My Brother Terry
This is my first attempt at a ghost story. Any comments would be welcome.
Terry's mouth dried up and the blood drained from his cheeks. A man was aiming a revolver at him. This man's attitude was almost casual, as if he was accustomed to killing people. His brocaded dressing gown contrasted with Terry's battered leather jacket. Sixteen year old Terry looked over to his older brother, but Frank clearly didn't know what to do either.
"Who are you?" the gun's owner asked in a Spanish accent. He took one step down a staircase with an elaborate balustrade, then added "if you do not tell me, I will shoot you."
Terry had never been so frightened. He felt as if he might loose control of his bowels at any moment.
The 21st century
The moon was still visible but scraps of black cloud floated across her face. She might've been veiled like a Sultan's daughter in the northern night. Below her lay a wooded area where caterpillars munched on oak leaves and blue tits incubated their chicks. Here Amber settled down in a hide with her camera, hoping to take pictures of shy roe deer. Usually she'd have noticed that wolf-grey moth which landed on her fleece-covered shoulder, then flew off again, but tonight she wasn't quite herself. She couldn't put her finger on it, but something didn't feel right. She would feel better if her photos were good. Her nose caught salt from nearby sea. Amber looked forward to tomorrow's barbaque, summer in a strong bite. Normally she would be feeling better now that the days were growing longer. Was it only her who felt depressed in late January and February, or did...?
A movement in the undergrowth caught her eye. Yes, springy tendrils were waving in a bramble patch. Amber stiffened, sure that it wasn't any deer she knew. Large areas of the wood were in orca-black shadow, but moonlight penetrated in places. An early sycamore leaf dangled above her hide, like nature's protective hand.
Two men walked across her line of sight. They were some distance away but she was sure they had beards. Heavy jackets bulked them up. Heat rose up through Amber's skin and her pores freed sweat. Her heart began to pound. Those men bent down and she couldn't see what they were doing, but sounds of shuffling, then the rasp of a spade on soil, reached her eardrums. Time seemed to have stopped. She told herself that she knew this patch well enough to evade pursuirs, even at night, but couldn't stop the fear which rose in her mind. Amber braced herself, ready for a quick getaway.
The men reappeared. Each now carried a rucksack on his back. "Please let them go back the way they came," she pleaded silently. Instead they came walking towards her, fluid as leopards, over bare earth where summer leaves shaded out the undergrowth.
Then both figures halted. Amber could now see their faces better, and they were alarmed. They couldn't have stopped for long but to her it felt like eternity. Had they noticed her hide? Surely not in the dark. Next a male voice shouted "oi, you, get the Hell out of 'ere!" Amber nearly jumped through the tarpaulin roof. Those two men spun round and ran away from her, pounding through the night. She remained tense, unsure of whoever had yelled. Was it best to run or was the new arrival too close to outpace. She began to shiver.
"Its all right, you can come out now," said whoever had shouted. Since he knew she was there, Amber emerged from her shelter. Two young men stood there in the moonlight. To be honest, one had a face like a constipated wolverine. His companion had more rounded features. There was a whiff of fish about them. It wasn't easy to see detail in shadows from the trees, but Amber thought there was something unusual about their clothes. They were a bit scruffy but retro.
"Hello," said wolverine face. "I'm Frank Morgan and this is my brother Terry."
"Amber Belfield. Thank you both of you. Who were those other men that you scared off?"
"Let's 'ave a look shall we?" Frank lead them over to where the intruders had been digging. They ducked where branches rose up, then dipped down to form a natural arch; whether triumphal or an entrance to something's lair depended on the viewer's mood. Frank bent over to look at the spot. Amber expected him to pull out a phone and use its light but he didn't so she did. The glow revealed a square hole with a boot print and a mound of earth beside it, near dark ash roots. Glancing up Amber caught sight of Terry, who stared at her phone as if he'd never seen one. She felt surprised and un-nerved, then photographed the hole and the print.
Frank shifted his position on uneven ground, causing his rear to waggle. Terry stepped back to avoid him.
"Careful broth," Terry said. "Who wants your bum in their face?"
"You're just jealous Terry. I can see it now, Frank Morgan's bum gets top billing at 'The Palace Theatre.'"
"Well... you've had enough practice at talkin' through your arse."
"Lady, I apologise for my brother - I should've taken him back to the stork and asked for a refund."
Amber wasn't offended, just wishing they would get on with it. She didn't feel comfortable with two strangers, but they were close enough to grab her if she tried to run.
"You were going to say about those other men," she reminded him.
"Yeah right," Frank replied. "I'd say they buried bomb makin' equipment in 'ere. I caught a glimpse of it just before they scarpered."
Amber would've asked for details but Terry asked her "do you want to go 'ome Amber? Its gettin' late an' you should tell the police about this."
"Yes, you're right," she said. "Let me get my camera, then we'll be leaving."
Amber re-entered her shelter to retreve some equipment. She overheard Frank and Terry.
"You know, we could've used this spot ourselves Terry."
"For what Frank? We decided to go straight, didn't we?"
"Sorry, we decided? I know you did."
"Frank, 'ow do you fancy a big yank?"
"Wow, 'ave you found a curvy secretary at the American base?"
"No broth, I had another sort of yank in mind."
Glancing through the hide's flap, Amber saw Terry grab Frank by the scruff and pull him out of sight.
Amber swiftly packed up her camera. She decided to scram. There was a path behind her. An ash sapling stood beside it, straight and slim like a little sentry. She turned to go ... and was confronted with a large bramble patch with furrowed leaves and thorns, that hadn't been there when she arrived. Amber looked around, wondering how she had made such a mistake, when Terry came up alongside her.
"Let's go," he said. "We've got a hut on the beach, we'll be safe in there."
The brothers set off through the woods. Amber found herself walking between them, tripod over her shoulder, uneasy but unable to see any way out. It occured to her that her tripod could be an offensive weapon.
The dry hard moon was now half-hidden by a long, narrow cloud. She might've been playing peek-a-boo with cool, damp Earth. Amber bent to avoid a branch that was green as a bunch of grapes. The trio emerged from under the canopy. Amber felt shingle beneath her feet and heard it crunch under her weight. A salty breeze cooled her forehead. They had reached the beach.
She couldn't see much detail but there was a timber structure up ahead. As the swish of breaking waves reached her, Amber pondered her companions. They looked young, younger than she, and yet two men who were probably criminals had fled when they appeared. Why? Then there was the puzzle of why they were dressed as they were; she had been too polite and too preoccupied to ask why. The woman walked closer to Terry, somehow feeling safer with him. Even so, if they tried to get her indoors she would hit them with her tripod and run.
"Tell you what, I'll go an' get us some grub," Terry announced. "What about some nice, hot soup?"
"No, don't do that mate," Frank protested. "We're savin' that for special occasions, an' you'll 'ave to shift a mountian of other tins to get it."
"This is a special occasion, we've got a visitor an' we don't 'ave a mountain of food - I wish we did."
Terry entered what must, to Amber's shock and disbelief, be their home. Frank looked alarmed and stopped in his tracks. Amber hesitated alongside him.
"Why arn't you following your brother?" she asked, gripping her equipment ready to lash out if need be.
"It - its complicated."
"Never mind, I've got all night." She surprised herself with her anger."
"Do you mind if I go and answer the call of... you know?"
Then Terry burst out of the building, wearing an expression like a wounded gorilla. He carried a sack in one hand and thrust it into his sibling's face. Was that the tip of a silver candlestick protruding from it?"
"Frank, what is this?" he growled.
"I don't know Terry. Mr Trotter must've planted it while we were out."
"No, you've been dealin' with him behind my back!"
Terry seized hold of Frank's right arm and propelled him round the other side of the hut. Startled, Amber could still hear them.
"Put that down Terry," Frank pleaded, "you don't really want to do that."
There came sounds of shuffling, as if someone was retreating quickly.
"Calm down mate," Frank said, "...yes that's better. No, don't hurt me..." There came a noise as if someone had tripped and fallen on the shingle. "There there, ni-ice Terry.... Not long ago you were happy enough dealin' with 'im, weren't you. No, no, ouch! Ouch!"
Amber wondered if they were doing apprenticeships in replacing Laurel and Hardy. Then she decided enough was enough, turned and ran. Shingle crunched under her pounding feet. She just missed a stranded jellyfish. Her camera weighed heavy on her shoulder. Should she ditch it and try to retrieve it in daylight.
Amber looked back to check if she was being followed, then rocked on her heels with shock. The hut wasn't there any more, nor were its occupants. She felt light-headed and sat down, afraid she might pass out. Amber struggled to her feet, lifted her equipment and fled the scene, doubting her own sanity. Behind her, moonlight danced on lapping waters.
At the first possible opportunity Amber went to a local police station, told her story and showed the officers her photographs. This triggered a manhunt and a search of the woods, which in turn lead to two men being arrested on suspicion of terrorism.
She left Frank and Terry out of her account, lest the episode undermine her credibility.
Amber needed to relax, so she went to an exhibition of historic photographs from the 1940s at a nearby art gallery. On the way she recalled with pride a photo that she had taken. It showed a bison in Polish mist, like a rock painting raised to life, and it had been shortlisted for a prestigious award. She walked past whitewashed cottages, iron railings and hanging baskets with red, yellow and blue blossoms, climbed a hill and entered the gallery.
Inside was a desk piled high with leaflets, also bare floorboards and several movable screens. One corner held a raised-up stage with a small piano and stacked-up chairs. Walls and screens were covered in black and white photographs of solders, sailors, airmen, women working in factories and children playing in car free streets.
At first the young woman felt that she was getting out of herself and relaxing. World War II couldn't have been easy to live through, but she knew that Britain had won and so could keep a distance. Then a large photo on a tall screen caught her attention and her mood changed.
That picture showed two young men sitting on the beach repairing a fishing net. Their sleeves were rolled up and a leather jacket lay nearby. Both were intent on their task so neither looked directly at the camera. A timber shack stood behind them. Amber thought "I must be mistaken!" She looked closer, trying to convince herself that it couldn't be true. No question, the image was captioned '1943.'
"They were ugly beggars, weren't they," said a female voice from behind. Amber turned and saw a middle-aged woman, grey but strong like a harpy eagle. She wore a name badge that said 'Rebecca.'
"Are you all right?" the lady asked. "Can I get you a drink?"
"No, no, its that photo," Amber replied. "It reminds me of someone I knew years ago," she lied as visitors' shoes clattered on the floor.
"If it was up to me I wouldn't have it in the room," Rebecca began. "See those boys mending that net? A few weeks after the picture was taken, they were both arrested for sabotage."
Amber felt her stomach turn over but she tried to hide it. "Were they convicted?" she asked, dreading the answer.
"Oh yes, they went to prison with hard labour. They said a Spanish diplomat, who owned a house near here, coerced them into it but the jury didn't believe them."
Rebecca moved to let a family walk past, through a gap between screens, then continued saying "even if it had been true, which I doubt, they were still dodgy charaters."
"Why, did they do something else?"
"When they met that Spanish diplomat, it was when they tried to burgle his house one night. He woke up, caught them at it and... oh, I don't know what really happened next but according to them he threatened them with a gun." Both women looked back at the grey-toned photograph, then Rebecca said "those two ended up cutting telephone lines and starting fires at local factories. Nobody was hurt, but I didn't want their picture in this exhibition. I was outvoted on that one."
"Perhaps after all these years...."
"Its very well attended, don't you think."
"Yes it is Amber agreed while scenting coffee, Africa in a jar of glass.
Amber left the gallery and flopped down on a public bench. She felt as if she would never move again. As a gentle breeze lifted a strand of her black hair and gulls called above, her thoughts were in pieces. After some time the worst of her fatigue passed, but she was still confused and unsettled.
If something bad happened in some places, did it leave a lasting imprint? Had the Morgans left a mark like that? Did pebbles in the waves match the colours of their jumpers? Did the sea breezes carry salt from their sweat? Were stinging local nettles nourished by their bones?
Slats on that bench started feeling hard on her flesh. The breeze cooled. Amber shifted her position and forced herself to get up. A couple with a black labrador walked past her seat. Their animal panted softly. The young woman returned to the small Victorian hotel where she was staying and locked herself in her room. Then she collapsed on her bed, staring up at the white ceiling, and shook from head to foot with the shock of her encounter. Amber tried with all her willpower to stop, but it was a long time before she could. When at last she was able to she rang her parents, explained that she felt ill and arranged for them to take her home.
How many stories were hidden in the past of this hotel? Quite apart from the guests,there would be plasterers who had decorated its dining room ceiling; kitchen maids sobbing in bed, away from home for the first time; smart young waiters thinking every woman in town wanted them and chefs bellowing at their staff. Who could say what else?
The 21st century men who got arrested were put on trial, found guilty of planning a terrorist attack and sent to jail. Amber Belfield's testamony proved crucial in securing their conviction.
Last edited by IanG; 10-07-2017 at 09:00 AM..