So I’ve managed to complete the first short story of my challenge. It didn’t turn out to be the story I planned on writing, that one died in paragraph two of boredom! So after much deliberation I decided that I’d publish it here despite the fact that it might not be eligible for publication elsewhere. So do let me know what you think and enjoy!
Whenever I hear thunder or see lightening flash across the sky I’m transported back to the kitchen in my grandmother’s house. At the first hint of a storm she’d rush about opening doors so the lightening could find a way out if it came into the house. There was also something to be done with knives but I can’t remember what that was. Then we’d all sit under the kitchen table holding hands until the storm passed. For a while I was terrified of thunder storms but now I enjoy watching the lightening blazing through the heavy clouds and listening to the rain pounding down onto the patio. Thunder still makes me jump but I no longer have the need to fling the doors open.
My mother’s side of the family seemed to have many superstitions and rituals that other families didn’t. As a city child I was fascinated by the country lore of my grandmother. She told me that when cows all sit down together in a field it meant rain was coming. If she caught sight of the cows in the water meadow opposite her house lying down she’d rush to fetch the washing in and hang it around the house on wooden clothes horses, even if it was a warm sunny day. As soon as the cows stood up the washing would go back out on the line. She also told me that horses couldn’t lie down or they’d die. I was heart broken when I saw the lovely brown and white foal that had been born on the farm down the lane lying down. Convinced it was dead I cried for an hour solid and picked a bunch of flowers to put next to the fence of its field. Imagine my surprise when it was running about the field swishing its tail when I got back there! My grandmother said I must have been mistaken about it lying down but I was sure of what I had seen. My father laughed so long and loud when I told him that he had to wipe his eyes with his hankie.
Grandmother thought that things were very strange and wrong in the city where I lived. She visited once a year and criticised everything. I copied my mother when she rolled her eyes as grandmother picked a fault with something else about city life. She distrusted everything: there were too many buses, yet she moaned that her village had a poor bus service; there were too many cars, yet she moaned when the Rag and Bone man came past with his horse and cart; it was too hot in her room, yet she moaned about the smell of the city air when we opened a window. Everything was wrong even down to the pegs my mother used on the washing line. We had wooden spring pegs which flew across the garden if the spring got twisted. Grandmother used the old fashioned one piece pegs that could be covered in scraps of fabric and turned into little dolls. We loved to play with the pegs and her fabric bag when we visited. We turned all the pegs into little people, imagined a village for them to live in and told stories about their lives until it was time to go home. When I was grown up and helped grandmother to peg out the washing there were still faded faces on some of the pegs from my childhood.
Some of the superstitions seemed harmless enough, such as not putting new shoes on the table. If you did the shoes would pinch and never be comfortable. Others were darker, more grown up and a bit frightening. Every Halloween we made tiny figures out of twigs, wool and fabric scraps. We’d hide them among the shrubs and trees in the garden to guard the home over the coming year. Sometimes we’d search for these little people later on in the year, moving branches and dead leaves in the places where we’d hidden them. Sometimes we’d find them, toppled over by animals or the wind. But sometimes they had vanished leaving no trace. Grandmother said these figures had been killed fighting goblins or demons and had been burned in a cold terrible fire. This frightened us more than the imagined evil we’d been trying to keep away, the thought of demons and goblins roaming around our peaceful city garden. As we got older we weren’t so keen to carry on with that particular tradition, it seemed a bit silly. Once I’d studied The Crucible I warned grandmother that a few hundred years ago she’d have been burned as a witch. She smiled and said that people were entitled to there beliefs and traditions. But I know that my grandmother still hid the twig people around her garden until her death.
As the thunder storm passes over I am reminded of a terrible storm when I was a child. I was staying with my grandmother and it had been a hot, humid day. Everyone was feeling really grumpy and cross with each other, clothes sticking to our bodies and nowhere cool to take refuge. My grandfather was in his workshop, a vast barn of a building which fascinated us but was forbidden to us. We were not allowed in there unless grandfather invited us in and under no circumstances were we to touch anything. It was an Aladdin’s cave to us, filled with things we longed to ask about or touch. Hanging from the rafters were several rusted bicycles, one with no tyres and one with an old wicker basket on the front. That one was the one my uncle had ridden into a lamppost when he’d been dared to do a wheelie by my Dad. There were strings of pungent onions from the garden, woven together by grandfather into beautiful plaits. There were seed trays waiting to be filled in the spring, an enormous lawn mower with a spare grass collector, oiled tools hanging from a board, ladders, plant pots, three carpet beaters, buckets with holes in or no handles, coils of rope, stacked paint tins dribbling yellow or blue or green dried paint down the sides, fishing rods, a broken down motor cycle in pieces in one corner. It was a magical place and we wished we were allowed in, especially on this hot day as it was gloriously cool inside. But we were denied that refuge and had to make do with standing on tiptoes and peering through the cobwebby windows.
I got bored staring through the window and wandered off on my own. I skirted the herb garden, running my fingers through the lavender and rosemary, sending a glorious scent into the heavy air. I weaved my way between the rows of runner beans feeling the cool green leaves rub my cheeks and forehead. In the distance I could see the back of the neighbouring cottages with their off set square windows looking out at me as I strode through the grass in the orchard. There was a tiny passage between the cottages and the wall of my grandparent’s garden which promised a cool refuge from the heat. Seed heads stuck to my socks and skirt as I pushed my way through thigh high grass, ducking below the overhanging branches of apple, pear and plum trees.
When I reached the end of the garden I turned left towards the dark passage. Usually I was too scared to go in alone but I knew that it was cool and dark and the sweat was running between my shoulder blades and sticking my hair to my scalp. I wanted to sit quietly for a while in the cool, not to feel the sun beating down on my head. I squeezed myself between the two walls and shuffled forwards. There was no vegetation here, it was too dry and dark for anything to grow yet in the winter there were strange fungus things that smelled of rot and death which grew here. I wondered if they were hiding underground or inside the walls during summertime but there was no sign of anything like that. As I pushed further into the passage it got darker and harder to see. If I looked up I could make out a thin sliver of sky, blue and cloudless. It looked hot and sticky from this shaded place. The cottage walls were uneven and in places the passageway got wide enough for me to stand square on and in one of these wider places I slid down the wall and sat on the dirt floor. I knew I was getting my dress filthy and I’d be in trouble when I went back but I didn’t care, I was cool and away from the sun, that was all that mattered. I stretched my legs out and my foot brushed against something. In the dark it was hard to see what was there; I knelt up and reached out to find what it was. My fingers brushed against something hard and sharp. I closed my fingers around it and pulled it towards me.
When I saw what it was I dropped it into my lap with a gasp. It was one of the poppets that we made every Halloween. What was it doing here? I only remembered putting them under trees and shrubs not up against walls. Who had put it here? The passage was so narrow it couldn’t have been a grown up, they’d never squeeze through. But if it was a child and it wasn’t me or my sister then who? I picked the poppet up and looked more closely. The twigs were very brittle, one had snapped when I’d kicked it and hung limply by a tread of bark. The fabric was very dirty, fraying and the pattern hard to see. One piece looked as if it had flowers and there was a scrap of lace tucked in. Tiny stitches held the costume together and there was a scrap of wool tied on top as if it were hair. This poppet had been made with more care than the ones we made. I rested it against the wall and looked down the passageway where it had been hidden. There was a whole crowd of them! As far as I could see there were poppets, standing against the wall, lying in the dirt, piled up against each other. It was as if a village of tiny dolls was hiding between these walls in my grandparent’s garden.
I felt strange, uneasy as I looked at the poppets. They seemed to be watching and waiting which I knew was nonsense. They were dolls made from sticks and fabric, they had no eyes and they weren’t alive. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched. I felt very cold and my breathing quickened. The wall against my back seemed to be pushing me further into the passage and the little light that spilled down was fading away. The sweat between my shoulders was icy cold, chilling me until I felt myself start to shiver. A sense of panic was rising within me and I wanted to be away from here very quickly. I pushed against the dirt floor, scrambling against the crumbling walls until I was standing. The poppet fell to the ground and I backed away from it, never taking my eyes from it almost as if I expected it to move towards me. I edged towards the garden as fast as I could, hardly feeling the rough brickwork scraping my arms. As I popped out from between the walls I dared to glance back. I could see the poppets arranged in rows three or four deep going back as far as I could see. A smell of damp fungus wafted through the air and I turned and ran back to the house as fast as I could.
I burst into the kitchen just as the storm broke. A clap of thunder made me scream and as soon as I had let that first scream out I was unable to stop. Mother grabbed me and shook me until I stopped screaming, the tears started to flow and I sobbed in her arms. Grandmother was flapping about opening doors and muttering about lightening bolts and fires. She dragged my sister under the table leaving mother and me clinging to each other in front of the fireplace. The rain began to pound down and lightening flashed across the sky. It lit up the clouds from within, a dazzling lightshow that was enjoyed by my grandfather leaning on the door frame of his workshop, mug of tea in hand.