I have been tagged by fabulous fellow HH author Bustles Lloyd to take part in the Love To Spook Blog Hop, a celebration of all things creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, and altogether ooky, taking place over the first three days of February. If you want to join in, grab the button above and all the details from from Authors Anon and get writing / drawing / videoing and posting!
As you know, I don’t really do horror, but I do have this little creepy, previously unpublished tale, shared here under a Creative Commons licence – you are welcome to share it with whoever you like, but please don’t change it, make money off it, or take my name off it. I hope you enjoy it, it was inspired by the name of the house belonging to my friend Heather’s parents, because everything is brain-fodder for writers….
WHERE THE ROSES GROW
“Roseminion.” It meant “Slave to the Roses”, according to the estate agent who had sold me the tiny three-up, two-down cottage on the edge of the river. It was a strange name, but then again the old lady who had lived here before had been a bit eccentric. It was she who had planted the dozens of rose bushes that now choked the cottage garden and scrambled up the walls all the way to the low overhanging roof.
I scratched my arm on a long thorn as I wobbled on the stepladder trying to swap over the nameplate, and I swore.
“Bad word, mummy!” Jude was standing at the bottom of the ladder, staring up at me with a look of intense concentration on her chubby face. “What are you doing?”
“I’m giving the house a new name,” I explained as I drilled the last screw into the whitewashed wall.
I tried not to roll my eyes. Everything was “why” lately.
“So it properly belongs to us.” I backed carefully down the ladder, the old sign swinging from one hand.
Jude frowned. “She said it was bad luck to change the name of the house.” One finger disappeared into her mouth as she looked at me with wide blue eyes.
“Who did, honey?” I was only half listening. The scratch on my arm was stinging like fire.
“The old lady in the garden.”
“Have you been talking to the lady next door, Jude? Is she nice?” I chucked the wooden sign in the dustbin and headed for the front door, eager to get some TCP on the painful scratch. “Shall we get a milkshake, and you can tell me about her?”
Jude hesitated, staring towards the bin. “Bad luck,” she repeated softly, as she followed me into the cool of the kitchen.
Even with the window open the summer night was stifling, heavy with the scent of roses, and I was restless. I must have woken a dozen times during the night, haunted by a voice on the edge of hearing, someone trying to get my attention. I must have finally dropped into a deeper sleep, just before the dawn, because I know I dreamed. Long thorny tendrils were wrapping themselves around my legs, trying to drag me down into the earth, and petals filled my mouth, my eyes, so I could neither see nor speak. Somewhere in the distance, a child screamed.
I woke with a start, the duvet wadded around my sweating legs. That scream… Driven by some urgency I could not explain, I rose and wrapped myself in my dressing gown. I was halfway down the stairs when the scream came again, louder this time, a brutal intrusion of my nightmares into real life. Jude.
I took the last three stairs in a leap. The bottom half of the stable door that led out into the back garden was swinging open, and I fumbled with the bolts for the top half, heart in my throat, dreading what I might find out there.
“Mummy, come quick!” Her voice was high and full of terror.
“I’m coming, Jude!” I finally managed to fling the door open, and I ran to her and swept her up from where she lay on the path, ripping away the flailing briar that had tripped her. Blood poured from three long gashes across her cheek. It looked like a cat had lashed out at her, and it made me feel sick to see it as I raced through the house, holding her close to my chest. I almost threw her in the car, and drove at deadly speed down the rough country lanes to the little cottage hospital.
I was lucky, it was quiet, and the doctor came out straight away. Jude had stopped screaming now, and she sat clinging on to my hand and crying quietly as the nurse applied paper stitches to her pink cheek.
“What happened?” I asked gently, trying not to show how worried I was. “What were you doing in the garden so early in the morning?”
“The lady wanted to talk to me. Then it got cold and I wanted to go in.” She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “That’s when the roses bit me.”
“Well, they won’t bite you any more, honey. Because tomorrow I’m going to dig them up. Every single one of them.”
“She won’t like it, mummy!” For some reason, my attack on the garden was upsetting Jude more that I thought it would. “She’ll be angry with you!”
“I don’t care,” I told her, as I armed myself with secateurs and gardening gloves and prepared to do battle. “It’s my garden, and it’s dangerous. It’s none of her business anyway.”
Jude was clinging on to my leg. I had rarely seen her so upset. “You can’t, mummy!” she pleaded. “She says if you do, bad stuff will happen! Mummy, please!”
I went down on one knee to hug her, and ran a hand across the stitches on her cheek. Three neat rows, like a brand. “Jude, honey, the roses hurt you. I don’t want my little girl hurt like that. That’s why they have to go. But I tell you what. We’ll keep one bush, just one, if that’ll make you happy. What do you think of that?”
She sniffed. “She won’t like it.”
I stood up. “I’ll talk to her,” I promised. “After the roses have gone.”
It was harder work than I anticipated to strip the garden of the long-established rosebushes. They were tough and thorny, twisting under my hands as I tried to sever them, then springing back and swiping viciously at me. It wasn’t long before my arms and face were slashed to ribbons, but every cut only made me more determined. To keep Jude safe, the roses had to go.
“The lady in the garden wants you to stop, mummy,” Jude told me, with the seriousness only a five-year-old could muster as I slathered myself with pungent antiseptic in the kitchen that evening. “She’s very angry with you.”
“If the lady next door is angry with me, she’s the best person to come and tell me.” I was losing patience with this mysterious “lady in the garden.” I had never seen her, but she seemed to talk to Jude all the time, and I wasn’t happy with her using my daughter to relay messages to me.
“You won’t listen to her. She says she’s tried to talk to you, but you just want to kill her flowers. She says she’s going to hurt you.”
I frowned. “Jude, I don’t think I want you talking to this woman any more if she’s going to say things like that to you. She sounds a bit crazy to me. Let me finish the garden, and then I’ll have a word with her. But you stay away from her from now on, you hear me?”
It was another three days of hot, sweaty, backbreaking work before I finally had the garden cleared to my satisfaction. I had to send Jude to her room in the end, as she followed me around muttering dire threats that were doubly shocking coming from the mouth of a little girl. As I ripped down the last of the ramblers and broke up the trellis at the front of the house, I swore that I would have some harsh things to say to the woman next door. I dumped the rubbish in the bin, rinsed my hands under the outside tap, and dried them on the back of my jeans.
“I’m just going next door for five minutes!” I shouted up the stairs to Jude. There was no answer, but as I let myself out of the gate I could see her watching me from her bedroom window. I waved, but she didn’t wave back.
The woman at Swan Cottage took ages to answer the door, and when she did she squinted up at me through thick glasses and smiled. “Are you for the insurance? I wasn’t expecting you until next week.”
“I’m not from the insurance,” I told her. “My name’s Elisa Dayton. My little girl and I have just moved in next door.”
“Oh lovely!” The elderly woman beamed. “I’m Harriet Swann. Won’t you come in and have a cup of tea? It’s been a while since we’ve had some young life about the place.”
“Well, I can’t really -” but she had already swung her wheelchair around and was heading back down the hall. “Just the one then, and then I should be getting back…”
Swan Cottage was bigger than our house, and the old lady ushered me into a lounge with wide patio doors that stood open, looking out on the garden, while she busied herself with the tea. I tried to resist the urge to wander around the room looking at things while she was gone. Instead I sat on the sofa. From here, now the rose bushes were gone, you could look straight across her overgrown lawn, through the battered wire fence and into our garden, bare but for the last bush, waving its blooms defiantly in the light breeze.
“I really should apologise for the state of the garden.” Mrs Swann had come in silently, a tray of tea and biscuits balanced on her lap. “My son usually cuts it once a fortnight, but with his bad back…”
I took a cup of tea and helped myself to sugar. “Do you get out in the garden much?”
“Hardly at all.” She indicated her chair. “I spend a lot of time in bed, sewing. It’s easier than getting in and out of the stairlift. That’s why it took me so long to answer the door, I’m afraid.”
“So have you been talking to Jude?”
“Your little girl? I’ve seen her out of the window, playing games in the rosebushes with her invisible friend.”
I frowned. “Jude hasn’t got an invisible friend.”
“Well she’s chattering away to someone out there. Poor little thing, there’s not enough children in this village.”
I felt the hairs on my arms begin to prickle. If Jude hadn’t been talking to my neighbour, then who was the lady in the garden?
“I was the one who told the police, you know,” Mrs Swann rambled on. “About Clara Dannen.”
“She owned that house before you. Loved her roses, she did. They were like her family; she never married, you see. She used to win prizes with them, before she turned strange.”
“Probably her age catching up with her. It gets us all in the end.” She paused to sip her tea, rattling it against the saucer. “Anyway, I looked out of the window one day and there she was lying dead in the middle of her precious rose bushes. It gave me quite a turn.”
“I should imagine it did.” I put my teacup down, feeling sick. “Well, I should -”
I was cut off by a scream from my garden. I leapt up, hurling the teacup from my lap, and ran out through the patio doors. I scrambled over the decrepit fence and raced towards the source of the screaming. The rosebush.
Jude lay on her back on the ground, kicking at a long thorny branch that had wrapped itself around her ankle. Even as I grabbed her and tried to haul her free more tendrils lashed out, catching her wrists and waist and pulling her closer to the heart of the bush with its wicked thorns.
“Hang on, Jude!” I looked around for something to help me, and saw the spade leaning up against the wall of the house. I ran for it.
“Mummy, don’t leave me!”
“I’m coming!” I snatched up the spade and raced back. A gap like a great yawning mouth had opened in the bush, and the branches were dragging Jude towards it as she kicked and struggled. I brought the spade down on one branch and it broke with a twang, but another immediately snaked out to take its place. No matter how I beat at them, the branches kept coming. The whole bush was writhing and twisting, dragging my daughter into its dark depths.
“Mummy!” One hand was still free, and she reached out to me in helpless terror as the bush closed around her, swallowing her up.
“Jude!” I renewed my frenzied attack, wielding the spade like a weapon as the branches tumbled around me, hacking my way into the heart of the rosebush. “Jude!”
She wasn’t there. There was nothing there.
I sank to my knees and cradled my head in disbelief. A gentle breeze brushed over me, carrying the scent of roses and the sound of quiet, mocking, laughter.
Where the Roses Grow by Joanne Hall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.