Six Scary Stories, Page 2Stephen King
I felt annoyed that Mrs Jakovleva must have got to me, and tramped back to the guest house.
She was standing at the door and for a minute I thought she was going to hug me with relief. That didn’t make me feel any better. ‘You not long,’ she said. ‘All okay?’
‘Yes, lovely thanks, really nice swim. I’ll go check out that church you suggested now,’ I said. She looked surprised, and I could sense her watching me as I went up the stairs.
I felt a bit better when I was warm and dry, but the new village soon knocked that out of me. The church she had been on about looked like a 1970s municipal library, and all in all, the place was fantastically dull. There was one shop, selling groceries, some awful-looking floral frocks and, bizarrely, postcards. I couldn’t believe that anyone would have printed a card of such a town. But instead of the place I’m staying, it showed a black and white photo of a pretty village in a valley, part of it clinging to the side of the hills.
‘Is this the old village?’ I asked the man behind the counter.
‘Vaiduoklis,’ is all he said.
‘When was it sunk?’
‘Soviet days. The villagers, they object. Some never left. Still there.’
‘The Soviet Union drowned them?’ I asked. I had seen the KGB museum in Vilnius, but this seemed particularly chilling.
The man shrugged. ‘Bad times,’ he said. ‘Water low now, Vaiduoklis must be near the surface, maybe even possible to see, if you look.’
I thanked him and bought a handful of cards. Despite my scare this morning, I’ve got to say the idea of seeing some of the old medieval village cheered me up. A sort of Lithuanian Dunwich. It must have been a bit of that I saw today, not another swimmer at all. From the shape of the reservoir map I printed out at the Vilnius tourist office, I think the church might be quite near the exact spot where I got into the water this morning.
Anyway, I’d better go as I’m feeling a bit bad about hogging the computer in Mrs Jakovleva’s breakfast room all this time. Although she seemed to be out when I got back.
Will update you on the hidden village hunting! Chrissy xxxxxx
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: 30 May 2015, 17:24
Okay, me again. So I just had to get this off my chest. I went up to my room after emailing you, and would you believe the bath was running, with the plug in. Any longer and it would have overflowed and flooded the place. It DEFINITELY wasn’t me who left it on. I don’t know what Mrs Jakovleva is playing at, there were even wet foot marks from the bath to the window. Nothing missing, thank God. Do you think she’s been hanging out in my bedroom?!!
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: 31 May 2015, 16:48
I’m so frightened, Suse, I have to leave this place, I have to leave, and I don’t know how. Everything is shut in the town, there are no trains tonight and I don’t know where Mrs Jakovleva has gone.
I wish to God I’d never come here.
I don’t know what’s happening, I don’t know what to think.
The day started all wrong. I slept in late this morning and when I came down, there was no landlady and no breakfast.
I thought maybe I’d pissed her off by going for a swim yesterday, and after that stuff with the bath, she’s obviously odd. I walked into town to see if I could find something to eat there. But it’s Sunday and the place was a ghost town. All shuttered up and nobody on the streets. I passed the church. The lights were on and there was singing inside and I had this mad thought of going in, but for what? I ended up going to the train station instead. There was nobody in the ticket office, and the snack kiosk was shut, but I did manage to get some sweets and crisps from the vending machine, along with a really sad-looking sandwich.
I checked the timetable and saw there was only one train out that day. To Vilnius in about half an hour. I had this sudden feeling that I ought to rush back for my bag and take it, but then I thought that was ridiculous, and how would I pay Mrs Jakovleva?
Back at the guest house, I had the sandwich and went through the guidebook again in my room. There’s absolutely nothing on this place. I looked up Lusai and decided to head there first thing in the morning. Felix or no Felix, I’ve had enough of Vaiduoklis.
The tourist office map of the reservoir was still on the bedside table. For some reason I didn’t fancy going hunting for buried villages quite so much today; there was something weird about being here without Mrs Jakovleva. But then there was absolutely nothing else to do, and I thought, While I’m here, it was really worth trying to spot a bit of the old town.
I got my goggles and headlight out, and togged myself up in the wetsuit. It was so quiet walking to the water, I sort of missed the sound of the old woman thumping on the glass behind me.
The reservoir looked even lower today. There was a light wind, breaking up its reflective surface and I walked round the edge, peering down the sides, trying to see if there was anything that looked like masonry down there. I thought there might be a pale shape, about a ten-minute swim from my root stairway, not far from the edge.
The climb down felt more difficult. I swear it looked as though some of the roots had been broken off, but once in, I got that familiar high from the cold, and adrenalin soon took me to the spot I had scouted out. There was definitely something down there.
I plunged under and at first nothing. But after surfacing and then going a little deeper, finally I saw something. The torch on my forehead picked out some red brick in the gloom, covered in algae. From the carving work it looked like it might be part of a church tower. I got a bit closer and saw the remains of a green dome at the top, smashed in on one side with reeds blocking the hole. I didn’t want to get tangled up, and knew I’d have to surface for air soon, but it was amazing to think I’d found a medieval church underwater, so I swam a bit nearer.
I looked into the hole, shining my headlight into the black. The reeds got in the way, and I went to move them aside without getting my arms tangled. I pushed my face towards the dark and felt something soft brush against my lips. I drew back, thinking it might be a carp. And that’s when it happened. A face bobbed up out of the broken dome. It was a person, Suse, all bloated and rotting, the eyes white and sunken like a dead fish when it’s been left out in the sun. It had swollen lips, lips that had just touched mine. Terrified, I pushed it away, and its jaw fell open. Half the tongue was gone.
Then a hand floated – or reached – towards me.
I screamed, losing precious air in the bubbles. I made for the surface, but something grabbed me by the ankle. In blind panic I kicked hard, hitting a round, soft thing, which buckled and gave against my heel. I kicked again and felt the grip slacken on my foot, then by some miracle I broke free.
I don’t know how I got back to the tree root, I don’t know how I didn’t drown from fear; it must have been the training kicking in. I ran back to the guest house, crying my eyes out, calling to Mrs Jakovleva. There was no answer. I sprinted to my room and, crazily, locked the door behind me. It was only when I sat on the bed, still hyperventilating, that I saw there was a mass of reeds wound round my ankle, the one I thought had been grabbed.
And so now I’m really confused, Suse, I don’t know what to think. It must have been reeds, dragging me under. It can’t have been anything else. It can’t have been the body I saw. The dead are dead, aren’t they? They don’t come back.
I wish to God I knew where Mrs Jakovleva was. I wish it were already tomorrow and I was on that train.
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: 31 May 2015, 21:18
Dear God, Suse, be online, please be reading this, please be online.
You’ve got to call the Foreign Office, call 999, anything, please, you’ve got to send somebody to help me.
Mrs Jakovleva’s dead. I thought I heard footsteps on the stair
s. I thought it was her. I called for her, followed the muddy trail of prints to the top of the guest house where her room is.
The door was half open.
I had a really bad feeling, Suse, I had a bad feeling something had happened to her. I shouted and bashed on the door. Inside her bed was made up. Bottles of perfume laid out neatly on a linen doily covering the bedside table. Beside it was another closed door. Her bathroom door.
And I just knew she was in there.
I pushed it open and she was lying at the bottom of the bath, her eyes wide open. Drowned. Her clothes were the same ones she had on yesterday, which means she has been here, under the water, all that time. Wisps of grey hair floating round her face like reeds.
There was a phone on her dressing table. I ran to it, picked it up, but there was no dialling tone. So I’m going to try and get help in the town, I’m going there now.
They came for her, Suse, the people in the lake, I woke them up and they found her, and now I think they’re going to come for me.
Please God, get hold of the Foreign Office, Suse, tell them I’m here. Please send the police to Vaiduoklis. Please help me.
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: 10 June 2015, 11:14
The investigation into the death of Christine Miller is ongoing, but having now visited the reservoir and spoken to local police myself, I wanted to bring you up to speed.
There is a need to be sensitive with this case, as the family remain convinced she was murdered.
The landlady, Asta Jakovleva, was a widow with no children, and her business was doing badly. The most likely scenario, police believe, is that she committed suicide by drowning. According to medical records, she had a history of depression.
The local superintendent tells me a fingerprint search of Asta Jakovleva’s bedroom suggests Christine Miller must have discovered the body and tried to raise the alarm. In panic she then fled the premises, leaving the door open in her haste. It was dark at this time and the landscape unfamiliar to Ms Miller, who in her fright seems to have taken the path to the reservoir, rather than the one into town. Both are through woodland areas of fir, and not impossible to confuse.
Ms Miller’s body was found in the lake, fully clothed and tangled in reeds. Markings on the banks show she had clearly tried to claw her way out of the muddy sides of the reservoir after falling in, but there were no signs of violence to indicate forcible drowning. Like so many tragic cases of people swimming in open water each year, Ms Miller became caught up in reeds and drowned. It was night, she was frightened, and out of her wetsuit; even her training as an experienced wild swimmer was unable to save her. I hope in time the family will be able to accept this.
There is one anomaly in the case. Muddy footprints have been found throughout the house, as if somebody ran from room to room. The owner of the footprints could conceivably have been an intruder, but the police are confident that these must have belonged to Ms Miller who perhaps ran in panic through the property, looking for a working telephone. The footprints eventually lead to the front door.
Also, I finally have an explanation for our difficulty at the Foreign Office in locating the place from Christine Miller’s friend’s description. ‘Vaiduoklis’ is in fact a local nickname for the village, not its actual name. It is the Lithuanian word for ‘ghost’ and seems to refer to the original village, sunk in the reservoir.
I will of course keep you updated on further developments.
Manuela is a journalist and presenter for BBC World Service and a former Indonesia correspondent for the Financial Times.
Inspiration for her story, Eau-de-Eric, came after she gave up smoking and found she could smell properly again. At the time she was working on a radio item about why smell is the most powerful of all five senses in conjuring memories and emotions.
Manuela lives in London with her two children and their large collection of soft toys, and has excellent relations with all of them. In 2015 she was placed second in an Ireland-based short story writing competition
MANUELA ON STEPHEN KING
‘I’ve been reading everything by Stephen King since my teens but the novel that has haunted me the longest is Dolores Claiborne. It only occurred to me after submitting my story to The Bazaar of Bad Dreams Hodder-Guardian competition that Eau-de-Eric also involves a mother’s troubled relationship with her daughter. Coincidence? Probably not.’
It was just another teddy, picked up for 99p at a local charity shop, until Ellie decided to name him Eric, after her dead father. She named all her soft toys but told her mother this one was special because it was big and hairy like Daddy had been.
‘But Daddy didn’t have black eyes, sweetie,’ Kathy said as she tucked Ellie into bed. ‘His eyes were blue.’
Ellie rubbed Eric’s stitched nose against her own as she snuggled under the duvet. ‘I know, but he smells like Daddy,’ she said.
Kathy hadn’t been able to resist a quick sniff herself, even though she didn’t have particularly fond memories of her late husband. Ellie was right, there was something about the smell. A whiff of Eric’s old aftershave buried deep in the teddy’s matted fur. Kathy recognised the brand. It was one she’d managed to avoid ever since Eric had died, except for that one time when a shop attendant had sprayed it at her in a department store, part of some aggressive sales pitch. Kathy had recoiled but it had been too late. The smell had clung to her hair and clothes for the rest of the day as if the ghost of Eric – the real Eric – was intent on sticking around.
‘How about Mummy puts Eric through the wash?’ Kathy said.
Ellie shook her head, squeezing the teddy to her face. Kathy tugged and cajoled but Ellie started crying, her eyes squeezed shut as she tucked her chin into her neck, hushed tears coursing over her flushed cheeks. That was often the way with Ellie; her anger was silent, tantrums were not her style. Kathy found it unnerving, more so since her father Eric’s death.
‘Okay,’ Kathy said, getting up from beside the bed. ‘If it means that much to you.’
But it unsettled her enough to mention it to Chris on the phone later that evening.
‘You think she’s figured it out? About us?’ he said.
‘I don’t know.’ Kathy sighed. ‘We’ve been so careful.’
It had been over a year since the funeral and Kathy’s therapist had said there was no need to keep her relationship with Chris under wraps. But Ellie was so sensitive and Kathy had only been seeing Chris for a few months. It didn’t feel right for him to stay overnight, not yet at least. A year wasn’t long in the grand scheme of things, Kathy thought, given the traumatic circumstances of Eric’s death. Because despite his faults, he’d been tender with Ellie in a way that he’d never been with her. Ellie had been so little after all, too little to answer back.
‘You’re a good mother,’ Chris said.
‘Am I? I’m not sure. I want to move on but I don’t know how to take her with me.’
‘You always put her first. That makes you a good mother.’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘Sorry for you. Sorry I’m forcing this on you too.’
There was a pause at the other end of the line. ‘It’s fine,’ Chris said. ‘It’s . . . fine.’ She pictured him leaning forward, the phone at his ear, dragging his hand through his hair. She could love this man, she thought. Yes, she could.
But she still felt uneasy as she climbed the stairs to bed that night. Turning at the top step, she caught sight of Eric through the open bedroom door, propped up against the wall next to her daughter’s sleeping head. She went in, listening to Ellie’s damp breathing and for a moment she felt observed, as if Eric’s black button eyes were following her every move. She rubbed
her hand over her face, feeling suddenly tired and heavy. It was Friday and it had been a long week, too long.
On Saturday, Ellie perched Eric on the table during breakfast but Kathy drew the line at Ellie taking him along to her playdate. When it was time to go, Ellie stood stock still, hands rigid at her side, as Kathy buttoned up her coat.
‘Mummy,’ she said and Kathy felt herself tense up. It was a voice her daughter only ever used when she was about to blindside her.
‘Promise you what, sugar?’
‘Promise you won’t put Eric in the wash while I’m away.’ Kathy kept her eyes lowered, focusing on the top button.
‘’Course not,’ Kathy said, her fingers slipping over its smooth edges.
‘Pinky promise, Mummy?’
Ellie smiled as they hooked their small fingers and Kathy had really meant it then. She had other plans for the afternoon anyway.
She was thinking of those plans, of Chris coming over, as she struggled to stretch the vacuum cleaner’s nozzle into the far corners of Ellie’s room. There was always some fluff you couldn’t quite catch. She reached down under the bed, pulling out a forgotten pyjama top and stray pieces of Lego. And there was something else, something stuffed away to the far side: Gerald the Giraffe, her gift to Ellie after the funeral. He must have fallen out of favour.
She pulled him out by his long neck and positioned the nozzle to suck the grey dust off his body, watching the yellow and brown spots recover their colour. Where to put Gerald?
A collection of glazed, plastic eyes looked back at her from the top of Ellie’s bed, where the soft toys were gathered as if in amiable conference. Ellie had brought Eric back up to her room before going out and had given him pride of place, separate from the rest. He was laid out on her pillow, his face turned up to the ceiling.