Authors: Danny King
steeled himself and edged towards it, watching his footing amongst the clutter
and bracing himself to run at the first creak.
don’t, let’s go.”
Tommy ignored his mates’ and continued towards the coffin until he was within
touching distance of its scratched cedar lid.
he chuckled to himself with ghoulish delight as he felt along the lip for a finger-hold.
what are you doing?” a needy anxious voice called from outside, but Tommy was
feeling reckless and he heaved at the heavy lid, cracking it open an inch until
the bolts I’d screwed into the hinges stopped it from opening further.
the coffin a sudden movement had him dropping the lid and soiling his socks as
he tumbled back in fright. “Jesus!” he squawked, scrambling back across my
front room and up onto the windowsill before recovering his courage. His
friends outside had done considerably better than he and had practically made
it back home and into their pyjamas in the same space of time, but curiosity
and a lack of a reaction from the bungalow’s resident “Scarecrow” soon had them
back and sniffing around my casket once more.
now there were two of them inside my house.
lift it, I’ll look inside,” they concocted as Tommy dropped to his knees and
pushed his peepers against the crack.
Jesus!” he yelped once again
when something spun within, tumbling back onto his buns and scrambling over his
chum who was already halfway through the window.
time, it took them a full hour before they returned, but return they did. Three
of them climbed in through the window this time – Tommy, the one they
called Farny and a Ginger lad – leaving the littlest outside to sniffle
and blubber to himself in protest.
is it?” asked Farny holding the lid.
don’t know, but it’s horrible,” Tommy replied, and Ginger who was on his knees beside
him echoed these sentiments.
fink it’s the scarecrow like, and he sleeps in the box or somefink?” he asked,
prompting the Farny, who was holding the lid, to pull his fingers out, much to
the dismay of his pals’ noses.
conehead twat!” Tommy groaned,
holding the wet squidgy mess that used to be his face before realising his
fingers were full of tears and not blood. “Stupid
a girl,” Ginger said, pushing the lid up long enough to take another peek.
please let’s go home,” snivelled the fourth musketeer through the open window.
get in here,” he was told for his troubles.
I don’t like it,” he replied.
bottler!” was Farny’s assessment
and Ginger agreed.
his pants he is.”
ain’t, I just want to go home,” he pleaded, but Tommy wasn’t having any of it.
you get in here right now or you ain’t hanging out with us no more.”
tell mum,” Barry threatened, prompting a chorus of chicken clucks until Barry silenced
his tormenters the only way he could – by climbing through the window. He
was supremely reluctant I can tell you that. I’ve seen panicking bluebottles
who’ve found their way through open windows faster than Barry, but he
eventually joined his peers, only to continue his protestations at close
quarters, though he was now so fear-pitched that only dogs and Superman could
inside Barry the coffin,” Tommy told him, cranking open the lid and inviting as
much fear as he could muster into his little brother’s life.
gang went through another round of “bottler” “no I ain’t” “shut it” “jus’
do it” before Barry finally took
a gander, and when he did his gasp all but silenced the others.
is she?” he quivered, but the others didn’t get a chance to answer for at that
perfect moment I yanked the first of my strings and slammed their point of
entry closed behind them.
pairs of socks were left on the carpet behind as they fled to escape, but the
window was now sealed and the glass reinforced with clear plastic in case they tried
to smash their way out.
IN THERE!” a tape recording boomed from the darkest shadows of the room,
buffeting them towards the open door and they broke en masse, clambering over
each other in heart-wrenching panic as they tumbled out into the hallway.
Naturally, a whole heap of boxes barred both exits, front and back, but a third
door invited them to step inside, offering them a hiding place from the
increasingly heated recordings that were blaring out from the half dozen
different speakers dotted around the house.
way!” Tommy ordered and the rest all followed without a second’s independent thought.
got two steps into my basement when they realised it offered no way out, but by
the time they knew this it was too late, the door slammed shut and the steps
fell away, plunging them down a long slide and into the darkness below.
I chuckled to myself, locking home the heavy steel bolt as I listened to their
howls of terror.
I left them to stew in the darkness for thirty minutes before returning to the
door. Imagination is a powerful weapon and I wanted their little minds primed
for the night’s entertainment.
cracked back the bolt and shone a torch into the blackness. Huddled on the
floor and sobbing their eyes out were Farny and Ginger; they’d waved the white
flag and were resigned to meeting their makers with as little dignity as
possible (well fair enough, they were only twelve), while Tommy was clutching a
hand trowel he’d found and shielding his baby brother behind him. The torchlight
temporarily blinded them all and Farny and Ginger cranked up the volume while
Tommy tried to kill the air before him with scything swings.
us out you
! Let us out or
we’ll call the cops!” he warned.
haven’t you already?” I asked, knowing full well why not. I’d stacked most of
my lead on the floor in the room above, meaning they had as much chance of
getting a signal on their mobiles as I had of getting a column in
. “Phones not working boys?”
want to go home,” Barry blubbed, unable to hold it in any longer.
expect you do,” I scowled, “but we so rarely get what we want.”
me, the basement steps had dropped away to a forty-five degree angle, turning
the stairs into a highly polished slide. Now I brought my old automatic into
the glare of the torchlight so that they could see it and warned them away from
the bottom step.
the far wall. Move it. Do as I say and you might even get out of here alive,” I
lads moved to the far wall and after a little more shepherding, occupied the battered
and tattered sofa I’d forgotten I owned until I’d shifted all that bleeding
lead upstairs. I yanked a lever on the wall at the top of the stairs and the
steps in front of me now clanked back into a usable flight. I descended
carefully, keeping the barrel of my Browning on them at all times.
reached the basement and felt for a switch I’d concealed behind a shelf,
flicking it on to illuminate a forty watt bulb screwed into a lamp in the
corner. Around that forty watt bulb was an old sheep’s skull. And as the beams
of light broke from its cracked eye sockets and cruel leer the boys gasped as
one, as if their worst fears had just been realised, so I told them to be quiet
otherwise I’d turn them into fixtures and fittings for the rest of the house.
then,” I said, pulling up an old oil drum to sit down on in front of them (as my
bleeding back was killing me). “Strap.”
from their faces they must've misheard me and thought I’d said “strip', so I
pointed to the left of the sofa to where Tommy found a long leather strap afixed
to the frame. After a little more encouragement he passed the other end along his
mates and Ginger at the far end fixed it to a hook I’d screwed in just below
the armrest. It wasn’t exactly Hannibal Lecter’s car seat, but it was enough to
keep them from rushing me if I needed to scratch myself unexpectedly.
boys, let’s start with your names shall we?” I said.
told me he weren’t saying nothing, which was admirably defiant if a little redundant
seeing as he was wearing a cap with Tommy written across it. Barry however
coughed his guts up, as did Farny and Ginger, who turned out to be called Ralph
Farnsworth (or Farny to his friends) and Colin Dunlop (or Ginger to friend and
name is John Coal,” I told them, lowering my gun and feeling around in my
jacket for my pipe. “And this is my home you’re trespassing in.”
let us go right now or I’ll tell my dad on you!” Tommy threatened once more.
tell him,” I said, filling my pipe. “Go ahead and tell him.”
sat mute for a moment while the impediments of this threat bounced around
inside his hat.
tell your dad if I don’t let you go, can you?” I put to him.
didn’t answer, but the seriousness of the situation was fully understood by his
little brother Barry, who appealed to my better side for mercy. It’s so often
the way with children; up until the age of ten you can wave hedge trimmers and
garden shears at them and they’ll genuinely believe you’ll cut off their legs
if you catch them. But all that goes for a toss once they hit their horrible
teens and overnight develop a working knowledge of English law. At Tommy’s age
he probably knew – or at least thought he knew – that I couldn’t
really hurt them, not
without risking prison and retribution and life and liberty. But a little
knowledge is a dangerous thing because every once in a while a cocky young buck
runs into a dangerous old coot who’s not entirely full of piss and vinegar. And
when that happens all the
in the world ain’t going to help them blow out another birthday cake.
it was up to me to convince them I was this self-same dangerous old coot.
boys, this ain’t nothing personal but I can’t have you little sneaks creeping
about my property. I have too many secrets buried here and if you don’t want to
join them you’ll do well to stay clear, if you know what’s good for you.”
secrets?” Farny blurted, as if I was just going to tell him after that whole flannel.
blackest kind of secrets: murder and death, blood and demons,” I hissed,
metaphorically holding a torch under my chin. “That’s why I came to this shitty
little town; to escape the horrors. And it’s why I keep myself to myself; not
for my own sake, but to protect those around me, for if these secrets ever saw
the light of day it would mean death and destruction to this whole worthless backwater,”
I said, laying it on a bit thick while at the same time putting the boot into
full of shit,” Tommy said. “My dad says you ain’t nothing but an old tramp
who’s got a house and that if I don’t want to end up like you, I should forget
about school and come roofing with him.”
gratifying as it was to be a part in Tommy’s careers advice, I saw that my
rhetoric would be taken as empty unless I could back it up with a few
specifics, so I mulled over my options and lit my pipe, taking a long hard draw
on its nib before flavouring the stale basement air with a blue grey plume.
that right?” I speculated. “I guess fathers tell their children all kinds of things,
don’t they? My own father was no different, a very persuasive man. Of course
he’s dead now; he died a great many years ago but when he was alive I would’ve
done anything for him. Anything. Well… almost anything.”
My father, Reginald Coal, was an extraordinary man, made all the more
extraordinary by the fact that he’d had the thorniest of beginnings. Born to an
unwed mother, abandoned to luck and wrapped in the blood-soaked blankets he’d
been delivered in, it was by the slenderest of miracles that he'd been found
before the early winter frosts had got the better of him.
Lloyd’s house keeper, about to turn in for the night, thought she’d heard a cat
screaming in pain in the alleyway outside and went out to shoo it away lest it disturb
the mistress of the house, only to get the fright of her life. I guess the
intention of my grandmother, other than to rid herself of the shame of having a
child of love in such judgmental times, had been to place my father with a
well-to-do family. The Lloyds were certainly that, boasting a proud lineage, a
box at Ascot and a pile in stocks and shares that would keep them in clover until
the crash of ’29. But families like the Lloyds didn’t keep their proud lineages
by taking in every waif and stray to pitch up in their coal shed.