His fingers tapped away the quiet hour, tap – tap tap – tap.
Running one hand through the streaks of white and grey of his beard, he raised the other to adjust the spectacles that sat on his nose. A dull brass frame, marked from the countless incidents of being left in back pockets and bent out of shape, surprisingly still held them in place. The glass of the lenses however, despite a slight crack which was noticeable here and there, still gleamed.
Slowly turning, shifting away the dust with every second that went by, the hands of time moved sleepily across them, He kept his personal time keeper where he could always see it, on the bridge of his nose. His glasses were his watch, and he watched them keenly.
They were silent, as the old man believed time should be.
The grandfather clock however had another idea entirely of how time should be.
Sounding loudly, the clock announced the arrival of the seventh hour. It boomed out the first three strikes, at the fourth it wavered a little, and from the fifth it croaked hoarsely.
“That’ll teach you,” chuckled the old man. He shifted to pick up a piece of paper that he had knocked to the floor. To his surprise he found it hovering by a few centimetres above the ground. A smile warmed to his lips as he gently lifted the paper and nodded his head to a small spider, which in turn, waved a leg before scuttling off again.
“Thank you, Wolf,” he called after it. Watching fondly, through blurred vision, as it headed back to the other spiders that crowded the room.
Scribbled on the paper were clock designs. The most intricate detailing was often in the patterning of the metal. He let his hand guide the pencil as it designed the filigree that encased the glass, his passion for time counted more than his now faltering eyesight.
On occasion there would also be a comic cartoon of an arachnid; his imagination was of little need for the pictures of the spiders he lovingly sketched onto paper, because the clocks weren’t alone in calling his study their home, the spiders he had so affectionately drawn made their webs amongst them.
They scurried restlessly about the room – their workstation. Dipping their feet into ink before scuttling off to their designated parchment on which they would dance away an occurrence of events. Black ink marking the moments that often steered the emotions of the living, and red ink marking the moment those living would be dead.
The spiders often recorded the comings and goings of more than one life, having a number of eyes and legs made this manageable. But nevertheless it was always sad to see a sider make the “until next time” walk with red ink and any other that crossed his path would lower his head in respect.
But it wasn’t too sad because there always was a next time. Once the red dot had been marked and the spider had said it’s farewells it usually wasn’t too long until another spider would be calling out, “Oi George, I’ve got your Beryl here!”
You see when we’re born the first breath we take is what will form our soul, and as we die, our final breath is released back into the universe, its true home. It’s only a matter of time then until a new life is given its first breath that a soul will be reborn.
Now the spiders may record this, and the old man may watch over it, but neither of them is supposed to control it. That is until a certain bespectacled somebody realised the universe had been doing the same universe like things for the past few centuries.
Unlike the spiders he may only have two eyes, but time is an important thing and so with that in mind we must open our minds to the possibility of one being able to observe all.
This doesn’t mean scanning the universe is a simple thing, but it’s something he did easily. However if something, or someone, drew his attention, it took extra work to look closer. But using the spectacles which balanced lightly on his nose, it was possible.
To draw in nearer he would simply have to match the ticking of the hand on his spectacles lenses to the same beat as the ticking of time following his desired subject.
Lately, it had been two people who caught his attention. It was little by chance that he came across them. As his wife, who had little interest in time but plenty of interest in fate, would say, everything happens for a reason (that reason usually being her knitting needles), but it was for an exceptional reason that he was inclined to look closer.
No one runs by the same clock. Everyone ticks or tocks to a different beat. But while watching these two he found the clocks on each lens of his glasses to be moving in an identical rhythm, something very rare, very rare indeed.
He had come to a conclusion. These two would meet. But not in this world, in another universe, a time gone by, and a place his beloved controller of fate and mad wielder of needles would have little interest in. With the images of the pair in his mind, and before him living their lives through his lenses, he took a blank piece of paper, jotted down their ages, their current position, and beats of time.
Satisfied, he smiled and turned to look down at the spiders that had congregated beneath his chair.
“Wolf?” he said, and waited for the little spider to separate itself from the group.
Wolf appeared sheepishly, black in body, blue of feet, creping forward from behind a wooden leg.
“It’s okay, Wolf, we all need a break sometimes. I need you to do something for me. Take this and show it around the keepers. Whoever records for these pair, ask them to make copies of their parchments and bring them to me.”
Reaching down the old man waited to feel the note tugged from his hand, he then pointed out a finger and felt a tiny leg touch the tip of it.
“Good lad, Wolf.”
It wasn’t long before Wolf was back with two nervous looking spiders in tow.
“Calm down the both of you. Did you bring the parchment copies?”
At this a group of a dozen spiders appeared carrying tiny scraps of paper, each with dots running down them. Taking them, he observed closely.
“Hmm,” he stroked his beard and tapped his finger on the arm of his chair. “Don’t do much these pair do they? Well, that will soon change! Good work the lot of you, carry on with recording on the originals as usual, I’ll be keeping the copies.”
The spiders, pleased with themselves, rushed off. Wolf however climbed up the man until he, too, was siting looking at the parchments that were causing so much interest.
“It won’t hurt, will it, Wolf?”
He waited as the spider ran up his shoulder, positioning himself on the old man’s head. The two of them, spider gripping onto hair and wrinkled fingers gripping onto parchments, headed over to the grandfather clock.
After a few moments of the clock looking at them, he and Wolf looking back at the clock, he nudged it lightly with his boot.
“Come on, open up.”
Grudgingly the clock swung open the cabinet door. Inside the pendulum swayed softly and the noise of cogs at work sounded. But behind the mechanisms, stars shone brightly against a black sky.
Other worlds were alight in the distance, encircled by spirals of colours that moved at different speeds around them. Some circled slowly, giving the planets a heavy, sleepy appearance. Whereas others spun, uncontrollably, as though at any minute the planet would shoot off in an unknown direction, much like the stars that darted through the sky, their tails flowing golden behind them.
The old man breathed in the wonder of his hidden universe.
He raised himself from the ground and wound back the hours on the face of the clock until he could no longer budge the hand. “Three days! That’s all I get? You’re a cruel one,” he snorted, disappointed with the clock’s defiance, knowing it on the other hand was feeling very smug indeed.
Wolf began to hammer his feet wildly on the old man’s head, dancing madly, desperately.
“You want to go too?” he asked the spider curiously.
The spider tapped twice on his head, “Yes.”
“Very well, I supposed a keeper like you couldn’t go amiss in times like these.”
Wolf jumped gleefully, then ran down the old man’s arm and folded himself carefully into one of the parchments.
“I’ll see you in three days, Wolf. I’ll be watching you, but stay safe.”
The old man moved into position. Crouched down, and holding his hand in a fist, parchments clasped tightly within, he kissed it quickly before he opened it again. He blew on the bits of paper, and watched them disappear into the night.
Chapter One – A Sock of Possibilities
“Edward . . . can I call you Edward?”
“Oh. Well…ah, let me just lay it out for you. As fascinating as what you’ve just told me sounds, the fact remains, you’re, well you’re a sock. And I’m fairly certain the events you’ve just spoken of, well, they don’t happen to socks.”
“Exactly. Which is why I am here.”
“Yes. I’m sorry, of course it is.” The bespectacled man leaned back on his chair and formed a steeple with his hands. Touching lightly his already furrowed brow he looked up and stared thoughtfully at the small figure in front of him.
Yes, this definitely was a sock. He had checked for any signs of a puppeteer, there were none. So he had pulled up a chair, stacked a few books on top of it and lifted the rather battered, slightly faded, green sock on top of them.
This was London after all. You get used to seeing pretty much everything here, especially when working as a psychologist. It was also a Saturday morning, his usual day off. But he’d been called into work by his rather harassed sounding boss.
So, he had thrown himself out of bed, splashed some water over his face and groaned. Stumbled over the empty bottle of vodka that he had swiftly polished off the previous night and reluctantly headed into the office.
As he scratched his chin, considering not only the believability, but the saleability of the sock’s story, he noticed the sock was staring back at him. There appeared to be two holes about three centimetres apart on the top of his head. It had little to no other features. Only the apparent eyes and an indentation of a mouth from which it spoke. As for legs, from what the doctor could see, they appeared on the rim of the sock as little gatherings of material when he walked. The same formed for his hands. He wore no clothing, but this he supposed was that with being an item of clothing it had no need for any. However, when he had checked inside for strings he had received a rather sharp kick from a very offended sock.
The doctor removed his glasses and rubbed them carefully on his shirt. They weren’t dirty; it was more of a nervous habit.
He had figured to hell with it! Even if the sock had left his boss on the brink of another nervous breakdown, he had decided to at least listen to what it had to say: even if he did end up in a lovely padded room. After all, how many people can say they have had a conversation with a sock? That is, not including the fellows he would soon be living with.
“My apologies. Mr Sokwurf, tell me again what it is you wish to have achieved before leaving my office today?” he asked this as he placed on his glasses and rolled his chair forward.
The sock’s voice was deep, serious even, but quiet. It carried well but the doctor found he still had to strain to hear him clearly.
“In my community, we have had many cases in which our friends have quite inexplicably gone missing. As I have already mentioned, my experience however was rather unique. Everyone who was in the washing machine at the time saw me get absorbed into what we can only decipher as a black hole,” explained the sock.
“A black hole?” The doctor huffed out a gust of air and rubbed at the bristle on his chin. He swivelled slowly round on his chair, then back again to face the sock, “I think you forgot to mention that before.”
“I told you I went to another universe, that I met other creatures and Gods. Yet it’s the possibility of a black hole that amazes you?” Edward Sokwurf was beginning to worry. The more sober the doctor became the less answers he knew he’d be able to get.
“In our community we have almost all suffered the loss of a loved one in this way, vanishing without a trace,” Edward continued.
“For many years we blamed the humans; their lack of care for us. Many socks simply ran away with their lovers, or alone. All to escape the horrid stories we were told when first created.”
The doctor nodded to show he understood and then smiled warmly as he noticed the socks tiny hands move as he spoke.
“But the important thing is, I came back. But what from, I’m not sure. The rest of the socks that day put down seeing the portal to a bad dose of washing powder. But I keep having these dreams, these memories.” Edward lowered his head and looked to the floor, the confusion he was feeling evident as it crept through his voice, “I went to another world. I escaped from that world. At least I think I did. I’m here to ask you to help me to understand what is real and what is make-believe.”
“So unlike your friends you believe that what occurred that day was more than just a bad dose of… washing powder? You believe it could be real?”
Edward sighed, exasperated. From this the doctor realised he must have told this same story a dozen or more times.
“Sometimes I don’t know what to believe. Is it a dream or is it a memory? But regardless of what it is or isn’t, I feel I owe it to the sock community to get it straightened out. And that’s why I’ve come to you today, Dr Karsal.” He looked up to the doctor, “I feel I need answers.”
“Well, with most due respect, Mr Sokwurf, if we do learn what you experienced was real, and not just a figment of your imagination, how do you… how shall I put this…” Shuffling nervously on his chair the doctor cleared his throat. Looking down to his desk, he pushed a few papers neatly to the right. “How will the people you feel are in danger-”
Edward coughed quietly, but loudly enough to interrupt the doctor.
“Socks, sorry,” he corrected himself. “How will the socks you feel are in need of consolation find out about their loved ones?” he finished, burying his head into a giant coffee mug and gulping loudly.
The sock smiled, his dent for a mouth turning upwards slightly.
“I will be able to tell my family with confidence and we can finally have clarification on the disappearances. The rest, they will have to read it.”
The doctor choked, coffee dribbling down his chin as his mind began to race. Socks, reading? Christ, how could he question that when he was sat here talking to a sock.
He was talking to a sock.
Suddenly the past hour burst into his mind and as he stared, his eyes wide, horrified, into a cup. He slowly looked up with the same confounded expression to the sock.
“Good morning, Dr Karsal.” Edward smirked grimly, “I see the alcohol is now almost completely out of your system and you believe you are hallucinating.”
The doctor shot up. Kicking his chair back he began to irrationally gather the papers from his desk, pushing them quickly into his briefcase.
“Yes, well, Mr Sock. Sokwurf. This meeting has gone very well. We should, we should pick it up again tomorrow, when I’m . . . when I’m sane!” With the end of his sentence Dr Karsal jittered out of the office, slamming the door hard behind him.
Sighing, Edward Sokwurf hopped down from his make shift chair and slipped easily underneath the door.
Being a Saturday there were few people around the office and those who were, much like Dr Karsal, were either hung over or dozing sleepily at their desks.
When he’d entered the building, he had walked past the secretary’s desk without so much as a second glance from the small red headed girl. She had been sat there spinning aimlessly on her chair, reading a copy of the month’s bestseller.
Heading back the way he came, he gratefully saw she was no longer there, but instead stood a few metres away, flirting with a tall, frightened looking man.
Rubbing on the harsh carpet a few times, the sock generated as much static as he would need to leap and stick himself to the metal leg of the secretary’s desk. He slid up the side of it, and flipped up onto the table. Once there he shook himself in attempt to alleviate the formations of little green cotton bubbles that had appeared all over him.
He walked carefully over the scattered pens, staples and paper clips which cluttered the surface. He reached the secretary’s computer and smiled mischievously when he saw she had left herself signed in.
This would be a difficult task, but he had done it many times before. He had only recently earned the title of “Master of Mine Sweep” from his peers.
As long as the tall man the secretary was harassing didn’t crumble and make up some lousy excuse to leave within the next five minutes, he would be safe. Otherwise, he’d soon find himself sat in a bin with a banana peel for a hat.
With both his hands he leaned onto the mouse and began pushing it to move the cursor on to a folder titled ‘Private’, then hopping on top of the mouse and jumping twice with a double click, he opened it. Using this same method he soon got into another folder titled ‘Staff – past and present’. Once entered, he looked up “Dr Mark Karsal” and was soon making a mental note of the address.
Hearing the sound of the secretary’s stilettos tap dancing across the wooden floor, he turned just in time to see her scurrying back to her desk with a huge smile on her face. Panic set in and he did the only thing socks know how to do when humans draw close, jump on the floor and play dead.
He landed on the carpet beside her chair and cursed loudly as a sharp heel drove into him.
The secretary looked up confused by the sound, and waved to the man she had been courting. Shouting in an excited voice, “I’m coming Ben, I’m just getting my purse!”
Edward winced and held back another exclamation of pain, deciding he couldn’t tell what hurt most: his stomach or his ears.
The secretary grabbed something that looked more like a giant handbag than a purse, and then quickly click-clacked back off to her date. Leaving Edward winded on the floor.
After a few moments of catching his breath he rolled over and pushed himself up. He brushed himself down then went once more over the address in his head.
Satisfied he had it lodged firmly in his memory, he then headed to the exit, down the stairs and made his way back to the streets of London.
Cobwebs hung from the iron gates, their threads linking in spirals and glistening in the morning dew. Trapped and flickering its wings, a fly shuddered and buzzed on the thin silk.
“It looks impressive, I know,” Mr Gnat said proudly.
The stout man had been talking the entire time: at the house, in the carriage, and here, now, outside the orphanage gates.
Impressive in size it may be, Thyme thought at the man’s words, but the building itself, well, there was only one thought that came to mind about it: terrifying.
Thyme could feel his sister edging closer to him. Her hand was pressed in his, and had been since their arrival. She wouldn’t allow him to be many paces apart from her and outside this formidable building, Thyme realised how alone they now were. The orphanage was a place to be trapped in, trapped and perhaps never set free.
The fly stopped buzzing.
Mr Gnat began to walk closer to the gates and, turning, he beckoned the children to follow. “Look, here. You see that, beneath the hanging tree. All those swings and slides and see-saws, you can play on all of those.” He straightened himself up again expecting to find the children next to him. When he realised they weren’t, he gave a gruff cough and leaned his head to one side. “It’s impressive, I know, but you mustn’t fear such a grand building with such opportunity, you should embrace it. Now come closer.”
Thyme took a step forward and, feeling resistance from his sister, he gave her hand a quick tug. They moved the few paces it took to be able to peer through the gates as Mr Gnat had asked.
A few yards away from them stood a tree that despite looking as though it should stand tall really did have hanging branches. Beneath it, a play area cowered in comparison to the building beside it. Swings and slides, and a plank of steel with no handles held up in balance on what, from the distance, appeared to be a rotting tree stump. The play area looked alone and was suffering, too. As though, without children to play on it, which was surely the case, the toys were gradually giving up on life and rusting away in defeat.
“You’ll make lots of friends here,” Mr Gnat said, after a few moments of silence. He rubbed his gloved hands together and then brought them to his head, smoothing down the stray few hairs that still dwelled upon it.
“Where are all the children?” Thyme asked, unable to keep his curiosity behind closed lips.
No more of a reply came and Mr Gnat shuffled uncomfortably on his feet until a quiet, “It really is an impressive building,” slipped out in protest.
The orphanage and its grounds were enormous. The surrounding trees were crawling up beside it to catch its spire before it climbed into the sky. Thyme had avoided focusing wholly on the building, unwilling to take in its grandeur, and allowing it to make him feel afraid. Now that silence had fallen upon them and they stood shivering in the December cold, he steeled himself and took in the astounding sight that was Ironbridge Orphanage.
The iron gates were but an echo of the sternness the building sounded. Each window was barred with thick metal that drove horizontally and then vertically into their wooden frames. Despite this, Thyme wouldn’t allow himself to feel pity for the children behind those bars, after all, he was soon to be one of those children.
“Never pity oneself,” his father’s voice resounded in his ears. “No good comes from pity. Change comes from a strong heart and a sharp mind.” He felt his shoulders stiffen as he stood taller, as though his father was right there behind him, holding him up, preparing him for what was to come.
A creak came from down the long winding path and Thyme’s attention was drawn to a door on the side of the orphanage.
Two men stepped out from it, shadowed by a grey dog that looked as though it walked on stilts. It dashed in front of them, alone in its eagerness to be in the chill outdoors. After bounding in front for a few paces, a sharp whistle was given and it darted back to walk beside them.
They stopped for a moment and then the taller, scrawnier looking man shook out a bangle of keys. At this, his companion, built of a shorter frame with even less weight to him, bowed his head and began to follow him towards the gate.
“Ah!” said Mr Gnat, “Here comes Durn to welcome the guests of honour!” He beamed down at Thyme and Lucy, his chubby face lifting up as his mouth strained to hold a convincing smile. It strained even further at the edges as his eyes settled on the dog, “Keep away from that beast, children. She’s had sheep the size of you, Lucy.”
Many of Mr Gnat’s comments had meant little to Thyme, they’d been whispers lost in the wind as they waited. This comment settled uncomfortably in his mind. The dog reminded him of his father’s, and just as he’d wondered about the whereabouts of his parents, he and his sister had felt the loss of Captain. Lucy’s hand had loosened from his grip at the sight of the dog, but now, after Mr Gnat’s remarks, it was once more pushed clammily against his.
“Looks like Richard is with him, too. Good lad, Richard. Tall for his age,” continued Mr Gnat, peering through the bars of the gate, his black eyes slits.
Thyme felt a squeeze on his hand and, glancing down at Lucy, found her dark green eyes looking up at him. Before he could tell her it was going to be okay, a sharp voice came from the other side of the bars. A part of him was grateful for this interruption, meaning he wouldn’t have to lie to his sister, but then he knew that this was the man who was going to take them inside the orphanage: this was the man who held the key, and this was the man who was going to make all those earlier promises into lies.
“Make it here safely then, Gnat?” Durn asked as he took the last two strides towards them.
“The ice has caused little disruption leading up the road. It’s your side the driver usually has trouble with.”
Durn, who didn’t appear to be listening, shook the keys that clinked and clanked against each other.
How many rooms were kept locked in this colossal building, Thyme wondered.
The nostrils on Durn’s long thin nose flared outwards slightly. He looked back to Mr Gnat and with one raised brow said, “Get a better driver,” before swiftly swinging free a key and pushing it into the padlock on the gate.
It rattled unsteadily on its hinges before giving in and swinging inwards as Richard pulled it towards him.
Webs ripped open as the gates separated and Lucy whimpered at the sight of strands wavering in the wind, spiders scattering, their homes destroyed.
“There’s always another spider,” Mr Gnat said, seeing her cling tightly to her brother’s arm.
Durn stepped aside for them to enter, but before Mr Gnat could step through, the caretaker’s hand pushed him back again.
“Do you hear that?”
The two of them paused, Durn tilting his left ear into the air. He forced his way between Thyme and Lucy and walked onto the patch of frozen ground where Mr Gnat’s carriage was waiting. The dog skulked after him, her ears raised high.
Even Richard looked up, but unlike the two men his eyes settled on Thyme. As the sound of thin iron wheels and hooves pounding into the frost covered ground approached, they were desperately trying to tell him something.
A carriage stormed into view, leaning precariously to the right as it rounded a corner too sharply. Hitting the straight of the road, it slammed back down onto all wheels. At an astonishing pace, the driver hammered the reins down hard and showed no sign of relinquishing, as it charged towards them.
“B-black carriage,” Mr Gnat muttered to himself, “B-black horses.”
He walked backwards unsteadily, his eyes not leaving the sight of the oncoming carriage and silhouette of the driver. “B-b-black mask!” he shrieked, as his back slammed against the tall iron fence of the orphanage, the carriage coming to a sudden halt at their feet.
Lucy stumbled into Thyme’s arms. He wrapped them around her as she shook violently. Without a doubt, he knew that it wasn’t warmth she needed. She needed to be far from this place. They both did.
The carriage, which had been driven up to the orphanage gates so dramatically, now remained still. No movement seemed to come from the driver, nor was there any sign of there being anyone inside.
For a few foolish moments Thyme thought that it had been sent for them, that there had been a relative willing to care for them after all, that perhaps they could go home and that maybe they weren’t alone, they were wanted and being sent here had been an awful mistake and nothing more. That their parents had returned and that Captain would be waiting to greet them with slobbering licks.
Then the driver, in a sudden return to life, hopped down from his seat and swung open the carriage door. No one spoke while they waited for whoever was concealed to appear and alleviate all curiosity, but when finally someone did, the group simply continued to stare.
A woman, having been helped down from a small step, was now approaching them. Her hair was a brilliant red and a stark contrast to the blackness that surrounded her. The paleness of her skin only appeared to make the lightness of her green eyes seem brighter as despite being still a few steps away from them, they glinted sharply as she stared at Thyme and his sister.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” the lady said, her voice soft yet enigmatic. “I must have underestimated our arrival time in the telegram I sent.”
“Who are you?” Durn asked, each word accompanied by spittle as he made no attempt at pleasantries. The dog hunkered down at this, her back low but shoulders lifted. Durn placed a hand out over her head and patted at the air, “Calm, Gypsy.”
The lady turned to face the driver, who had moved to stand by her side. Finding her watching him however, he shuffled uncomfortably before spluttering out, “I did send the telegram, Lady Craven. Honest, I did.” The way in which he whimpered was unexpected due to his deep voice and tall stature, and had it not been so pitifully spoken it would almost have been humorous.
“Well,” the lady spoke, a smile creeping over her lips, “I suppose it would be best if I first introduced myself. I am Lady Elizabeth Craven, recent widow of Lord Craven. I do not suppose I need to offer any explanation of who my husband was before he so recently passed?”
Durn looked to Mr Gnat, who at the word ‘Lady’ appeared to have roused himself from his previously disturbed state. “Oh yes,” he nodded his head assuredly at Durn, “Lord Craven, such a noble. Not often are we blessed with such a man of high status who can so humbly accept his…”
“Enough,” Durn raised his hand, holding it in front of Mr Gnat as though he wished to strike him, but instead he touched his fingers to his brow and turned back to Lady Craven.
“What brought you here?” he asked, ignoring Mr Gnat who gasped at the lack of honorifics used.
“My goodness, it appears you have been having trouble with the station’s telegraph, and it is such a long story,” Lady Craven said thoughtfully, her eyes dipping to the ground.
“No, we have not, none what so ever.”
“You didn’t receive my telegram last week,” Mr Gnat started, shuffling his feet on the ground, evidently still feeling slighted by Durn’s previous outburst against him. “You said it must have been the machine,” he grumbled.
An inhalation of air, so sharply sucked in, it made a great gush of a sound, came from Durn as he glared furiously at Mr Gnat.
“I forgot it could be a temperamental old fool.”
“Oh what a shame,” Lady Craven said, her unusually bright eyes clouding with disappointment. “All was explained in what was, admittedly, a lengthy, but important, telegram.”
“Yes, well, as Durn has now clarified that ‘old fool’ of a machine is in the habit of acting rather temperamentally.”
Taking a few steps towards him, Lady Craven reached out to wrap her hand around Mr Gnat’s arm. “I think it best we discuss this further indoors, don’t you?”
“Yes, that sounds like a splendid idea, does it not, Durn?”
“No, I do not…” But before Durn could protest, the pair had already begun walking down the path and towards the orphanage.
Uncertain who to follow, Richard hovered on one foot and then toppled back onto the other. Thyme and Lucy, much in the same position, simply watched as Mr Gnat and Lady Craven became smaller as they neared the orphanage door. Durn, who had appeared to be seething from the moment he had first approached the gate, evidently was soon to near boiling point.
“They need a key,” he said, a smile creeping onto his dry and cracked lips, the only signal that a pitiful amount of power still belonged to him, and he was keen to keep it. His mouth was soon furling upwards however as the tell-tale sound of the door being creaked open reached them.
“Sorry, Sir,” Richard said, the boy’s eyes again looking only at the ground.
Thyme, who was unused to such servitude, was half in a mind to grab the boy’s chin, despite him being at least a head taller than himself, and push it upwards. “Unless you’ve dropped a coin,” he wanted to say, “I suggest you take some pride and look forwards when you’re walking and not at the soles of another man’s feet!” But he didn’t dare, and instead, when Durn’s eyes met his, he looked to the ground and admired the careful work of the caretaker’s buckled shoes. Money was coming from somewhere, he thought, and then taking a quick glimpse at Richard realised that it was unfortunate that it wasn’t going to the right places.
Durn lurched forward. Gypsy lifted herself up, her front leg buckling as she did, but she was soon walking at his side. Her head came to above his waist and, despite her momentary stumble, it appeared she had trouble slowing her pace to match his.
“He wasn’t talking to Gyps,” Richard muttered as he skulked past. “He was talking to you.”
Thyme pulled gently on Lucy’s hand and together they obediently began to follow down the gravelled path. He listened as each crunch of ice beneath his feet brought him closer to the building. It conjured such fear in him it seemed alive.
With each footstep he felt he could hear its heart beating and as his eyes wavered, his stomach feeling hollow, he imagined the walls to be shifting outwards and inwards with each of its laboured breaths.
“No, of course I didn’t pull him onto the boat!” my uncle yelled while sitting at the bar. He slammed down a small shot glass on the wood in agitation, before even taking it to his lips. “It wasn’t an ordinary hand.”
My father sat beside him and from his reply it could be heard that he, too, was becoming frustrated. “You said it was a human hand and that the hand moved,” he replied, each word enunciated purposely. “You said that it struck up through the water as though there was someone below struggling for their life.”
“Yes, yes,” my uncle snapped, pushing his hands against his face and brushing them aggressively back through the straggles of straw-blonde hair. “It wanted to lure me towards it. I saw it though, as I rowed closer and the sun glanced through the clouds. I saw the mass of its body and it was no human form that I saw.”
The bartender leaned in close. He had heard their conversation; the rest of the room quiet, the voices of the two men desperate. “You know there’s been a couple gone missing, don’t you?” he said. His grey eyes caught on my father and the wrinkles beneath his right eye strained as he squinted it.
“We’ll have to go back,” the aged man pushed.
My father was already standing from the bar and while pulling a cap onto his head he said again, “I know.” He placed his hand on my uncle’s shoulder and patted it firmly, then repeated the bartender’s words: “We have to go back.”
I had been sat in the corner listening to the conversation with the other children. To us it was the urban legend the town needed. The hanged man was drawn and quartered, the banshee’s screams no longer anguished, and Bloody Mary was nothing more than a way to fret our sisters’ vanity.
We followed the adults outside and separated as we went with our respective guardians. I sat beside my father with my uncle in the seat behind, and amidst the silence my mind raced with what we would find at the lake.
Arriving there took little time, it being but a few minutes’ drive from the bar. Once we were all parked, a dozen or so doors opened and slammed shut again and the car headlights were left on to light up the dark water.
They saw the hand in the shallow ripples of the lake. It reached out like my uncle had said it had, but it didn’t lure them, or beckon them towards it, it only swayed helplessly as the slight current willed it to.
Along with the others I began to rush towards it, when I felt someone grab the back of my shirt and prevent me from going any closer.
“The waters too shallow,” my uncle stammered into my ear. “It’s not the same, there isn’t any way it could be the same.” I could hear the blood start to pump quickly through his heart and his breathing become irregular as we watched them pull a body from the lake.
“I know what I saw,” he panted, his grip on my shirt first growing tighter and then relinquishing completely. I was barely listening to him, my attention absorbed by what was happening ahead of me. He knew this and so he turned me towards him, holding my shoulders tightly when I struggled to turn back. “It wasn’t human!” he insisted, looking into each of my eyes imploringly.
He started to speak again, only to be interrupted by the bartender who called him to come closer but for me to stay where I was. I watched as the other children were being led away from the body and I felt angry that they had seen it and I had not.
I looked up to find that my uncle was staring out, a way past the small crowd and across the water.
“Don’t go near the lake,” he muttered as he stumbled backwards to my father’s car. I tried to peer into the distance, to see what he had seen, but there was nothing other than the silhouette of the surrounding trees.
He hurriedly got into the driver’s seat, his primal instinct for survival urging him to act as he did. When the adults started to run towards him, I rushed towards the lake and gathered around the body with my friends. I found myself staring into the empty eye sockets of a drowned female, her mouth gaping open to reveal that her tongue was also gone.
From behind I could hear the men calling for my uncle to stop. I heard the car engine start and the tyres screech but I did not turn to look as the other children did. I stared off ahead and across the lake where the movement of the car headlights had now lit up an otherwise darkened area.
I felt my body grow numb and my legs heavy as I watched a shadow of a hand slowly reach up through the water. It soon became an arm and then to my childish horror and confusion it became something much more. Attached to the arm was a dome shaped head that skimmed the top of the water. It surfaced until two oval black eyes peered across the lake and towards where we stood. I was transfixed and I simply stared at this monster until it sank back below.
After just a few days another body was found in the lake. Just like the last it was missing its eyes and tongue. Despite no evidence, other than his impulse to run, within weeks my uncle had become the urban legend we felt we needed. He was the ghoul that took the sight and speech from the living and drowned them in the darkest waters of the lake.
But, no one else had seen what I had that night. I believed my uncle and perhaps that belief and the guilt that became entangled in it is what led me here.
I can see the hand swaying in the dark waters and I’m asking myself: why did I come back?
I have a confession to make… I have no idea why he went back. I think at some point I thought about making this a longer short story but only because there was something about the concept I liked, although the monster is not my creation. I was inspired by this picture http://www.mattdangler.com/280036/recent/ by Matt Dangler. On a side note, I actually find the creature in the picture rather sweet and would happily shake its hand.
There are a couple of things that I would change now. For one, I’m not sure how a wrinkle strains and I also don’t know how the boy could hear his uncle’s heartbeat over all the commotion at the lake. They are only minor details but while reading through they’re parts that I would reconsider if I were thinking of editing this story, which I’m not. You know how it goes on here! Have a natter about it and file it in with the rest of my writing past. All in all, I don’t mind this bit of writing in the slightest and unlike with a lot of what I’ve written I didn’t cringe reading it.