If you enjoy the sort of read that sends a shiver up the spine, you might enjoy The Uninvited. It's an ideal Halloween read as there's a nice vampire-ish feel to it.
The idea for this story came about when I worked at the Coventry Telegraph. I remember spotting a headline about a man who discovered he had someone living in his attic. It seems they'd lived there for ages and he'd never known.
It made me think about those noises in the attic that we hear from time to time. Probably it's just birds... probably.
In The Uninvited, my main character, Katie is told by her very unfriendly cousin, Vanessa and their granddad who Katie has to stay with while her mum's in hospital, that it's bats. But it doesn't sound like bats, it sounds like footsteps... and sometimes it sounds like someone whispering.
There's a strange atmosphere in the old bake-house where granddad and Vanessa live. Granddad used to be bossy and loud and Vanessa used to be good fun. True enough she loved to tell creepy stories, but Katie used to love that. Only now it's very different.
Granddad seems a broken man, he's a shadow of himself. And it seems to Katie that he's actually afraid of Vanessa. And as for Vanessa, she's gone weird – all Gothic, but she's become nasty and spiteful.
She's preparing a party for herself – a surprise party. But when Katie asks how she can prepare a surprise party for yourself, Vanessa says, “Wait and see what the surprise is....”
Here's an extract:
“Your Grandfather is a good man - a kind man… deep down.”
Katie’s mother’s words echoed in her mind as the taxi neared the old bake-house. Well, he hadn’t been kind enough to meet her off the train, nor had Vanessa, which was odd.
Even though Katie was eighteen months younger than her cousin they had always been the best of friends. It was funny she hadn’t been at the station if Granddad had been too busy to meet her. Although her train had been delayed due to some problem on the line.
“Oh well!” Katie sighed as the taxi left Witchaven village and threaded its way towards the isolated bake-house. Vanessa was probably out with friends and Granddad was probably at some meeting or other. He was always involved in committees. He liked organising, giving orders, shouting, bossing people around.
“He’s a good man…”
Katie felt suddenly homesick. She hated leaving her mum in hospital, but with her being so ill, Granddad was the only relative to care for her.
Her cousin Vanessa had lived with Granddad and Nanna since she was a toddler. Her parents had been killed in a car crash, so they’d brought her up. But now Nan was dead too. She’d died suddenly from a heart attack at Christmas.
Katie thought back to her last visit here, seven months ago – the funeral. It had been the saddest, most awful visit here to Witchaven. Poor Vanessa had been broken-hearted. Granddad had been his usual self though, stiff upper lip, not shedding a tear.
Poor Vanessa, Katie thought as the taxi pulled up outside the bake-house and she clambered out and paid her fare. Stuck with bossy old Granddad.
He was an ex sergeant major, big and loud with a voice that made your ears ring. He was always telling people what to do, bossing them about. She and Vanessa used to giggle at the way his white handlebar moustache would twitch when he barked out his orders. Although sometimes he would get so high and mighty that the only one who dared answer back was Nanna.
For as long as Katie could remember he had been involved in village life. Her mum described him as a pillar of society. Katie guessed he liked bossing committees about too.
She stood for a moment as the taxi drove away. The house was almost shrouded by the oaks, elms and chestnut trees of Oatmeal Woods. On holidays in the past she and Vanessa would go exploring in the woods, which was fun, even if Vanessa did enjoy scaring her with spooky stories about the mystical characters that lived deep in the woodland.
Katie’s gaze switched to the imposing red bricked building. It was centuries old with its huge mill wheel, like the walls, smothered in creeping ivy. Her eyes were drawn to the doorway at the top of the house – the miller’s doorway where sacks of grain would, long ago, be hauled up for grinding. She and Vanessa often played in the attic – it used to worry Katie’s mum in case they accidentally fell through the doorway. But they always had such fun up there, even if they did end up dusty with old flour.
Looking forward to seeing Vanessa again, Katie rattled the heavy brass door knocker hoping her cousin would be home. Granddad was so overbearing and loud, he made her nervous.
But she was beginning to think no one was home, as it was minutes before the door finally creaked slowly open. Smoky the cat emerged first and wrapped itself around Katie’s ankles. And then Granddad appeared.
“Granddad?” Katie exclaimed, startled by his appearance. He seemed smaller than she remembered. The same thick white hair, the same white handlebar moustache, but his shoulders were hunched and there was a look in his eyes which startled her. A haunted look.
He stared at her for some moments, his pale eyes blank as if his thoughts were far, far away. Finally he exclaimed: “Katie! I’d forgotten. Come in, come in.”
He drew back his shoulders and studied her like a sergeant inspecting his troops. That was more like it, Katie thought, more like his usual self.
“You’ve grown!” he stated. “Still skinny though. How’s your mother?”
“She… she was quite poorly when I left the hospital,” Katie answered, then afraid she might start crying – which he would never stand for, she changed the subject quickly. “How are you, Granddad?”
“Me? Never better. And you’re not to worry about your mother. She’s a strong woman. Now come along, I’ll get you something to eat. I imagine you’re just like your cousin, eat like a horse and never put an ounce on.”
Katie frowned. “I don’t remember Vanessa having a big appetite.”
A muscle twitched in his cheek. “Since … since your nan passed away, probably her way of compensating.”
His shoulders slumped again and he shuffled rather than marched down the cool tiled hallway into the kitchen. Katie thought how old and weary he looked.
He cut her a chunk of quiche and sliced up a tomato. “There you go! Can’t have you starving. I’ll make us a pot of tea.”
“Thank you,” Katie said, trying to smile. He was making an effort to appear his old self, but it was an effort. She had already glimpsed the old man he’d become. A stooped old man with a haunted faraway look in his eyes. No longer a man to be feared - more a man to be pitied.
“Where’s Vanessa, Granddad? I can’t wait to see her again.”
A teacup slipped from his hands and smashed on the red stone floor. As he stooped to clear away the broken china, Katie saw the expression on his face – that same strange, haunted look.
“Let me help you,” Katie offered, but he dismissed her offer with a flap of his hand.
“I can manage, eat your supper. Your cousin’s probably upstairs in her room.”
Katie sank back into her chair, feeling confused and lost and lonely. She was missing home, missing her mum. She wished Vanessa would come down. There wouldn’t be this awful atmosphere if Vanessa was around.
Vanessa was fun, she could always make her laugh – or make her shiver. Vanessa was the best storyteller ever, and there was nothing Katie liked better than curling up under the duvet while Vanessa told her some dark and mysterious tale of witches and goblins.
She tried to eat, but the food felt dry in her mouth. It was strange too without Nanna pottering around. In fact everything was strange.
The silence between her and her granddad went on forever. Finally in an attempt to lighten the mood, she ventured, “Are you still involved with your committees, Granddad?”
“Oh yes, most certainly,” he answered, brightening instantly. “I’m Chairman of the Parish Council and on the Board of School Governors. Oh yes and a magistrate now too.”
As he spoke his expression became animated, no longer a cowering old man, his back straightened even his moustache seemed to bristle.
“Wow! How do you get time for all that?” Katie asked, preferring him in this mood. She didn’t know that stooped old man at all.
“I never idle my time away. Life’s too precious to…” his voice trailed away, and he struggled to finish what he was saying. “…to waste.”
He had to be thinking about Nanna. He probably missed her more than he would admit. Katie wondered if she should give him a hug, but she didn’t dare, so she remained seated and said softly, “Nanna had a happy life…”
“Nanna?” He frowned, as if he hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. Then, “Ah yes, your nan, fine woman. Well I must get on. Twilight meeting at the Town Hall. We’re getting close to the election of the town mayor.”
Katie lowered her eyes. No, he hadn’t changed. His committee work was still the most important thing in his life. She must have imagined that haunted look.
She forced herself to appear cheerful. “So who’s going to be elected mayor? I can’t imagine anyone more suitable that you.”
His pale eyes suddenly sparkled. “Well, between you and me, I’ve heard I’m in the running.”
“That’s good,” Katie replied, pleased to see his craggy face break into a real smile. But just as swiftly, it vanished. The sparkle died in his eyes and in slunk that stooped, haunted look again. Only this time he seemed to shrink before her eyes, curling up, like a beaten dog, cowering before its master.
“Granddad!” Katie cried, jumping to her feet. “What’s wrong?”
Then a prickling sensation at the nape of her neck warned her that they were no longer alone. She spun around.
Standing in the doorway, was Vanessa.
She was dressed in black. Black from head to toe. A long floating black skirt that reached her ankles and a fine black shirt that hung loosely from her thin shoulders with a black top beneath it. Her raven hair had grown longer and she wore it loose, framing a face that was almost pure white – except for her blood red lipstick. There was no hint of her overeating to compensate for losing her nan. She was tall and willowy and beautiful.
Although the dramatic Gothic appearance of her cousin surprised Katie, she ran and threw her arms around her. “Vanessa, it’s brilliant to see you again!”
But Vanessa stood rigid, arms at her sides, expressionless. Projecting an aura of cold, stark bleakness that left Katie feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome.
“You’re here then,” said Vanessa, her voice flat, emotionless as Katie stepped awkwardly away from her cousin. “Didn’t Granddad tell you? This isn’t a good time.”
The icy welcome shocked Katie. “But, there’s nowhere else, no one else…” She looked to her granddad for support.
The old man mumbled inaudibly, lowering his head, avoiding Katie’s gaze. Confused, she looked back at her cousin.
Vanessa’s darkly rimmed eyes were icy blue. “Well, just don’t expect things to be like they were. Nothing’s the way it was.” She glared at the old man. “Is it, Granddad?”
Without a word he shuffled towards the sink, shoulders slumped, head bent, a pathetic shadow of himself. Vanessa flicked back her hair, looking triumphant.
Katie stared at them both, shocked by how things had changed. Their roles had been reversed. Vanessa was the domineering one now and Granddad was a trembling wreck under her power.
What on earth had happened here?
The Uninvited is available from Amazon:
If you enjoy The Uninvited, you might also enjoy Celeste. A time slip mystery set in my home city of Coventry in the present day and in the Medieval past.
Both books are published by Astraea Press.