I love to listen to music, both in the car and as I work. Sometimes I’ll choose to listen to the songs I grew up with – music from the ’70s and ’80s but other times I choose radio shows or playlists which play current music. I’ve never wanted to have that ‘old’ mindset where I’m muttering that the words were unintelligible or that the songs were better ‘in my day’. That said, I feel that a lot of the solo females are currently encouraged towards a similar ‘sound’ while some rap tracks make me feel agitated , to the point of wanting to turn them off, rather than wanting to get up and dance!
Getting back on ‘track’ I want to talk about songs that commonly get stuck, on loop, in my head. The term I have heard for it is ‘ear worm’ and I’m not sure if there is a cure! Playing other music drowns it out for a while, but often the song comes back to play on repeat. It’s unfortunately not restricted to songs I enjoy, sometimes irritating songs play repeatedly, gratingly in my subconscious mind.
I think certain songs are more disposed to getting stuck – I’m talking about the cheesy ones, and the gimmicky ones. Their ‘hook’ is designed to grab your attention and reel you in, it’s a plot to make you sing along as if you liked it or (worse still) to buy/download the track. Other times it’s a particularly tricky section of the song, one which cannot be easily be sung or hummed, so it haunts you in a different way.
A music loving friend told me that if you sang the words/tune to Happy Birthday a few times, this cancelled the ear worm. This remedy has never worked for me.
Watermelon Sugar High – Harry Styles
Love Yourself – Justin Beiber
Your Girlfriend – Blossoms
Lucid Dreams – Juiceworld
California Girls – Katie Perry
She’s Got Legs – ZZ Top
All the Things She Said – t.A.T.u.
You Spin Me Round – Dead or Alive
I should be So Lucky – Kylie Minogue
There’s Your Trouble – Dixie Chicks
Another Nail in my Heart – Squeeze
I don’t Like Cricket – 10CC
Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin
Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen
Above are a few of my recent earworms. With some tunes stuck in my head it’s a nuisance and others are a pleasure. When bands write anthemic songs, segments of their songs seem more likely to stick in your head. When songs are played frequently on the radio, they are brought to the forefront of your consciousness, but I’m not sure they’re classified as an earworm.
The other (terrible) culprit of planting a song firmly in your head is when a song is used in an advertising campaign. It’s even worse if they warp the lyrics to fit the product, because this messes with your proper memory of the original song. In my youth this was done less, they made up special ‘jingly’ tune, or used soft classical music – if you’re from the UK you will always have an association between certain music and Hovis wholemeal bread / British Airways / Lloyds bank.
I’d be interested to hear what songs have been / are ear worms for you and whether you find them a comfort or an irritation.
This is part 11 of a serialised spooky tale, Chapter 10 is here, or use the Menu to locate earlier chapters
J moved around the library racking his brain regarding where to look for more answers. In front of him was the ‘global culture’ section, from which a book had fallen on the floor, which he picked up. “Greek Mythology” its front cover declared, in raised gold script. J opened the book and flicked through the pages, realising as he did so, how many legends had been plundered and used for modern game design. Turning to the pages relating to the quest carried out by Perseus, his memory began circling the story as if it had something significant to impart. He remembered the Gorgons with their hair of writhing serpents, the one which Perseus kills was named Medusa. Pieces clicked together in his mind bringing a revelation as to this story’s usefulness: Perseus had used his mirrored shield to avoid looking directly at Medusa, which enabled him to get close enough to behead her without her enchanted gaze turning him to stone.
At last they were getting somewhere! He checked out the book then stuffed it into his backpack before hurrying off to afternoon class.
That night J went round to Alex’s house. He told his parents it was to study but really he wanted to discuss his findings and plot what action to take. Up in Alex’s slightly messy bedroom, they played music to disguise their conversation if anyone was passing his door.
Being a gamer, Alex was familiar with Perseus’ quest. He thought a reflective object to look into was a great defense if Danny was using his eyes or a swinging/ spinning object to induce a hypnotic state in his victims. Alex suggested carrying a hand mirror at all times, in preparation for dualling with Danny. J thought it was simpler to use the ‘camera’ function on a phone, its electronic ‘eye’ would be in no danger from hypnosis. They both realised the hitch was if Danny was using auto-suggestion. They could hardly stop themselves ‘hearing’ his words – using the camera wouldn’t help here. They came up with the idea to put headphones in their ears and turn the music up loud, but admittedly it would be hard to achieve in a hurry. As a precaution they would both wear their earbuds at school to make it easier to quickly start playing music.
With those practicalities sorted, the next step was where and when, and of course how to tackle Danny! Alex had team practice after school the next day, and was adamant that J shouldn’t confront Danny alone, he wanted to provide back-up. J argued that he couldn’t waste any more time, he was heart-sick about his sister Lulu. She remained a pale, frail thing, not waking properly or eating. His parents were taking her to a specialist as soon as they received a letter of referral from the GP.
J had a plan to confront Danny with their suspicions, and threaten him with exposure to the Headmaster and parents of the affected children. He hoped Danny could be persuaded to cease his serial hypnotism of small children, and release his current victims from their coma-like state. J suspected that if the older boy was enraged, he’d be likely to try hypnotising him in retaliation, but was hopeful that the phone camera would act as filter and offer protection. Alex suggested he could even play the footage back to Danny and hypnotise him with his own technique – that would be a neat way to end his wicked behaviour! It was risky though, J would have preferred Alex there as wing man.
With plans made for tomorrow, and a tube of Pringles eaten washed down with a large bottle Pepsi, J set off home with his heart racing. He felt keyed up about what he must do tomorrow. He made sure to put his phone on charge overnight; he’d need a full battery for playing music to override Danny’s hypnotic words.
J’s parents were huddled together downstairs talking. His mother’s eyes were red rimmed, as if she’d been crying, but they tried to act normally and wished him goodnight.
A spooky tale which is being serialised, see the menu for all the earlier episodes)
It was the usual helter-skelter rush getting ready for school. Mum and Dad were still worried about Lulu because, unfortunately, she wasn’t showing signs of improvement. Dad was on the phone to get her a Doctor’s appointment as J slammed the door, in a hurry to get to Alex’s house. Alex was already on the path, waiting, so they set off at a brisk pace, talking as they walked. J described the pitiful small boy he dreamed of, the most recent victim of the hypnotic menace.
“Why do you dream about it though?” Alex questioned.
J shrugged. “No idea, I’ve been wondering that myself. I wake at almost 3 am too, it always happens at the same time.”
“We could Google that. We also need to watch Danny closely, get an idea of his movements and who he hangs around with. I have a free period before lunch, I’ll do some scouting then. Meet you in the canteen!” Shrugging his backpack further onto his shoulder, Alex hustled off to form.
J pushed through double doors, moving with the flow of pupils to their classrooms, keeping his eyes peeled for Katie or Laurie, filled with concern for their wellbeing. As morning lessons progressed, J’s mind continued to puzzle over what would motivate Danny to control the willpower of the young people he was hypnotising. Finding the answer to this might influence his next worrying question – how to stop him?
J’s last lesson before lunch was maths. As Laurie moved into his classroom J’s stomach lurched with shock and fear. Laurie looked so gaunt and emaciated, his skin was chalky and unhealthy and his movements were slow and shuffling, as if his body was too heavy for him to animate. His hair looked greasy and uncared for and his eyes were fixed on the floor as he moved to an empty desk. J felt very uneasy and anxious from his close proximity and he noticed other students casting similar, furtive looks at Laurie. Once the lesson began the difference was even more marked, as Laurie (once the star maths pupil, widely tipped as an Oxbridge candidate) did not participate at all, he just sat listlessly with his head hanging, like a moving toy with the batteries removed.
J was really troubled by this. It seemed as if Laurie’s life force or spark was gone. Could this be the root of Danny’s motivation? Perhaps stealing from young, vibrant children somehow added to his power. It was no more crazy than entertaining the idea that an actual vampire went to their school!
He needed to run the idea by Alex so that they could consider how this would help them tackle him and reverse his influence. He scraped his books into a pile, dumped them in a backpack and flowed with the rest of the students out of the classroom and towards the dining hall.
He didn’t know how Alex did it, but he was already at a table shovelling food into his mouth with enthusiasm. J slid into a seat opposite him and shared his latest revelation. Alex took it in his stride, years of watching the sci-fi channel and reading Marvel comics meant nothing much surprised him.
“What did you discover?” J asked as he forked up shepherds pie and chewed.
“Danny mostly hangs about with those 2 goth girls in year 13 … and the drama group are putting on a show at the end of term. There are a lot of rehearsals for that going on, meaning he stays after school several nights a week.”
J knew the girls Alex meant, they looked like something out of the Addams Family wearing their hair straight in an unnatural shade of black. Their chalk white faces with heavy eyeliner and their choice of clothes made them appear as if they were on their way to a rather dramatic funeral. He had a feeling they were both studying textiles, so were probably involved with the costumes for the show.
J wondered if they knew what Danny was capable of, and if so did they help him? Would he need to factor them in when he tackled Danny to make him release his hold over the children? He and Alex needed to divide the tasks to tackle this without delay. He decided he would visit the library for books on hypnotism or auto-suggestion. Alex would continue to scout around to learn more about Danny’s habits and timetable.
J headed off down the corridor and up the stairs to the library where he began to browse science books, tilting his head to one side to read the titles on their spines.He wasn’t seeing any material which related to his specific problem. He began to feel agitated, as if there was a timer in operation, the sand constantly leaking through the narrow gap between the upper chamber and the lower, with his sister’s life in the balance.
In desperation he pulled out a book called The Mask of Time by Joan Forman and flicked through it’s pages. His eyes were drawn to one passage:
When a human organism dies, the matter, the physical body, is seen to change and known to decay. But a human organism is also energy, electrical, gravitational, magnetic, and on physical death, it ceases to operate through the material structure with which it has been associated. If energy cannot be destroyed it must therefore remove elsewhere where it may continue to operate according to the laws governing it.
This seemed to support his theory of an ‘energy’ which could be taken from a person, but unfortunately it made him more afraid for the lives of Danny’s victims. He slammed the book shut and pushed it back into its slot on the crammed shelves.
This is part of an ongoing chilling series, to read from the beginning, start here.
[4 minute read]
Alex was still at rugby practice when J hurried past his house with his head down. Unlocking his front door, he went straight to his Dad’s study to find out how Lulu was feeling.
“No change unfortunately. She isn’t eating and has slept most of the day, but she has no temperature. I’ve an appointment to take her to the doctor tomorrow.”
J had a sinking feeling this wouldn’t help. He really needed to talk to Alex, to plan how to force Danny to break the hypnotic trance his sister was under. He retired to his room with a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea. With his laptop on, he began trying to find new intel on hypnotism and meditation in the hope of identifying a ‘key’ to free the entranced children.
He face-timed Alex and up-dated his friend with what he had pieced together; with music on in the background he successfully masked their conversation.
“Who’d have thought? … Danny? All the plays I’ve seen him in …” Alex shook his head.
“But that’s probably how he did it! Working with Katie, rehearsing with her, he’d have plenty of opportunities to gaze into her eyes or use a pendulum and hypnotise her” J said.
“What’s with them all saying ‘they let him in’? That really fits with my vampire theories, but Danny looks the same as us. Do you think he is a vampire?”
J shrugged, he’d never given it serious consideration because he hadn’t believed vampires existed, but he tapped at his keyboard, Googling vampires and the legends surrounding them, he excitedly read one entry aloud.“Glamouring! Vampire hypnotism is called glamouring, they use eye contact to make their victims happy and relaxed about having their blood sucked. Perhaps Danny has glamoured them all.”
“Check Lulu’s neck Dude! See if she’s got fang marks on it.”
“Aargh! Don’t say that! I can’t even deal with the thought of that!” J was shocked and disgusted at the idea, but he knew it made sense. It would certainly explain the pale and listless appearance of all the victims. He planned to take a look at Lulu’s neck sometime that evening, but he needed to avoid raising his parents’ suspicions.
An opportunity presented itself quite innocently, Dad had made a snack of toast and marmite with a drink for Lulu, which J offered to take up to her room. While Dad put the finishing touches on the family’s meal, J cracked the door open and tiptoed into Lulu’s room.
She was cocooned in her duvet and facing the wall. Murmuring soothing things he gently stroked her hair off his sister’s cheek and away from her neck and peered closely, feeling tense about finding puncture wounds, but there were none. Thank goodness, her neck was unmarked. Her skin was clammy and cool but no bite marks.
“Lulu, do you want a drink? Or some marmite soldiers?” J used a coaxing tone and pulled her shoulder a little so that she rolled over. She didn’t rouse out of her sleep but he was able to look at her neck on the other side … phew! It was also unmarked. J’s relief at this discovery was intense, but looking at her sleeping form he felt sad, and a little scared, what if they couldn’t get her back to normal?
He ate supper with his parents, Then, with the excuse of pressing studies, returned to his room, where he let Alex know that he had found no sinister marks on his sister’s neck.
“Another contradiction to the idea of Danny as a vampire, is that he walks about in the daylight. He’s not burned or harmed by the sun,” Alex pointed out.
“That rule doesn’t apply in Twilight. Those guys avoid the sun because it would show their skin is sparkly.” J countered.
“Seriously? Man that’s so weird! Let’s try to look closely at him in school.” Alex was thoughtful for a moment. “I’ve never noticed his skin glittering.” Then he piped up, “Hey, Twilight’s a chick film? What’re you watching that for?”
“Hard to avoid it!” J laughed. “They’re always playing the Twilight trilogy on Film4, and my Mum’s a huge vampire fan.” J felt sure she wouldn’t be a fan if she thought a vamp had been anywhere near Lulu.
Lulu in the clutches of an undead blood sucker was unthinkable, but he reassured himself no puncture wounds on her neck was a positive thing. Catching a glimpse of the time, he wound up his call with Alex. He still had an English essay to write before he went to bed.
Somehow J was less startled when he snapped out of sleep at 3 am that night. It was becoming a grim routine, so he lay still allowing his senses to ‘feel’ the pressing darkness and whoever or whatever was out there. His eyes began to focus on the front of a house he didn’t recognise. The streetlight pooled a yellowy glow in its front garden and he could see a gate to the right. This was not latched shut, so it banged softly in the breeze. The darkness had a menace to it, was it possible that Danny was still here? J moved soundlessly, and with dread, through the gate and round the back of the property. He could see in through the conservatory as the occupants kept tropical fish in aquariums, which lit up the room with an eerie glow.
Pressing his face to a window, and with all his senses on alert, J peered around the interior. At first he thought there was nobody there, then he spotted a young boy in cartoon pyjamas. His blonde hair stuck up in all directions, as often happens with restless sleepers. The boy had an unhappy hunch to his body language. He stood repeatedly banging his head against the wall. Hearing his sobs made J’s heart twist, so he tried the handle of the door, but it was locked. His attempts to gain entry didn’t distract the child and the mournful crying continued.
His heart was heavy that another young person had fallen under the evil influence. J speculated that this boy had wanted an entertainer for his party and so Danny had visited the house, “let in” by the boy’s unwitting parents. Danny would give no clue regarding his sinister nature when he called round to make plans about performing as a clown.
J had never trusted clowns, they gave him the heebie-jeebies! As a young boy he’d found their thick make up, especially the painted on smile and eye expressions, highly suspect. He’d swerved invitations to attend any party with a clown on the agenda for just that reason. How ironic that his immature suspicions had truth behind them! Looking at the distressed boy, who he couldn’t get close enough to comfort, J knew he would be a pale and listless trance-induced state by morning, he wished fervently that he would not be proved right.
This concludes a story written in by my mother under the pen name Emma Payne. It’s pitched at the YA market and pre-dates the Harry Potter inspired flurry of supernatural tales. Previously 10-year-old Melina began to suspect that the things which made her mum perfect might have a catch, what if she was a witch! Start with Part 1 or read from here.
The final straw came when Miss Jeffers started to cast the form play. I had hoped to be the Princess, but Miss Jeffers chose Lucy Merkon. I was given the part of a lady in waiting, and Lucy’s understudy.
Lucy and I were old enemies, which made it worse. She turned round, her face a mixture of triumph and spite and poked her tongue out. I was furious and when I got home I told Mum.
“That Lucy Merkon! I’ve never liked her,” Mum said, “you’d make a far better princess. It would serve Lucy right if she fell ill and you took over.”
“She never so much as catches a cold,” I said gloomily.
“She might catch something worse,” Mum said darkly.
I thought no more about it until Mum was proved right, as usual. Lucy developed a rash and a fever after just three rehearsals, so I took over the part.
When I told Mum that Miss Jeffers said the doctor was baffled by Lucy’s symptoms, I caught her smiling and it gave me a horrible thought. Had Mum cast a spell on Lucy?
Next day when Mum was at the shops, I went into the kitchen to look at the strange book again: I wanted to compare the words with the witches’ scene in Macbeth. ‘Grockle the muncheon and slowly plebide the turlow’ did not sound much like ‘eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and toe of dog,” but then, perhaps Shakespeare had been guessing.
The book wasn’t on the shelf, so I began to rummage in other drawers in the kitchen. At the back of the knife drawer I found a strange little figure sculpted in pastry and embedded with seeds that made it look horribly spotty. I picked it up and tied round its neck with green embroidery silk was a label which read Lucy Merkon.
I dropped the figure back into the drawer as if it were red hot. That did it! Mum’s witchcraft was really out of hand now. Mrs Bearman had been talking wildly about witches and spells recently, she’d also been giving Mum strange looks. I didn’t think anyone believed in witchcraft nowadays, but the part of East Anglia where we lived historically had a strong witch tradition. It must have been closer to the surface than I knew, for that afternoon in the playground, Will Gandy said, “I hear your mother’s put a spell on my aunt and her dog. She’d better take it off or I’ll make you suffer. You’re a witch’s child.”
His friends began to chant, “Witch’s child, witch’s child,” and soon a menacing group had gathered. I was scared and began to cry, frightened as much for Mum as for myself. I burst out of the circle, through the school gate and ran home, where I threw myself sobbing into Mum’s arms. I told her what they had said.
“And don’t try to tell me it isn’t true, because I know it is.” I managed to say between hiccoughing sobs.
She hugged me tightly. “I’m not a bad witch, Melina.”
“But you are,” I wailed. “There’s Harold and Mrs Bearman and now Lucy.” I told her I’d found the strange book and the pastry person. “How come you’re a witch?”
“It’s complicated, but I’ll try to explain. Have you ever thought what would have happened if some important event in history had turned out differently? If Richard III had won the battle of Bosworth, there would have been no Tudor kings. Supposed America hadn’t fought the War of Independence and it had remained English, history would tell a different story, wouldn’t it?”
I nodded, I loved history, but I couldn’t see where this was leading us.
“Imagine time is like a huge tree, with the creation of the world the thick part of the trunk at the bottom. Each time an event occurs, that could have two possible outcomes, the tree branches so the two results exist as branches of equal thickness. Then when another crisis moment comes, the tree branches again.
“Each of those branches is another world or timeline. Beside the world where William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, there is an alternative world where King Harold won.
“My world had the same history as yours until 1590. In that year Elizabeth I was queen of England and James VI king of Scotland. James had not yet married and his heir was Francis Stuart, earl of Bothwell, who was secretly leader of the Scottish witches. Have you ever heard of the Plot of the North Berwick witches?”
I shook my head.
“No? Well it’s only a footnote in your history books because it failed in your timeline, but in mine it succeeded. Three covens of witches, under Francis Stuart’s guidance, raised a storm that drowned the King as he was bringing his new queen home from Denmark. So in my world Bothwell became King Francis I and witchcraft became an accepted way of life.
“People with second sight and people who could harness magic were encouraged, instead of being hunted down and burned as they were in your timeline. We developed communication by mind-power and human energy instead of electricity. Transport was achieved by focussing minds instead of using engines. People learned to work with animals. America was colonised by traders rather than persecuted religious minorities. Hosts of other things were different.
“I’m not saying my world was perfect, trouble was caused by greed and fear because humanity is fallible, but I liked my world better than this one.”
“If you liked it so much, what made you leave?” I asked.
Mum laughed. “I didn’t mean to. It happened by mistake. I was working on a space-travel project that involved the pooling of mind power. I was using my technical manual (the ‘spell’ book you found) and was endeavouring to add the force of my mind to that of many others. Accidentally I turned over two pages, saying half of one formula and half of another. That sent me sideways in time and into your world. While I was trying to figure out how to get back, I had to blend into this world. Then I met your dad and fell in love, so I stopped searching for a way back. When you were born my decision to stay in this world was made.
“At first I tried to live by this world’s rules, but a little bit of witchcraft made life so much easier. I used my powers sparingly and thought no-one would know. But I didn’t fool you and it seems I’ve now made other people suspicious. I need to think how to correct this.
“Why don’t you reverse the spells, Mum? That would take the pressure off.”
Her eyes lit up. “I can do better than that, I’ll make them forget and we can start afresh.”
“Wonderful,” I said “and you must promise not to use spells any more.”
“Not even to help in the house?” she said wistfully.
“We-ell ,” I said wavering, “little spells for cooking and cleaning should go unnoticed.”
“Perfect,” she said smiling, “and I can teach you spells, you’d be easy to train, being half witch.”
“No thanks, I prefer to stay the way I am.”
Mum laughed and went off to undo the magical mayhem she’d caused, while I went upstairs to do my homework. I’d forgotten, until I opened my bedroom door, that I’d rushed out that morning and left my room looking as if a tornado had struck.
“Oh fiddlesticks,” I said to myself, “I wish I could use a little magic to tidy this mess.”
There was a noise like a rushing wind and my clothes lifted off the floor and bed to arranged themselves tidily in the open wardrobe. Books floated back onto shelves and the duvet shook itself and spread neatly on the bed.
I sat down, overcome by shock. I was stunned, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been. They say blood will out and I was, after all, a witch’s daughter.
I’ve mentioned in my ‘why write’ page that my mother was a writer, so I’ll share with you s a story she wrote under her pen name Emma Payne. It’s pitched at the YA market and was written before Harry Potter influenced so many authors of fiction. I’ve made a couple of tiny tweaks to keep the plot current. Part 1 is here, the conclusion will follow.
My mother was a witch, but I had no clue until I was ten. Up to that age, children expect their parents to be all powerful, but after that, they begin to question.
Mind you, she was a fantastic mother, she never said “not now dear, I’m busy,” and she was brilliant at inventing games. She could tidy up in a snap as if by magic (which is probably how she did it) and she ran the house without any fuss or bother. She was a great companion and she always took my side in any quarrels. She kept her promises and her forecasts always came true. I thought she was perfect until the fateful day I discovered her secret.
It was an autumn afternoon when Miss Jeffers sent us home from school early because she had a sick headache. On the way home, scuffing through piles of dead leaves, I planned to play a trick on Mum.
I opened the door soundlessly. The smell of freshly baked cakes drifted through the kitchen door, which was ajar. I crept across the hall and peeped in. Where was Mum? I saw a basin on the counter with a wooden spoon stirring vigorously, but no-one was holding it! I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Then I saw her: she was floating in the air just below the ceiling, totally relaxed as if she was lying down. Jason, our cat was floating beside her, washing his paws. I watched in disbelief as a tray of cakes wafted out of the oven and arranged themselves on a wire tray, while Mum drifted above them. That was my first clue that she was a witch!
I slammed the front door and stamped noisily. When I entered the kitchen, Mum was standing by the cakes spooning icing over them while Jason rubbed himself against her legs.
Mum turned round with a welcoming smile. She offered me a cake to try while I explained about Miss Jeffers.
“Never mind, Melina,” she said. “I guarantee she’ll be well tomorrow.”
[“How?” I wanted to yell, “by magic?”]
After that I began to watch her more closely.
That evening she and Dad and I were sitting round the fireplace. We were arguing about the age of different types of rock. Dad said sandstone was older than chalk, but Mum disagreed. I just sat there like a spectator at a tennis match.
“Best not to argue with her Dad,” I warned, “she’s always right.”
Dad grinned. “I bet a box of those fancy chocolates you love to a tub of my favourite ice cream that I’m right.”
Mum almost purred. “Mmm, I can practically taste those chocolates. Melina run and get your tablet so that we can settle this. You left it beside the cook books.”
On the side in the kitchen, when I went to get my iPad, I saw that a thin book had almost slipped off the shelf. As I rescued it, I noticed it had a strange iridescent cover and the pages were smoother and shinier than paper, but it was the text that stopped me in my tracks.
‘After this,’ (it said) ‘grockle the muncheon and slowly plebide the turlow; this should create a smooth felox without unsightly veblons.’
It had to be a spell! This confirmed my suspicious, she was a witch.
At that moment she called out. “Having trouble, Melina?”
I jumped guiltily, and grabbed my tablet. “It’s OK, I’ve found it.”
I don’t remember the outcome of the argument, I went to bed early to think about my awful discovery. There might be a simple explanation but I was strangely shy about asking. As she only did good things, I concluded it didn’t really matter; but I had to think again next day.
Mrs Bearman, our next door neighbour had a rather fat pug called Harold, who was the darling of her heart. Jason, our cat, teased him by using their garden as a shortcut, knowing he could outrun the breathless, overfed pug. However, on this occasion Jason misjudged his advantage and the pug’s snapping teeth connected with the tip of Jason’s tail. Jason howled and ran to Mum for comfort. She soothed the cat while saying dreadful things about the pug.
Soon after this, Harold lost his voice. When he barked, no sounds came out. I heard Mrs Bearman telling another neighbour that Harold seemed to be bewitched.
Bewitched! If that was the case I knew who had cast the spell, and was frantic in case Mrs Bearman guessed too. When I went into the kitchen to try and persuade Mum to remove the spell by hinting to her, I’m almost sure the potatoes were taking off their own skins, but I looked again and saw Mum had a potato peeler in her hand.
“Mrs Bearman can’t hear Harold barking any more, she says it’s as if he were bewitched.”
“Nonsense,” said Mum, “she’s just getting a little deaf.” And then she looked out of the window as if struck by a thought.
I sighed and went to help Dad rake up piles of leaves for a bonfire.
“Tell Mrs Bearman I’m planning a bonfire,” he said. “Don’t want to be blamed for getting smuts on her washing.”
She answered the door drying her hands. “Good morning, Melina.”
“Hi,” I was filled with the usual awkwardness at having to hold a conversation with an adult I didn’t know well. “I came to warn you we’re having a bonfire.”
“No, I am not in the choir,” she said haughtily.
She must have misheard. “Dad is having a fire, do you mind?” I said, a little louder.
“No, I do not mind that I am not in the choir. Why are you asking me this?”
“Fire!” I shouted, “fire not choir.”
“Fire?” said Mrs Bearman, alarmed. “Where is the fire? I must fetch Harold.”
I grabbed her hand. Slowly and clearly, with 100% eye contact, I said “Dad – is – having – a – bonfire.”
“Oh,” she was embarrassed. “How silly of me, I misunderstood.”
“How is Harold?” I asked, “is he better?”
“Letter?” she was off again. “Harold didn’t get a letter, who would write to a dog?”
She looked at me pityingly, but it was I who pitied her. I could only blame Mum for her deafness.
A spooky tale being told in chilling installments: read the previous episode here or use the menu to access the full series.
[3.5 min read]
J’s thoughts kept circling round a central idea. If they could identify what the victims of the menacing entity had in common, this could lead them to the zombie-maker. Lulu becoming the latest victim seemed almost personal, driving J to find a solution. He couldn’t leave his sister and the other children as mindless shells, especially as they did not care to eat so were likely to get ill soon.
He and Alex parted ways for morning lessons, but planned to meet at lunch to mindmap theories. Gloom weighed heavy on J, he couldn’t bear to recollect how frightened and upset Lulu had been in his dream. He also worried that the trance she was in could be irreversible.
He remembered that he’d seen Laurie going into the drama annexe off the main school building so resolved to investigate what could have drawn him there, even in his zombie state. Some strong need or obedience to instruction was in operation; this was likely to be a vital clue. When the bell rang he quickly scraped his books together then hustled to the annexe to nose around.
One notice board featured a display on the latest school play – photos of cast, programmes and performance times. Further towards the music rooms he saw information about a forthcoming talent show. Pupils who learned guitar and drums were getting bands together, there were ‘celebrity’ judges and that’s when another puzzle piece fell into place. Katie was impersonating ‘Sharon Osbourne’, and the lighting technician was Laurie – so they would have been rehearsing together! Boom! Sadly J came up blank as to how his sister fitted into this pattern, but it was a start. He unpinned one of the fliers and hurried off to the canteen, where Alex had almost finished eating.
“Brilliant!” Alex exclaimed, through a mouthful of chocolate chip cookie, as he examined the leaflet “this totally explains how Katie knows a nerd like Laurie!”
J made a ‘Shhh’ face at Alex. He liked Laurie and found the term nerd disrespectful. “What about Lulu Alex? How did she come into contact with these guys?”
“Babysitting?” Alex guessed, “has Katie ever come to your house to babysit for her? No, scrub that, I think you’d have said if a fit girl like Katie came round to yours while your parents were out!” Alex snorted with laughter and took another big bite of his biscuit.
J finished his panini and drained his drink with a loud slurp.
“I still haven’t given up on the Librarian being involved somehow. So I’m off to have a nose around, with the excuse of returning this.” He held up the lacemaking book with a wry grin, then grabbed his tray and rose from the table.
J peered through the glass door into the Librarian’s office, his hand poised to knock, but it seemed she was absent. He tried the handle but it was locked. Checking his watch, he decided to hang around for 5 minutes before abandoning his plan. J kicked his heels, while racking his brains who could have visited his, Katie and Laurie’s houses, and for what dastardly purpose? When the Librarian didn’t show, J deposited the book and went to class, which was art, presenting a good opportunity to observe Katie and possibly put more clues together.
Katie looked worse today than last time he saw her. With hair hanging in dull, greasy hanks, her complexion was chalky pale and her eye sockets were shadowed purple, giving her eyes a feverish glow. She moved at half speed, not interacting with other classmates, although she responded to the teacher in a robotic way. Watching, J felt overwhelmed with sadness and panic. Would his little sister be trapped in the same state? It was imperative to solve the mystery and break the evil influence she was under.
The final bell of the day rang. Chairs scraped and bags were stuffed with books as pupils prepared to head home. In the busy corridors, most of the pupil traffic was leaving the building, so it was easy to spot Danny moving in the opposite direction. The oddest moment occurred when he got near Katie, they locked eyes and she was held in the mesmerizing beam of his gaze.
Watching from 100 yards away, J felt slightly dazzled himself, then Danny blinked and the moment passed. The older boy approached J but kept walking, leaving him puzzling over what he’d seen. Alex had rugby practice after school so J set off up-hill solo, fishing the flyer about the talent show out of his pocket as he walked. If Katie was playing Sharon O, who was playing Simon Cowell? There it was, the ascerbic judge was being impersonated by Danny Randall! Suddenly J was deafened by puzzle pieces falling into place!
The common factor had to be Danny Randall – he was working on the talent show and he had been the clown at his sister’s birthday party! Hell fire! J could hardly wait to convey this break-through to Alex.
When I read Mrs Fever’s post for this prompt, as well as enjoying her narrative I was in agreement with her opinions regarding rescuing pets which have been abandoned by their original owner(s) for whatever reasons. I currently have a rescue dog but I’ve also been a regular supporter of a local dog and cat rescue initiative. I began volunteering when I lost a beloved dog to cancer and felt so wretched with that I hadn’t seen the early signs. In memory of her, I wanted to give back to the dog community.
My role was an ‘Auntie’ at this dog kennels, because my function was pastoral care. I was one of many giving rescue dogs love, while acclimating them to socialising with new people. I would pick a slot off the weekly rota (there was an 90 minute slot in the morning and another in the afternoon available) and come to the kennels in scruffy, warm clothes to sit with a rescue dog.
The kennel staff would either welcome me into their tea room, or the summer house (depending on the rota) where the surroundings were dog friendly. I usually brought my Kindle, a hot drink and some chopped up dog treats for my furry companion. I’d wait for the dog in question to be brought out to me. Having been told the dog’s name and a little about them, I could then behave in the most appropriate way. The door was shut and I’d be left for an hour and a half in their company.
The sofas and chairs were dog friendly, there was also usually a crate in the room. The purpose of a dog spending time with an ‘Auntie’ such as me was to gain a soothing respite from their potentially ‘jangly’ kennel situation where they were, of necessity, kept in close proximity to other barking and pacing dogs.
I was allowed to play with the dogs or read to them, strokes and cuddles were, of course, encouraged, but some dogs were not ready for that. Some sat by the door, or got into the crate, waiting for the kennel staff to come back for them. Even in those situations, I felt that I had at least helped the dog have a change of scenery and a rest from their usual noisy environment.
Can you imagine a well loved pet, used to living in a home with its owner, but their owner had to go into hospital, or worse still died, leaving nobody to care for the pet? It’s not cruel to be given to a rescue, but it is still distressing for that dog, because everything familiar is stripped away. Some dogs end up at rescues if they have been taken on by people whose situation changed – new baby, a move to a property where dogs were not allowed or the dog could not get along with another pet.
The rescue I worked with was also a boarding kennels/cattery, led by a passionate owner. It had a wonderful team of kennel staff dedicated to walking the rescue dogs and playing with them, as well as carrying out regular duties of cleaning, feeding and training. It employed a full time behaviourist, plus someone qualified in animal reiki to soothe the dogs holistically. In fact the rescue encouraged Aunties to learn the technique so I’m now trained in reiki too. Other volunteers helped by joining a rota to walk the dogs and a team of us utilised Facebook. We created a page for each dog, which was updated regularly until each rescue found suitable people to adopt them.
Some of the dogs were cute as a button and wanted to snuggle, some mugged me for the treats I’d brought or tried to help me eat my biscuit and drink my coffee too! Others jumped from sofa to chair to sofa, like a monkey in the treetops. The greyhound breeds often wanted to rifle through the bin or stand up tall to the counter in the tea room, sniffing for food. Some dogs were old or injured, but all deserved love and care.
It was important to be mindful of the dogs’ state of mind, some dogs had traumatic experiences before landing up in rescue. Bending over a dog, even to make a fuss of them, can seem threatening. It is better to crouch down so that your eye level and theirs are similar, then they can assess you. It’s quite ‘personal’ to touch a dog on their face or the top of their head, in a wolf pack this would be seen as asserting dominance. Most dogs prefer a new acquaintance to stroke their back or rub behind their ears; if you’re getting on really well, many dogs love having their chest rubbed or scratches to their neck/ chin area.
On the topic of eye contact, this can feel like a challenge to some dogs, not intense like a cat staring contest but along the same lines. Hence me reading my Kindle: I didn’t seem to ask or expect anything of them, which usually worked well. When they settled down somewhere in a relaxed way, I would reward them with a treat.
One staffie-cross rescue dog, whose previous owner had been a homeless man, preferred to approach me backwards, avoiding eye contact. He’d reverse his solid little body towards me and sit, watching the door like a sentry, his rump almost touching my toes. I was glad to hear he got a happy new home. Living on a remote farm, following his owner as he made his rounds of the fields and sheds of livestock each day sounds far preferable to watching over a homeless man’s sleeping bag and possessions, in all weathers, while he sleeps.
This reminiscence is submitted for Mrs Fever’s Memoirs prompt #8 Animal Click on the link to see what other’s have posted.
This spooky story is told in installments, you can use the menu to locate earlier episodes.
[2.5 minute read]
When J opened the front door later that afternoon his ears were assaulted by the squeals and screams of hyper little girls from his sister’s class. Her party was in full swing so everywhere he looked he saw princesses in pastel coloured party wear. His Dad had laid on cakes and crisps, biscuits and sweet treats. The party-goers had emptied the plates and now there was crushed food on the laminate floor.
Excitable girls were dancing around the living room and taking it in turns to use the karaoke machine. J couldn’t handle the noise and frantic activity. He snagged some sandwiches, crisps and a couple of fairy cakes then scurried up to his room. The harassed dog followed close on his heels.
He fired up his laptop and spent an hour or so on his homework, with a few YouTube tabs open in the background. He was still researching the hypnotism topic, but he was at a loss to understand who’d benefit from controlling the willpower of children. Shortly the noise levels downstairs reduced, just a few cheers and whoops of excitement. Evidently the clown was keeping the girls spellbound.
J continued to rack his brains; what was the link between arty, drama loving Katie and brainy top-set guy Laurie? He was pretty sure their schedules didn’t overlap for any classes and he knew they hadn’t attended the same primary school. Eventually, he decided to let his subconscious run through the possibilities while he got on with his maths homework.
J was jolted awake, the digital read-out said 2.58 am and, like the previous occasions, he sensed that something menacing was nearby. From his bedroom, he moved onto the landing, pale silvery light streamed through the hall window making it easy to pad downstairs silently. He scanned around the kitchen, nothing amiss there. The dog was breathing heavily and twitching his paws, but J still detected a creepy vibe.
He moved along the hall, and that’s when he heard sniffing and whimpering, coming from the family room. J peered around the door. He saw a hunched shape amongst the floor cushions. He crept further in the room. With distress, he realised it was his little sister Lulu who was sobbing into the fabric. He crouched closeby, careful not to startle her.
“Lulu … what’s the matter Lulu?”
She continued crying and sniffing, but raised her head to look at him, her eyes as big as saucers.
“He scared me,” she whimpered, “he wasn’t nice.”
“Who Lulu? Who was here?”
“They let him in.” Lulu’s small body was again wracked with sobs. J sat there rubbing her back to console her. Logic had him puzzling who could have come into the house without disturbing the dog.
“Did he hurt you sweetheart?” J felt very protective of his little sister. He was relieved when she mutely shook her head. He reached forward and enveloped her in a hug.
Suddenly his alarm clock started blurting and J surfaced from his dream with a shock. This was bad, really bad! J leaped out of bed and hurtled down the stairs, but the only person there was his Dad in the kitchen.
“Where’s Lulu?” he asked in a panic.
“Not up yet.” His Dad threw the reply over his shoulder, concentration fully on the eggs he was frying. He grabbed toast and laid one on each plate and then used a spatula to place an egg on top. He put one in front of J, then went upstairs to call Lulu again.
J cut into his breakfast without much enthusiasm. Before long his Dad was downstairs again.
“She’s not very well. I need to ring the school. She’s cold and clammy, I couldn’t even wake her properly.” He stood at the counter and distractedly cut into the egg on toast he’d just put on a plate for Lulu.
Immediately J’s appetite was completely gone. The worst had happened, his little sister had joined the ranks of the zombies. And he had dreamed it! He could no longer deny that appearing in his dreams was part of the pattern. J was deep in thought, hastening to prepare for school and get Alex’s take on this development.
Alex’s response was shock and upset. Lulu was like a little sister to him, he’d known her since she was a toddler.
“But who came into your house?” Like J, he was struggling to imagine the intruder.
“No idea mate. There has to be some link to the other kids too, that makes it even harder to puzzle out.”
The boys trudged down the hill in silence, their brains churning through the possibilities.
I suspect my strongest advantage in lockdown has been that my family enjoy being insular. It has meant that we have rarely felt limited or hemmed in by the requirement to stay home and avoid personal contact. I have not tackled food shopping – my husband deals with that.
Life felt rather pressured at the beginning of lockdown, trying to do my job remotely was intense and impractical. Once I was furloughed, I had plenty of time and opportunity to try writing. I set up this blog intending to populate it with the fruits of my labours. It’s seemed a good time to record family stories, lockdown caused me to look fondly back on times that were simpler. I don’t think that I’m the only one, television shows, music and sports have had to embrace ‘old favourites’. There’s a category for reminiscences on my site.
Reading – my number 1 tip! I’ve always found fiction a great ‘escape valve’. Any time in my life when I have been stressed or needing distraction, reading fiction provides a healing activity. When my world is small, a book can take me somewhere else. Now I cannot mix with other people, I meet instead characters within a novel. If being in my own head is unsettling, sad or stifling then reading a book which is in the first person puts me in someone else’s headspace and takes their problems to a solution, which is a calming concept.
Exercise, this I let slide, but it’s necessary for surviving lockdown! Firstly I gave up my regular class. Despite on-line sessions, I lost the inclination to do them. My flesh now looks more spongy, less toned. I also lost my 2 daily walks with our dog, because he fell ill. My negative experience here was twofold: a combination of feeling ‘wrong’ walking without him and guilt, because he howled his frustration if I left the house without him. Knowing he was distressed resulted in me furtively taking 2 brief walks a week, a significant reduction in my regime.
While my family are quite introverted, I enjoy talking. I’ve used Whatsapp to catch up with friends, which provides a refreshing influx of news; using instant message or having a face to face chat. I have a book group of sorts with two friends, one is very busy so she listens rather than reads. We take it in turn to pick the books, concluding with a Whatsapp meeting to discuss the books once we’ve all finished. This has given my reading a productive outlet and pushed me to immerse myself in books I would not have chosen. It’s fun discussing different viewpoints, why we have/haven’t enjoyed a novel, comparing/ contrasting it with another our group has read.
When lockdown restrictions eased, I joined my neighbour for walks. We’ve also had coffee together in the back garden, in the past we would have popped to a local coffee shop. I have also been able to gradually resume walking my dog, who is on the road to recovery.
While I don’t miss eating out, or clothes shopping, I do miss having the occasion to dress nicely. I’ve tried to maintain a normal routine, but it’s too easy to wear leggings or tracksuits. I was despondent to have to defer our holiday and it’s frustrating being unable to plan ahead. Although I want to meet up with people, still feel wary, I value my family members’ health above the UK economy. I know it’s pessimistic but I’m braced for a second wave of the pandemic.
This post is linked to a meme I recently discovered where the topic is personal growth. It’s host, May More is a fascinating blogger but if you wish to follow the link, be warned that her site is very frank and often #NSFW