A Trick of the Night – a Badtime Halloween Special!
A Badtime Story
On the traditional night of mocking the dead, Jacob and Jacob nudged one another as they sat in their pew listening to the Also Sisters chant of their hunger. Above the heads of the children the cowls of the roof glared down, stained stonework striped with darkness. The great roof held each mournful note of the evening service, ready to whisper it back in the early hours when the children could not sleep. Jacob held up a finger. It was one of his own.
‘Now,’ said Jacob, timing his utterance to coincide with the high pitched squeal of the fifty-eighth canto. In response Jacob, his twin brother and instigator of their escape from their mother’s womb, began to cough.
‘Hush now,’ hissed Nurse Mariam, whose knees were barely a whisper away from Cloister’s.
The twin doubled up on his effort, creasing his abdomen and retching into the air. The noise added to the Also Sisters’ chant, like a mob baying for blood adds to the tranquility of a public execution.
‘I said hush,’ whispered the nurse, her eyes borrowing wrinkles from her forehead.
‘Arrr,’ said Cloister.
‘Good idea,’ Nurse Mariam replied. ‘But I shall not leave you.’ She turned to the boys and wrapped her fingers around each throat and squeezed. ‘Go to your room and choke there. I shall be up presently.’
The coughing stopped dead and the twins bowed and scuttered out from their coffin-wood pews like beetles.
‘Yes, Nurse Mariam,’ said Jacob.
‘Death be with you, Nurse Mariam,’ said Jacob. And together they fled through the house, avoiding the corner shadows which were fat with hunger that night, and ran to their room as the house trembled with antiphons.
Inside, the air still thick with Father’s spores, they embraced in an act of brotherly love which resembled the struggle between euphorbia and nightshade. ‘She will never suspect,’ said Jacob.
‘We shall play a trick of the night and make our escape whilst she is terrified,’ agreed Jacob.
The day had been long and pricked with lessons but the children’s plan to trick Nurse Mariam coagulated in the periods where silence usually lay. This was to be the night they would escape. This was to be their Grand Ascension. They could, for once, feel the blood seeping through their veins and it was not an entirely unpleasant sensation. Buoyed by this new energy they each took up position on opposite sides of the vast desolation that was their bed.
‘Where’s the knife?’ asked Jacob.
‘What? Knife? No. It’s the plan with the sheet, remember?’
‘Oh,’ said Jacob, his head drooping.
The wind rattled through the ill-fitting window frame, causing the curtain to lift. Jacob’s head snapped back up and he grinned and howled. His brother took hold of the top sheet and together they pulled it free from the winching mechanism which was used to tuck them in and restrain them each night.
‘It’s too big,’ said Jacob.
‘I’ve thought of that,’ said the other, baring his teeth. They set to gnawing through the thin cotton, relishing the cold fibres and very soon had managed to split the enormous shroud in two. Jacob took one of the pieces and draped it over his brother before doing the same to himself.
‘Now you stand in that corner and I shall take this one,’ said Jacob, gathering his new skin and shuffling away.
Jacob chortled. ‘She will be terrified,’ he said.
The boys waited like dust bunnies made from chewed rags and flesh until they could hear the quick stabs of Nurse Mariam’s footsteps. They shivered.
The door to their bedroom opened against its will. Though they had forgotten to chew eye-holes, the boys heard their nurse rasp in horror.
‘Children,’ she said. ‘What have you done?’
Acting as one throat, Jacob and Jacob began to moan.
‘Come out of the corners at once,’ said the ancient nurse. ‘Don’t you recall my warnings?’
The moans ceased. The children did recall the warnings, given to them many times as their teeth had been filed and nightgowns buckled. Too late, too late. Their moans turned to wails as the meatiest parts of the corner shadows began to paw at their sheets. They felt the sheets tighten over their bodies and realised they had also forgotten to chew mouth-holes. Far from being their escape, these simple costumes would be their end.
Thankfully the terror caused them to pass out and they slipped out from under the sheets. And so they did not see the two new ghosts hanging in mid air as the nurse dragged their former inhabitants into a safer part of the room.
Watch this story being read by the author: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwPgeIey8OI
Illustration © 2017 Carl PughIf you enjoyed this and you are thinking 'how on EARTH can I support this young man' then why not...