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The Sceptic

by MikeC 

Posted: 03 August 2004
Word Count: 1502
Summary: Tnis has undergone a major revision.

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Harry Matlock, an ambitious young Council Housing Officer, laughed when he saw the request from the Cleeves' family for re-housing.

"That's an new one, " he chortled, "they want to be re-housed because of Poltergeist infestation. Where do they get these ideas?"

"Fortean times maybe?....No Hammer House of Horror," his assistant Sally joined in the joke.

"Oh well, I suppose I will have to humour these crackpots." Harry picked up the phone and dialled the Cleeves' number. "Mr Cleeves?.....hello..........hello.....," Harry listened for a few minutes. All he could hear was loud rapid clicks. He replaced the phone, there was a puzzled look on his face.

"What's up?" asked Sally.

"That’s strange, just loud rapid clicks. Bad connection I guess.”

Harry tried to phone several times during the day but each time it was the same.

Time wasters! I'll go round and see for myself, he thought, it's Council property after all.

The next evening Harry parked outside the Cleeves' house just as the light was fading from the December sky. The gate had broken off its hinges and was lying in the waist high grass that covered the garden. He walked up the path of concrete paving stones and knocked on the flaking white paint of the front door. Jim Cleeves, thin, pasty faced with a nervous tick, answered the door and showed him into the living room.

"This is Doris, my wife," Doris was a plump lady. A hairnet covered her short blond hair. She wore an apron over a floral dress. A cigarette hung from her mouth. She made a space for him on the brown imitation leather settee and fetched him a cup of tea.

"Call me Harry, please."

"Simon, Silvia, say hello to Harry." A boy of seven and a girl nine were working on a jigsaw together of the beige carpet.

"So, you want to be re-housed because of poltergeists, is that right?"

"It's the stones you see," said Jim

"Stones?" said Harry.

"Yes, nearly every night. Large stones, as big as a fist some of them. They get thrown at the house. Always at the back, never at the front, so far, mercifully. Two or three most nights. Some of them have come through the window," said Doris.

"Have you reported this to the police?"

"Oh yes," said Jim, "the police have been round, they had a man here all night last Thursday. But they can't do nothing."

"Then we saw this program on telly, about a haunted house it was. Stones being thrown and all sorts. They got re-housed they did. That's when we thought of you."

"Show me," said Harry.

Jim led Harry out to the back garden. Harry's jaw dropped when saw the rear of the house.

"You can't do that!. It's completely against regulations." Chicken wire had been draped over the brickwork and the windows had all been boarded up.

"I've done it. I've got a wife and kids to look out for. If the police can't do nothing I've got to do something."

Harry's face reddened and he ran his finger inside his collar to loosen the pressure.

"This is lunacy Mr Cleeves. Absolute bloody lunacy. What the hell do you think you are doing?"

"Well you do something Mr Bloody Housing Officer. What are you going to do then? Kick us out for defending ourselves. Wife and kids on the streets? Oh, that will look nice that will. Come on then Mr Jobsworth. What's your big idea then?"

"You should have called us before doing all this."

"You lot are too busy drinking coffee to bother about us. We had to do something. As it is we are getting no sleep. How would you like stones thumping into your wall in the middle of the night?

Both men fell silent for a few moments.

"Well one thing is for sure. We don't have a budget for the paranormal. Even if we take your request seriously it would take weeks to set up an investigation."

"Well you are here now. Why don't you stay for a few hours? Something's likely to happen once it gets really dark, then you'll see for yourself."

Humour the silly bastard, thought Harry.

"OK then. I'll stay for a few hours. But I can't stay all night."

They went back inside the house as darkness descended.

Doris made a tea of Spam sandwiches followed by tinned apricots and single cream. After tea they chatted and watched TV. The Cleeves' had slept poorly recently. At ten o'clock they went upstairs for an early night, Harry stayed downstairs. He could let himself out when he had heard enough. By half past eleven he was starting to drop off when a light rapping brought him back to full wakefulness. It seemed to be coming from the kitchen.

“Hello,” he said quietly, thinking someone had come down for a snack. No one answered. The rapping continued so he stood up and crept into the hall. The kitchen door was closed. He stood by it and listened. “Is anybody there?“ he whispered. The rapping stopped. He gently turned the handle, opened the door and groped inside for the light switch. It wasn’t where he expected it to be. He moved his hand up and down the wall searching for it. When he found it he flicked it on. The overhead florescent tube flickered for a few seconds as it warmed up and then stabilised. The kitchen was empty. He stepped inside and took a good look round. The doors of the cabinets were all shut tight. The electrical equipment, toaster, kettle, washing machine, was all turned off, apart from the fridge

He was about to leave when, behind him in the hall, he heard the rustle of clothing and light footsteps. He edged over to the door and peeped into the hall. It was empty. The stairs creaked. Someone was on the stairs. He stepped into the hall.

A heavy thump came from upstairs. A series of bangs followed. Bang. Bang. Bang. The girl, Silvia, cried out,

“Mum, there’s someone in here.”

For a few seconds there was silence. Then Silvia screeched out a high-pitched animal sound.

“Mmmuuuummmm” yelled her younger brother.

From upstairs he heard softer scuffling and scraping. He looked up the stairs thinking he should go up. Then Doris appeared, eyes wide-open and straggling hair. She comforted Sylvia who was crying and clutching her right arm, deep inflamed teeth marks on the forearm slowly oozed blood. Harry helped them down.

BANG....BANG....BANG came from upstairs.

"What's happening?" shouted Harry.

"Where's Jim?" cried Doris.

"I'll get him," Harry ran upstairs. All the doors were open except one. He tried it. He couldn't turn the handle. "Jim, are you in there?"

"Get me out. I can't open the door. Get me out."

Harry stepped back a few paces and charged forward. His shoulder slammed into the door and it burst open. He gagged and buckled as a fetid smell of gangrene and ammonia hit his nasal passages and sent an agonising pain through his head.

Jim was crouched in the furthest corner. White faced and trembling, he was babbling incoherently. His eyes were swivelling wildly and his arms were shaking like leaves. He tried to stand up but his legs wobbled and gave way. He fell back into the corner.

"Harry, please help me. I've seen it. Please help me,” he sobbed.

Harry crawled across the room, put his arm round Jim and helped him up. Banging and thudding thundered from across the landing. Together they staggered out of the room and hobbled down the stairs.

“Get out, run for it,” he shouted. When he got Jim to the foot of the stairs he bundled the whole lot of them out of the front door. Together they stumbled down the path and into the street.

“My car’s on the left, we’ll make for that.“ he told them. They ran down the street and scrambled into his car. He pulled out his mobile and rang 999.

The first to arrive were the police. The emergency operator had become suspicious at the first mention of poltergeists and asked them to attend. The police calmed everybody down, locked up and gave the keys to Doris. The Cleeves were taken to hospital. The police, still being suspicious took Harry to the station for further questioning. In the final draft of his statement then word 'poltergeist' was replaced by 'intruder' because, as the constable said to Harry,

"We've both got our careers to think of, sir."

At 7:00 a.m. he was released and he went straight to the office. At the office he left a note for Sally telling her he was taking the day off and that she should get started on re-housing the Cleeves. Also he opened her personnel file and made a note:

'lacks empathy with poltergeist infestation victims.'

I'll bring it up at her appraisal, he thought,

Then he tidied up and left to catch up on his sleep.

*** END ***

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Comments by other Members

Becca at 13:25 on 03 August 2004  Report this post
Hi Mike,
- I was interested in what the thing might have been, so wanted a bit more detail, not a full description, just something tantalising.

- Silly point this perhaps, but, they were living on an estate in their own house and wanting to be moved to a council house, I wondered if you could just have them in one council house and desperate to move to a different one.
- I think it's got the makings of a neat and modern horror yarn, but there's a stylistic thing that slows it down and takes away from the tension: there's too much description of where people are in the setting, as in 'Doris and the kids were standing at the foot of the stairs,' or 'at the car I opened the doors, and they got inside. Or, 'after I had finished the tea...'. One way to get round these trails is just to start a fresh para taking the reader straight out of one scene and into another.
I hope that makes some sense to you and is useful.

MikeC at 14:16 on 03 August 2004  Report this post

Thanks for your comments. I may use this as a submission on a creative writing course I am on (depends on the comments) but the word limit is 1500 which is a bit constraining.

I have modified it along the lines you suggested, apart from showing more of 'it'. I find that often the story is the suspense, the anticipation, and there are few stories (or films) that live up to the build-up when all is revealed. The only exception I can think of is The Exorcist, my skills are well below that level.



Becca at 16:01 on 03 August 2004  Report this post
Good luck. 1,500 wds is very tight.

Hamburger Yogi & PBW at 04:23 on 04 August 2004  Report this post

Your topic is one of my interests and so my interest level is high for this one.

When the researcher looks for the light switch - I felt this part quite vividly.

Following Becca, I tend to want a bit more in terms of denoument. If you are constrained by the 1500, then yes, cut some of the expansion sentences for description - that should do it.

I was not sure how sceptical a researcher would be - not in the normal sense of the word, perhaps.

every thing one word

Hamburger Yogi

MikeC at 14:29 on 04 August 2004  Report this post
HY & Becca,
I've revised this is a major way after a re-think.

Thanks for your comments


scoops at 13:02 on 15 December 2004  Report this post
I'm wandering into this months after it was written and I'm guessing it's been reworked a bit. I particularly liked the beginning and the end of this story - they were funny and clever:-) The spam sandwiches etc provided too much information, but I very much enjoyed the premise and thought you executed it very well. Shyama

MikeC at 08:18 on 16 December 2004  Report this post
Thanks Shyama,

Thank you for your comments. One thing I have learned from this story is to think twice before including Spam sandwiches in stories.


Becca at 06:43 on 17 December 2004  Report this post
there's nothing wrong with a spam roll though!

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