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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Horror Stories / Scary Stories
- Subject: Horror / Scary Stories
- Published: 12/07/2018
Life can be pretty dull here in Cornwall when you are fourteen years old, when the summer season has finished and all the Emmets have gone back home. That’s what my dad still calls the tourists. They don’t seem to mind but he doesn’t mean it kindly. He runs the village butchers shop here in Penleven and is so very polite to them when he’s taking their money from them but you should hear him swear when they are out of earshot!
The village is lovely; even I, as a young lad, can appreciate that but, come the end of October it’s as though someone turns out all the lights and draws a black veil across the whole landscape, and Penleven closes for the winter. Dad’s shop only opens twice a week out of season, just Tuesdays and Fridays, and then only for a few hours. No call for it to be open any more than that. Mind you, the shop is really very busy during those times, with people from all over the south of Cornwall calling in. Dad must be a damn good butcher!
At the beginning of each New Year they have this celebration, adults only, that the locals call the Feast of Meat. Dad is central to the event of course, being the master butcher that he is. It’s held in the old school house, a rather decrepit building that used to be a real school until only about a dozen kids were left in the area to educate and they moved us all to St Austell. Me and my mates often used to try and peek through the windows to see what was going on, but all we could ever see was a bunch of people gorging themselves on way too much food. We did wonder though, and we all looked forward to the day when we would be invited to join in. That was why this year was so special to us. Me and my mate Tony were going to be allowed to join in, having reached the age of fourteen.
Most of the houses in the village are closed up for the winter. They are second or even third homes for wealthy people from across the River Tamar. That’s what gets dad’s goat more than anything. According to him, when he was a young man the village was a thriving fishing port and harbour for the export of fine china clay, with every house occupied all the year round by good, honest Cornish folk. Not any more.
That was before the estuary silted up and the boats were gone. Now, the white river is just a trickle, running arduously through the flat, treacherous sands known locally as Blethen Slips, apparently named that after the first drowning over thirty years ago. He was a guy called Andrew Blethen, quite an important character at the time. Lived in London but owned six of the more picturesque properties on the old harbour frontage, which he let out to wealthy people from the city in the summer.
Apparently he had tried to walk across the sands and had slipped into one of the many deadly areas of sinking mud. He sank down and down until only his head was visible. And then the tide came in. The strange thing was, only his head was ever found.
He was the first, but he wasn’t the last. At least a dozen people attempted to cross the mudflats and were never seen again. They were always Emmets. You wouldn’t catch one of the locals attempting to cross those lethal flats, no way! In every case, the body seemed to have been sucked right down into oblivion, leaving the detached head floating in the muddy seawater. Dad said that the currents out there were so strong that the heads were probably ripped from the rotting bodies as they sank. He used to say that that would teach them to buy up houses in the village when they had no intention of ever living there. Some sort of divine punishment, he reckoned.
No, dad doesn’t like Emmets.
School starts for us in early September, when the weather is still fairly warm and the first of the wild winter storms are yet to hit the south coast of the county. The nearby caravan site is still open for business and, at weekends we youngsters could still make a few pounds over the weekend carrying cases from the camp’s reception to the static caravans at the far end of the site and then back again at the end of the tourist’s stay. These visitors were far friendlier than the ones who bought up the village homes; more common, our mum used to say, more normal. Nevertheless, they never bothered with dad’s butchery shop. Their food was almost entirely provided by the camp café, a rather dirty place that seemed to only serve something and chips for every meal. The tourists were happy though, as were the seagulls that swooped down upon unsuspecting folks who sat outside eating their meals from polystyrene trays. The gulls would sqwauk and squabble noisily, frightening the holiday makers into making a swift exit and then they would gorge themselves on their spoils. Tony and me would watch for ages waiting for it to happen, which it invariably did, and much to our amusement.
Most days after school me and Tony would meet up with Gog. Yeah, I know. It’s not his real name but he likes to be called that. I have no idea why. He’s a bit odd but we like him. Gog is a lot older than us but he seems to like the same things that we do, and he is full of ideas about things we can get up to; different things, you know, things that our parents might not approve of!
Like the time we went sailing on this raft that Gog made; well, maybe raft isn’t the right word. It was more a few planks held together with duck-tape! It floated though…just. It was ok whilst we were over the sands but once we hit the real waves it was very scary. Gog wasn’t worried though; he told us we would be fine and we were. We got back safely, if a little wet! He’s a great bloke, Gog.
Ah, but then there was the head. Gog said that he found it on the sands, just bobbing about in the water. He’d wrapped it in newspaper and brought it to the old hut where we used to meet him. It looked really horrible and smelt rank, like a dead fish. It had no eyes; they were long gone, just some sort of gooey stuff that leaked from the sockets. It made us both heave but we couldn’t stop looking at it.
We didn’t see it as part of a person, even though we knew that a couple of Emmets had disappeared a few weeks before. It was just a thing. Tony told Gog that he ought to take it to the police but Gog was worried that they might think that he had something to do with it, so eventually he took it on the raft and dropped it into the sea. A bunch of younger kids from the caravans found it on the beach some time later and were using it as a football until one of their mums realised what it was. Apparently people in St Austell, five miles away, could hear her scream!
One of the oldest and biggest of the houses in the area was Penleven manor, an old house that was perched right at the top of the steep hill, overlooking what remained of the silted up harbour. It was empty for quite a while and we kids used to play there, rushing around the dark corridors and ransacking the decaying rooms to out hearts’ content. Gog swore that it was haunted. We didn’t believe him of course, but none of us had ever had the courage to stay there overnight!
Then, one day we found the place completely boarded up with huge wire fencing erected around it. It was then that we learned that it had been sold to an African businessman. Now our free-time was spent watching as a horde of builders set to work against the unforgiving November weather to restore the property to its original appearance. There was talk of it being converted into a luxury hotel but, when the work was completed the locals realised that it was to be just another holiday home for a wealthy family.
They were called D’Argent. Tony said it was probably a made up name and that they were likely to be spies or international criminals. Dad reckoned that they made their fortune out of conning old people out of their life savings using internet scams. I thought that he was just being racist.
There were only two of them; no kids or anything, and yet the house had more bedrooms than the rest of the houses in the village put together! They were both very dark skinned, Nigerian we were told, and they never spoke a word to anybody. They used to slither through the village in this huge, sleek car, not looking at anybody and clearly not interested. Dad was beside himself with fury, as you can imagine.
Then the parties started. They were wild, noisy affairs and to which none of the residents of Penleven were invited, of course. We always knew when there was going to be one of these ‘events’ because there would be a procession of flashy cars winding their way up the hillside to the long driveway. I remember the first time it happened; I counted no less than seven Rolls-Royces!
I don’t know how he did it, but Gog managed to get a job with the people in the great house as a gardener. At first, the gardens were little more than a massive jungle but Gog worked hard and did really well. It did mean that we saw less of him except on Sundays, when he would meet us in the shed and tell us all the news from the place. He spoke of orgies and massive drug-taking sessions. We didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but the thoughts were quite exciting. Needless to say, we were itching to find out for ourselves!
One day we decided to go for it. It was really quite late on a Tuesday evening. Tony and me had arranged to meet by the post office phone box (yes, we still have them in Cornwall!) at midnight. Of course, my loopy sister decided to stay awake much later than usual so it was well past half past twelve when I got there. No sign of Tony of course. I assumed that he had gone off home.
I glanced up at the old house. It was completely in darkness; no party tonight. Gog had told us he wasn’t working that particular evening so it didn’t come as a surprise, but we just wanted to see inside, to see if there were things worth looking at. Ok, we didn’t really have a clue what to expect, but we were sure it would be worth it! I mean orgies and stuff; there had to be things to see. We even wore matching black bandanas, ready to pull over our faces so that we couldn’t be recognised if we were seen. Silly really, what with my skinny shape and Tony’s shock of bright red hair!
I decided to go it alone. Tony didn’t have a mobile so I couldn’t call him; his dad had taken it off him the month before because he was running up big bills on something or other. Mr Enys thought he was phoning people all over the world but I think that it was more likely that he was downloading games; he never seemed to be off his tablet, fighting imaginary alien enemies and suchlike. Dad and Mr Enys have this one thing in common; they don’t understand about phones and stuff…thank goodness!
I never could understand Tony’s fascination with such fictional nonsense however. I preferred to sit on the banks of the White river, trying to conjure up visions of how it had been in the past, when the china clay works was still open. I would visualise large clippers making their way along its narrow course, which was now too constricted even for the smallest row-boat.
When I started to walk up the long, steep lane that led to the manor there was a slight breeze that caused the leaves on the trees to rustle nervously but, by the time I reached the gateway to the place there was quite a strong wind blowing over the dark hilltops that were now only just visible in the distance as ghostly shapes in the gloom. I have to be honest; I was beginning to feel more than a little nervous and was wishing that perhaps I should have waited until Tony turned up or gone home and tried again another day.
The old rusted gates had been replaced by brand new steel barriers that were seemingly as solidly defensive as a fortress wall. The broken padlock that had once hung uselessly on its clasp had been exchanged for an electronic affair. Clearly the manor’s new occupants didn’t intend to welcome uninvited guests. I decided to walk around the outer walls until I could find a suitable tree to climb in order to get a view of whatever was going on inside.
I discovered an old oak, one of many in the area. This one was so close to the manor’s walls that some of the brushwood had wormed its way into the brickwork, offering ideal steps for an athletic young fellow like me. I scrambled up the twisted branches until I almost reached the top of the tree and peered into the semi-darkness.
‘You took your time!’
To say that the half whispered words nearly caused me to fall to the ground is an understatement. I slipped as Tony’s leering face appeared from the leaves, his broad grin almost literally frightening the shit out of me. My leg scraped against the gnarled trunk and I gasped with the sudden pain as the roughness broke my skin. ‘You idiot!’ I hissed, ‘you scared the life out of me!’
‘Sorry,’ he replied, although his expression belied the truth of the statement, ‘I’ve been here for ages.’
‘Seen anything?’ I asked, peering once more into the gloom, the pain in my thigh easing.
‘Naw. Waste of time. I was going to go home if you hadn’t showed.’
‘Maybe tomorrow then?’ I ventured, ‘only this time wait for me in the village! You scared me to death!’
‘Sure. Hey, hang on…’ Tony ducked against the branch that he was resting against and indicated something in the manor grounds. I followed his glance and saw a figure stepping out from the French doors. ‘It’s the old man!’
He was right. The dark shape of the manor’s owner stepped into a relatively less gloomy part of the garden and walked over to the swimming pool, the heated water steaming in the cool November air. He was wearing shorts, obviously intending to take a midnight swim. We watched as he posed by the edge of the pool.
‘Look at that tatt!’ hissed Tony.
Even in this dim light I was quite easily able to make out the tattoo of a snake or serpent, looking for all the world as though it had been carved on the ebony parchment of the man’s skin. The head rested between his shoulder blades and the tail disappeared into the waistband of his shorts.
‘Now that is weird!’ I whispered.
‘I bet the tail goes right up his arse!’ breathed Tony. We both had trouble stifling our childish giggles at the thought of this image. The man turned quickly and looked straight in the direction of our hiding place. We froze. Happily, he turned again and dived almost silently into the water.
‘Come on, we’d better go.’ I said, easing my way painfully down the trunk of the oak. There was evidently nothing to be seen that night.
Tony and I sat on the edge of the old dock, which had long since silted up and been closed off by a huge embankment to seal off the incoming tides. We stared absently at the eels swimming lazily in the shallow water. In younger days we would catch as many as we could, to then take them back proudly in our plastic buckets to our mothers, who would promise to cook them in delicious pies. Oddly, those pies never materialised.
‘I saw one that was over three feet long last week,’ said Tony.
‘Wow,’ I said, not believing him but not caring enough to challenge his statement. One of the eels snatched a skating fly from the surface of the water, causing small ripples that reflected the sunshine offering a multi coloured display, if only for a moment. ‘You still want to go up to the manor again tonight?’ I asked.
Tony shrugged. ‘Can do, I suppose. I saw a couple of big flash cars going up the hill earlier this morning. Maybe there’s one of them parties on tonight. Gog says that they do it in the swimming pool!’
I regarded him incredulously. ‘Sex, you mean? They do sex in the pool?’
‘Yeh,’ he continued, the excitement rising to his voice, ‘and not just one, like, one person but with each other!’
‘Like an orgy? Wow! I don’t think I could do it if other people were watching!’
‘Yeh, weird in it? Your thing would go all soft!’ We both giggled as we pictured the images that filled our young, impressionable minds. ‘You ever done it?’ Tony asked suddenly.
‘Sex you mean?’ I replied. To be honest, I was tempted to say that I had, which would have been a lie, but I knew that he wouldn’t believe me so I just shook my head.
‘Dad says you shouldn’t do it till you’re sixteen,’ Tony continued, ‘I don’t know why.’
‘I thought you had done stuff with that Melanie girl from the Catholic school,’ I ventured.
‘Nah, just had a feel of her boobs once.’ More childish giggles followed Tony’s revelation and then we returned to our task of watching the eels.
‘Eight o’clock then?’ I said after a long pause, and this time I’ll bring a torch so we can find our way through he trees without crippling ourselves!’ Tony nodded as he threw a small handful of stones into the bright water. We watched as the eels scattered in all directions. ‘Don’t start without me this time,’ I rose to my feet and headed home, leaving my friend to lie back lazily in the warmth of the late season’s sunshine.
Eight o’clock came and went and found me sitting in the village square, waiting once more for Tony. It was already nearly dark and the single street light did little to illuminate the old cottage facades that all but surrounded the disused dock. I shivered a little, wishing that I had put on a heavier coat and took a short walk around the edge of the water before returning to sit by the phone box. The wind had started to strengthen again, as it often does at that time of year, a clear sign that another fierce, Cornish winter was on its way. I buttoned up the thin jacket and checked my watch. Eight-fifteen. “Ok,” I thought, “I’ll give him till half eight then I will go home”.
The half hour came along quickly and still no Tony. I stood and looked up at the old house on the hill. The lights were on and I could distinctly hear sounds of laughter, friendly chatter and the clinking of glasses. The strong breeze seemed to be carrying the sounds towards me, tempting me. A dog barked, It was a deep, menacing sound that I hadn’t heard before, at least coming from the manor. I assumed that one of the guests had brought a pet with him. I gave it no further thought.
I turned to walk back home. There was a sudden sound of splashing and ribald laughter. My response was immediate. I stopped and listened hard. More laughter, more splashing. They were in the pool! Maybe naked, I thought, doing stuff! All sensible thoughts flew from my mind as my innocence begged to be satisfied. I had to see for myself. Bugger Tony!
I turned again and headed for the steep path to the manor.
By the time that I reached the trees which surrounded the estate clouds had thickened in the darkening sky and the gloom gave way to almost pitch blackness. Driven by an almost manic sexual curiosity I felt my way through the undergrowth, retracing our earlier steps. At last I found the same tree that had been our look-out on the previous occasion and eased myself up into its firm branches. From this vantage point I could see the backs of numerous people and little else. The noises of the giggling women and laughing men, together with the incessant splashing of the pool water were driving me to distraction. I had to see!
I decided to make my way through the trees to the rear of the property. I knew from earlier, childish explorations that the walls were older and in some cases almost crumbled to nothing, so I would be able to get into the gardens without much problem, as long as the new owners hadn’t rebuilt them. Bearing in mind that the last time that I had ventured into this area of the woodland was when I was ten years old it took me some time to claw my way through the bracken until I found a place where the old walls had disappeared to nothing. Nevertheless, untended brambles made progress very difficult and the sharp scratches to my arms and lower legs were beginning to make me wonder if the journey was really worthwhile.
For a brief moment the moon appeared from behind the veil of scudding clouds. I could make out the shape of the old house, rear windows all in darkness. Not far now. The moonlight disappeared all too quickly and I was once again plunged into total darkness. I heard the dog again. It sounded very large and uncomfortably near. Suddenly it was there, right in front of me, its dark eyes piercing the gloom and its jaws slavering like something from a cheap horror film. I froze. The beast just stood there, looking at me as though it had decided that I was to be its next meal. I decided that flight was the best option. Ignoring the painful tearing at my seared flesh from the thorns I forced my way back to the edge of the property. I didn’t look to see if the animal was following me, assuming quite wisely that it was. I tripped, just like women always seem to in these same horror movies and fell to the ground. Putting my arm out to save me my hand sliced into a wet, ghastly mess of something that felt quite revolting. I pulled back, dragging my hand from the slime. As if on cue the moon appeared again and I was able to see what it was that I had sunk my hand into.
My fingers had sunk into Tony’s face, the flesh shredded and gored so that the head was only recognisable as his by the shock of red hair that topped the bloody, torn skull. I screamed silently, the pressure on my temples becoming too much to bear. The body moved. ‘Ugh, ugh’ was the only sound that came from the barely recognisable lips.
‘Tony? Tony? Are you OK?’ I don’t think I have ever asked a more stupid question in all my life. Tony was not ok. With all the strength that I could muster I held back my head and screamed out ‘Help! Help!’ as loud as any person could ever do and then I must have passed out.
I don’t know how long I was unconscious but I came round lying on a sunbed by the pool, the sounds of urgent conversations filling my ears. My head ached and for a moment I forgot what I had just witnessed. Then I remembered and turned to one side and threw up on the grass.
‘Ok, son, ok, you’ll be fine.’ The voice seemed to come from out of nowhere; disembodied, distant. All I could think of was my hand pressed into Tony’s ripped face, his flesh wrapped around my fingers like a bloody glove. I opened my eyes slowly and cautiously, practically terrified about what I might see. A woman was looking down at me, dark skinned and with very piercing eyes. I recognised her as the wife of the owner. ‘Just lie still,’ she said softly, ‘you’ll be all right.’
I jerked forward. ‘Tony! Where…?’ She rested the palm of her hand on my chest.
‘Ssh, easy now. You’ve had a terrible shock. Your friend will be fine’
‘But his face!’ I protested. ‘That thing! That dog!’
‘Sampson’s been locked away,’ the woman said, stroking my forehead, ‘he won’t hurt you. My husband has driven your friend to St Austell, to the hospital. I am sure that it looked far worse than it really is.’
I wasn’t convinced but realised that there was little that I could do, at least for the moment. The woman offered me a glass of water. My hands were shaking so badly that I spilt half of it over my chest and I gagged as I tried to swallow it. An elderly man offered me a sausage roll. I looked at it and then him with complete disdain. He shrugged and walked away.
After a while the owner’s wife took me to a bathroom and helped me to get cleaned up. Watching the remnants of Tony’s congealed blood washed from my hand and then swirling effortlessly down the sink plughole caused me to retch again but at least I wasn’t physically sick this time. I began to feel calmer.
‘I need to go home,’ I said, my voice almost in a whisper.
‘Yes, of course,’ said the woman, ‘I will take you.’ The expression on her face darkened a little. ‘You didn’t see what happened though, did you?’
‘The dog!’ I protested. ‘The dog! It got him!’
‘Did it? Are you sure? Did you see it? There’s a lot of foxes in the woods round here you know.’
I turned angrily to face her directly. ‘It was the dog! No fox could do a thing like that!’
She put her hand on my shoulder. ‘Look, you’re upset. I am sure we can sort it out; find out what happened to your friend. You shouldn’t have been trespassing you know.’
‘I…’ I was going to protest further but realised that it would be pointless. ‘Please take me home.’
Mum said very little when I got back to my place. Dad had gone with Tony’s parents to the hospital. I wanted to go too but they said it would be too much for Tony at the moment. I went to bed with mum treating me like a four-year-old, tucking me in and placing a plate of biscuits and a glass of milk on the dresser. I slept; I don’t know how but I did.
I wasn’t allowed to visit Tony in the hospital for three days. Even when dad took me there he warned me that my friend was not going to be able to speak and wouldn’t be able to see me. In my mind’s eye I imagined him with his head lying on a pristine white pillow, with his bright red hair appearing to grow in every single direction conceivable, impossible to comb or style in any way, and those bright, pale blue eyes shining with mischief, his mouth forming an almost permanent cheeky grin.
Dad had strongly suggested that I didn’t mention that damn dog at all. Better to put the whole episode out of both our minds was his opinion. I wasn’t convinced but agreed reluctantly. I wanted to ask my friend why it was that he had gone ahead alone for a second time. Surely, if we had stuck together we might have had some chance of dealing with the animal.
Tony’s bed was one of eight in a cramped and airless ward. All the other beds were occupied by sleeping and very elderly men. It was like a room full of people waiting for death. For some reason my friend’s bed was shielded from the others by a heavy floral curtain. Dad peered around it and then nodded to me to enter. I swear that my heart stopped when I saw the figure lying in the bed. His head was completely covered in white bandages, making him look like some sort of alien. There was no shape to his face through the dressings. It was almost flat, like a plate. I looked at dad. He read my thoughts immediately.
‘Your mate is very, very sick,’ he said gravely. ‘Just sit by him and talk to him. The doctor says he can hear, but he can’t speak.’
I sat on one of the two plastic covered chairs that were placed on either side of the bed. ‘Hi Tony,’ I said, almost in a whisper. The figure moved its head slightly. It reminded me of an Egyptian mummy. ‘Hi mate,’ I continued, ‘it’s me, Sam.’
I heard Tony breathe through the gauze that appeared to cover his mouth or, at least where I thought his mouth should have been. Like I said; there was no shape to the face at all. He tried to speak. The sound that came from him reminded me of the terrifying cries that he had attempted to make just after the dog attacked him. It gurgled, as though his mouth was full of water. I leant over him, trying to hear what he was trying to say and then noticed the dark redness of blood staining the bandages. Dad saw it too, because he quickly summoned a nurse who, after ushering us both out of the ward must have sent for the doctor.
It was three full weeks before I had the courage to ask dad to take me to see Tony again. He was still in the hospital, and nobody seemed to have any idea when he was likely to come out. The car ride seemed over too quickly and I know that I visibly shook as we walked once again into that place. Dad held my hand firmly, something that he had never done before, at least in my memory. That simply had the effect of making me tremble all the more.
We were directed to a different part of the hospital and found that Tony now had a room to himself. We walked slowly in, the nurse whispering that he may be asleep and if he was, we were not to wake him. He was lying in the bed with his face turned towards the window, so all I could see at first was that crazy shock of red hair. Dad coughed. I assume he did that to check if Tony was asleep. My friend moved slowly, turning his head towards us. I almost threw up there and then on that clinically clean floor. Even dad gasped in astonishment. The bandages had been replaced by pink plasters and lint dressings mostly covering his eyes and the place where his nose should have been…but wasn’t. Metal rods seemed to be forcing his face into the most terrifying contortions that I could have imagined. Well, no, that’s not true. I could never have imagined anything like this, even in my twisted little teenage mind!
‘Hello Tony.’ My dad was the first of us to speak. I couldn’t. My mouth was as dry as sand. ‘It’s Mr Trelan. I’ve brought Sam to see you.’
‘Urhhhhh,’ was the only sound that came from the shape on the pillow. I sensed that my eyes were welling up with tears. I looked at the door and then at dad in sheer panic. He gripped my hand again.
‘Come on Sam,’ he said firmly. ‘you have to be brave…for Tony.’ He forced me to sit on yet another of those ghastly seats that hospitals seem to enjoy making visitors use. I watched him leave the room quickly; rather too quickly for my liking at that particular time.
I turned to look at my friend. Clear, gooey fluid was dribbling from the orifice that now replaced his mouth and nose. ‘God, you look like shit!’ I said. It seemed the right thing to say at the time. Well, he did! I saw his arm move and his hand slipped from under the sheet and his fingers groped sightlessly until they touched mine. I know it was unforgivable but I drew away immediately. Somehow this figure in the bed appeared for an instant extra-terrestrial, as though it belonged in one of the stupid computer games that we sometimes played together, when it was raining. I felt really bad and moved my fingers back towards his arm, touching the back of his hand lightly. It was warm. I know it sounds crazy but I was somewhat surprised at this. I mean, what was I expecting, a corpse maybe?
I guess that I stayed there for about half an hour, but it seemed like an eternity to me. I tried to chat with Tony, telling him things that were going on in the village but there was no real response from him apart from the odd gluey grunt. Eventually dad took me back home and I sat in the car in total silence, vowing vengeance on that evil man who lived in the manor on the hill.
I was awoken at 7am on a Saturday morning some weeks later by loud, almost maniacal banging on our front door. I was not happy. Saturdays were the only time that I got a lie in, what with school and church on the other days of the week. I heard the door being unlocked and then heard Mr Enys, Tony’s dad, yelling at my father. I didn’t need to go down the stairs to make out what he was shouting about but, nevertheless I crept slowly down about halfway and clung nervously onto the bannister rail as Mr Enys faced my parents.
‘That bastard’s suing us! Can you believe it?’ His face was bright red, looking for all the world like he had been scorched by the sun.
‘What bastard? What are you talking about man?’ asked dad, clearly trying to calm his friend down.
‘D’Argent! The creep is actually suing me because of damage to his property caused by my son and…’ He stopped talking, trying to compose himself but obviously not finding it very easy to do so. Dad rested his hand on the trembling man’s shoulder.
‘Come on, Josh. Let’s go and sit in the front room. The door was quickly closed behind them so all that I could hear was incoherent mumbling, apart from the occasional very rude word. I moved to stand outside the door, trying to hear more. Mum took my arm, ‘Come away son,’ she said quietly, ‘leave them to it.’
I was about to follow her into the kitchen when the door burst open.
‘Sam…oh’ Dad started to shout my name then, realising that I was standing less than three feet from him he stopped himself. ‘Come on in here lad. I want you to hear what your friend’s dad has to say!’
Dad resumed his seat next to Mr Enys and I stood nervously before the two men, hands clasped behind my back, wondering just what the hell I had done now. Mr Enys took in a deep breath and then spoke quietly, his voice still quavering in anger. ‘Did you damage any of the fencing when you broke into the Manor’s garden? Tell the truth now boy!’
I shook my head. ‘No sir!’ I said vehemently, ‘there was no fencing, nothing, just brambles and stuff. We did nothing sir!’
Mr Enys read from the papers that he was holding in his shaking hand. ‘He’s asking for five thousand pounds for the damage to the perimeter fencing and…’ his voice cracked and he went even redder in the face, ‘he wants a further twenty thousand pounds for the upset and distress caused by the loss of a beloved family pet!’
‘That’s f***ing stupid!’ I blurted out. I glanced fearfully at dad but there was no admonishment for my use of the bad word.
‘They had to put the animal down,’ said Dad. ‘The police insisted.’
‘That thing ripped half of my son’s face off!’ Mr Enys angrily reacted, ‘Beloved family pet? My arse!’
There was a long silence. I stood awkwardly, not knowing what to do or say. Suddenly the hush was interrupted by the sound of the letterbox clanking closed in the hallway. A moment later Mum came in carrying a large envelope. Mr Enys stood up immediately, pointing at it with his finger shaking visibly. ‘That’s the same letter! He’s after doing you as well!’
Mum grabbed me by the arm and led me out of the room and back to the kitchen. ‘I’ll make you some toast,’ she said.
Dad and Mr Enys spent most of the morning in the room, talking in mostly calm tones but every now and again one of them would raise his voice to be quickly hushed by the other. We didn’t go to church the following day either. Dad said he needed time to think. I read my book. There wasn’t much else that I could say or do.
Strangely, there was nothing more said about the two letters after that. Life returned to be as normal as possible. Tony was allowed home from the hospital and I began to spend time at his place after school, almost as if nothing had happened. It was difficult though. He could see fairly well with one eye but he couldn’t speak. He didn’t have a proper mouth anymore. He would write down things for me but his spelling never was much good and sometimes I couldn’t help laughing. Tony’s shoulders would shake at such times and I sensed that he was laughing too. It was quite a while, well maybe a couple of months, before anything else happened.
Gog found the head. Well, it had to be Gog didn’t it? He walked along the village street holding it by the hair like some sort of trophy. The eyes were gone and Gog hadn’t bothered to peel away the numerous small crabs that were feeding on the torn, decaying flesh that had once been D’Argent’s face. Oh yes, it was him. The features were still strong despite being somewhat putrid and decaying. A larger crab dangled from the ripped remains of the throat, swinging almost jauntily as Gog walked towards the village square. Dad and Mr Enys were talking and Tony and I were playing chess, sitting in the shelter of the post office awning with one of those clever heaters that look like lamp-posts shielding us from the December chill.
‘Ho ho!’ Gog chuckled as he approached us. He proffered his prize on an outstretched arm. ‘Sands got him! Sands got him!’ We all jumped up to get a closer look. I turned away. The stench was horrible. Tony just stood and stared at the head and I could tell from the look in his eyes that if he had still got a mouth he would have smiled.
The police made their usual slapdash attempt at finding the remainder of the body but to no avail. It would have sunk beyond trace, like all the others. That’s what they always said. Mind you, I certainly wouldn’t have fancied digging in the stinking mud and dodging the lethal incoming tides, the very surges that had clearly finished off Mr D’Argent. His wife moved away and, as far as I know the manor is still up for sale. By the New Year his death was all but forgotten in the village and thoughts now returned to the annual feast of meat. I had thought that, in view of everything that had happened that year, the feast would have been abandoned but, as dad said, tradition is tradition.
The time came and everyone (and I do mean everyone) in the village congregated in the old school house. The vicar from St Austell made the usual mumblings (I can never understand a word that man says, even now) and then it was time to eat. Dad had done the butchering of the meats, assisted by Mr Enys and a couple more of the local older men whilst some of the younger men and women who were all volunteers (as was normal) did the cooking and preparation. One by one huge platters were brought out, each containing vegetables, boiled or roasted to perfection. Then they brought in the meats, carried shoulder high amidst a resounding round of applause. A young guy went to place a large salver in front of Tony and me, but dad stopped him and signaled for another plate to be presented to us.
It looked wonderful. The meats were always cooked to perfection but this one was very special. The meat was dark, darker than the others, and the roast skin had a distinct tattoo of a snake running along it. I whispered to Tony and he made a gurgling sound that I knew by then was a chuckle. I knew that he wouldn’t be able to taste the delicately roasted flesh but he understood the funny side of the situation. I took up the carving knife and fork and looked at dad and Mr Enys. They were both smiling proudly. Carefully I leaned forward and carved myself a slice.