FRIGHTFUL Festive Felicitations to one and all! With the dual celebratory honour of yet another impending All Hallow’s Eve and the release of my first horror novel The Creeping Seawall, I’d like to share with you this Halloween treat. It’s a chilling, malevolent excerpt from my book – the only one the viciously omnipotent Demon-Shepherd would let me share, being as the shaded ghoul does reside within the text, bleeding out where possible to torment me and my readers.
The Creeping Seawall is a macabre, modern take on the classic English ghost story, in the vein of M.R James and Susan Hill, but with a hefty dose of my skewed, psychologically traumatic vision of a narcotic-laced, inebriated Britain. We follow young Mickey, an arrogant but damaged paranormal enthusiast as he travels to the coast for a relative’s funeral. Beset by his own personal demons and accompanied by his reticent, drug-addict of a best friend Mickey sets about investigating a local ghost story. He’ll be sorry he did, because he’s about to learn that some evils are far closer to home than we think…
Enjoy this little Autumnal Teaser, in which Mickey stops by the village pub for a tipple and a terror. If this whets your spectral appetite and you’d like more seaside scares, you can buy the novel through a link provided at the end of this chunk. Enjoy! Stay scared!
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Sunday afternoon by the sea. Post-brunch, pre-roast. Where else would one want to be but the Sea View pub in the peaceful but spooky village of Birchington-on-Sea? That’s certainly where I was, sitting with my Dad and my best friend Patricia, sipping cold beer and listening to Dad regale us with haunted stories from his own coastal cottage. True or not, Patricial and I were captivated. Before long, so was Lucy, the Sea View’s barmaid who’d been living and working in this little town for years and who’d crept up from her work to join in our ghostly little chat.
‘I was just saying,’ said Dad to Lucy. ‘I always thought my house was haunted. Do you believe in that sort of thing, Luce?’
Lucy looked around the room for a moment then leant over the bar.
‘Do you know the story of the Creeping Seawall?’ she asked us, lowering her voice.
Dad shook his head, I followed suit.
‘What’s that?’ Dad asked.
Lucy looked about again.
‘Roger!’ she yelled. ‘Roger!’
After a moment. a tall, stocky man who looked a similar age to Lucy appeared from around the same corner. I presumed that he was the fabled and sought-after Roger.
‘Yes, love?’ said Roger.
‘Cover the bar a minute will you?’ Lucy replied.
She turned away and left the bar, before approaching our table and taking a seat between me and Dad.
‘I can’t believe you ain’t heard the story,’ she said to Dad. ‘How long have you lived here now?’
‘About a year,’ Dad replied.
‘Fair enough. Anyway, it’s a bit of a local legend. See what you make of it.’
Lucy commenced with the legend of the Creeping Seawall, and the more she spoke, the colder I began to feel.
‘I’ve lived round here for about twenty years. Anyway, not long after I moved over from Southend, there was this tragedy what happened on Smuggler’s Way, just round the corner from where you live. Horrible stuff, it was all any of us talked about for weeks. Front page of the Thanet Extra and everything. That’s for the whole region, mind. Not just this town.
‘The Donovans were a lovely family. They’d always lived here, and Horace Donovan’s parents and grandparents too. Thanet born and bred he was, proper local. So one day during the summer holidays, Horace and his wife Maggie took their three kids down to Epple Bay for the afternoon. They weren’t too well off, see, so they never went on fancy holidays or anything. Like a lot of us, he just always thought, ‘why go somewhere dear when there’s a nice beach on me doorstep?’
‘Epple was a lot nicer back then, it’s been a bit neglected lately what with the decline in tourism round Thanet. But back then people used to come here in the summer. Here, Margate, Broadstairs. It was a good place to have your holidays, not like now.
‘So Horace and Maggie spent all day sitting on the sand, eating hot donuts and fish and chips while their kids mucked about in and out the sea and whatnot. Lovely day. The kids were having a whale of a time. Only then it started to rain, bloody typical. So they decide they have to go home. Kids are right upset, they don’t care if it’s raining or snowing so long as they’re having fun.
‘So, trying to settle them down as they’re leaving, Horace goes over to the old seawall and picks up a bit of the chalk that always gathers from the cliffs. Then he writes his name on the wall and hands the chalk to Maggie. She does the same, the kids like this and they all write their names. Now all their names are up on the wall. Horace, Maggie, Jenny (she was ten), Freddie (seven) and Bob (three). Horace draws a little picture of all of them below their names – matchstick men with smiley faces, nothing fancy – and writes the date over it. He tells his kids that this was their special day and takes a photo of the wall so they can always remember what a lovely time they had.
‘Anyway. They all go home and have a nice evening. They get a takeaway and watch a Disney film and then put the kids to bed.
‘However, the kids have been in bed maybe half an hour tops when little Freddie turns up in the living room while Horace and Maggie are watching the telly. Horace asks what’s the matter and Freddie says there’s a man in his bedroom. Obviously this freaks Dad out, as you’d imagine. So Horace legs it into Freddie’s room to see what he’s on about. He sees that there ain’t no man in there, after checking the whole room out, then makes sure his son knows it was just a bad dream and puts him to bed.
‘So a little bit later Freddie comes back downstairs. This time Horace and Maggie are about ready for bed themselves. Little Freddie says the man is still there and that he won’t go away. Horace says it’s a nightmare but Freddie says he ain’t even been to sleep yet. Horace checks the bedroom again and still there ain’t no man anywhere.
‘Anyway, Horace and Maggie let Freddie sleep in their bed that night. They all go asleep and then there’s a loud knock and their bedroom door creaks open. Horace wakes up and guess what? Now Jenny is standing there. She says she was woken up by a man coming into her room, just like Freddie. This time Horace don’t want to get up and go nosing around in her bedroom so he lets Jenny sleep in the bed with him and Maggie as well. He does find this a bit odd though, obviously.
‘Horace goes back to sleep, only then he wakes up to a noise from the next room. Would you believe it? It’s only little Bob crying his eyes out from his bedroom. So Horace gets out of bed and goes to see Bob. Bob’s only little so he can’t really explain what’s wrong. He just says “man, man,” over and over again and points at the door. Now, Horace has started to think his kids have all got too over excited playing on the beach and they’re just having him on, conspiring to aggravate him, you know, like kids do. He puts the night light on for Bob, tells him to go asleep and then goes back into his bedroom.
‘But when he goes in, the first thing he sees is someone tall and dark across the room, like a man but all shadow, looming over his bed where his wife and kids are sleeping. Obviously, Horace loses his marbles at this point and switches the light on. Now there’s nobody there. But he can’t deny that he saw something. It’s late and his kids have been up and down all night whinging at him, so he decides he imagined it, not to take it too seriously. But I’ll tell you what, he was in here the next day having a pint and telling us all about it and he looked more unnerved than anyone had ever seen him.
‘Day after that, they all go down to the beach again because the weather’s cleared up. Jenny wants to have a look at their little mural on the seawall but it ain’t there no more. Maggie tells the kids that the chalk washes off when the tide hits the wall at night but at least they’ll have the picture of it when it’s developed. The kids play again while the parents relax and then Bob scrambles over to his Dad and starts tugging his shirt.
‘Horace looks up and Bob’s crying “Man! Man!”, over and over again and pointing at the seawall where they wrote their names the day before. But once again there ain’t no man. But… and this is what he told us by the way, I ain’t making it up, he said that when he looked at the wall, he thought he saw something move. Not a man, but something, like the stone started shifting for a moment.
‘See, Horace used to drink here a lot. He worked in the garage down the road and always popped in after his shift for a pint of Spitfire. The kids came in too and that afternoon they were all in here. Maggie was sat right here with the kids while Horace was sat over there at that bar, telling us what he saw. He weren’t ever really into ghosts or nothing, but that day you’d never know it.
‘This is where it gets a bit nasty, sorry. They all go home and Maggie puts dinner on. Roast chicken ‘cause it was Sunday. She leaves the kitchen for a bit to have a quick fag outside and then Horace turns up in the garden asking where Bob is. He ain’t seen him in a while, and he ain’t in the living room or his bedroom. Maggie don’t know either so she puts her fag out and they both go back in to look for Bob. He ain’t in the toilet, he ain’t in the living room, he ain’t in the kitchen, he ain’t in any of the kids’ rooms and he ain’t tall enough to open the front door, so he can’t have gotten out. They start panicking, because there’s nowhere else he could possibly be. The other kids start crying their eyes out when they see how frantic their parents are getting.
‘They ring the police and Maggie goes back in the kitchen to turn off the roast in case they have to go out. But when she goes to the oven, she sees something inside. There ain’t just the chicken in there now, there’s something else. Something bigger all clogged inside. It’s weird because the oven door is shut tight. So she opens it.
‘The next thing Horace hears from the living room is his wife screaming louder than he’s ever heard her. So, in a flash he runs into the kitchen and Maggie’s coiled on the floor in tears, pointing at the wide open oven.
‘There’s a little pair of feet dangling out over the grill. Horace don’t need to see no more to work out what’s happened.
‘Now, have you ever heard of an oven that can be closed from the inside? However that poor little boy managed to get in there, there ain’t no way he could have shut it. And you could never convince me that Horace or Maggie would do that to one of their kids. I’m just saying.
After Bob’s funeral, poor Horace decides to get those pictures developed, anyway. He’s flicking through all them photos of his family having a lovely summer, little Bob laughing and playing without a care in his tiny little heart. Horace is bawling his eyes out and then he comes to the picture of all their names on the wall. There’s something wrong with it. There’s his shadow, obviously because he’s the one who took it, but then there’s another shadow next to him. Taller, sort of leaning in towards Horace. Maggie’s as short as they come. Smoking, it stunts your growth, you see. So it can’t be her. When he sees this he drops the photo on the floor, nearly has a nervous breakdown.
‘Horace comes in here again. It’s horrible. None of us behind the bar knows what to say or do. He just leans over the bar with his head in his hands, pale as they come. Doesn’t touch his beer for a good hour. Then he looks up at Vinnie (he’s the old landlord) and says “look at this”, and gets that photo out. Obviously Vinnie takes the photo and looks at it, but he don’t know what to say. Horace gets up and sort of just meanders out the pub like a zombie, leaving his pint untouched.
‘That’s the last time any of us saw Horace. Couple of days later Vinnie was on the morning shift and he tells us he could see smoke coming up on the horizon from Smuggler’s Way. Course, day after that the Thanet Extra comes out and it turns out Horace’s house burnt down. Nobody survived. Horace, Maggie, little Freddie and Jenny. All burned alive inside that house. Poor souls. Never knew a nicer family in all the time I’ve lived here and that’s how it ended for them. Horrible.
‘They had a wake for the Donovans in this pub. Worst day of Vinnie’s life, that was. Him and Horace were good mates you see. So, he steps out the back for a bit of a cry and then seconds later runs back inside, white as a sheet.
‘I ask him what’s wrong and he says he’s just seen Horace in the garden, smiling at him from the shadows behind the trees. Couple of weeks later Vinnie ups and leaves, then the company leaves the pub to me and Roger. As far as I know Vinnie ain’t been back to this town since.
‘And do you know what? It was that wall. It was them writing their names on that seawall that done it. A few people have died too young over the years round here, under suspicious circumstances, and every single one of them was on that beach the night before they died. I’ve told this story God knows how many times now, and people believe it. That’s why Epple Bay is always deserted these days. People believe it. Write your name on that wall, and as soon as the sea washes it away, you’ll be dead in no time. Mark my words.’
‘Why is that?’ I asked, my voice shaking as I began piecing things together.
‘Beats me. We’ve all got our theories. I reckon this place is a sort of ferry port to the afterlife, and writing your name on the wall means you’re signing up, gets you there quicker. Roger thinks that this is an old town with a nasty past. Vikings used to come here you know. He says places don’t forget things like that.’
‘Well, the Romans came through Kent on their first attempts to conquer England,’ I said. ‘There would have been a lot of bloodshed around here.’
‘There is that,’ said Lucy.
‘I’m going with your theory,’ said Patricia to Lucy. ‘Sort of explains why there are so many pensioners here.’
‘Here, hang about,’ she said, getting out of her seat.
We three sat in silence for a while as Lucy made her way back to the bar and rummaged through a drawer behind it. When she returned she was clutching an old, rectangular photograph, browning at the edges. She handed it to me with a trite, sickly grin.
There it was, the photo she’d described. There were the five names written in chalk on the wall. Horace, Maggie, Jenny, Freddie and Bob. Bob’s was bigger and messier than the others, likely because of his young age. And there was the stick figure drawing of the family, all holding hands and smiling cartoon smiles at me. And there, of course, were the two shadows.
I placed the photo delicately on the table and looked away, not wishing to behold it any longer. It was quite awful to see, knowing what shortly became of the people who’d written those words, and knowing (as I did) what that taller, second shadow was, and what unearhtly evil it truly belonged to.
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Thanks for reading! The Creeping Seawall is out now priced just £2.99 on Kindle or £7.99 paperback.
Happy Halloween x