The release date and link for my next book Weird and Peculiar Tales should be available shortly. Meanwhile here’s the final part of the short story posted last week.
Part 2. Birthday Trip.
The three boys took off at a run, back the way we had come. Not wanting to be left alone we followed after them, but as we approached Jordan emerged from the trees and threw up. Max followed, looking white as a sheet, closely followed by Luke.
‘What’s happened? What’s wrong? Did you find him?’
‘Let’s get you girls back to the cottage,’ Max said, without answering our questions.
Retracing our steps my hand was shaking so much I could hardly open the door.
‘I assume no one’s got a signal’ Luke asked, as we settled into the living room. ‘Mel, is there a public phone box anywhere? I guess the pub will be closed by now. Do they live in, do you know?’
‘No idea,’ I answered. ‘Don’t forget I was little more than a toddler the last time I was here.’
‘The Landlord told me they lived in the village,’ Jordan put in. ‘He said his wife had refused point blank to live there; apparently she’s scared of canines or something.’
‘What have dogs got to do with it?’ Beccy asked, then promptly shut up when she saw the expression on Jordan’s face.
‘We found Joshua. It looks like he’s been attacked. We need to phone the police. He was lying there with his throat ripped to pieces,’ Jordan said, looking as if he was ready to be sick again. ‘I don’t know how I’m going to tell his Mum.’
‘You mean there’s a maniac on the loose?’ Lucy asked.
‘More like a rabid dog. There’s not much we can do tonight, and none of us are fit to drive, so let’s get some sleep, and sort it in the morning.’
‘I’d feel better if you boys were inside with us, though,’ I said. ‘There’s a pile of blankets upstairs so you can sort yourselves out on the settees.’
No one disagreed and we all settled down to try and get what sleep we could. Beccy was snoring softly in the other bed, but I felt restless and went to gaze out of the window. Although it was dark I could see a shadowy figure by the light of the full moon shining through the trees. It was too big for a woodland animal, more the size of a man, but running on all fours.
Daybreak saw all seven of us congregating in the living room, bleary-eyed from hangovers and the events of the previous night. Arming ourselves with the poker from the fire, and a wheel wrench from the van, we set off back to the woods to search for Joshua’s body before driving into the village to make a report to the police.
He was nowhere to be seen!
Although the boys were convinced they knew the exact spot there was no sign of him, only a dark brown stain on a nearby fallen log. After an hour searching we agreed to give a statement about a missing person, without mentioning any wild animals. We had all been tipsy, so perhaps the boys were mistaken and Josh had merely decided to go home.
‘We’ve got all the information we need now Miss,’ the policeman said. ‘Are you staying on here in case we have any more questions and need to contact you?’
‘Yes,’ I told him. ‘It’s my birthday. We came here to have the party, so we’ll be around until Monday. After that you can reach me on my mobile. You’ll let us know if you find him?’
‘Of course. And don’t worry too much. I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s probably gone off to buy you a present or is sitting in a pub somewhere after getting lost. Have a good time.’
‘Thanks. You’re probably right. I’ll call you if we hear anything.’
With no miserable outsiders to dampen the atmosphere we quickly regained our usual high spirits and convinced ourselves Josh had returned to his solitary existence. We were proved right when Jordy phoned home and Joshua answered, as miserable as ever.
‘He’s safe and well,’ Jordan told us, sounding relieved. ‘He said he wasn’t a party person and was going back to his Mum’s today. What a selfish git, but at least he won’t be there when I get home. Come on people, let’s celebrate.’
We spent Sunday wandering through the woods, enjoying ourselves, and then had a riotous barbecue in the garden before falling into bed in the early hours. The next day was more peaceful as we prepared to pack up before resuming our normal working lives.
I was the first one up, and while it was quiet took the opportunity to look through the cottage and examine some of the things my great-aunt had left behind. I was fascinated by the old-fashioned writing cabinet in the lounge. Amongst the pile of keys given me by the solicitors was one which, with a bit of twisting and turning, opened the lock. The top shelf contained binders with neatly arranged letters and files, the bottom ancient tomes in richly encrusted leather covers. Taking out one piece of paper at random I started to read.
‘By now you will have discovered the forest’s secrets and realised the blood of Little Weremeed runs through your veins. Be not afraid but embrace your heritage and put the powers to good use. The books will show you how.’
‘What you doing, Mel?’
I jumped as Luke came up behind me and leaned over my shoulder.
‘Nothing. Just looking through some old papers of my aunt’s,’ I said, replacing them in the cabinet and locking it securely. I had already decided to return alone later in the summer when I would have time to examine the contents more closely. For now, we needed to close the cottage and return to civilisation. Life returned to normal, and it wasn’t until one of our usual meet-ups a month or so later that we heard any more about Joshua.
‘It’s a bit odd,’ Jordy told us over a pint. ‘He’s always been a stay-at-home with Mummy, but my aunt told me he’s moved out, and she’s not sure where he’s living now. Seems he’s been a bit strange ever since your party, Mel.’
‘Typical. I always get the blame. I thought he was odd the first time I met him,’ I defended myself. ‘I’ll let you know if I find him swinging through the trees next week.’
The following Friday evening I drove to the cottage for a week of peace, intending to finish my manuscript. Finding it easily after the previous visit it looked totally different with the lighter evenings, and the flowers in full bloom. Even the living room seemed warm as I settled my suitcase and put the supplies in the fridge. I spent a productive evening writing, with the TV as background noise then went to bed and slept like a log.
The next morning the sun streamed through the curtains and I woke to a beautiful day. A stroll through the woods seemed appropriate, and with the bird song lifting my spirits I felt at peace. The path looked straight and wide, a lot different from the night Josh had disappeared. Unable to resist, I pushed my way through the trees to where the boys thought they had seen him.
He was there.
Half hidden by the undergrowth a body lay stretched out, with blood dripping from a gash in his neck. I screamed, then realised it was nothing but a tree log, surrounded by wild, red flowers. Perhaps that was what the boys had seen, merely the dappled light throwing shadows, and imagination completing a gruesome picture. Shaken I hurried back to the cottage but found it impossible to concentrate.
The cabinet beckoned and I settled down to go through the contents. Hours passed as I went through my aunt’s collection. Albums of old photos brought back recollections of family, and there was even one of me, about two years old, hugging a big, shaggy dog. The full moon shining through the window reminded me how long I had spent browsing but I was too intrigued to stop. Taking out the heavy books I read the history of how Little Weremeed had been built, and the legends surrounding the village.
Everything made sense, and so many half-forgotten memories came flooding back. Now I realised how I had found the cottage so easily, why the path through the woods was so familiar, and even why I had taken a dislike to Josh. I had recognised him as one of our own, but from a rival pack. With my monthly cycle coinciding with the full moon the call became irresistible.
A howl left my throat as I set off at a gentle lope into the woods to find Joshua. Whether he would become prey, or my future mate, would be decided by my heritage.
© Voinks March 2018