed. He's taken it from Ma Jessop's caves. “You idiot!” I shout. “What have you done?”

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