Written by Alex McCarron
It was late and dim when I saw her coming up the road. An old path, absent of passers-by save for a wandering peddler and his wares. Waving a crooked finger at me, he said, “Robbers down that way, or used to be.”
“There are robbers down every road,” I said, in a hurry. With nought worth stealing, I had nothing to fear.
It was then that I saw a girl approaching in the distance behind me, a pretty thing – slim and pale. The low sun caught my eye, blinding me for a moment, and I lost sight of her. A cuckoo called in a copse of trees. I’d been traveling long and hard, but a devil got into me – it always does when I spot a pretty girl – and I thought, I’ll just scare her a bit, make her jump. So I slipped off the road and into the copse, crouching behind the trees until I heard footsteps. They passed right by and I leaped out, roaring, my arms spread to grab her.
There was nobody there.
While I stood gaping like a fool, a wind sprang up in the trees. Their branches whipped together, chattering in low whispers. “Jenny,” it whispered. “Jenny, Jenny.”
The only footprints in the dust were my own. I squared my shoulders. “You have nothing to fear,” I reminded myself, and kept walking.
As I went the trees thickened, growing taller and more grotesque. The wind followed me, sometimes in hard gusts, sometimes as soft as a pattering pair of feet. More than once I looked back. Were the footsteps following me, too?
After a mile or so, I passed a house crouched far back in the trees. Its windows were broken and its roof stooped. The sky had darkened to a burnt orange, but I didn’t think of stopping.
“That was the robber’s house,” the wind hissed much like a person walking by my side. “She was a robber’s daughter, wasn’t she? Sweet Jenny.”
The trees sighed, “Sweet Jenny.”
“Keep going.” I told myself. “There’s nothing to fear.”
The wind nipped and pinched me. “Sweet Jenny with her sweetheart; that sweet boy with hair as black as coal.”
The house gaped at me, eyeless and empty. I hurried past, and the wind and the footsteps followed. It was no more than half a mile from the house when I came to a tree taller and darker than all the rest. Its branches whipped together in haste of the setting sun, urging the darkness on.
“You have nothing to fear,” I whispered.
The tall branches groaned, speaking from the heart of the tree itself. “Her father killed him here. Killed her sweet boy, but Jenny took his knife, she slipped his own knife into his back. And Jenny took his knife. Jenny ran.”
The road grew harder, thinner. It reared up with rocks and roots. I walked faster. My breath cut across my ribs like a cold knife. “It’s just the wind,” I whispered. “You fool, it’s only the wind.”
Finally, when the sky was black, I reached a small bridge over a large river. The water frothed under it like a hungry mouth, but a bridge meant new roads and people near. I started to cross. The bridge creaked as I stepped on it; it creaked and the waters spoke. “Jenny stabbed herself. Jenny put the knife in her pretty white throat.”
My toe caught a knot, and I stumbled. The river laughed, licking the boards beneath me.
“Jenny bled out.”
And didn’t I feel a cold hand in mine, pulling me to my feet? Didn’t I feel thin, cold lips pressed to my forehead?
“Jenny flowed into me.”
A tree has no voice, and the wind has no voice, and the water has no voice. And none of these things speaks with the voice of a girl. I ran.
“Kissing Jenny,” the man behind the bar laughed as if he didn’t believe me. “Everyone who comes up that way has a story to tell.”
I’d ran until the trees parted and spat me back up on the main road, ran until I saw the lighted windows of the inn. It was so loud, so full of warmth and light that I slammed through the door like a madman, shrugging off the cold draft that followed me in. I shouted for a drink, something strong. I didn’t speak again until I’d downed two pints of beer.
The man rattled my coins in his palm. “Only one room left,” he told me. “Right at the top.”
It was ready for me when I climbed up, with a candle on the windowsill and a fire in the hearth. “There now,” I told myself, warmed to the bone with drink, “you have nothing to fear.”
I locked my door. I shrugged off my coat and turned down my bed sheets. I climbed in and blew out my candle.
“Well then,” she said, “it’s just the two of us tonight, my dear.”
This short horror story by new contributor Alex McCarron chills us to the very bone – nevermind the narrator! Though we won’t need any alcohol to settle our fears, we may just reach out for a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate to send us off to sleep instead. Inspired by her love of old ghost stories and tales of the supernatural, Alex penned this piece in order to bring back the classic horror narrative. If you enjoyed her piece, make sure you let us know by leaving a like or a comment below.
Featured Image CC // Nathan O’Nions