©1990 by Michael Skywood Clifford
Simon Alterman was a nerd. No one liked him and all the boys in my tutor group teased him rotten. He now stood before me, bespectacled and swamped in his maroon anorak. His badges shimmered in the moonlight, like milk bottle tops. He was shaped oddly, with a body like a pillar box, topped with a babylike head that was too far too big. He didn’t only look like a baby but usually acted like one, not like a kid of thirteen. I was now discovering just how cowardly he was.
“I don’t think I want to do it anymore,” he said.
“Yes, you do,” I said dropping down into a crouching position like a frog, “I’ve got to. I don’t want to be called chicken, now get on my back.”
He was no heavier than a medicine ball as I straightened up bearing his weight on my shoulders. I could feel him stretching up for the brick wall. I felt his feet lift off my shoulder, return again and then lift off again. At one point I thought he was going to fall.
“How am I going to get down? Its a long jump,” he griped. He sat above me now, with his legs out of sight, dangling over into the garden
“Hold on. I’m coming up.”
I’ve always been something of a fly so it didn’t take me long to join him, and soon we were both staring into the dark grounds of Blackamoor Manor.
Blackamoor Manor and its brick walled gardens had always frightened me ever since I was a kid. The house was old and ramshackle building that would make an ideal dwelling place for Dracula. All the times I had known it I had never seen anyone come in or out. It had been the talking point in the school playground for years with some of my mates. For all its thousands of decaying rooms only one room had ever been seen with a light on, and that was the room right at the back of the house near the east wing. One day when we were talking about it Mary Lawrence bet us all that we were too chicken to go and visit the window at night time.
Sitting on the wall I thought that next time any girl dares me to do something they can go and take a running jump.
Everybody at school fancied Mary Lawrence from 3C and when she had said that she’d go out with anyone who would show how brave they were everyone’s ears pricked up. All the lads in our class fancied themselves as having lots of bottle so we decided to draw lots to see which two were going to attempt it first. I never thought I’d come up with the right numbers and nor did the pale figure who sat on the wall beside me. It all sounded exciting when we were talking about it at school, but now I wasn’t so sure. But I wasn’t going to chicken out….yet.
I clambered down the wall, and helped Simon down. He was shivering. Once inside the trees I felt his arm tugging my shoulder.
“Don’t go too fast, Steve. I might lose you, and then I wouldn’t be able to get out.”
“Stop whingeing,” I whispered.
About twelve yards past the dark trees we came across another wall – only about three foot high – which surprised us both; it couldn’t be seen from the road. It surprised me particularly which probably explained why I walked into it. We were saved the trouble of climbing over it though because we found an archway further along it which saved us any further trouble. Once through it we carried on along a dimly lit path tightly avenued with tall bushes which obscured our view of the manor. Eventually this path came out onto a brightly lit semi-circle of lawn, together with many other paths. Stepping back quickly out of the cast light from the lone window I could now see the room we were heading for.
We now stood at the edge of the long velvet lawn which was floodlit by the window light. From here the manor looked even more enormous and evil and creepier than ever, and when Simon arrived before it he stopped in his tracks with awe. I quickly pulled him back out of the light that strayed across the grass. He eyes blinked rapidly for a moment and then he said “I’m off,” and would have been if I hadn’t grabbed him. He was going nowhere.
When I glanced at the window again it was easy to see what had bothered him. It wasn’t just the creepy-crawly nature of the place, but something far more eerie. Three hundred yards before us the room that we had promised to spy on not only had a light on but something in it which made our knees knock together. A silhouetted figure stood motionless in the lighted window.
I ducked back and try to discuss with Simon what to do. I don’t think he heard a word because his chattering teeth made more noise than my whispers. Somehow though he got the message. I had figured out that if we went back to the garden’s inner wall we could approach the window from the side of the house instead of approaching it directly down the garden in the spotlight of the window. Any sort of retreat was popular with Simon.
It didn’t take us too long to find our way round to the house, although it was very dark and we had to be careful not to fall over anything, like brambles, and discarded bits of gardening equipment. I lead the way of course, making sure that Simon was following. Mary Lawrence was going to be mine. She would never speak to me again if we ran off, and I had to have a witness, so Simon was definitely coming.
We could see the glare of the window from the side as we began to corner an old buttress. I knew that once we’d got round this we’d be standing adjacent to the window. I took a deep breath before I sidled up against it. I could make sure that I’d be out of sight of the figure to start with, but what would happen when I peeked in. I had no idea how close the figure had been to the window, but it must have been close. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the window had had some curtains, but it hadn’t. I silently moved into place, and then heard Simon wheezing behind me. I could have kicked him. I didn’t want to get caught now.
I had the whole of my spine, the back of my head included, pressed like a sardine up against the cold clammy wall. My breath was turning into jets of steam as it met the rays of light that shone from the window. My fingers were cold and all the joints in my body felt stiff. It seemed an age before I turned and looked into the window. Then I did.
My heart was in my mouth. Standing in front of me was a big black figure towering over above me, without a head and only one leg. I must have squealed or something to upset Simon because he fell into me and found himself looking as well.
I don’t know who began laughing first. I think we started both together. It took about thirty seconds to realise it wasn’t a big black monster at all but a tailors dummy placed right in front of the window. Our laughing became louder and louder and I kept pushing Simon on the shoulder and giggling, then he’d do the same to me. It was all so silly.
But then Simon’s laughter stopped and his expression changed. I didn’t notice this at first because I couldn’t see what he could see over my shoulder through the window. I kept giggling and pushing him, but his forehead had furrowed and his face, pale enough in this light anyway, seemed to have become drained of blood, and in a short moment his eyes seemed to turn to slits. I gradually got the gist that something was up and felt a cold shudder up my spine even before I turned round and saw it. I twisted my neck round, swivelling my eyes to catch a peek of what Simon could see in full glory. It was a white ghostly figure floating down the bare floor boards of the room towards the tailor’s dummy and towards us. All I can say is that this had the same effect upon me as a super-power laxative. Suddenly I was running.
But it was not so easy to leave as it had been to arrive. Blackness descended upon us. The window light had been obliterated – and the moon was no help as it was obscured by the house. I’ve never been so frightened in my life. Blackness everywhere, with the occasional hoot of an owl. I stumbled around hopelessly; having no idea in which direction I was travelling. I heard a door slam behind me so I began running in the opposite direction. I just kept running, and at last I could see a dark blue sky cutting through the tall verticals of the trees above me giving me the slightest hint of direction. I found the inner wall and fell into it again in my haste. Without time to find the archway through I climbed over it scratching my legs badly. Soon I was scaling the outer wall of Blackamoor Manor. Then I was on the pavement. I didn’t stop running until was two blocks away. Poor old Simon. I’m sorry Simon, but I can’t come back and help you out now. You shouldn’t have volunteered.
Poor old Simon.
The next morning when I went into school I was taken aback by the first person I saw. Simon. Smiling from ear to ear. But worse was to come. He had his arm in Mary Lawrence’s. While I stared at them both in total amazement my brain almost fizzled to a milk shake as she leant down and gave him a kiss on the lips. There was something wrong here. She supposed to be doing that to me. I walked over. It was Mary who began the conversation.
“So what happened to you last night then?” she said with her nose in the air. ” I always thought you were a bit too big for your boots. Scared off by me wearing a sheet over my head were you? Simon here wasn’t. He just stood by the window waiting to face the ghost. That’s what I call courage.”
I looked down at Simon who looked some what like a cartoon cat who had got the cream. I felt like hitting his smug baby’s head. He looked up, his smile spreading even more, which was impossible.
“It was her house, you see, ” he was saying. “She did it to see who was brave enough to go out with her.” She lives with her dad in a flat in the front part of the manor. You can’t see it from the back. That room is usually lit up because it is usually used by a teacher who does dress-making work in the evening.”
“When I heard all you lads going on about how haunted the manor was I thought I’d play a bit of a trick on you,” said Mary smiling. “I decided I’d go out with the boy who showed the most bravery and..” she gave Simon a cuddle, “I have.”
I couldn’t believe it. Not Simon. Yuk! Not Simon!
“Simon’s very sweet,” she said.