My NaNoWriMo plans for this year didn’t go to plan. The project never really took off and is nowhere near completion. I’m disappointed, but these things have to happen I suppose.

On a better note, I received the results of my course on Friday, and can now call myself Colm Furlong, M.A. In celebration of this fact, I’ve decided to post an extract from the novella I wrote for my thesis. The Novella is called “Trick or Treat”. I hope you all enjoy, and feedback is greatly appreciated.

 

11.30 pm. The Treehouse.

 

Ximena clawed her way back up the bank and brushed the worst of the mud off. She could feel the water soaking through her jeans and the hem of her shirt. Her hair had gotten wet in the splash, and it hung wet and ragged across her shoulders. She shook it out like a dog before tying it up with the spare bobble she kept in her pocket. Then, she set out across the bridge. Abigail, Ellie and the dog were long gone. She took out her phone but it would not turn on.

“Fucking water. The treehouse it is,” she muttered. The breeze began to pick up once more, and Ximena felt the chills throughout her body.

She took the well-worn path like always. Somewhere overhead an owl hooted, and a cloud of bats erupted from one of the trees and soared across the moon, shrouding her in momentary flashes of darkness. She pulled her leather jacket tighter around her and trudged on through the black. The jacket had survived the river mostly dry, so it helped keep her somewhat warm.

After walking for a couple of minutes, Ximena came to a stop. She had heard a rustling in the bushes. All she could hear now was silence.

“Fucking hearing things now,” she said. As she went to take a step, another sound came to her ears. A voice. Whispering. She couldn’t make out the words, but she could tell where they were coming from.

“I really shouldn’t do this…” she muttered under her breath. She took a step toward the noise. “I’m breaking all the rules of surviving a horror movie. Every single one of them.”

Her feet crunched on broken twigs as she stepped off the path and into the trees. She followed the sounds, pulling her jacket even tighter around her shoulders again. The whispers were getting louder. It sounded like a little girl’s voice.

“Ellie?” Ximena whispered. No response came. She continued toward the source of the sounds, pushing low hanging branches out of the way. As she passed a large, knotted trunk, she discovered the origin of the whispers. A little girl in a white dress was kneeling with her back to Ximena in front of a bed of leaves and twigs that lay beneath the trunk of a wide oak tree. She was praying.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

The girl continued. She repeated the same phrase over and over. As Ximena moved around, she saw that the girl’s hands were clasped together. She was rocking back and forth.

“Hello, are you okay?” Ximena asked.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” The girl stopped. Without changing her posture, she turned her head to the side, just enough to see Ximena. “Hello,” she said. “I’m Cathy,” she said. She turned her head back and bowed it once more, as if to pray again.

“Wait!” Ximena said. The girl turned her head again. “What are you doing out here?”

“I got lost,” she said. “I was just going to go to sleep. It will be much easier to find my way home when it is not so dark.”

“But you can’t stay out here all night. You’re here all alone! It’s not safe! Where are your parents? Your friends?”

“Oh it’s perfectly fine,” she said. “I’ve been saying the Lord’s Prayer, he’ll be sure to protect me.” She turned around and got to her feet. The front of her white dress was stained crimson with what appeared to be dried blood, and the hem where she had been kneeling was encrusted with a layer of mud and dirt. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“I’m Ximena. Is that blood?” Cathy looked down at her dress for a long moment, traced a hand across the stain and then raised her gaze to Ximena once more. She stared into her eyes.

“Why are you here Ximena?” she asked.

“I was exploring the park with my sister and my girlfriend. I lost them, but we’re going to meet at the treehouse. Why don’t you come with us? We can take you home.”

“Well… I’m not supposed to talk to strangers…”

“That’s smart. But you can’t stay out here all alone, it’s much too dangerous. You’ll die from the cold.”

“Okay then, I’ll come with you.” She extended her hand. Ximena took it in her own. It was ice cold to the touch, even to Ximena’s already frozen hands.

“You’re freezing!” Ximena said, rubbing Cathy’s hand between her own.

“I’m always cold,” the girl said. “Come on let’s go.”

“Where do you live?” Ximena asked. “Do your parents know you’re out here tonight?”

“I live nearby,” Cathy said. “My parents are out of town.” She smiled. “Come on, let’s go.”

Cathy started dragging her back towards the path and Ximena followed. Once there, they set out in the direction of the treehouse once again. The girl began to hum as they walked, a low, almost mournful hum. Ximena’s mind raced. The girl was not nearly scared enough for a kid who was lost in the park alone at night. She seemed almost happy. She did not stop her humming until they broke the cover of the trees and came into a clearing. At the far side, facing them, was a tall, bulky oak tree. High up in the mess of branches above was a large, wooden treehouse. It was built into the tree; the constructors had not wanted to interfere with the natural habitat. The building itself was large, about ten feet in diameter all around. It was circular in shape, with branches sticking through the walls here and there to accommodate the tree itself. The roof was made from slates that had been installed one summer after rain had destroyed the interior. A long, hanging rope ladder fell down the trunk from the edge of the platform at the treehouse’s entrance. They walked across the clearing and came to a stop by the ladder.

“Do you hear voices?” Ximena asked.

“No. Do you?”

“I think someone’s up there.”

“Maybe it’s your sister and girlfriend.”

“They would have lit a candle or something.”

“But it’s dark up there.”

“Exactly.”

Ximena reached forward and started to climb the ladder. She had barely got up the first rung before Cathy tugged at her jeans.

“What are you doing?”

“Checking who is up there.”

“What if it isn’t your sister and girlfriend?”

“I can ask whoever it is if they’ve seen them.”

“What if they’re not friendly?”

“I don’t want to think about that. Will you wait here?”

“Okay.”

Ximena climbed the rest of the way up the ladder, the muffled voices getting louder as she got higher. She reached the platform and pulled herself up, stood up straight and moved over to the door. A flicker caught the corner of her eye. Light was now coming from inside the building. Someone had lit a candle. She knocked gently. The voices inside stopped.

“Who’s there?” came a male voice.

“My name is Ximena Fuentes,” Ximena said. She eased the door open and stuck her head through the gap. A young boy and a young girl were sitting on a rug on the floor, the girl clasping the boy’s hand. They looked to be in their late teens. “I’m looking for my sister and my girlfriend. We got separated and arranged to meet up here. Have you seen them?”

“There hasn’t been anyone else here all night,” the boy said.

“Just us,” the girl said. “We came here for some privacy,” she said, a little more forcefully.

“Sorry,” Ximena said. “So you haven’t seen them?”

“No!” the couple said in unison.

“Okay! I… I’ll just be going then,” she said.

“BYE!” the girl said.

Ximena eased out of the room and shut the door. She made her way back over to the ladder and started down.

“What a bitch,” came the girl’s voice.

“I heard that!” Ximena called out.

“I said it loud!” the girl said.

Ximena made her way back down the ladder. When she reached the bottom, Cathy was kneeling down once again facing away from the ladder.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

“What are you doing Cathy?” Ximena asked. The girl turned her head and got up.

“Oh hi,” Cathy said. “I thought you weren’t coming back so I was just going to go to sleep and wait for it to not be dark.”

“But I was only gone for a couple of minutes.”

“I’m sorry.” The girl’s eyes welled up and she rubbed them with her knuckles as she sniffled. “Please don’t be angry.”

“Hey don’t cry! You don’t need to be sorry. It’s okay.” She went to pull the girl into a hug, but realised she didn’t want to get her wet. Ximena reached out an arm and patted the girl’s shoulder. “It’s okay.”

“Where are your sister and girlfriend?”

“They weren’t up there, there was a couple up there instead. They haven’t seen them.”

“So what do we do now?”

“We should probably wait here for them.”

“Okay.”

They sat in silence for several minutes. Cathy crossed her legs and rocked back and forth, staring into the stars above. Ximena scanned the treeline for any sign of movement, anything that would point to where Abigail and Ellie had gone.

A high pitched scream pierced the air above them. Ximena jumped to her feet and Cathy stared up at her.

“What was that?”

Ximena looked up at the treehouse. She couldn’t see anything. It had sounded like the girl was screaming.

“I’m going to go check.”

She started to climb again, looking down to make sure Cathy was okay. In no time, she had reached the top of the ladder and was on the platform. The door to the treehouse was open. The light had gone out. Ximena peered into the darkness. The candle was still in the middle of the floor, and a matchbox lay next to it. She reached forward and took it. Striking a match, she lit the candle and looked around. The boy and girl were nowhere. The treehouse was empty but for a single puddle of blood on the floor.

“What the fuck?” Ximena muttered to herself, eyes widening. Her heart rate increased until it was pounding in her ears. She scrabbled backwards and blew out the candle, before tossing it inside. She quickly made her way back down to the bottom of the ladder and sat beside Cathy.

“Did you get hurt up there earlier?” she asked.

“Me?” Cathy asked. “No. Why?”

“There’s blood on the floor.”

“That’s weird.” Ximena stared at the girl. How could she be so calm?

“We need to find Ellie and Abigail.”

“Why not go look for them?” Cathy asked after a while.

“Because they’re supposed to come here,” Ximena replied.

“Where did they go?”

“They ran after a dog.”

“A big one?”

“Yeah a Doberman.”

“Was it brown and black?”

“Yeah…”

“With really strange eyes?”

“Yeah!”

“I know where he lives!”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Let’s go there!” She had got to her feet and took off toward the trees before Ximena could stop her. Ximena stood ran after her, just about keeping the girl in sight as she disappeared into the trees. She broke the line of trees, following the sounds of crunching footsteps and the brief swishes of the white skirt as Cathy dodged around trees. They came to another small clearing.

“This way Ximena, this way!” Cathy waved from the other side of the clearing before running into the trees again.

“Slow… down!” Ximena panted. She ran across the centre of the clearing, feet padding on the grass until suddenly it changed. The surface beneath her feet briefly became wooden, before with a large crack and a crash, there was nothing there at all. Ximena fell, plunging downward, arms flailing until she splashed down into water. She sunk beneath the surface, bubbles exploding all around her as she swung her arms, trying to get back to the surface. Her head burst through the water just as she spit some from her mouth. Ximena treaded water and looked around. She was in a narrow space, and the walls were made of stone. Looking up, she saw the circle of moonlight where she had fallen through. She was in a well. Ximena moved over to the walls and felt around, searching for rungs but found nothing.

“Mierda… Mierda… Ayudame! Ayudame!” Ximena took several deep breaths. She looked around. The walls seemed to be closing in. She breathed faster. A face appeared in the hole above her.

“Ximena?”

“Cathy?”

“What are you doing down there?”

“I fell. Please help me.”

“I’ll go find help.”

“Please help me.”

“Stay there.”

“Please.”

The face disappeared. Ximena was alone.

 

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