“Mum!” Luke Smith grinned at his mother’s face on the computer screen. “We’re all here. Pieter and I, Clyde and Rani, all with our feet up around the fire at Moreton Harwood.”
“Glad to hear it. We’ll be there tomorrow afternoon. Sky REALLY wanted to go to the school Halloween party this evening, but she’s excited about joining you all down there.”
“She does KNOW this is the back end of boredom?” Luke reminded his mum.
“It wasn’t always.” Sarah Jane grinned. “I told her all about the coven and their nefarious plot.”
“Mum, that is the most BORING adventure you ever had. Even Brendan agrees. I was Skyping with him earlier. He says it’s really CRUEL of you to arrange a Halloween weekend away in the one place in England that has no genuine spookiness going on in it!”
“That’s WHY we’re spending Halloween weekend in Moreton Harwood – the one place where nobody plays games with the occult. Your boring is my peaceful.”
“Mum, the generation gap is showing. You start wishing for peaceful weekends and next thing your OAP bus pass arrives in the post.”
“Less of the cheek from you,” Sarah Jane replied. “You’re not too old for a smack.”
“Yes, I am!” Luke responded. It was all in good fun. Sarah Jane had never smacked him and she wasn’t going to start now. He talked a little more then let the others say hello to his mum while he went to the kitchen and prepared coffee and sandwiches.
“Sarah says you should be grateful for modern technology,” Clyde told him when he returned. “When she lived here back in the ‘old days’….”
“Otherwise known as the 1980s,” Rani intervened.
“In the OLD DAYS before digital tech, even the phones only worked half the time and you had to walk to the post office to send a telegram.”
“I have NEVER sent a telegram,” Pieter observed. “None of us ever will, now. That method of communication is quite redundant. Incidentally, we have a visitor.”
He was sitting near the window and could see a woman coming up the driveway. Luke leaned over to look and nodded.
“It’s Mrs Baker, an old friend of mum’s. She’ll have got word that we’re staying for the weekend.”
He went to the front door and presently escorted the elderly Mrs Baker into the drawing room, offering her coffee and refreshments. The rather large lady sat down heavily in an armchair and took two of the tuna and mayonnaise sandwiches at once. Luke introduced everyone to her.
“Call me Juno,” she insisted. “Mrs Baker makes me feel like a character from a card came. Is Sarah Jane well?”
“Perfectly well,” Luke assured her. “Mum and Sky will be here tomorrow.”
“Sky is your little sister?” Juno asked. “I’m looking forward to meeting her.”
“Not so little,” Luke answered. “She’s thirteen next year, a teenager.”
“We’re expecting the transformation from darling to demon any time, soon,” Clyde added.
“Oh, don’t say things like that around here!” Juno exclaimed. “Child demons are something we don’t want to hear about, not after the things some of us have seen.”
“What HAVE you been hearing about?” Clyde asked after a puzzled moment of doubt among the weekend party.
“The Black Eyed Child,” Juno answered, pronouncing each word distinctly, the capital letters almost hanging in the air around her.
“What is that?” Rani asked. “Or should I say WHO is that?”
“Definitely a WHAT,” Juno confirmed. “Oh dear, I really shouldn’t have said anything. After all, you’re visitors, here.”
“Oh, but you cannot leave it like that,” Pieter told her. “We must know the whole thing, now.”
Luke winked knowingly at his university roommate. Rani and Clyde exchanged meaningful glances. They had all guessed the patently obvious. Juno had every intention of telling them the story. She had probably dropped around ‘casually’ in order to bring the subject up. Perhaps she was a little disappointed that Sarah Jane wasn’t there, but the young crowd would do just as well.
“It first happened thirty years ago,” Juno said. “There were simply dozens of sightings of a strange child – a child with completely black eyes - who appeared in front of people. The vicar was scared out of his wits by her knocking at the windows of the manse, the constable met her on the top road. She asked him to help her find her way home. Well, simply dozens of people saw her. Some of them talked to her. Others just saw her through their windows or passed her by on the street. At first we were worried that there was a lost child in the area, but then we started to think that she wasn’t quite normal… I mean… not Human… that she was some kind of supernatural creature.”
“And….” Clyde prompted.
“Well… nothing. It happened again and again for a few weeks. And then it stopped. Everyone forgot all about it. Well, you know, we had the Autumn Fayre to organise, and welcoming the new vicar – after the old one retired unexpectedly.”
“This was thirty years ago?” Rani queried. “You mean, in the 1980s?”
“Nineteen eighty-five,” Juno confirmed. “Moreton Harwood had been quiet ever since Sarah Jane sorted out that coven business, but for a while it seemed like the bad times were back again. It was quite a relief when it all calmed down again.”
Everyone waited with bated breath. There had to be more to this.
And there was.
“Just this week it all began again. The black-eyed child…. The first person to report a sighting in the area was Jacob Edwards. He’s a bit of a rogue, you know… a poacher, to use an old-fashioned term. He was coming over the fields from the river and she appeared out of nowhere, right in front of her. Of course, by the time he’d told his story around the White Hart the whole thing was starting to sound less believable. But then Mrs Waring was locking up her shop the other night and the girl knocked on her window. She pulled down the shutters and ran into the back room. She called the police, but we don’t have a local constable any more, and the Tewkesbury police just thought it was a lot of nonsense. They wouldn’t send a car out here for what they thought was a prank.”
Juno launched into a grumble about how a local ‘bobby’ was so much more use than the modern ‘streamlined’ police service before being gently brought round to the point again by Rani’s journalistic prompting.
“Well, I wasn’t sure what to make of it all until last Monday night – when Howard saw her.”
“Howard?” Rani queried.
“My husband, Howard,” Juno explained. “He was driving home from his Bridge night with the Glennisters when the child stepped out in front of the car. Of course he slammed on the brakes, but he was sure he had hit her. He got out of the car and looked… you know… for an injured child lying on the road. He was quite upset about it. He’s a careful driver and he hadn’t had more than one drink all night.”
“Goes without saying, of course,” Rani said, steering Juno away from a diversion about safe driving.
“And then he saw her - the Black-Eyed Child. She was standing there – beside the car. She wasn’t hurt at all. She wasn’t even scratched. He asked her if she needed any help, but she didn’t say anything at all. She just looked at him – with black eyes – eyes with no white, no iris, just black.”
“Spooky,” Luke acknowledged. “And has anyone else seen the girl since Howard on Monday night?”
“Not in Moreton Harwood, but I heard that somebody in Little Comberton had an encounter. It’s all rather frightening, don’t you think?”
“Very frightening, Mrs Baker,” Rani agreed. “I’m glad we’re not planning to go out anywhere tonight.”
“Quite right, too,” Juno agreed. “But don’t forget the Halloween party at the village hall tomorrow night. You can’t miss that. I’m sure Sarah Jane and Sky will enjoy it, too. Dear me, is that the time? I really must be getting on home. Howard will be wondering where I’ve got to.”
Luke saw her out and then returned to the drawing room.
“So… is she as fruity as a nut cake or is there something in it?” he asked his friends.
“That’s ‘nutty as a fruit cake’,” Clyde corrected him.
“I know. I was joking,” Luke replied. “But the point still stands.”
“I think she is wahnsinnig,” Pieter said. “Nice, but definitely wahnsinnig.”
Luke was the only one who knew that ‘wahnsinnig‘ was German for ‘insane’. The others just liked the sound of the word and mentally associated it with the harmlessly gossipy woman who had just left their company.
“She might well be,” Rani agreed. “But I think she might have something, even so. I just Googled black eyed children. There ARE reports of them going back about thirty years in America and here in the UK. And there have been some sightings this year, too.”
“According to stories run in a couple of very suspect tabloid newspapers,” Clyde pointed out after looking over her shoulder at the list of webpages on the subject.
“It sounds like a case of mass hysteria,” Pieter said. “One person reports something like this and others start to think they see something similar.”
“I think mass hysteria sounds likely,” Luke concluded. “It is all too likely given that the first sightings did get so much publicity. No mystery to solve here, at all.”
“Good,” Rani told him. “Because these black eyed children do sound very creepy. I don’t want to see one.”
“That’s decided, then,” Clyde announced. “Juno is just a daft old woman. Her hubby is suffering from mass hysteria along with the rest of rural England and we’re settling down for a Hammer Horror night on immaculately re-mastered Blu-Ray.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Luke asked. “All things considered?”
“It’s just a bunch of slightly naff vampire, Frankenstein and werewolf films,” Clyde answered. “Nobody can be scared of these.”
“So why are we watching them at all?” Rani asked as she watched Clyde open up a mahogany cupboard to reveal a very nice modern wide-screen TV with sound bar and all the home cinema trimmings.
“Because naff as they are they’re classics of British cinema and it wouldn’t be Halloween without them,” Clyde answered as if it was a foolish question. He slid the disc containing the 1957 Dracula into the Blu-Ray machine and sat back down on the sofa with Rani beside him. The others got comfortable and settled down to a mildly scary film-fest just as many people would be doing on the night before October 31st.
Peter Cushing’s dashing Van Helsing had just leapt on the curtains and clashed two silver candlesticks together into a makeshift cross to drive Christopher Lee’s Dracula into the sunlight when Pieter yelled and jumped out of his seat. The film was forgotten as he ran to the window.
“What?” Clyde asked as he jumped up and followed him to the window.
“I saw it!” Pieter exclaimed. “Der Schwarze Augen Kind.”
“The black eyed child?” Luke, too, rushed to the window, but there was nothing to be seen in the dark apart from some pre-emptive fireworks going off on the other side of the village. The garden of the old house was rather overgrown and there were a lot of bushes and neglected topiary that could easily be mistaken for figures lurking in the shadows, but when that was suggested, Pieter shook his head.
“She was right up against the window, her white face pressed against the glass.”
“Well… she’s gone, now,” Clyde pointed out. “It might have been some kid playing games. They’ve been at it all week around our estate – knocking on doors, windows, throwing stuff, running around the streets in masks. And don’t tell me kids who live in villages aren’t capable of that sort of stupidity just as much as London ones.”
“That’s true,” Rani considered. She had kept to her seat, reading some of the less sensational websites about the ‘phenomena’ of Black-Eyed Children. “You know there WAS a film about them - ‘The Black Eyed Children’ – released in 2011. It’s a bit low-budget and it’s so obscure it doesn’t even have a Rotten Tomatoes rating, but it’s possible somebody thought it would make a good Halloween costume.”
“Possibly,” the others conceded. They came back from the window and Clyde put the next film – the totally mis-named Brides of Dracula - into the player and they settled down again. Rani actually dropped off to sleep mid-way through the film. Her head was against Clyde’s shoulder and he slipped his arm around her waist and enjoyed sitting like that.
Pieter and Luke were sitting close together, too, though in no way that intimately. They looked as if they were watching the film, but every so often they glanced at the window.
Nothing untoward came near the window. On the television, Van Helsing once again triumphed over the forces of darkness. Luke looked around and noted that Clyde had fallen asleep along with Rani. He grinned and suggested that everyone needed coffee. Pieter went with him to the kitchen and made more sandwiches while the coffee was percolating.
Both were disturbed by a loud knocking at the kitchen door. They glanced at the window and could see nothing. The kitchen was faced by the back wall of an old stable building and the yard between was utterly dark.
“Who could it be?” Pieter asked.
“I don’t know,” Luke answered. “Who would knock on the back door?”
Pieter was still holding the bread knife. His hand tightened on it as Luke moved towards the door and unbolted it. He opened it partially and looked out.
At first he thought there was nobody there. Then he visibly jumped and Pieter moved forward, still holding the knife. There was a child there, a little smaller than Sky had been when she first joined the family. She was dressed in an unsuitably thin dress that was either white or pale blue and her feet were bare. She was hiding her face behind pallid hands at first, then she slowly looked up at Luke.
His heart skipped a beat as he looked at a face so pale it was blue-white and eyes of pure black, filling the whole socket with an absence of colour that sucked at his own eyeballs.
“Please, let me in,” she said in a voice like old paper tearing. “Please give me shelter.”
“No!” Luke replied. “No… go away.”
He slammed the door shut and turned his back on it, breathing heavily with fear. He looked at Pieter with an expression full of questions there were few answers to.
“She’s THERE!” Pieter cried out, pointing towards the window with the hand still holding the knife. Luke spun around just in time to see the white face disappear from view. Pieter rushed to the door and yanked it open again. He ran outside, wielding the knife.
He came back a few minutes later and dropped the breadknife in the sink.
“She disappeared,” he said. “She is not Human. She cannot be. I think for sure she is alptraum… schreckgespenst… grauen.”
“I think you could be right,” Luke admitted. His heart rate was coming back to normal now. The fright of seeing the demonic child in the flesh was passing. “Let’s… take the coffee and sandwiches through.”
“Do we tell the others?” Pieter asked.
Luke was about to say no, when they heard Rani squeal. They both ran back into the drawing room to find Clyde and Rani in a tangle on the floor. As they extricated themselves they explained that Clyde had woken with a start at Rani’s cry and knocked them both down.
“We believe you,” Luke answered with a disbelieving grin.
“But why did you cry out, Rani?” Pieter asked, bringing them all back to the more serious point. “We thought something was wrong.”
“The child,” Rani answered. “I saw her….”
“At the window?” Luke asked.
“No… on the television.” She looked at the screen. There was nothing there except a blue screensaver programme that had activated after the Blu-Ray had finished and the menu screen had been idling for several minutes. “I saw her, I really did. She was screaming – silently screaming - from inside the television.”
“Inside the television?”
“Yes. Like… like it really was a box and she was trapped inside it,” Rani insisted.
“This gets worse,” Luke opined. “She’s been knocking at the door, looking in the window. Now she’s in our TV.”
“When did she knock at the door?” Clyde asked.
“When we were in the kitchen,” Pieter explained. “The point is….”
“None of us are suffering from mass hysteria,” Rani said.
“Well… I’m not sure we’d know if we were,” Luke pointed out.
“I know,” Rani insisted. “I’m not hysterical, and I did see a scary girl in the television – in it, not ON it.”
“Which means she is REAL – and not Human and not a prank.”
“So we’ve got either a ghost or an alien to sort out.”
“Remember when Luke said that Moreton Harwood was the back end of boredom,” Clyde remarked.
“Oh, the innocent times… four hours ago.”
“Next time we visit a place, let’s not make ANY judgements like that. It seems to be an absolute guarantee that something weird will happen.”
“Agreed. But in the meantime, what do we do about the black-eyed girl?”
“Pay no attention to her,” Pieter suggested. “Look… the website that Rani opened before she fell asleep…. It talks about the children asking to be let into the house or for a lift to some place. There’s a suggestion of some kind of mesmerism that makes people WANT to let them in, to try to help them. It also says that they can’t come into the house unless they’re invited.”
“Like vampires?” Clyde queried.
“Yes, I suppose, so. But the thing is, in none of these websites, none of the accounts, from America or here, whether thirty years ago or just this year – is there any mention of anyone being hurt by the black-eyed children. The ones who let them in, or tried to do what the children wanted didn’t get anything worse than a bad fright, and neither did the people who defied them, either.”
“That’s true,” Rani agreed. “If you look at it that way, they’re really rather a boring kind of demon. They don’t do anything except scare people.”
“Exactly. So, I think what we ought to do is ignore it. If it taps at the window, or knocks at the door, take no notice. We should keep putting DVDs on so that she CAN’T get into the television, take the phone off the hook so she can’t CALL us. Let us ignore this schreckgespenst until it goes away and leaves us alone.”
“Sounds good to me,” Clyde agreed.
“What if it really NEEDS help?” Rani asked. “I mean… it does seem rather troubled, vulnerable… like a helpless child. Perhaps we should….”
“No,” Luke insisted. “Sorry, Rani, but I think you’re outvoted this time. Yes, it LOOKS like that, because it plays on people’s emotions. Who can refuse a plaintive little girl? Well, we CAN. Come on. Let’s bring the coffee machine into the living room, and all the nibbles we can lay our hands on, and we’ll have an all night movie-fest.”
Rani agreed reluctantly, because the others were so insistent on Pieter’s plan. But it was fun filling bowls with chocolate biscuits and cheese thins, setting out assorted dips, popping popcorn in the microwave and cooking prawn crackers in the deep fat fryer. They made flasks full of cocoa as well as filling up the coffee percolator and brought it all into the living room. Clyde slotted the next Hammer Horror into the Blu-Ray player and they settled down together again, four people who weren’t going to take any notice of anything going on outside the house.
There were several attempts to disturb their fun, but the tapping at the window was drowned out by the dripping of the victim’s blood into the dust in the bottom of Dracula’s coffin and his triumphant return to corporeal form. The knocking at both the front and back doors couldn’t compete with the thunderstorm that Doctor Frankenstein used to give life to his monstrous creation. Clyde was ready as the credits rolled on each film to slot in the next one. There was no time for the screensaver to kick in. The schreckgespenst, as Pieter had named her, had no chance to annoy them.
A little after seven o’clock on the morning of the Eve of All Hallows – or October thirty-first to those who weren’t superstitious – Rani woke with a start to see the end credits rolling on Dracula AD 1972, a ‘modern’ take on the old story that was given quite a lot of Rotten Tomatoes. She could hear something else other than dramatic music, though. Surely somebody was opening the front door.
“Clyde!” She shook her boyfriend awake and he leapt into action straight away, creeping towards the hallway door armed with one of his own trainers as a cosh.
“It can’t be her!” Rani told him. “The black-eyed-child has to ask permission to come into the house. She doesn’t use a key. Neither does an ordinary burglar, usually.”
Those were both very good points, but Clyde kept hold of his weapon until he was certain what was coming in through the door.
“Well, there’s a friendly welcome!” Sarah Jane Smith declared as she stepped into the drawing room with Sky at her side looking sleepy. “Goodness, you lot seem to have had a sleepover.”
“Pieter and Luke still are,” Rani commented. The two young men were leaning against each other cosily, a blanket tucked around them both. “It seems a shame to wake them when they look so comfy together. But I’m darned if Clyde and I are tidying this place up without their help.”
Sarah Jane accepted the last of the coffee and Sky had a breakfast of cocoa and prawn crackers while her son and his friends made the drawing room presentable.
“I thought you weren’t coming until this afternoon,” Luke remarked as they all sat down again in the much tidier room with a fresh morning round of coffee.
“That was the idea, but Mr Smith woke me at three a.m. with reports of heavy Meisson energy readings around Moreton Harwood. I decided we should get on down here as soon as possible. Sky slept through the whole journey, poor thing. She was still tired from the party last night.”
Sky grimaced at being called a ‘poor thing’ and helped herself to the last of the popcorn still in a bowl on the coffee table.
“It turns out its just as well I came,” Sarah Jane continued. “I came across a Denetian just outside the village.”
“A what?” Clyde queried.
“It’s an alien mischief maker,” Sarah Jane explained. “They turn up on Earth from time to time, because they know they can cause a stir here. They thrive on the adrenaline people exude when they get a sudden fright. This one wasn’t exactly thriving mind you. It was nearly exhausted, very easy to send packing. Mr Smith sent a stern complaint to the Denetian government. The culprit will get a long spell of Denetian Detention for breaking the terms of its offworld visa.”
“This Denetian….” Luke queried as everyone exchanged glances. “Does it, by any chance, appear like a really pale faced child with all black eyes?”
“Sometimes,” Sarah Jane answered. “It has been known to pretend to be a Leprechaun or a Boggart, or a Redcap when it’s up in Scotland. The Black Eyed Child is relatively new – not so much a mythological creature as an urban legend that got out of hand.”
“So, we were right to ignore it, then,” Pieter said with a triumphant smile.
“Ignore what?” Sarah Jane asked. They explained. Sarah Jane nodded and congratulated them on finding the best solution to the problem.
“I’m going to dress up as the black eyed girl for the village Halloween party,” Sky said. “I can make gel glasses that make my eyes look black….”
“You absolutely will NOT,” Luke responded. “I think this village has seen enough of the Black Eyed Child for one Halloween. And by the way, Juno has spotted your car, mum. She’s coming up the drive to tell you all about Howard’s encounter on Monday night.”
“Oh dear,” Sarah Jane sighed. “I’m not sure I’m ready for Juno this early in the morning. If only ‘ignoring them’ worked for gossipy neighbours as well as demon children from outer space.”