Monday, 24 August 2009


Here's a chiller that requires reading as well as seeing...
The Embers of Webster Street

I walked up to the door and was about to buzz when the warden opened it.
"Jennifer, your Mum's not herself today," she said.
"What's happened?"
"She's telling everyone John’s coming."
I pursed my lips, "John's, my dad. He won't be coming."
“That’s what I thought.”
"Thanks. I'll talk to her."
As I walked into the flat, Mum was holding a photograph of Jessica and me.
"Ah, there you are," she said as Jessica came in behind and sat on the arm of the sofa.
"My girls," she said, her fingers stroking the picture. “And John will be here soon."
"Mum, Dad won't be coming," I said, "I'll go and make us a nice cup of tea." I glanced at Jessica who was watching Mum closely.
We sat round the table like we used to and I let Mum pour.
"Do you see Dad?" she suddenly asked.
"I don't know what you mean."
"I still remember, y’know."
Jessica looked at me, but I played dumb.
"Your Dad and I said you'd grow out of it, but you haven't, have you?" Mum and Jessica were watching me closely.
I knew what she was referring to of course because when I was a child I talked to what they termed as my imaginary friends.
Back then, Jessica, who didn’t laugh very often, thought it funny until she gradually began to take me seriously. We were always like two halves, she the introverted one and me the extrovert.
"Who are they and what do you say to them?" she asked one day while we were colouring pictures in the front room.
"They’re people who’ve lived and died in this house."
"Aren't you afraid of them?"
"Oh no, and you shouldn't be either."
“What do they look like?” she asked curiously.
I thought for a moment and shook my head, “I can’t always tell.”
She screwed up her eyes in the way she always did. “What do you mean; I thought you could see them?”
I watched them moving around her in our house in Webster Street as I thought about how best to describe them. “They’re just shadows, I suppose. Wisps of people doing what they’ve always done when they lived here. I don’t even know if they’re aware of each other.”
“Wow!” Jessica seemed transfixed as she looked around the room trying to see what I see. “But I don’t think you should tell Mum and Dad. I don’t think they’d understand.”
And so I never did and Jessica watched me with that glum expression as Mum’s question lingered in the air.
“You haven’t grown out of it, have you, Jennifer?” Mum repeated.
“We knew you were different. We just didn’t know what to do about it.”
She was having one of her lucid moments and it made my heart ache.
“You were the only one who didn’t cry at your Dad’s funeral,” she interrupted.
Without thinking, I said, “That’s because he was standing right next to you.”
Jessica put her head in her hands and groaned.
“You can’t do this to me,” Mum suddenly shrilled, getting to her feet, the chair toppling over behind her. “I’ll get Jessica to stay with me. She was always the nicer one, now get out!”
It still hurt when she did that, and as I hurried down the wet streets with my hands in my pocket, head bent, I didn’t notice the car till the horn blared and Tom got out.
I first met him 12 months ago when Dad fell off a ladder, cracking his skull, at our house in Webster Street. He died instantly. Tom was one of the policemen who attended and Mum, who already lived her life in profound shock, went rapidly downhill from there.
“Are you all right?” Tom asked, touching my elbow.
I nodded. “Mum’s just ordered me out again.”
He also came the day we were burgled after Mum went out leaving the back door open. Soon after, Mum went shopping and couldn’t find her way home again and it was Tom who brought her back.
We went out a few times, but it was hard with Mum being like she was. I asked him if we could be friends for now and he’d been a good friend when I was forced to put Mum into sheltered accommodation.
Tom turned to his partner, “Cover for me, Ryan, while I walk Jennifer in.”
“It’s okay, I’ll be fine,” I told him quickly.
Through the open window Ryan said, “He had a curry last night, so yeah, give me a break.”
“You’re not going to embarrass me with your made up stories,” Tom quipped, making me smile.
“Do you want a brew, then?” I asked
“Never say no, you know me.”
“Well, your daft mate better come as well then.”
“No way,” said Tom, but he was grinning.
“Oi! You’re not the only one who’d love a cup of tea, y’know,” said Ryan closing the window and pulling over in front of the house.
More like a chance to skive, I thought to myself. Tom went up to the toilet and Ryan took his time coming in.
I filled the kettle with water and plugged it in. I turned trying not to think of what Mum had said when Jessica appeared.
“Don’t say anything, favourite child,” I told her forcing a smile. It was not her fault, poor love. She didn’t smile back because she never did when I tried to be cheerful. As Ryan came in through the back door and Tom could be heard coming down the stairs, she disappeared into the other room again.
I made the tea and handed them both a mug each.
“What happened with your Mum, then?” Tom asked.
“Just the usual, really. You know what she’s like.”
“Come out with me tonight and let me cheer you up.” I was just about to reply when Tom’s radio burst into life, he had a shout. They put their cups on the kitchen table and left.
Jessica came out of the front room as the back door closed.
“I know,” I said as she always knew what I was thinking and I always knew what she was about to say. “…He likes me, but how can I commit to a relationship when he doesn’t know about all of this?” I swept my hands around the ghostly images in the room. “And there’s Mum, she needs me even if she doesn’t always know it.”
A couple of days later Mum came in through the back door.
“I want to see Jessica and I want to see John!” she demanded.
“What are you doing here?” I blurted abandoning the steak I was frying.
“Where are they?” she said throwing open the doors, searching.
She went into the front room where Jessica was sitting.
“So! You’re keeping secrets from me, are you?”
“Mum! Please…..”
“And where’s John, where’s your Dad?”
“Mum, you know I can’t just…..”
“I heard you telling Jessica that you could summon anybody,” she interrupted.
“I was just a child! It’s not like that. They need to be left alone!”
She was poking round the room, peering behind the sofa and curtains. “They? Who are they?”
“Nobody’s here, Mum,” I said trying to be patient with her.
“Yes they are. They’re always here. You said that, I heard you.”
I looked at Jessica, but she looked indifferent.
“I’ll find them. I will, I’ll find them,” and with that she rushed up the stairs.
I was about to chase after her when I could smell burning and dashed back to the kitchen. There were flames leaping from the frying pan lighting the curtains. I panicked and threw a cloth over the pan, but it caught fire too. I was about to get another cloth but thick billowing smoke started to engulf the kitchen.
It was happening so fast and Mum was upstairs somewhere. I screamed for her as the flames came out of the kitchen forcing me back along the hall.
“Mum! Mum!” I was just about to mount the stairs after her when a pair of arms encircled me. As I screamed and struggled a neighbour dragged me out of the front door. I couldn’t believe how quickly the flames took hold.
Within minutes a fire engine arrived. Men, hoses, water and noise filled the air along with smoke and flames as I watched my house burn down.
The next day Tom brought me back to the embers of Webster Street.
“I don’t know why you have to come back and see it like this,” he said and I shook my head unable to explain.
Maybe one day I could tell him the terrible thing that devastated our lives. At least now, as then, I had some consolation.
As I walked away with Tom’s arm around me, I had one last look. Mum and Dad stood together with Jessica, my depressive suicidal sister.


  1. That was tremendous, so smooth and spooky. Really enjoyed it.

  2. Well put together story that, Kazz, and I flew through it, which is always a good sign.

  3. Yeah, it's good to have a spooky story and this delivered. Good stuff, Karen.