Guest Fiction by Pamela Cleaver
Peter Newman was afraid of the dark, he had been ever since he was tiny but when they moved to the Captain’s Cottage it became worse. In the daytime he could believe that there was nothing horrible in his bedroom, but as soon as his mother said goodnight and turned his light out, the most terrifying thoughts came into his head. He would lie in bed rigid with fear, unable to move in case the tiniest noise or movement on his part attracted the nameless horrors that he felt sure were lying in wait for him. He couldn’t even call Mum back because he was sure that the very moment the light went out, his voice no longer functioned and that he became mute.
Before they moved it hadn’t been so bad because he had a nightlight beside his bed, a tiny china cottage with a little bulb inside which lit up the windows and made them glow in a cheerful, comforting way: while the light shone from the little rose-covered cottages with its simulated thatched roof, it kept the imagined horrors at bay and he was able to go to sleep.
Unfortunately all that changed when they moved to the country. When he first heard they were going, Peter was quite shocked to discover that the house he’d been born in, and which he’d lived the nine years of his life, would no longer be his home. He resented the house in the country which his parents took him to see. It was an old cottage with creaky floorboards and crooked dark beams that held the bulging walls together and the sloping ceilings up.
His mother was very excited, it was just what she’d always wanted, she said, and gleefully showed him the big fireplace in the sitting room around which, she promised, they would sit and roast chestnuts. His father pointed out how much bigger the garden was than the little one they had in the town.
“Great for football!” he told Peter.
But to Peter the house seemed big and echoing, cold and somehow menacing, and he felt like a traitor even thinking of leaving the comfortable little house in which he’d always lived. However nothing he said or did would make his parents change their minds.
“You’ll soon get used to it,” his father said heartily when Peter said tentatively that he did not like the new house.
“You’ll soon make new friends,” his mother told him briskly when he had cried out in anguish on discovering that he’d have to go to a different school in the new area. Peter doubted it, he was a loner, not the sort of boy who made friends easily.
As moving day approached, Peter got increasingly gloomy but his parents, although busy packing up and sorting out, were too pleased and happy to notice. Big, burly moving men invaded Peter’s house and began carrying bits of furniture out through the front door, packing books and ornaments into crates and finally rolling the carpets up and carrying them over their shoulders like inert bodies until their whole home was crammed into one vast pantechnicon and driven away. Peter and his parents took one last look round the forlorn, empty house, slammed the front door for the final time then jumped into their car to follow the pantechnicon.
Sitting in the car, Peter could not stop the tears rolling down his cheeks; his mother was tired but not sad like him, and his father showed no emotion at all.
“You’re a funny boy,” his mother smiled, “once we get to Captain’s Cottage and are settled in with all our own things round us, you’ll love it – just you wait and see.”
Peter nodded, but he didn’t quite believe it.
They arrived as the autumn daylight was fading, so the first night at Captain’s cottage was a muddle. Getting the kitchen straight so they could eat was the first job, and making the beds up was the next. None of the big boxes containing their personal possessions were to be unpacked until the following day, so Peter’s bedroom at the top of the house with its tiny latticed window and sloping ceiling under the roof only had his bed, his desk and his chair in it. No little china house to give him the comforting light so his mother agreed “just this once,” to keep the landing light on and the door ajar.
That allayed his night fears, but he did not sleep very well because of the unfamiliarity of the place and the strange creaking noises the old house made, as if it were stretching and easing its bones, when the central heating went off.
The next day was a turmoil of unpacking, sorting and arranging old familiar things in new places. In spite of himself, Peter enjoyed unpacking his books and toys and deciding where to put them in his new room. But when he got to the bottom of the second crate he let out a cry of horror and dismay. His little china house that had given him light and comfort for so long was smashed into dozens of little pieces.
“Afraid not, old son,” his father said, “just like my shaving mirror – come and see what those clumsy oafs have done to that!”
But looking at his father’s breakage did not make Peter feel any better – especially as Dad could buy a new mirror and his little house could not be replaced; Mum said they just did not make them any more.
“Can I have something else – some other kind of night light?”
His parents exchanged glances.
“I don’t think you should dear,” his mother said, “you’re nearly ten, you’re getting too old for a nightlight now.”
Peter pleaded, but his parents had made up their minds – new house, new ways. Peter had to learn to be brave and go to sleep in the dark. They were not even prepared to let him have the landing light on outside, although they said he could have the door ajar so that he could call out to them if he was really frightened. He tried to explain that his voice just would not work in the dark when he was scared, but his mother just laughed.
“Nonsense Peter, you just imagine these things.”
So bedtime on the second night at the new house was truly terrible for Peter. He tried to put off the evil moment for as long as possible, keeping Mum close by asking for an extra pillow, an unwanted glass of water, all sorts of things. Finally his mother’s patience gave out.
“Look love,” she said, “I’m really, really tired and in no mood for games. Just settle down. Tell yourself a nice story and before you can say Jack Robinson, you’ll be asleep. I’m leaving the door ajar so if you want me you can call out, but please don’t get me up all these stairs unless it’s really important.” She kissed his cheek, tucked the bedcovers in firmly, walked to the door and switched off the light. “Go to sleep, Peter and stop worrying, there’s nothing to be frightened of, truly there isn’t.”
The landing light snapped off and Peter heard her footsteps clicking busily on the uncarpeted steps as she went downstairs. He heard her pause on the next landing where her bedroom, the bathroom and the spare room were. Another light clicked off as she left that landing and went down to the ground floor to join Dad in the sitting room.
Peter was in complete darkness and he’d never felt so alone or lonely before. His throat was dry and he knew that, however much he wanted to, he couldn’t call out for his voice was useless. Nor could he get out of bed and run to the door to put on the landing light, because if he were to move THEY would know he was there, but as long as he kept still he was safe from THEIR attention. Who THEY were, Peter couldn’t have told you, he just felt that shapeless, formless things of a malevolent kind were lurking in his room, intent on doing him harm
He lay stiffly in bed with his eyes wide open, but he could see nothing but velvet blackness; his heart was pounding madly, he wanted to call out, to scream even though it would alert THEM. He opened his mouth and tried, but no sound came out. He tried to take deep breaths and to imagine his little china house with the light streaming from its windows was still beside him, but that only made him unhappier and his fear fed upon his unhappiness. Peter’s ears seemed to stretch as he listened for sounds of THEM, but there was nothing to hear, no sound in the house at all.
He had lain there terrified and unmoving for some time when he heard soft footsteps on the bare boards of the staircase. What was that? He wondered with a new stab of fear. The steps approached his room then a soft voice spoke.
“Peter, are you alright fella? Are you asleep yet?” It was his Dad.
He opened his mouth to reply: No I am not alright, I am frightened, please take me out of this room. But no sounds would come. He heard the soft footsteps retreating, then on the landing below he heard a murmur.
“He’s OK, fast asleep. It was all his imagination. I told you he’d be alright.”
He heard Mum give a soft laugh and then a door closed and he was alone again – still as frightened as ever.
To be continued …