"say it..!", I hissed at the little curly blonde thing sitting on Scrooges lap, "say....it!!",
"God bless us............!", said Tiny TIm,
"Every...one", replied Scrooge,
The audience start applauding us, a riot of friends, family and others stamping their feet, clapping their hands, pointing at Tiny Tim, and cheering. Then the curtain fell, quickly we all hustled into our positions for the curtain calls, all lined up around Scrooge, with TIny TIm, sitting on his shoulder, me trying my damnedest not to look at Pete, who had decided to take the curtain calls posing on his phone, on the back row just out of sight from the director and stage management, Death on a mobile, thats Pete for you.
Three curtain calls and a rather pissed off directors speech on "professionalism in dramatics", having spotted Pete's joke. After getting changed we all met in the hall, saying our "hi, hello, how are you and thanks for comings", then , after a sickeningly vinegar of a red wine, began making a hasty retreat for the main entrance.
"Oh my God!", exclaimed Kate, "Give me a fag NOW!", she giggled as Pete tossed her a packet from the bags,
"That was horrible!", sighed Sarah,
"What are you talkin about?", asked Pete, "everyone loved the costumes?!",
"Yeah!", she snapped, "everyone loved you lot IN them, I mean honestly I spent HOURS on those!", Sarah did seem to miss out on a lot of the thanks and praise during the shows,
"Hey", I said, putting a friendly arm round her shoulder as we all walked together down the village High street, "at least your in the program right?",
"No", she replied, "SOPHIE Jones, is in the program!",
"oops!!", giggled Tom from the back of the group, then we all lost it, laughing out loud as we entered the road leading out of the village, Sarah eventually joining in.
Pete tossed tins of larger to everyone as Kate suddenly stopped at looked round,
"Where are we going?", she asked, confused look all over her face, "I thought we'd agreed on the party?", Bitch, she had to notice I'd managed to start leading the group towards the old village lane,
"Yeeaaah", said Pete, strolling up right behind me and putting a large muscular arm round my neck, "I thought we'd agreed on the party too?!!",
"Look guys", last try coming up, "give it a go, yeah? If its crap up there, we'll call a cab and head straight for the party?!", then a moment of genius, "besides", I pulled a large plastic bag from my inside jacket pocket, "we can't smoke this at the party!". The others looked at each other, rolled their eyes in unison, a little to well rehearsed for my liking!
"So go on then!", Sarah putting an arm round my waist, pulling us closer together, "tell us about this TREE of yours?!", she was giggling along with the others, but at the same time did seem slightly interested, that surprised me, Sarah was always so level headed, no time for flights of fancy,
"well...", I started, soon and predictably, interrupted by Pete,
"It's just local bullshit!", subtle, that was Pete, "the tree ain't nothing special, just very big, very old and very dead, the reason people find it so scary at night is cos of the walk there, the dark old lane and the farm, the churchyard.....",
"Church.......yard?", Kate actually sounded genuinely scared,
"Oh come on," Sarah replied, "don't tell me your scared of a few old head stones?",
"I just don't like churchyards, OK?", she was snappy, the rest of us deciding the joke may not be best pushed,
"ANYWAY", Tom spoke out, breaking the quiet, "this tree??",
"OK!", I waited for Pete to interrupt again, but he was busy trying to walk and roll the joint at the same time, "the tree stands at the end of the old village, in front of the Manor house. Its stood their for as long as anyone has lived in these parts, its own history is a bit fucked up",
"What do you mean?", asked Kate,
"Well, during the last few centuries, the local authorities used the tree as a gallows, legend has it the magistrate who lived in the Manor house, used to lock, those due to executed, up in his cellar, torturing and tormenting them during their last fews hours of life, before their nearly dead and mangled bodies were carried out to be strung up!",
"Nice!", said Tom, sarcastically.
"Yeah but thats not all, again its just myth and local legend, but the Magistrate, Raymond Barnes, an evil old fat bastard, seen a couple of photo's of portraits of him, proper monster of a man, anyway, he apparently returned from London to his pregnant wife had given birth to a baby girl!", Tom quickened his step, catching up with me and passing the joint Pete had rolled,
"So?", asked Sarah,
"So," i continued, "he wouldn't believe it was his child, apparently he went mental on discovering his son and ayre was a girl, so he killed them,
"Oh God!!", exclaimed Kate,
"Yeah, and then buried them under the tree, thats when things started gettin really strange!",
"Like how?", ask Tom, I took a long drag on the joint and offered it to Sarah, she shook her head as Pete leaned in and grabbed it,
"Well, one night, during a drunken party with other land owners across the county, which mostly consisted off to much mead, wine and beer, apparently laudenum and opium also played major roles at these gatherings, and lets not forget the torture of anyone in Barnes custody as well as the way he tormented his own servants. Barnes was said to be enraged this night, having drunk and smoked his way in complete insanity, accounts say he ran out from the Manor house in the middle of the night, during a terrible thunder storm. The people inside could hear him apparently ranting and raving at the tree, screaming his dead wifes name and cursing her for baring another's child!",
"Then what?", asked Pete, I rolled my eyes, I must have told him this story a million times! Did he ever listen??
"Who knows", I continued, "he never returned to the house, the next day the grounds and local woods were searched for him, or his body, but nothing was ever found. Barnes had married into power, his wife being the daughter of the last, late magistrate, again its only rumor, but apparently Barnes played the old man for a fool, playing nice and sweet, marrying his daughter and sucking up to all the right people until the old man, as a last point of order, named his own successor, editing his will and leaving everything to Barnes, everything except the house!",
"Why not the house?", asked Sarah,
"The house was originally built as a gift to the late Magistrates mother, his father having the words, "Home To All Who Bare My Blood!", the house was never meant to be owned by anyone but the blood line of its builder, already attributing the paranormal to Barnes disappearance. Many believed the ghosts of the true owners of the house had risen to extract revenge, others claimed it was the tree, that it "Welcomed Death!" to whomever may try and take the house from its family, since then, no one has stayed in the house very long, reports of furniture moving, strange noises in the night and continuous reports of an overwhelming and sickening scent of rotting apples. People are still sent up there today, looking for natural reasons for all these odd occurrences in some vain hope to sell the property, bit who would want to considering what happened to the village?!!",
"What happened to the village??", asked Kate, sounding a little alarmed, a smile crept across my face, good, hope she was scared!
We had left the village sometime ago, having drunk a bit and had a smoke, we were all feeling decidedly jolly, Kate had nicked a couple of glasses from the bar back at the hall and had mixed her and Sarah a couple of very strong vodka cokes. The two girls were lagging behind, talking quietly and giggling to themselves,
"Boys or clothes?", Tom asked me and Pete as we shared another joint at the front of the group,
"Knowing Kate", I replied breathlessly, holding in the last drag to get the extra effect, "probably which director she's going to do next!", the boys laughed, but I got the distinct feeling they were laughing at me, rather than with me. We were now by the cross roads, as we carried on straight, I turned my head quickly to look down the road approaching on our right, my road. My house was near the other end of the row of Victorian houses. I turned my focus back to the road ahead, the girls were catching up, Kate poked me in the back,
"How far is it Mick?", Bitch
"about half a mile, we follow the lane up the hill, past the old....oh you'll see!".
The five us, now walking in a straight row, linked arms and began to sing as we skipped down the lane, Sarah and Kate spilling Vodka coke all over me!
"WEEEEEEE'REEEEEE OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD........THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!"
Finally being able to stand again, head throbbing from the fall, I face the path ahead of me, the old farm lies beyond the gate and stile a few feet in front of me. The full moon is hidden behind the main farm house, its porch the first thing I would reach after climbing the stile, old, disfigured building, warped wood and paint that has almost completely flaked away through decades of neglect. The windows all blocked by the thin vales that once were curtains, shadows behind them, in the rooms, dancing along the walls as the moon light shifts through them.
I can feel something warm running down my face, blood. I've cut my head open on the cobbled lane,
"It's not that bad, just keep going!"
Good advice, its just another cut and bruise to add to the collection, and very soon, it probably wouldn't even matter. A chilling thought, but I can't help it, after everything I've seen and heard tonight, I just can't help myself, for years, the legend of the Death Welcome Tree, has fascinated me, and now, it will kill me, but I swear, I will get my friends out first, I will not let them pay for my mistakes!
Walking slowly, but steadily, down the old farm path, I come within touching distance of the house. every board creaking, I can hear rustling from within, things moving around in a house, they had no earthly business moving around in, because this house is like everything for the next half a mile, dead. Everything is dead, the trees within the farm bore no leaves, the fields beyond the farm yard were nothing but dead soil, nothing grew there anymore, even the pathway itself seems to crumble as I move across the loose grit and small stones that litter it.
Something darts past the window directly on my left, within the house. I stop, turning sharply, the curtain is swaying, ever so gently, in the window, like something was just standing there. I gulped, again, forcing my heart back down my throat.
"Walk away, just walk away..."
Passing the farm house, I'm now standing in the cross of the path, four ways, the first and second leading to two fields, one used for crops, the other, live stock grazing, both now just dead empty space. The third leads to the huge old barn, used for storing straw once, now just a place for things to live, rats, mice and insects. Something is drifting down the path, on the wind, its a sound, a voice,
"If the farms empty, why is there a voice coming from the barn?",
It sounds vaguely female, but it isn't Kate, it couldn't be! Could it? Could she have made it all this way on her own? Could she have gotten herself out?
"Damn it, you fucking IDIOT!", my head screams at me, and I can't agree more, why did I have to think that?! I sigh hard, my hands trembling even more, cold sweat soaking them and my fore head. Slowly, I take a brave step, or a really stupid one, forwards, down the path, towards the barn. A couple of yards down the long, thin, winding path, the foliage banks on either side so over grown, I can actually begin to feel the sting of the nettles, through my jeans, repeatedly slapping against my legs. The barn appears as I round a corner in the pathway, with the moon behind me, the building looks even more uninviting. Its outside brightly lit in the moon light, making the inside darker, shadows overcast everything.
I approach with apprehension, there hasn't been another sound since the first voice, if it even was a voice!
"You could just be chasing wind!", well, I'll have nothing to worry about then,
"in here" just inside the door.
The voice was so quiet, I still can't tell if it was Kate or not? The door is hanging off its hinges, old wood barely holding itself up anymore, the barn creaks and cracks, I make my way to the door, and peer into the darkness within. I have to do it, I really, REALLY don't want to, but I have to be sure,
My voice is a tremble, barely a whisper, and there is no reply. I take one, small step forward, into the barn, into the dark,
I repeat, a little louder, terrified of who or what may answer if not Kate. Nothing. Inside, the barn empty, nothing but cobweb covered support beams, and two stables for horses that died years ago. I want to turn the torch on, I want to turn it on so much! Then a creak above my head, in the barn's attic, I take a step inside and shuffle forwards as quietly as possible, just ahead, a ladder is leaning from the attic down to the centre of the barn. I walk up the ladder, taking hold of it in my right hand to steady myself, bile rising in my throat.
I turn around and stare up at the attic, a few thin strands of moon light shinning through the cracks in the wood beam walls. I can't see anything, if I'm going to check properly, I have to go up the ladder, another gulp, the stress of the night and residual alcohol making my head throb! Trembling, I place one foot on the lowest rung, my eyes never leaving the attic,
"Try calling out, once more, before you go up!",
This time an audible call. For just a second, the slightest of seconds, I swear a head bobs up then down from over the lip of the attic, hands shaking, I put my other foot on the lung and grasp the old ladder in both hands, it doesn't feel strong, I take another step up, one foot first, then waiting, watching the attic, then the other foot, the ladder really doesn't feel strong enough for me,
No reply, no glimpses of anything, just the attic waiting for me, the ladder groans as I take another step up it, I still can not believe I'm doing this, but if there was even the slightest chance, Kate was up this ladder, I had to go. I took a couple more steps, as I reached the next rung, my head bobbed high enough for me to glimpse the attic, it looked empty? My head is now level with the lip, the ladder suddenly cracks! and shifts, the lung I'm standing on breaks in half, I look up to try and grab the attic lip, to stop myself from falling, and straight into the face so close to mine, eyes white, wide and life less, her skin was cracked and decaying, mouth wide in a terrifyingly evil sneer, nose crinkled up and her face covered in tiny scars, clusters of them everywhere, a small girl, a child, and she screams into my face,
the ladder breaks,
I fall hard to ground below.
I don't know how long I've been laying on the cold, dirt floor. My eyes open, I don't want to move again, the instinct we are all born with, to keep my face hidden and eyes closed when scared, taking me over again. Then the sound starts, foot steps, a child's foot steps, she is running around me, oh god, I can't help think,
"It was her, in the farm house, shes been following you!"
It really didn't help, I wanted to shut my brain off, cut out the fear and the pain and throbbing in my head! I close my eyes and wait, wait till the footsteps stop, but they don't. Every so often I hear her run right by me, so close she could have kicked me.
"OK, just, pull yourself onto your knees, at least try and stand up!"
I pull my knees in to my stomach then push myself up on my hands, pausing for a moment, waiting to see if she does anything? Her footsteps have stopped, there is no sound at all now, thats worse somehow, at least when she was moving I knew where she was. I lift my head, the throbbing now a numbing, blinding pain, it was almost so bad, that I wouldn't have even noticed as two, small, child like hands clamp down on my shoulders. I froze, beyond scared, the fear of pissing in my pants being realised as I kneel on my hands and knees. A cold breath against the back of my neck, it sends and electric shock down my spine, then a flick against my ear, more shocks of fear running the length of my back as I realise she has just licked the back of my ear, then a small, yet malevalantly evil voice whispers right in me left ear,
Run I do, I'm up, on my feet, grabbing the torch laying at my side, then, running as fast as my exhausted legs will carry me, my right foot twisting slightly as I try to cross the threshold of the barn. As I get out and continuing running back up the winding path, the night air is filled with evil child like laughter, echoing from the barn, almost screaming! I make it up the path and back to the crossway, and I head for the forth pathway, the one leading out of the dead farm and onto the churchyard, This is the moment I've been dreading, the part of my journey that would take more courage than any other, passing back through that......place!!!
The path goes on a little way between the farm and the churchyard gate, I look up, basking in the last rays of moon light i would see till I'd past through the entrance to the yard and the start of the graves, and that fucking church! I grip my torch tightly in my hand, for the first time that night, anger replacing fear. Just a few yards ahead of me, the gateway, and its huge wooden porch blocking out all trace off moon light, this is it, one last shift of the bag onto my shoulder and torch in hand, I step under the porch, and open the gate.