Name: Emma Bilby
Name Of Main Character You Want And Gender: Emma, female
Character Description: Nope
Special Info: If I die, I don't mind. It'll be worth it
Here is your story Emma, dripping in cliches. Horror is difficult. Maybe it's because I'm so brave that nothing scares me so I find it hard to write.
Mum wiped the stringy blood from around granddad’s mouth.
“Emma, grab me more tissues from the desk,” she ordered.
I looked at granddad’s sad, tired face as I wheeled myself over holding the tissue box. He lay on a battered mattress in the corner by the faded wallpaper. Loose skin hung off his bony body, tucked under a cough-stained duvet. When we found out his lung cancer was terminal mum moved him from the cabin by the pond to the farmhouse so he could spend his dying days closer to us. His skin was stained with the smell of cigarettes, even though he hadn’t smoked since he got here.
He coughed more blood.
There was a twinkle of fear behind the dry sickness in his eyes. He moved his finger over his duvet in a circular motion while mum wiped his mouth. I had no idea what he wanted, and I wished we could’ve bonded more, but in truth, he scared me. He always stared and looked anguished. Eighteen years we’d lived on the same land and I knew little about him. On top of that he was a mute. Mum said when grandma had a heart attack he just stopped talking. I'd asked mum why he didn't just write stuff down, but she said he couldn't be bothered to communicate with anyone. She said the day grandma died, he did too.
“I’ll go get him some water.” Mum blew her long, greasy brown hair out of her face. Sweat dotted the clothes that had hung off her for three days. I’d been told that as well as mum’s pale skin, hair and monster metabolism, I’d inherited her smile. I hadn’t seen that for a while.
Granddad must have felt so lonely. My grandma died in 1978, when mum was eleven, and Granddad refused to look for a new wife. They had planned to open a bed and breakfast in Ipswich, but when grandma passed, he decided to stay on our 150-acre land in Lewes. He spent most of his time living in the cabin. Mum said he liked being near the apple tree as the smell reminded him of grandma.
Blood flopped from his mouth onto the duvet. He wiped the blood in a circle over and over.
He closed his eyes, pained.
“I’m sorry granddad, I wish I understood you.” I felt bad for finding him annoying.
Stubborn determination gripped his face. He used what little strength he had to pull himself up. He strained. His neck muscles tensed to the point I thought they’d rip. “The cabin…” he forced with all his breath, unable to say the next word he desperately wanted to. He fell back, his face grey from the effort.
My heart pounded and I wondered whether I was imagining things. Mum entered holding a glass of water. I turned wanting to tell her he’d spoken, but granddad squeezed my hand. I looked at him and his eyes begged me to keep quiet.
Those were the first and last words granddad ever said to me.
I didn’t even notice the wheels of my chair sink in the dirt as I watched mum bury him. The rain battered against my umbrella, accompanying the repetitive splat of soil against the coffin.
The cabin, repeated in my head.
I looked at mum, emotionless. She probably didn’t want to show weakness. She was unfazed by the rain hammering her. It was just us now and she was covering all roles in the family. It didn’t help that I was moving to Newcastle tomorrow for university. I felt bad that it was at the other end of the country and that I’d added to her stress, but I needed to go and live my life.
Our family history, centuries of it, was in this field only a ten-minute wheel from our back door. Mum drove us around the long way on account of the weather and my travel issues. Generations of our family had inherited this land. The eldest, James, was desperate to own it in the seventeen hundreds. My mum said he met the love of his life in these fields, and he wanted to build a home on the land where their love blossomed. Another family bought the land before he could, but mum said James paid a visit and charmed them with his story of true love. It had been the family land ever since.
In the short drive back mum tried to fill the silence with the radio, but every song had some lyric that felt inappropriate. Water dripped from her chin and she didn’t bother wiping it.
I didn’t want to bother her, but death makes you curious about things you normally push away. “Do you have any contact details for dad? So I can try to get in touch.”
“What makes you think he wants to hear from you?”
Her tone shook me. I thought she’d be a bit more sensitive. “It’s just…”
She looked right at me, neglecting the road. “First you’re leaving me for university, and now you want to leave me for him!"
"Mum, the road!"
"He ran off after the accident because he didn’t want a disabled daughter. I’m your family. Not him. ME. He’s a fucking coward, ok?”
She ignored my tears and looked back at the road. She turned the radio to maximum.
“Mum… mum! MUM!” I reached for the volume control. She slapped my hand away, again and again. The noise blasted through my head.
When we got back she took my wheelchair from the boot, set it up, but didn’t help me get in. She turned away.
She walked off. The sound of her feet splatting against the mud accompanied the rain.
“I’m sorry,” I said when I eventually got into the kitchen. I wasn’t sorry, but she’d made me feel like I should be.
She’d dried and changed into her nightgown. She took another sip from her bottle of water and just stared at the rain hitting the grass and mud outside.
Emotion pierced her cold shell. “I’m sorry, Emma. Dad dying, you leaving me… The mention of that… bastard… It just...” She turned to see me shivering, and my dress and jacket soaked through. She gave me a hug.
“Sorry mum, I didn’t mean to upset you...”
She grabbed a dirty kitchen towel, stained with last night’s lasagne, and dried my hair and face. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m not leaving, mum. I’m just going on a long trip.” I smiled. “This is my house and I’ll always come back.”
She smiled back.
“I was thinking, mum. I never got to see granddad’s cabin.”
“I’d like to. Just to say goodbye, you know. Maybe there’s something I can keep.”
Mum stood up and refilled her bottle of water. “Go to bed, Emma,” she said, coldly. Her eyes glazed over.
She walked past me.
I put my pillow over my face, wondering why mum was being so weird. I closed my eyes and thought about other things, like what it would be like at university. Would people be nice or mean about my disability? Would I meet my future husband? I dreamed up scenarios and let myself sleep.
Those damn words hammered at my brain. All my life I’d wanted to be able to communicate with granddad. To ask him about grandma, about dad, and then when he finally managed words they were worthless. Maybe there was something he wanted me to have. Maybe he wanted me to sell some circular thing for lots of money to fund university. Or maybe he was just strange and I couldn’t dwell on anything a dying old man would say.
I folded my pillow under my head and went to sleep. In the morning I’d leave and in time I’d forget about the whole thing.
I was woken by the feeling of a finger moving over my stomach in a circular motion. I smelled cigarettes. My eyes shot open but I saw nothing. The adrenaline pumped through my body and stopped me getting back to sleep. Why was he haunting me? I listened to the heavy rain for an hour. I needed some water.
I got in my wheelchair. I pushed the door and it creaked open. This entire place needed oiling. I heard mum’s snoring as I wheeled myself to the kitchen and filled a glass with tap water. When I turned to return to my room the back door gently clicked open.
I gave in to my curiosity. I took a sip of my water, put the glass down, and then grabbed one of mum’s bicycle lights from a drawer. I took an umbrella from the shoe rack and set off into the cold, wet air.
With one hand I wheeled myself through the muddy field. The umbrella was more of a nuisance and blew all over the place so I chucked it. I looked back at the farmhouse, glowing in the moonlight, two hundred yards away. I looked down a slope towards the cabin and used the bicycle light to scan the ground. It was too steep for my chair but I’d have to try. I looked back at the farmhouse again. A grey figure flashed in my bedroom window. Shocked, I jerked my chair back and rolled down the slope. One of my wheels hit a tree. I shot onto the mud and watched my chair bump away. The rain got in my ears and slapped my face as I slid down the slope. I stopped at the bottom, shaken, wiped the mud out of my eyes and looked back expecting the figure to be at the top. Luckily it wasn’t. Maybe my eyes were tricking me. I’d been on edge and there was a lot of weird stuff going on with mum. I turned to see the cabin, and I dragged myself along the dirt, up the steps and to the wood framed glass door.
Padlocked. Why would he make me come here? I pounded at the glass, fear closing in on me. I crawled back into the mud and found a big enough rock. I beat at the door until I smashed myself an entrance. I poked the jagged bits of glass out of the way and crawled in, feeling the pinch of little shards poke against my elbows.
The smell of cigarettes carried in the wind and the light was out. I used the bicycle light to look around. The cabin had a fridge, cooker, toilet, and a bed in the corner. It was tidy but full of boxes.
Ok granddad, I’ve done part one, now what the hell was that circle? I was on a circular rug. I rolled it up, revealing just a coin and a few dead spiders. O for oven? Nothing in there.
Some world maps from the 1950s were crookedly stuck to the wall. I dragged myself to the stack of old cardboard boxes that looked like they could perish if I blew hard enough.
I opened one. Inside were photo albums. I looked through seven, hoping to find photos of dad or grandma, but it was just photos of granddad and mum. Each album had gaps where a piece of history should have been.
Another box contained old clothes and granddad’s army medals. I got another, heavier box and pulled it towards me. It was sealed with layers of tape. Desperate to find a memento, I dug my nails in. No use. I bit at it. Nothing but a dusty taste in my mouth for the trouble. I took one of the army medals and cut through the tape. Inside the box was a gramophone, and a violin. The bow was mouldy and rotten. I held the violin to my chin, imagining what it would be like to play, but the wood smelled so coppery it was off-putting, and it stained my hands and pyjamas a reddish brown. I placed the gramophone next to me and plugged it in. There was already a record on it.
He wasn’t just making a circle; he was repeating it, like a spinning record.
It was Simon and Garfunkel. I’d crawled through mud in the pissing rain to find his record of Simon and Garfunkel? What was so important about this? I’d heard old people say they made good music ‘back in the day’ but I didn’t care. Needle met record. I sat back and took in The Sound Of Silence. As anger subsided I chuckled. I imagined my granddad just sat here alone listening to this. Bridge Over Troubled Water began. The soundtrack helped me relax. Maybe he just wanted me to enjoy something he liked. I felt like an idiot thinking it was anything important, but I suppose it did make me feel slightly more bonded to him.
I dragged over a box full of records and sifted through. Neil Young. There was someone in my old English class called that. King Crimson. Don’t know who that is. I took out the envelope for Simon And Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits 1972. I don’t know which of the men was Simon or Garfunkel, but they both needed better haircuts. I felt something in the envelope and tipped it out. Three diaries and a pen hit the floor.
I opened the diary with an apple embroidered on the cover.
June 26th 2010
I miss you, Margaret. Every day I miss you. I even miss the way you’d tell me off for nothing in particular.
All I want to do is sleep. It’s the only time I get relief from this...
I smiled. He wanted me to learn about grandma.
Yesterday I tried to end it, but Bridget came over earlier than her regimented four o’clock. When she saw the rope she screamed ‘Family’ at me. ‘Family.’ ‘Family.’ ‘Family.’ It takes me back to... I have a duty to her to stay alive. I’m her only protection.
My neck stiffened. Poor mum had to deal with his behaviour for so long. The next song started. I took another diary. The entries started the year grandma died. I guess this was his way of feeling like they were still in contact. I learned that mum had difficulties growing up as he regularly wrote ‘Bridget seems back to normal now.’
Hoping to find information about dad, I skipped through the diaries searching for an entry from when I was born. But there was a huge gap. The earliest I could find was from when I was three.
May 3rd 2001
I did it Margaret. I got a clue to him. I’d waited so long for her to let her guard down and she did when she finally let me cook dinner. She’s normally so attentive but I undercooked some old chicken I’d hidden in a cupboard. She wolfed the whole thing down. I still felt awful for deliberately hurting her.
The song abruptly cut. My eyes darted to the gramophone. The music jerked then started again. I got back to the diary.
Later while she vomited I snuck him a note. David’s a good man. It was a huge risk, and there was every chance he’d show her, but he destroyed it and told me he would help. He said she’d become violent since he suggested we all move and was always snapping at him. She threatened him with a knife and complained that the house is part of the family, and this is the family land. He’s going to get me and Emma out of here this weekend.
A lump formed in my throat. What the hell was going on? I fought the urge to read the next entry. I didn’t want to know what happened. I did, but I didn’t. I felt cold.
Mum spent her life looking after him, and his thanks was to write horrible stories.
The gramophone crackled and the song struggled. I removed the record and put it back in the envelope.
“Time to go home,” I said aloud, hoping talking would calm my fear.
I pulled myself towards the door. A waft of cigarette smoke blew up my nose, making me cough.
“And what’s your name?” a man’s voice came from the gramophone speaker.
“Bridget,” an enthusiastic child’s voice announced. It was mum.
“Yes it is,” a woman’s voice said. It had to be grandma. Her tone melted my fear. It was so alive, so energetic. I leant forward.
“And what are you going to play for us, Bridget?” granddad asked. His voice was gentle and playful compared to the pained, worried one I’d heard.
“Music!” she answered. I laughed along with grandma and granddad.
“Go on then, honey. Play us some music.”
The bright violin sound absorbed me.
“You can play this to our new neighbours in Ipswich,” my grandma told her.
“But I like it here,” Bridget replied.
“And you’ll also like it in Ipswich,” grandma answered.
Bridget’s tone switched. “But, this, house, is, part, of, our, family. This is our land!”
She played the violin again.
“It’s ok Bridget, everything will be fine. You can stop playing now,” my granddad said.
The sound became disjointed and violent.
“Bridget. Practice is over,” he said.
The violin stopped, replaced by groaning. The joy I felt was being replaced by a wave of worry.
“Bridget?” Granddad said.
Mum released a deathly scream.
My whole body went numb.
“No Bridget!” granddad cried over grandma’s screams.
A crash. My granddad’s voice disappeared. There were just my grandma’s desperate pleas, and thuds, until there was a crack and just thuds.
I knocked the gramophone over and unplugged it. I lay back, thankful for the silence. I closed my eyes, trembling, and took deep breaths. I said any words that came to my mind, just to block out the atmosphere.
The sound of mum crying boomed out of the gramophone. I sat up. I could hear granddad struggle to get words out. I opened the diary.
I don’t even know what fucking day it is. David tried to get us away, but Bridget caught us. That anger is not from humanity, and those screams… They’re the screams of the dead. When I regained consciousness I was back in here, with scabs all over my arms and burns on my chest. He’s gone. I don’t dare ask her where he is…
I felt faint.
The only thing she lets me do is smoke so I’m going to until my lungs explode. It’s this bloody land. There was no charm offensive as my parents claimed. They found bodies, Margaret! My ancestors brutally tortured and killed the family that lived here. The great romance they preach was built on darkness, and it hangs over this place. It’s inside Bridget, and she won’t let people leave.
And poor Emma will never walk again. I saw her do it Margaret. I saw her take a hammer to Emma’s spine.
Tears formed in my eyes and I was short of breath.
I looked up and she was barefoot, stood on broken glass in the smashed doorway, staring at me. Words froze in my mouth. She smiled, turned around, and walked out into the rain, leaving bloody footprints. Each squelching step in the mud a thud on my heart.
That noise will haunt me until the day I die. That day is the day my mum chooses.