'Just try it,' they said. 'It’ll be great!' Social workers live on a whole different planet. Thirteenth time lucky, eh?  Yeah, right, okay. What choice do I have?

So here I am, with my tatty bag of stuff, outside the curly, iron gates, Snakey twitching in my pocket. (No, he’s not a snake, he’s a mouse, full name Snakefood, which is what he was intended to be, but that’s another story). The old grey house looms above in the mist; strange, wasn’t it a sunny day? The pointed turrets poke the sky’s grey belly above dark, blank windows. Great. The Adams family’s house.

The gate screams as I push it open, trudge on through.

‘Okay, so where’s Thing?’ My voice is gobbled up by the silence.

Up the crooked steps, I take hold of the snarling knocker, drop it down. The bang echoes around me, like a gunshot.  Crows caw from the railings behind me, laughing?  Glancing round, I see a giant cat, fastidiously poking the ends of black feathers into his mouth. It’s not a lion, more of a mammoth marmalade. I would only come up to its shoulder, if I was dumb enough to get that close. The cat smell must have reached poor Snakey; I can feel him trembling in my pocket.
‘It’s okay, Snakey.’ Ah, but is it? Who am I trying to convince?

I edge closer to the door, wondering which way to run. The cat’s bright, yellow eyes narrow on my face. I scrabble at the ancient bolts. There has to be a way in. The cat hunkers down, wriggling his shoulders, as if I’m the mouse. I certainly feel like one, heart pattering, legs shaking. I can hear its rumble from here, like the Home’s clapped out maintenance van, idling...

The door opens. I fall in, backwards. The cold, hard stones feel much kinder than those sharp teeth, even if I do crack my head.  I lie with my eyes closed, panting, feeling the sweat cool down my back, my heartbeat slow. Snakey has yet to be convinced, my leg’s still vibrating.

‘Well, we’re in.’

Sitting up,  I open my eyes to gloom.  Above me, dribbling cobwebs like snot, is a black chandelier, suspended from a chunky chain. A few feeble candles flicker up there, casting monstrous shadows, alive with moths.

‘Is that what that smell is? Mothballs?’

I struggle to my knees, gaze up at the gallery circling around the upper floor; each upright on the balustrade bearing a different, carved face.  Here and there, ropes and chains have been tossed over to dangle in space. From one hangs a metal bucket, from another a parrot cage, from a third, a bicycle.

‘OK so where’s the skeleton? Ah, there! Ha! Surprise, surprise!’

Feeling my heartbeat settle, I look around me. The flagged floor stretches away, deep in dust around the edges.  Is it moving, or is it just the draught? The round hallway has pointy, arched doors, studded with large bolts. A curved staircase, like something from the movies, swirls up with its garnish of gargoyles. The dark, panelled walls seem to close in.

‘Maybe they need me for a good clear-out? That’d be far more interesting than homework, especially here, eh Snakey?’

He’s still thrumming against my leg. I scoop him into my hand so he can see. It doesn’t help.

Something tickles my cheek. Looking round I see a swathe of black fabric, the edge of a boot.   Ew, that smell!  

Squinting up, I make out a long, sharp chin, overhung by two long, pointed nostrils, all surrounded in grey fuzz.  The head of a miniature dinosaur appears from the frizz, tipping sideways, staring at me.  Snakey’s eyes bulge at the sight of it, he dives for cover up my sleeve.

‘Hello.’  I jump to my feet.  I’m generally not very good at first impressions. Try harder, they’d said.

Dusting my hands off on my trousers, I put one out to shake. 

For the first time I get a look at the face. It fits perfectly.  Wild grey hair, with a long stick poking out; snake eyes;  a turtle mouth fringed with wispy curls and a nose like the prow of the Black Pearl.  You could probably even get the sails up in those nostrils, sail away with the map of wrinkles...

My Writing

Just Try It

Wood nymph

She bounded through the waving grass, hopped and span. Her mane of curly tangles flapped against narrow shoulders. At the far side of the field, a wall of trees loomed dark. Freya’s dancing feet faltered. A badger snuffled slugs among the brambles. His vivid white stripe pointed the way. Smiling, she stepped into the gloom, following a narrow path between the crowding trunks.  Familiar landmarks led her home.

Sighing, she climbed to her nest in the hollow oak. Moss and bracken made a soft mattress. A sack of precious feathers made a warm quilt. 

Snuggling down, she listened to the shuffle of the pigeons above. The wind sang a soft lullaby through the branches.  She called to mind her mother’s tender face and closed her eyes…

The stomp of many booted feet grew from a whispered rhythm, woke her.  The slap of leather, the rasp of ropes made dark music. Peeking down, she saw guns glinting blue in the dappled starlight.

Breathless she trembled in the oak’s tender hollow as the booming voices echoed round the wood. She felt the tense, blinking gaze of a thousand tiny eyes all around her...