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Authors: Sandra Greaves

Skull in the Wood

BOOK: Skull in the Wood
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From The Chicken House

Ghosts are a bit like lost stories – trying to catch you by surprise, looking for a way to finish. Sandra Greaves unleashes a terrible tale, which will keep you guessing deep into the night. But don't worry, that skull is probably perfectly harmless. Like the dog.

Barry Cunningham

Publisher

For John

Contents

  
1
.
Matt
  
2
.
Tilda
  
3
.
Matt
  
4
.
Tilda
  
5
.
Matt
  
6
.
Tilda
  
7
.
Matt
  
8
.
Kitty
  
9
.
Matt
10
.
Tilda
11
.
Matt
12
.
Kitty
13
.
Matt
14
.
Tilda
15
.
Matt
16
.
Tilda
17
.
Matt
18
.
Tilda
19
.
Matt
20
.
Tilda
21
.
Matt
22
.
Kitty
23
.
Tilda
24
.
Matt
25
.
Kitty
26
.
Tilda
27
.
Matt
28
.
Tilda
29
.
Matt
30
.
Tilda
31
.
Matt
32
.
Tilda

Acknowledgements

Dedication

Copyright Page

‘. . . there rose suddenly out of the vast gloom of the moor that strange cry which I had already heard upon the borders of the great Grimpen Mire. It came with the wind through the silence of the night, a long, deep mutter, then a rising howl, and then the sad moan in which it died away. Again and again it sounded, the whole air throbbing with it, strident, wild, and menacing.'

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
The Hound of the Baskervilles

gabbleratchet
• noun
1
wild geese flying clamorously at night.
2
the Wild Hunt.

— ORIGIN a corruption of
Gabriel
or from Anglo-Saxon
gabbara
or
gabares
‘corpse' + Middle English
racche
or
rache
‘hound'.

1

Matt

E
leven forty-seven. Already the train was slowing into Exeter station and my options were dwindling to a big fat nothing. As the platform approached, I wondered for the millionth time if I'd made a huge mistake in coming here. Uncle Jack hadn't sounded exactly welcoming on the phone. But I'd been so determined to get away from Mum and Paul the four-eyed pillock that I hadn't let it worry me. Now was another matter. I hoped I'd imagined the coldness in his voice when I'd said I needed somewhere to stay. Forget butterflies in my stomach – they'd turned into giant carnivorous moths.

For a second or two I toyed with the idea of
going back to London. Then I steeled myself, heaved my bag on to my shoulder and stepped out of the train.

It was only till the end of half term – a week and a bit. I could manage that, couldn't I? Though to hear Mum panicking you'd think I was heading into unmapped jungle. She couldn't believe it when I'd announced the day before that I'd rung Uncle Jack and was going there whether she liked it or not. But what else could I do? With Dad off sailing, my bolt-hole had disappeared. There was no way I was staying in our house with Paul acting as if he owned it. I had to get as far away as possible, and Uncle Jack's was the only place left to escape to – all my friends are off with their parents doing fun things for the holiday. You know, like normal families do.

I stared up at the clock in the station. Was anyone coming?

Twelve and a half minutes after the train had left, Uncle Jack finally rocked up, looking hassled.

‘Goodness, there you are, Matthew,' he said in a sharp voice, as if it was me who was late, not him. He peered at me from under windswept grey hair that matched his grey beard. He looked pretty much how I remembered him, even though it was ages since I'd
seen him last. It dawned on me that I scarcely knew him.

‘It
is
Matthew, isn't it?' he said. ‘Gone quiet, have you? What are you now, thirteen? That's right, isn't it? A year older than Tilda.'

I mumbled a hello and that seemed to be enough for him. He didn't ask me how I was. As he led me over to his clapped-out Land Rover he glanced at his watch. It was obvious he had better things to do than look after me. And I'd just about forced him to take me in. What had I been thinking of? My armpits prickled with embarrassment.

‘Your mum all right, then?' he asked suddenly, as we climbed into the Land Rover.

‘Suppose so,' I said, and lapsed into silence. I didn't mean to be rude but Uncle Jack didn't seem to notice. He switched on the radio and got on with the driving. At least he had the decency not to bring up why I was here.

And then, just as I was beginning to calm down, we were on the moor.

Imagine a wilderness that goes on and on and on. Acre after acre of desolate landscape covered in dead bracken. That was Dartmoor. It could easily win first prize as the most boring place in the universe. And I'd
chosen
to come here.
Insisted
on it. Only now, the thought of being stuck here for more than a day – no, more than half an hour – was doing my head in. And it was all Paul's fault. But anything had to be better than home.

I'd been here before, just not for a very long time, not since way before Aunty Rose died. I didn't remember much of it. The farm, obviously, and the cows and the sheep. A muddy walk into the depths of nowhere that ended with Mum and Aunty Rose having an argument.

It was strange that we'd hardly ever visited, especially with Dad keeping a boat on the river at Dartmouth, only thirty miles away. And ever since Aunty Rose died I hadn't set eyes on Uncle Jack, or my cousins, Tilda and Kitty. Though to tell the truth, I know why. Mum didn't get on with her sister, though she doesn't talk about it. And she really, really hates Dartmoor, even though she grew up here. She says it gives her the creeps.

We passed a white building, the first sign of civilisation I'd seen in a while. From behind its walls rose a storm of frenzied barking, and I jumped.

‘The Hunt kennels,' said Uncle Jack, glancing at me. ‘Foxhounds. They're probably being fed. The
farmers round here give them the dead livestock.'

‘What, like horses and cows?' I said, revolted.

‘Mainly all the calves we can't sell.' He gave a short, impatient laugh. ‘What did you think they'd get? Pedigree Chum?'

I shut up, and stared ahead at the long twisting road over the moor, stretching into nowhere.

All of a sudden something huge and dark hurtled past my ear and into the car. I yelled out – I couldn't help it – and Uncle Jack swerved violently. A black bird was inside, slamming frantically against the rear window, struggling to find a way out. The car was filled with flapping wings and terrible raucous shrieks.

‘Wind your window down! Wind it down!' Uncle Jack was shouting, and I was trying to, but not fast enough.

The bird flew wildly back to the windscreen and then smack into Uncle Jack's face. Ahead, I could see the boulder coming towards us at speed. We hit it with a crunch and the car engine cut out.

I opened my door and tumbled out on to soggy bracken at the side of the road. In a whoosh of black, the bird was out of the car and gone.

Uncle Jack sat in the front seat for what seemed like ages. Then he got out and inspected the damage.
There was a big dent at the front of the Land Rover, but the car was so old I didn't think it mattered much. He gave a heavy sigh, glared at me and got back in again.

‘Infernal pest,' he said, and for a moment I wondered whether he meant me or the bird. ‘Are you all right?'

I nodded. It was all I could do.

‘Come on, then. Let's get to the farm.'

Back in the Land Rover, I shrank into my seat. My heart was thumping and I could still feel the bird's frantic wings against my face. I was sure Uncle Jack blamed me for veering off the road. Why had I ever wanted to come here? It was a horrible place.

We soon turned off on to a tiny lane, with high hedges that cut off all the light. And there, at the bottom of a hollow, was Parson's Farm – a low grey stone building with a slate roof and tiny little windows, surrounded by rickety old barns. Everything seemed too close together for comfort, crammed into the hollow as if breathing was the last thing people needed to worry about.

My cousin Tilda appeared at the front door of the farmhouse as we drove up. She didn't look like the annoying little kid who'd tagged along after me any more. Now she was tall, perhaps almost as tall as me,
and her dark red hair was piled on the top of her head in a kind of untidy fountain. She watched us get out of the car, with one hand at the neck of a huge black dog that looked disturbingly like a wolf, and this massive scowl on her face. Uncle Jack called her over, but she didn't bother to move.

The smell of the farm hit me as I picked my way through the puddles, and I just about gagged. How could they stand this stink of manure? It was gross. Tilda just stood there, curling her lip and staring at my trainers like they were alien beings. And there was nothing wrong with them, let me tell you – they were brand-new and pretty nice. It wasn't as if she had anything to be smug about in her mud-spattered wellingtons and mud-coloured coat. In fact, if you left out the pale face and violent red hair she could have been auditioning as a swamp.

BOOK: Skull in the Wood
13.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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