In honour of Mothering Sunday, here’s a totally appropriate and not at all creep-tastic excerpt from my work in progress YA Horror Novel The Many Beautiful Deaths of Miss Floretta Deliverance Hughes. And happy Mother’s Day to my own dear Mama. xox
From the archives of St Becket’s Church of England School, 1963
Priscilla Reid never heard anyone actually say: “The Old Cloakroom is haunted.” Neither did anyone enter it, unless they were being dared to. It was difficult to put a finger on why. The room just felt wrong. Dark, cold, vacant and solitary but somehow crowded and exposed. Perhaps it was the spectre of time which made the room eerie. All the things that had happened here, all the people who had passed through. Six hundred years of joy and misery and fear and laughter captured in stone. Yet no other place in the original wing of St Becket’s School had the same feeling of wrongness, though they were all just as ancient.
Priscilla began to feel the effects of the room from halfway down the corridor. It pulled goose pimples from the flesh on her arms and back and neck. She’d left her cardigan at her desk back in the library. The light dimmed. Priscilla’s pulse quickened.
Don’t be daft. It’s just an empty room. Nothing here but a frightened girl’s satchel with an overdue book in it.
Swallowing her fear she carried on into the cloakroom. Whoever took Delia Jackson’s bag did a proper job of it. The little canvas satchel lay crumpled in the far corner at the very end of a long row of those eerily empty coat pegs. The thief must have thrown it from around the corner—hard enough to crush a plum Delia must have been saving to eat on her way home from school. Dark, purple liquid seeped through the light beige fabric of the bag, staining it like blood.
Priscilla felt a strange, swooping sensation in her stomach. As if the floor had just dropped from under her and she was falling from a great height, the wind pulling at her hair and her dress, making the bow of her collar flap against her chin. Against the dizzying wave of nausea, Priscilla squeezed her eyes shut. Little lights bloomed behind her eye lids: black then white then red. Bright, glowing, blazing red. She forced her eyes open and all was still again—only the corridor and the cloakroom beyond.
Run. Just run and grab it and run back out and hope no one is waiting at the opposite end of the hall to see you looking stupid. Her feet refused to obey. Right, on the count of three then: one, two, three!
Priscilla pushed off from the stone wall, pelted into the freezing cold air past the empty coat pegs to the far end of the darkened cloakroom. She gathered Delia’s satchel into her arms. Spinning on her heel she launched herself back to the safety of the corridor. Then, in the middle of the very wrong, very old cloakroom, she froze.
The bag moved.
Priscilla held her breath and waited. Perhaps she had only imagined it. The bag twitched again. Then a third time before it began to squirm.
The bag thrashed wildly in her arms as if it didn’t want to be held. Had Delia brought a cat to school? Hidden in her bag? Is that why she was too frightened to collect it? She looked down at the canvas satchel. Its light beige fabric blended with the skin on her arms. The same colour, the same texture, the same—flesh!
The bag cried out. A high, insistent, piercing wail instantly recognisable to any parent. Priscilla opened her trembling arms and an infant’s face stared back at her, red mouth opened wide in an angry howl. Its tiny fists and feet flailed. Its spine stiffened and curled, stiffened and curled in a writhing motion. The stain on the fabric of the bag was not from a squashed plum. It was a layer of blood which coated the new-born skin of the crying baby.
A sharp pain took root deep inside her, awakening a memory she had hoped would stay forever dormant. It rose up from the secret place where Priscilla had hidden that horrible, wonderful, painful moment pulled from her at last by a high, insistent, infant cry. The cry of her son.
That was all we had, wasn’t it? One moment of wailing together before they took you from me, my darling boy.
Maternal instinct moved her to stroke the infant’s fine blonde hair, damp and slightly pink with natal blood. Tears streamed down Priscilla’s face for several moments, until a though occurred to her and she jerked back to look properly at the baby in her arms.
Blonde? No. Not blonde. Her boy had most certainly not been blonde. His hair and eyes and skin had been dark. Like his father’s.
In response to her touch and her thoughts, the baby began to change. Its flesh darkened, staining baby peach skin to a rich teak. Fair and fluffy hair thickened, coarsened and blackened around her pale fingers until the babe in her arms became the son she’d known all too briefly.
My boy. My darling, forbidden Indian boy.
Unable to stop herself, she leaned down to plant a kiss on the dusky forehead of the squalling, bloody infant. The secret, thrice-cursed son she’d given away because he’d been born to the wrong parents in the wrong place at the wrong time. But here he was in her arms at last.
‘Have you been here all this time, my son? Is this where they brought you? Were you waiting for me? Were you, lad?’
In between questions she peppered him with kisses. Gurgling happily, the flailing baby’s hands playfully they knocked aside the librarian’s tortoiseshell, cats-eye glasses. Then tiny brown fingers grabbed fistfuls of Priscilla’s smooth, blonde locks and pulled with fierce tenacity. The infant screams grew louder, wilder, sounding less like a baby and more like some enraged predator. Priscilla tried to pull away but the baby’s grip was strong. The sensible thing would be to release her hold on it, to let it drop to the floor. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
‘This time I will never let you go.’
She held tightly to the baby and the baby held onto her, then Priscilla looked once more into her infant’s eyes. The features changed again. Dark eyes warm and cocoa soft hardened into something black, dilated, pupiless. The mouth was no toothless, squalling maw either. As the baby screamed one last time, Priscilla saw rows of razor sharp teeth. The jaws of the baby opened wider and wider, impossibly wide. It seemed as if it would consume her head-first like a python.
That’s when she finally dropped the baby. Priscilla staggered, blind with terror, determined to get out of the Old Cloakroom. Her heart raced and she struggled to breath. Something constricted her windpipe. She moved her hand up to her neck and ten tiny fingers wrapped themselves around her. The baby—or the thing that looked like a baby—clung to Priscilla’s back its arms and fingers clutching tightly about her neck in macabre imitation of a piggy back ride.
‘Don’t leave me, Mother.’ The baby whispered in Priscilla’s ear. ‘Not again.’ Phantom tears dripped from its dilated pupils and fell icy hard on the librarian’s shoulders. ‘Mother. Please. Help me.’
The infant’s tiny arms wrapped desperately about Priscilla’s neck in a ferocious embrace. She stumbled to the stone floor at the edge for the Old Cloakroom. The world began to spin. Her heart began to slow. Still the phantom bag baby held her, its terrified cries deafening as they echoed in the empty cloakroom. Priscilla Reid clawed feebly at her neck and back hoping to pull the creature off. Her fingers found a rope wrapped tight as a noose around her throat. The baby was gone now. Or she was the baby? Priscilla wasn’t sure. She only knew that she was being strangled.
Everything went dark and cold. For several long moments, a silence fell around The Old Cloakroom, like a soundless shroud smothering the corpse of Priscilla Reid, school librarian.
In a far corner of the cloakroom sparked a red light, like a match being lit. The flame burst and bloomed like a scarlet rose bud. The glowing ember rose bloomed and stretched, its petals curling upwards, billowing in a ghostly breeze. Its leaves puffed up then out ballooning in a fiery expanse of flowery embroidery. The rose of red curls and billowing floral silk wafted over toward the fallen woman and the squalling, phantom infant.
‘You.’ The glowing rose scowled at the infant phantom cuddled beside the dead librarian. ‘You swore to me you weren’t going to do that anymore.’ The red light of the rose burned hot. ‘What shall I do with you, infant?’