Moving Day: Part Twenty-Two

This is the twenty-second part of a fiction serial, in 1058 words.

The next day at school, Becky was brimming with renewed confidence. The session at the tree had given her a new outlook on life, and all her previous worries about the new school had faded away overnight. By lunchtime, the weather had improved, and she went to sit on a wall outside to eat her sandwich. Before she could bite into it, Tilly appeared. She sat down on the wall next to her, smelling of perfume and clean clothes. As she crossed her legs, Becky heard the swish of nylon from her expensive sheer tights. The older girl edged closer, until their bodies were touching. Despite what she knew about Tilly, Becky couldn’t help but admit to herself that she was definitely attracted to her.

Lowering the sandwich, Becky looked up at her, raising her eyebrows. She wanted it to seem that she had not forgotten that she had been snubbing her for days. Tilly tossed her head to move her perfect hair from out of her face, and licked her pouting lips. “I was thinking, Becky. How would you like if it I came over to your place at the weekend? If the weather stays like this, we could go for a swim in the river. I’ve just got an amazing new one-piece swimsuit, or if nobody else is around, we could just go skinny-dipping”. She looked down at Becky with a wide smile, her eyelashes fluttering slowly, heavy with mascara. Leaning further in, so that Becky could smell her sweet spearmint breath, she added, “I could stop over the night too, if you would like that. We could have a nice sleepover, a pyjama party sort-of thing. Though I don’t wear any pyjamas, I should warn you”.

Becky felt like a cobra in a basket, being charmed by an expert flute-player. She had to confess that Tilly was very good at this sort of thing. But the blatant sexuality of her words made her blush. That was something she wasn’t used to at her age; a girlish crush was one thing, but what Tilly was implying was something else altogether. Keeping her cool, and not wanting to give away what she knew already, Becky did her best to sound excited and impressed. She responded to the older girl’s attentions in the way she was sure was expected of her. “Oh wow! Really? Go swimming and hang out, and you would sleep over too? That would be great, Tilly. I have been so lonely since we moved here”. Tilly seemed to be convinced, and had taken the bait. She lightly placed an arm around Becky, and put her full lips right against the younger girl’s ear. “Well you won’t be lonely anymore, I guarantee that”. Then she stood up, and started to walk away. Without turning, she called back. “Shall we say Saturday, around midday?” She didn’t wait for a reply.

Biting into the sandwich, Becky watched as Tilly walked in the direction of the playing field. By the corner of the netball cage, she stopped and pulled a phone out of her bag. She had a brief conversation, smiling all the time. That far away, Becky couldn’t hear what was being said, but it was a safe bet that she was either ringing her father, or speaking to Cathy. She had only been at school for less than four hours, and the plan had already been discussed.

The wheels were in motion.

When she went to get the bus home that night, Tilly was there too. All smiles, and pulling Becky to the seats at the back. She sat close, whispering about how much fun they would have at the weekend, taking every opportunity to touch Becky’s leg, or push herself softly against the younger girl. Now she could see through all this, Becky enjoyed the charade. Let her carry on with her idea of seduction and flirting, she thought. I know her real character now, and I will just play along until the right time. But part of the impressionable young girl still inside her did enjoy the attention, and the convincing show of affection. She had to really struggle not to surrender to that.

When they got to the village, Becky stayed on the bus until the others were off. She guessed Bridie would have something to say, and she was right. Turning in her seat, Bridie shook her head. “I thought I had warned you about Tilly, girly. You mustn’t let yourself get taken in by her. She may look wonderful, but she’s rotten inside. Don’t believe anything she says, and most of all don’t let yourself get involved with her. I promise you will regret it”. Becky didn’t trust Bridie anymore than anyone else around the village. And she wanted her to know it, and to stop interfering. She walked to the side door, and then leaned forward, speaking quietly. “From what I have heard, you didn’t take your own advice, Bridie. Just because you can’t have her anymore, you want to poison her for anyone else. Just stay out of my business, and don’t come to my house again”.

Bridie’s face turned bright red, and she sat back heavily into her seat. She would like to have said something, but decided to shut up. This new girl knew her secret already, and it looked like she would never escape the Vospers.

In the house, Mum was standing in the hallway as she walked in. Her expression was serious. “I did as you asked, love. I phoned Reginald Vosper, and he said he will start things moving. I expect you will be approached by Tilly soon”. Becky looked at her Mum for some time, trying to read either truth or deceit in her face. “I have already. Tilly couldn’t wait, and spoke to me at lunchtime. She’s coming for the weekend, so she said. A sleepover, then swimming. Or swimming then a sleepover. She didn’t make that clear”. Her tone was deliberately sarcastic, but Mum hadn’t noticed. “I can make myself scarce, if you want to be alone with her, Becks. Leave you some food, and think of a reason not to be around. Whatever you think best”.

Becky started straight into her Mum’s eyes, her gaze was intense.

“Oh no, Mum. You have to be here”.

Moving Day: Part Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 1021 words.

When Becky opened her bedroom door the next morning, Cathy was already awake, and sitting up in bed. Her daughter’s tone was flat, more like a statement than conversation. “You have to ring the school Mum. Tell them I am ill or something. I won’t be going in today”. Before she could reply, Becky had closed the door, and was walking downstairs. Cathy picked up her mobile and rang as requested, making up something about a high temperature. No point arguing about it. Becky had changed, and she had to admit to being a little afraid of her now.

When she got to the willow tree, Charity was waiting for her.

“Don’t forget what I told you, Rebecca. For the tree to show the future, you sit facing the other way. Put both arms around the trunk, and your head against the bark”. Becky nodded, her mouth a little dry with apprehension. Kneeling against the tree, she wrapped her arms around it and lowered her head until her forehead was pressing hard against it. With her eyes closed, she spoke out loud. “Show me my future, and all my secrets”.

It was different than before, much scarier. She experienced the strange feeling of melting into the wood, as if she had become part of the living tree. Fighting to overcome the desire to pull away and break the bond, she allowed it to happen, ignoring the icy cold that seeped into every part of her body. She could sense the branches as extensions of her fingers, and imagined the leaves pulsing as they took nutrition into their veins. It was as if the tree was feeding on her energy, like she was being sucked dry.

The rush of images made her catch her breath. She saw things she expected to see, and many things she wished she had never seen. She discovered secrets about herself, and saw herself in the future, older. First in her twenties, and then with grey hair. As the vision slowed gradually, she could see something very clearly. Something about Mum. Her and her Mum.

Breaking the connection, and rocking back on her knees, Becky blacked out, unconscious under the branches.

A long time passed before she woke up. Crawling out from under the canopy seeking escape from the bitter cold there, it was obvious that Charity had gone. The tree had showed her future, and confirmed some of her worst fears too. But one truth was comforting. She would get old. That must surely mean she would not die in the river, by the hand of Tilly. But could she trust the tree? Charity had said she could, but she still wasn’t sure she trusted her. She did believe her, but trust was a long way from that.

As she walked back to the house, Becky felt stronger, wiser, more mature. She could see how you could become addicted to asking the tree. It offered solutions, and also gave you back some of the power it had taken from so many people over the centuries. Mum’s car was gone, so she went up to her room, and did some research on the old laptop. She needed to know more about willow trees. Wikipedia gave some interesting facts, and she copied them down in her notebook.

‘In China, some people carry willow branches with them on the day of their Tomb Sweeping or Qingming Festival. Willow branches are also put up on gates and/or front doors, which they believe help ward off the evil spirits that wander on Qingming. Legend states that on Qingming Festival, the ruler of the underworld allows the spirits of the dead to return to earth. Since their presence may not always be welcome, willow branches keep them away. In traditional pictures of the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin, she is often shown seated on a rock with a willow branch in a vase of water at her side. The Goddess employs this mysterious water and the branch for putting demons to flight. Taoist witches also use a small carving made from willow wood for communicating with the spirits of the dead. The image is sent to the nether world, where the disembodied spirit is deemed to enter it, and give the desired information to surviving relatives on its return.’

‘In Japanese tradition, the willow is associated with ghosts. It is popularly supposed that a ghost will appear where a willow grows. Willow trees are also quite prevalent in folklore and myths’.

‘In English folklore, a willow tree is believed to be quite sinister, capable of uprooting itself and stalking travellers.’

‘Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called Under the Willow Tree in which children ask questions of a tree they call ‘willow-father’, paired with another entity called ‘elder-mother’.’

‘In Central Europe a “hollow willow” is a common figure of speech, alluding to a person one can confide secrets in.’

‘”Green Willow” is a Japanese ghost story in which a young samurai falls in love with a woman called Green Willow who has a close spiritual connection with a willow tree. “The Willow Wife” is another, not dissimilar tale. “Wisdom of the Willow Tree” is an Osage Nation story in which a young man seeks answers from a willow tree, addressing the tree in conversation as ‘Grandfather’.’

Reading back over her notes, Becky gave a low whistle. From Japan and China to North America; in England, Denmark, and many other European countries, the willow trees were associated with ghosts, knowledge, wisdom, legends, and fables. Maybe Charity was right all along. Perhaps she could be trusted after all.

When her Mum got home, Becky was waiting for her in the living room. “I want you to arrange whatever it is Mr Vosper has planned, Mum. Stop trying to find a way around it, and let’s just see what happens. I will be going back to school tomorrow, one day off was enough for what I needed to do”.

Cathy watched her walk up the stairs, and a chill passed through her, reminding her of the old saying.

“Someone is walking over your grave”.

Moving Day: Part Twenty

This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 1070 words.

Mum’s answer made Becky’s eyebrows move up so far, she imagined them disappearing under her hairline. She kept her cool though, still finding it hard to credit any of this story. And she had more questions to ask now. “How did they imagine that drowning me would lift the curse? And why did they ever think you would agree to it? We could just pack up and move back to Exeter, or I could phone Dad, and get him to pick me up. It doesn’t make sense, Mum”.

Cathy leaned forward to take her daughter’s hands again as she spoke, but Becky pulled back.

“You have to understand a few things about the people around here, Becks. Not just Samuel, but the Wrights, and Sara too. This goes all the way back to long before the time of the Civil War, and those old beliefs and superstitions are still adhered to by many. As you have seen, vengeful spirits are still operating. Charity and Thomas have their own agenda, Samuel Vosper was ready to believe anything, and Sara was a bitter spinster, ready to exploit the old legends to become a famous writer. And they all believed that I would go along with it, to be rich and privileged”.

She stopped to quaff down the last of the wine, then headed into the kitchen for a refill before coming back to continue.

“Sara wanted to be famous and recognised. Her ambition was to publish a best-seller about the curse and everything associated with it, right up to modern times. She believed it would be made into a film or TV serial, and got over-excited about the potential for fame and fortune that might come with that. She told Samuel as much, and pretended that the willow tree had revealed what he had to do. She told him that if his firstborn was to drown my firstborn, the curse would change, and become a curse on our family, instead of his. It would also mean that not all the Oliphants had to die, before he could have sons. His wife would be able to have more children, and hopefully one of them would be a boy”.

She stopped to drink more wine, as Becky pondered what she had heard. “So Tilly has to be the one to drown me?” Cathy’s mouth was still on the rim of the glass, so she nodded. “Why don’t we just leave then? Or I could go to live with Dad, and that’s so far away, they would never get to me. It still doesn’t make sense why you would even agree to bring me here, Mum”. Cathy finally put the glass down. Her face was flushed from drinking on an empty stomach, but her voice was clear as she carried on. “I firmly believe that they would get to you wherever you are, love. You don’t realise just how much money and influence these people have, as well as the contacts they can call on, all over the country. I thought it best to seem to go along with the plan, come back here, and put an end to it. Now all I have to do is to work out how”.

Becky was completely unconvinced. She couldn’t shake the feeling that Mum was still lying. She was too smooth, too prepared with her answers. She looked her Mum directly in the eyes as she replied. “So you are telling me that this is all about ancestry? Nothing to do with money, power, or influence. A successful businessman like Mr Vosper is prepared to let his daughter drown me, just to carry on his name. Presumably Tilly is happy to do that too, even though I can see nothing in it for her. And you are supposed to stand by and watch, maybe even help? This is 2019, Mum. It sounds like a lot of nonsense to me”.

Cathy was ready with her reply. “If it’s nonsense, then what about Charity and Thomas? How do you explain talking to a girl who has been dead for hundreds of years, or seeing her father too? Long before the Catholics and the Puritans existed around here, the people had their own beliefs, their own gods. They worshiped trees, or the sun and the moon. They believed that carrying on their lineage was the most important thing in life, the reason they were put here in the first place. It’s all in books, or online. Knowing you, Becks, I am sure that you have looked it up. Despite appearing to live normal lives, families like the Wrights and the Vospers never changed on the inside. They continued to believe in the old ways, to crave power and influence, and to pass that on down the generations. Charity knew that, as long ago as the 1640s. That’s why she chose that curse. You can ask her if you don’t believe me. I expect you get to see her all the time. And why do you think so many other people have drowned in almost the same spot? That couldn’t be a coincidence. The river is the key to all of this, because that’s where Charity met her end”.

There was a lot to think about. Becky stood up. “I have school tomorrow, and all this is whirring around in my head. I need to try to get to sleep, so I’m going up to my room now, Mum”. Cathy stood up too, spreading her arms, a nervous smile on her lips. “Do I get a hug, Becks?” Her daughter ignored her, and walked upstairs without a backward glance.

Charity was sitting on the floor, at the end of the bed. “Now you know, young Rebecca. You have heard the web of lies from your mother’s own mouth. I have told you all along that you were in danger here, and I am the only one who can help you. Do you believe me now?” Becky put the papers down on the floor, and turned to the girl. “Yes, I do”.

Fearful of being overheard, Becky knelt on the floor next to the girl. She tolerated the smell of her, placing her mouth close to the small ear protruding from under the cotton cap. Then she whispered for a long time, Charity nodding and smiling as she listened. Then Becky moved her own ear next to Charity’s mouth, and listened as the girl whispered to her. Satisfied, Becky stood up, finally speaking out loud.

“Good. That is exactly what we will do, Charity”.

Moving Day: Part Nineteen

This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1260 words.

Cathy looked around as her daughter walked into the room. Nodding at the papers under her arm, she smiled. “What have you got there, Becks? Is it your school project you talked about?” Becky sat on the sofa, dropping everything onto the rug. “Come away from the computer and sit down, Mum, I need to talk to you”. She rose slowly from the chair and came over, her face all concern and worry. “Of course, love. You can always talk to me, you know that”. Not about to let Mum take charge of the conversation, Becky started as she meant to go on. “Please listen to what I have to say, and don’t interrupt me. Alright?” Cathy sat down, a half-smile on her face. She nodded her acceptance.

Becky kept her temper, and her nerve. She spoke with a maturity that belied her eleven years.

“First, I know that you are an Oliphant. The girl I told you I saw is a ghost, and her name is Charity Oliphant. Or at least it was. She was drowned as a witch in the old days, and her father was hanged for something he didn’t do. Now they haunt this mill, and even dragged Sara into the river to stop her talking. Sara was an Oliphant, but I think you know that. I have found out about the good and bad Oliphants, and the Vospers and Wrights. In fact I know everything from the time of the English Civil War, right up to now. I know that you designed this mill for Mr Vosper, and bought the flats, as well as this house. I know that you made the split with Dad happen, and came here for a reason that has nothing to do with house prices. And I think that you have seen Charity, or Thomas, which is why your hair turned white”. Mum was swallowing a lot, and her face had turned as pale as her new hair colour. Becky continued.

“But what I don’t know is why, and what I have to do with it”. You need to tell me. You need to stop lying to me”.

Cathy sat quiet for what seemed like a long time. To say she was shocked by how much her daughter had found out was an understatement. As she opened her mouth to say something, Becky spoke first. “And don’t even think about lying to me, or I will go and ask the tree. I have the power, Charity showed me”. Cathy took a deep breath, and reached out to hold both of her daughter’s hands.

“When I was quite young, both my parents drowned in a boating accident. It happened near here, between the village and the mill. Nobody could understand what they were doing out in a boat at the time, and I was too young to know anything about the family rivalries in this village. I was taken in by Reginald Vosper, Samuel’s father, and he arranged to foster me until I was old enough to leave school. Over the years, he told me about the curse, but I never believed anything like that could be real.
Just a minute, I need a drink”.

She went into the kitchen, returning with a glass of white wine, full to the brim. After sipping some, she carried on. “I was descended from Christian Oliphant, they told me. And so was Sara, who was a cousin. But we had nothing to do with her part of the family. Apparently, Christian was a weak man. He gambled, liked to drink too much, and borrowed money from many people. Eventually, he lost the mill and the land, having to sell it to pay his debts. After that he did odd jobs, and the family lived in little more than a shack, on the outskirts of the village.

The Vospers were kind to me, especially Marjorie, Reginald’s wife. She couldn’t have any more children after Samuel, so treated me like her own daughter. When I was old enough to leave and go to university, they talked to me again about the curse. This time, it didn’t sound so much like a fairy tale. Reginald was really concerned that one day his name would die out, and everything would be inherited by a girl child. He told me that I could help, and that one day I would be told what to do. In return for that future help, I was given the money for my education, and everything I ever needed. I would also be successful in my chosen career, as Reginald or his son would see that I always had work as an architect. I went off to Exeter, and more or less forgot about the old legend. I met your Dad, and did well with my business too. Then I had you, and life was going beautifully, just as I had always hoped.

Some time later, I was contacted by Samuel Vosper. He told me that ‘the time had come’. I had to repay the debt I owed the family. He had no sons, just a daughter, Matilda. She was a wayward girl, but he had put her promiscuity to good use, and now controlled more or less everything in this area. I told your Dad I had to travel for business, and stayed the weekend at the Vosper house. Samuel really scared me. He had been in touch with Sara, and she had told him how to reverse the curse. His wife Andrea was still young enough to have more children, and he yearned for a son to leave everything to. But it had to be done soon, while Andrea could still bear children. I was to create a situation where your Dad would leave me, or I would leave him. They would give me this mill house and the apartments, and also pay for the hunting lodge in Scotland I have been designing. I would never want for anything again, he assured me.

But if I didn’t agree, he would make it his business to ruin me, and get involved in your life too. He said he was prepared to go to any lengths.

So I pretended to go along with his plan. I split with your Dad, moved here, and started to design the hunting lodge. Oliphant is an old Scottish name, and we have distant relatives up there. Once everything had been concluded here, I could live up there away from it all, and be comfortable for the rest of my life. I managed to convince Samuel that I was seriously going to go ahead with it, and that is what I have been arranging since we moved here. And yes, I did see Charity. She stopped my car, and then shouted at me. She was terrifying. But you have to know that I was never going to see it through. I had no intention of doing what Samuel had demanded of me. I never would. I have just been trying to buy time, to find another way”.

Cathy sat back, and swallowed a huge gulp of the wine.

Becky had listened intently. But even though Mum had sounded sincere, all the lies and deceit had made her distrustful of her mother now. She thought long and hard before asking her next question. “But Mum, how does that involve me?” Cathy hesitated, as if unsure how to reply.

“You are to be drowned in the river by the mill, to lift the curse.
It will be made to look like an accident”.

Moving Day: Part Eighteen

This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1080 words.

As she pointed across the room, Becky’s voice was little more than a whisper. “Mum. Your hair”. It was obvious Mum had already seen it, and she tried to make light of it, smiling. “I know. Must have been the shock or something. I quite like it, truth be told. Some women pay a lot of money to have their hair dyed this colour”. Becky knew she was still lying, and that made her angry. As soon as Mum sat down at the computer, she went up to her room, and pulled the canvas bag from under the bed.

The photos meant nothing. Most were of children, and from their clothes, probably taken at least twenty years ago, if not more. Becky slid out the heavy journals again, and flicked through them quickly. In the second one, she noticed a heading, ‘THE CURSE’. Stopping at that page, she started to read Sara’s writing.

‘The villagers all walked behind the magistrate, and the troopers who were carrying Charity. She had been bound hand and foot, and continued to struggle all the way to the riverbank. As she was laid on the grass close to the edge, some people pushed to the front, eager to see the drowning. One of those was Abraham Vosper, who came to stand beside Magistrate Wright Charity rolled onto her back, staring at the men with a cold hard gaze. Two troopers bent down to roll her into the water, and the girl suddenly spoke. Her voice was calm, but her words sent a chill through the assembled crowd. “I curse you, all you here. You shall have no son to carry on your name as long as an Oliphant lives. Even with all your wealth, your names will die with you, or your descendants, one day”. The magistrate nodded to the soldiers. “In with her”.

As Charity disappeared under the water, Abraham Vosper led a chant of “Witch, witch. See, she’s a witch”. But she didn’t float. Pastor Drake walked forward, a sad expression on his face. He was against such barbarity, and had made that clear. But he had little influence in this closed community. The Pastor turned to face those remaining. At least half the number had already scuttled away, upset by the scene they had witnessed. Drake grasped his Bible, and turned his eyes to the sky. “The girl did not float, she is innocent. Dear God take this soul into your kingdom”. When he looked back, everyone had gone.

At first, it seemed the curse had failed. Sons were born, and the Wrights and the Vospers continued to flourish, becoming even richer once the war had ended. But things began to change for the Wright family, and by 1930, Bessie was the only remaining heir to their wealth, once her father died. Five years later, she met an army colonel when he was home on leave, and they were engaged to be married. It was decided that they would wait until her fiance returned from service in India, and would coincide with her twenty-fifth birthday, in August 1939. The night before the wedding, the colonel went to the local inn, for a traditional drink on the eve of the nuptials. He didn’t stay long, and witnesses stated that he had only two drinks, before setting off to walk home, on that hot, humid night.

The next morning, his body was found wedged against the sluice gate, next to the old mill wheel. He had drowned, and nobody had seen or heard anything. Bessie was distraught. She withdrew to her room, and stayed there for many years. Some said her father was secretly pleased. At least his daughter would inherit, and continue the name. If she had married, her name would have changed, and no children would have had the name of Wright.’

As she went to turn the page, Charity appeared at the bottom of the bed. “Don’t turn that page yet, Rebecca. I want to test you. Now, think hard. Show me how clever you are. Remember all you have discovered, everything you have read. Without turning the page, tell me the name of the Colonel who drowned”. Becky was surprised to realise she didn’t have to think about the answer at all. The name came straight into her head, it was obvious. She smiled at Charity.

“Colonel Mallet. A descendant of the cavalry officer who complained about the flour”.

Charity clapped her filthy hands together with glee. “I knew it. I knew you had the gift. You are a good Oliphant indeed”.
And then she was gone.

Going back to the pile of things from the canvas bag, Becky found some more documents. They looked fairly new, and were all inside a clear plastic wallet. The various logos and seals were all in black and white, so she guessed they were photocopies. It was easy enough to work out that they were copies of deeds, and they were in some sort of order. One was for the house, and the others for the apartments next door. The person selling all the properties was named as Samuel Vosper. And the person named on each one as the buyer was Catherine Webster. Becky shook her head. More lies. Her Mum owned them all. No wonder nobody else had come to view them, or the people who owned the supposed weekend holiday flat had never appeared. Between her Mum and the Vospers, they had made sure that there would never be any neighbours around, to bear witness to any happenings.

Placing the journals and photos back in the bag, Becky kept the deeds and papers on top of the bed, along with the large architect’s drawing. Then she took out her notebook, and added some lines to what she had written previously.

‘No boy children to inherit, or carry on the name’.
‘The curse is finally working, and this year is important’.
‘Everyone involved with the deaths of Thomas and Charity to be punished’.
‘Bessie was the last of the Wright family. They are all gone now’.
‘Something going on with Mum and Samuel Vosper?’
‘Charity says there are good and bad people in the Oliphant family’.
‘Why did Mum’s hair turn white?’

Placing the notebook on top of the other papers and the folded drawing, Becky stood up, and slid everything under one arm. She headed for the door, a determined look on her face. Enough was enough.

It was time to confront Mum.

Moving Day: Part Seventeen

This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 1078 words.

Charity didn’t seem to smell so bad that afternoon. Becky thought she might just be getting used to her stink by now.

“You won’t get any sense out of her”. The girl nodded in the direction of the departing bus driver. “She’s on the hook, she is, can’t say nothing. She likes the girls, you see. Likes ’em young as well. Tilly gave her a nice time once, then she got her good. Underage, you see. Now Bridie is as good as finished, and she knows it”. Becky was remembering Sara’s advice not to trust anything Charity said. But she had to confess that sounded about right. Even as young as she was, she knew all too well about women who liked other women, not that it bothered her at all.

She went on the offensive again. “Why did your father take Sara? Why drown her, when she meant you both no harm? And I’m sure you know she was an Oliphant. She was related to you, for God’s sake!” Charity emitted a low chuckle. “God don’t have nothing to do with it, Rebecca. Sara was a wrong Oliphant, she was. She come down from my brother Christian’s side of the family, she did. All those on his side were wrong. They didn’t do the right thing. The only good Oliphants come from Oliver’s side. The others like Sara were hand in glove with the Vospers, and still are. Becky was confused. “But Sara was writing the history, she was going to tell everyone what happened to you and Thomas. And now she’s gone, the last remaining Oliphants are me and my Mum, and we aren’t helping the Vospers”. Charity placed a hand under her chin, and rubbed it. “Maybe you’re not, Rebecca, but what about your Mum?”

Becky didn’t answer that question, she had more of her own. “And what’s this about a curse? What sort of curse? And how does that affect me, in the twenty-first century?” Charity straightened up, and her smile disappeared. “You have Sara’s books. You can read about it in them. And read it soon, for you are in great danger. I’m betting Sara told you not to trust me? But the truth is I am your only hope, young Rebecca. I can only tell so much, the rest you have to discover for yourself. But I can tell you this. Bessie Wright is dead. They found her gone in her bed this morning. Seems she didn’t talk to anyone after your meeting. You were the last one to ever speak to her. Now that just leaves Tilly. And you too”.

Becky wanted to ask her so much more, but the sound of a car approaching made her turn and look.

As she approached the mill on the country road, Cathy Webster could see her daughter outside the door of the house. She appeared to be engaged in an animated conversation with herself. Her mouth was certainly moving, and she was gesticulating too. Perhaps the strain of the move and the new school was finally getting to her. As she drove onto the driveway, and could hear the gravel crunching under the car tyres, Becky suddenly turned. Opening the door, she walked into the house. Aiming the car at the usual parking spot, Cathy jumped as a young girl appeared a few feet in front of it. She just had time to see that she was barefoot, and wearing a filthy cotton smock, a cap on her head, and she was smiling. The girl lifted her right arm, and pointed a finger directly at the front of the car.

The car stopped dead, with a tremendous force, like the impact of hitting a wall at speed. The airbag inside the steering wheel inflated, and billowed into her face. Her head was thrown backwards, and then dropped forward again, connecting with the side window with a dull thud. Cathy took a moment to gather her senses, and was then startled by a scream from outside the car. As she turned, the girl’s face was close to the window, her teeth showed black as she yelled. “Bad Oliphant! I know you, Cathy Oliphant! You’re a bad Oliphant!” And then she was gone.

A chill ran up Cathy’s spine. She knew who the girl was. It was all too much for her to take in, and she fainted.

When her Mum didn’t come inside the house, Becky looked out of the window, and saw her slumped at the wheel. She ran outside, and pulled open the door of the car. “Mum, Mum! Are you alright? What happened?” She could see the airbag debris around the steering wheel, but the car was undamaged, just stopped there. The engine wasn’t running, but the ignition lights were on. It must have stalled. Her daughter’s words made Cathy come round. She quickly made up a story. “I’m alright, love. The airbag just exploded for no reason. It must have been faulty. It just gave me a shock, that’s all. Everything’s, fine, don’t worry, Becks”. Her voice was shaky, and she seemed to be trembling too.

Becky stood near her as she got out of the car. “Can you take that shopping bag off the seat please, Becks? I just got a few bits”. She walked inside, supporting herself against the frame of the front door as she went in. Becky followed her in with the bag. She had turned off the ignition, and brought the car keys in too. Mum looked pale. “I’m a bit shaken up, love. I might just have a lie down for a while. Can you do yourself something to eat? There’s pizza in the freezer, or you could just have beans on toast. Will that be okay?” Becky nodded, and watched as her Mum walked up the stairs like a woman three times her age. Something bad had happened, and Mum wasn’t about to tell her what.

More lies.

Becky had the beans on toast as suggested, and watched a documentary on TV about sea animals being killed by plastic in the oceans. Two hours later, Mum was walking around upstairs, and she eventually heard her footsteps on the stairs. She seemed to be putting on a cheerful voice, as she appeared in the living room. “Oh, you had something to eat. Good. I’m much better now”. Becky stared at her, open-mouthed.

Her hair had turned pure white.

Moving Day: Part Sixteen

This is the sixteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1360 words.

Becky made sure that she arrived early to see Miss Wright. She was shown into a surprisingly large and comfortable room, where the old lady was sitting in a huge armchair that dwarfed her tiny frame. Miss Wright pointed a bony finger at a footstool just in front of her. “Sit here, girl. I can still just about see, but you have to be close for me to hear you”. Despite her grand age, Elizabeth Wright hardly looked older than any woman in her late seventies. Only her milky, wet eyes gave some indication that she was lucky to wake up every morning. Becky perched on the stool, and opened her notebook.

“I live at Wright’s Mill, and I am writing a school project about its history. I thought as your name was Wright, you might know something about it”. Elizabeth scowled. “That mill has been nothing but trouble since it was built. The Oliphants claimed to be millers, but the local people never trusted that they knew what they were doing. Their flour was always bad, so the stories go. And there was jealousy too. My family were keen to get their hands on the land, and the Vospers were enlisted to help them. But it never did anyone any good, and my ancestors ending up squabbling over the place without ever sorting it out. Until my father of course. He ended up inheriting all of it. Then he became ill, and sold it to old man Vosper. I got the money from the sale, and that has enabled me to live comfortably ever since”. She looked around. “It pays for this place now, until the cash runs out”.

Becky was writing notes, but was ready with her question when the old lady stopped talking. “What do you know about the Oliphants? I mean not just the ones who had the mill, but the rest of them too?” With a groan, and an audible clicking of some bones, Elizabeth shifted her weight and moved forward. “They tried to get rid of them all, the people around here. The miller and his daughter were killed, accused of some sort of witchcraft, crimes that carried the death penalty. But his wife escaped with the two sons, and the family carried on away from here. Then one day, Christian returned out of the blue, and claimed the mill as his inheritance. That put the cat among the pigeons I can tell you, girl. But he was no miller, and couldn’t make a go of it. Eventually it was bought by one of my family, and they argued about who it should be left to until the day my father sold it”. Good riddance, if you ask me. It was said to be cursed, and I believe it was”.

Scribbling away in the book, Becky was annoyed that she didn’t have time to write neatly. She looked up at Elizabeth, her next question ready. But the old lady had settled back in the chair, her eyes closed. She sat watching her for a while, until a woman arrived dressed in what looked like a nurse’s uniform. “You had best go now, I think Miss Wright is sleeping. She will have tired herself out, with all her chatting”. Becky nodded, and stood up. There was so much more she would have liked to know. Maybe she could come back another day.

Back at home, Becky wrote up her notes neatly, then tore out the scribbled pages she had used at the care home. Bessie had not been the complete fountain of knowledge that she had hoped for, but her few recollections had helped to harden up some of the facts. Mum suddenly appeared at the bedroom door. “Becky, I have to go out for a while. I am going to get some shopping, and do some other stuff in town. Will you be alright on your own?” Mum looked worried, an expression rarely seen on her face. “I’ll be fine, Mum. Do whatever you need”. A few minutes after Mum’s car had pulled out into the lane, there was a knock at the door. Before opening it, Becky looked through the living-room window. It was the driver of the school bus.

The woman smiled, which did nothing to soften her masculine features. “Can I come in and talk to you girly? I waited until I saw your Mum leave. I’ve been hanging around for ages”. She came in and sat on the sofa, declining the polite offer of something to drink. “I wanted to talk to you away from the others on the bus. There are things you need to know. I’m worried that you are getting involved in things you should be careful of. Dark things, things from years ago that have ruined this village”. Becky moved Mum’s computer chair, and sat opposite her as she continued.

“That Vosper girl. Well all her family really, but Matilda’s the worst of them. They have been greedy and devious as long as anyone around here can remember. Them and the Wrights grabbed all the land around here, made themselves a fortune. And they mean to hang onto it, I tell you. Some say there’s a curse on both their families, but it doesn’t seem to have affected them. I reckon the Vospers are just waiting for old Bessie Wright to die, then they will be in control of everything. She’s the last of the Wrights, never married. And their secrets will die with her. They have Town Councillors under their control, planning officers, all sorts. Even some senior policemen. People say they can do what they want, as they know all the secrets. Some say that Matilda has been with many powerful men, then blackmails them in the interests of her family. I have no proof of course, but you’ve seen her. She’s hard to resist, isn’t she? I need a cigarette, shall we stand outside?”

Becky followed the woman as she walked away from the house, and stood beside one of the empty apartments. She rolled a cigarette, and blew out smoke as she carried on talking. “You should find out who owns these flats on the mill land, next to your house. You will be surprised, girly, I bet. For hundreds of years now, just a few families have fought to take control of the village, and everything around it. They will stop at nothing, and I reckon the Vospers are set to come out on top. So if I was you, I would keep away from that Tilly, for your own good.”

Becky finally asked her a question? “But what is this all about? They have their land and money, and a good business. The Wrights sold out to them a long time ago, and now my Mum owns the mill house. What more could they want?” The woman took a deep drag on the cigarette before answering. “Bless you, girly, it’s not really about the money, they already have that. It’s the curse. They have to settle the curse on their families, or they will never profit in the long term. Why do you think Bessie never married? You should ask her. And there is no son in the Vosper house, despite the name of the company. Nobody to carry on their name, whether Wright, or Vosper. It was because of the curse. They must have a plan to do something about that, and I am guessing almost everyone around these parts is involved in some way”.

The woman suddenly turned, and started to walk off. She stopped for a moment, her face looking genuinely concerned. “I’ve said enough. I have to keep away from those people, and I suggest you do the same”. Becky walked a little of the way with her, until she turned right, and entered the country lane. She called out to her. “Thanks for your help. By the way, what’s your name?” She called back, without turning her head. “It’s Bridget. But I’m called Bridie”.

As Becky turned back to her house, she could see Charity standing outside the door.