FYI: If you’re not cool enough to speak the lingo that I’ve possibly made up: TBW = to be written.
So, I have a confession to make.
I’m not a fan of Halloween.
I’m not sure why but, don’t worry, I’m not to witter on about how commercialised it has become. I just don’t really see the big fuss about it.
I mean, yes it gives me the excuse to ignore the doorbell if it goes (yes, I’m one of those people) and yes it gives me the excuse to watch the Top Hundred Scariest Moments in Film that Channel Four will probably show but…. I’m always underwhelmed.
I think it’s because it’s not scary any more.
And neither is YA literature. And I mean like really scary. Proper scary.
Sure some of it’s a bit unnerving and some books have come close but there haven’t been any that have reduced me to a quivering wreck.
So I decided to take matters into my own hand and dragged the ridiculously talented Anna Scott in to help me.
They say you should write the book you want to read but we decided to mix it up a bit. It is Halloween, after all.
I told Anna my worst fears and she told me hers and, with them as inspiration, we’ve written the first scene of our own YA book that will (hopefully) scare the living crap out of each other.
So instead of writing the books we want to read…. We wrote the books we will never read in a million years.
Pull up a seat, grab a pumpkin and for god’s sake pause Hocus Pocus and come closer listen to some seriously spooky stories.
Or… well.. um.. our attempt at spooky stories.
Anna’s Fear #1 – Birds.
What She Said: Not sure entirely sure where this came from. I’m sure my mum left me in the pram when I was a baby and got swooped by a random flappy thing, but the earliest thing I can remember was being terrified of walking around in the park if there were ducks close by and my dad having to carry me everywhere. On the scale of terrifying birds (1-10) – Peacocks, chickens, pigeons, anything with elaborate plummage – 10. All very scary but for different reasons. Some birds I find it very difficult to look at photos of. Pheasants, for example. Less scary – sparrows, ducks (if they’re not too close), certain water fowl. It’s mainly the thought of feathers against my skin and they way they bob their heads and strut about. YES. I’M A FREAK. I KNOW.
Feathers by Jo.
OK, I have no idea why this turned into a paranormal new adult romance, but it did. I’m going to embrace it. I’m not really sure whether this one is going but I have two words for you: potential were-peacocks. You heard it here first, guys.
“Follow the feathers,” the whispered breath tickled the back of my neck. I spun around quickly, the skirts of my ridiculously long dress catching on the low bench that was heaving with the weight of bottles of wine, vodka, a huge punch bowl full of something that smelt like petrol. Next to them, rather oddly, was a tube of salt and vinegar Pringles. Someone had learnt something from Freshers’ Week, I thought.
“Follow the feathers.”
This time, when I turned, I caught the sight of someone disappearing through the door. I took one last look at the heaving Halloween party, kittens talking to vampires, zombies flirting with werewolves. But just before I could make it to the door, someone knocked into me and my drink sloshed down the front of my turquoise dress.
“Sorry!” said Frankenstein’s monster, tugging his jacket sleeve down over his hand and dabbing at my chest. I glared at him and batted his hand away. Someone handed me a glass of champagne from a silver tray and dissolved back into the tangle of students. For a student Halloween party, the uni had really gone all out. This was spectacular.
Remembering what I was about to do before the monster had barged into me, I manoeuvred my skirts so I could squeeze them through the door. I found myself in a huge entrance hall of the stately home that had been hired for the night. There were portraits hanging on the wall, their eyes watching me as I turned to see where the person who had whispered in my ear could have disappeared to. Feeling like there was someone watching me, I turned quickly and scanned the balcony above me. My heart clenched and I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. Guy was standing there, dressed as a bloody doctor of course, his arms around a girl dressed as a cave girl. He was whispering something in her ear and the girl couldn’t take her eyes of him. I knew how that felt. I realised my hand was shaking and I went to take a sip of the champagne but stopped when something clinked against the glass. There was a tiny silver charm in the bottom of the glass and when I looked closer, I saw that it was a tiny bird. I fished it out and wrapped it up in a napkin, placing it safely in the sash of my dress.
The front door slammed shut and the noise, echoing through the hall, made me cry out in alarm. Embarrassed, I shot a look up at the balcony. Guy and the cave girl had disappeared and I was alone. But it didn’t feel like it.
I turned back to the door and gasped in disbelief when I saw a long, drooping feather wedged in the doorframe. That hadn’t been there before, had it? Plucking it out, I turned it over in my hand, studying the colours and the details. It looked like a peacock’s. I shivered because I hated birds.
Follow the feathers.
There was no one outside, the grounds silent except for the whistling wind tearing at the branches of the trees. I looked around and saw a peacock standing on the lawn a few feet away from me. I hesitated. Were peacocks dangerous? They looked so… majestic but something told me that I didn’t want to get too close to it. It hadn’t noticed me yet, maybe I could go and see if there was a clue nearby and then I could sneak past it without it seeing.
I crept forward, almost crying with relief when it didn’t turn or shriek or whatever peacocks tended to do when they were frightened. After a moment, I found myself standing in front of a thick hedge that was about eight foot tall, it stretched out to both sides of me, cutting up the lawn of the house’s gardens. I walked, as carefully as I could, to my left and found a gap in the hedge. There was a peacock feather sticking out of the hedge’s leaves. I stepped through the gap and saw, with a twinge of terror, that it was a maze.
“No,” I said out loud. This was just a Halloween trick and I had fallen for it. My cheeks began to burn with embarrassment. It was probably something to do with Guy, trying to get me lost in the maze and humiliate me to get revenge for what I did to him. Shaking my head, I turned to leave but stopped short as I saw thousands of eyes piercing through the darkness, pinning me in their gaze. My heart thundering in my chest, it took my brain a second to work out what I was looking out. Feathers. Hundreds of them, thousands maybe. There were about six peacocks standing in the gap of the maze, displaying their tails at me, blocking my exit.
I stepped closer, seeing if I could get passed them, but the barrier they had formed was impossible.
I was trapped.
I turned to my left and saw a long, dark tunnel of dark green leaves. I turned to my right and saw the same. Except it wasn’t the same for buried in the thick hatch of foliage, surrounding by the most beautiful shade of jade I had ever seen, there was a luminous white eye staring back at me. I plucked the peacock feather and put it in the sash of my dress, along with the others, and started to walk deeper into the maze.
Anna’s Verdict: Ok, if I was this girl, clearly I wouldn’t go into the maze. Clearly there are more peacocks in the maze. Scarier peacocks. I would try and scramble over the hedge until I could find my way out. But what if there were peacocks on the hedge? What then? Ok, I don’t think I’d read this one. There would just be more peacock action from this point on and I don’t think I could cope with that. And also student party involving stately homes and champagne? Why didn’t I go to this university? BECAUSE OF THE CREEPY PEACOCKS, obvs.
Jo’s Fear # 1 – Clowns/Pot Dolls/ Automatons/ Wax Works.
What She Said: OK, I don’t know whether you want to lump all these together but my biggest fear in the entire world are clowns, pot dolls, ventriloquist dummies, automatons, puppets, waxworks… all those kinds of things that look human but aren’t. OMG. NO WAY. I can’t even look at pictures without dying.
The Mask by Anna
About: Creepy old dude who living on housing estate is actually a clown who recruits lonely teenagers to his creepy circus of the dead. LOL
Christo cursed his choice of hideout as he shuffled forward on his knees, making as little noise as possible. With the sudden cold snap two days ago had come the inevitable shedding of yellow leaves from every shrub in the locality. Not that his estate held too many shrubs, maybe the odd tree dotted around the concrete houses that were all the same shade as the blanket of grey sky. The hedge had seemed like a good idea a week ago, but with his filthy trainers buried in the damp leaves that should have been hiding his torso from view, he had to move carefully and quickly to get what he needed. How he had ended up crouched down behind a next to useless hedge no longer made much sense in his head. A lame attempt to impress someone who’s opinion he secretly ridiculed or a response to a thinly veiled threat, it didn’t really matter now he was here. Just get the photo of the old man and get the hell out of there. Show Maloney his wasn’t scared of a challenge. Show Maloney he wasn’t scared of the old Milkman. That’s what all the kids called him. He had been there forever, long before anyone could remember. Even Christo’s mum boasted about throwing stones at him in her youth. Some things never change. Except now she throws insults.
Ever since he could remember Christo had held a secret admiration for him. All the bile and abuse that he deflected day in, day out and he was still here, in his decrepit house, with the cracked, greasy window and the empty beer cans that his neighbours had tossed into the garden. He delivered the milk years and years ago, when a person was required to do such a thing. That’s what Christo’s mum had said, but he guessed he never had that face back then. Sometimes Christo wanted to go up to him and shake him and shout ‘Why do you do it? Why do you put that stuff on? You’re just asking for all this.’ But the thick white makeup that was caked across the old man’s features also kept people away to. Nobody looked at him too closely for fear of that mask intruding on their nightmares.
‘Get a picture of The Milkman without his face on, and then we’ll talk.’ That’s what Maloney had said. And that’s what he was about to do. Christo flinched as he saw the hunched figure move slowly across the room. He fixed his phone on him and moved his fingers apart to bring the image closer. The gnarly figure was staring intently at his reflection and without talking his eyes off it, his hands crept over to the mantelpiece and took hold of a bottle of clear liquid and a grubby handkerchief. Christo didn’t know what to expect when the damp cloth was swept across the wrinkled face. Deep scaring, bloody seeping wounds, anything but this. He struggled to keep the phone steady with his shaking hand and sweaty fingertips. As the top layer of white paint dissolved with each stroke, a glistening bottom layer of shinier white revealed itself. But it was the deep red around his mouth, the crude colours circling his eyes that made Christo catch his breath. And it was when the old man slowly turned away from the mirror and smiled directly at Christo, that the boy felt a clammy hand around his heart as his whole body froze…
Jo’s Verdict: Nope. No way… never reading this. I mean, are you joking? What the hell is he hiding under the make-up? Nope… no way. That is like Goosebumps on crack. Also, I miss milkmen.
Anna’s Fear #2 – Losing the ability to speak.
What She Said: One recurring bad dream I have is if I’m in peril (can never remember the details of the peril when I wake up) and then I try to shout or scream for help but no sound comes out and this is inevitably even more terrifying than the actual peril. So, having my voice taken away. That’s quite scary.
Silence by Jo.
About: So this is basically my take on a dystopia. People are disappearing and becoming… silenced… if they dare speak out against the mysterious group known as “Them”.
He said it was something in the water, but I never believed it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think I’m pretty tolerant of most people but if you listen to what Mad Jim says, you’re just as mental as he is. His name said it all, he was bat shit crazy. He had a file of all these conspiracy theories about how everyone was monitoring what we said about things, what we wrote on our websites, our e-mails, Facebook, Twitter. They were creating files on us all, collecting information about us, about what we thought. Or so Mad Jim said.
“They don’t like it when you speak your mind,” he had explained as we sat in his living room one afternoon. My mum liked me to go around to his every now and again and check on him. I don’t need to tell you that I hated it. I had watched as Mad Jim’s eyes darted around the room, jerking from one corner to the next. They always did that and it didn’t creep me out as much as it did when his eyes just stopped flitting, focussing on a seemingly empty space of the living room. Not for the first time, I wondered whether Mad Jim could see something that I couldn’t. “They don’t like it when you tell the truth. The truth, you know? That’s the thing that scares Them the most. They like to censor the truth. Don’t want. So, do you know what they do, eh?”
I shook my head. He beckoned me closer, his veined fingers wrapping around my wrist. I could smell the stale White Lightening on his breath. “They silence you. They take you in the night and they don’t give you anything to eat or drink or anything and then in the morning, when you’re gasping for something, anything to drink, they bring out this tray of water. They watch you drink it, you know? Make sure you have every last drop. Then they let you go. It takes a while, yeah… They timed it perfectly. As soon as you leave the building, it happens. Your vocal chords tense up and start… I dunno… fizzing and then it’s like they’re gone. Your throat closes and it’s like fire is coursing through your veins. By now, you’re in the middle of the woods, with only the owls for company and you’ve got no idea where you are. But… you know what the funniest thing is?”
I had shaken my head, resisting the urge to yank my arm away from his clammy grip.
“Even if you did find someone, a dog walker maybe, you couldn’t even scream for help.”
I blinked away the memory of the cackles that had erupted from Mad Jim’s mangled body, remembering how his chest had heaved with the effort of it. They called him Mad Jim for a reason. It’s not as if I ever believed him.
Mad Jim disappeared before he could explain who “They” were. A lot of people had been going missing recently. Proper people, not just crazies like Mad Jim. People who had been in the spotlight, the ones who were always on the TV, the ones with their opinions.
I stared at the tap, drip, drip, dripping into the sink. I didn’t believe it. It was just a coincidence. Mad Jim living up to his name.
“Fancy a brew?” my mum asked appearing in the doorway. She frowned at me as the chair clattered to the floor as I jumped at the sound of her voice. I shook my head, dragging a trembling hand through my short hair.
“Um.. nah, I’m gonna stick with my Coke, cheers.”
Anna’s Verdict:I would definitely read this. Very intriguing, though not that scary on the missing voice front. YET…
Jo’s Fear # 2 – Space.
What She Said: this is going to sound stupid, but the idea of space freaks the crap out of me. I don’t know whether it’s because you’re completely enclosed yet still vulnerable, because you’re millions of miles away from home or because it’s just… so… big I mean.. infinity? How can that NOT freak you out?
I LOVE Alien though, but yeah.. it’s creepy. CREEPY CREEPY.
Cat and Mouse by Anna.
About: A mole attempts to infiltrate a prison colony floating in space to uncover corrupt, inhumane practices. Everyone apart from her and a serial killer are wiped out as part of an experiment (I don’t actually know what happens after this btw
I snap my eyes shut and think about the time when I saw the liquid enter my arm. The doctor had smiled at me reassuringly as I bit down on my lip. ‘It’s all for your own good, you know. To keep you safe once you’re up there.’ He had raised his eyes to the ceiling, just in case I hadn’t gotten the message. I feigned a laugh ‘Well, I don’t want any nasty surprises, do I?’
‘That’s what science is for. To eliminate Nasty Surprises.’ He turned to the side as he touched the screen on his pad to update his records. ‘These days, nothing is unaccounted for. Everything is planned with meticulous detail, you remember that.’
I’d written him off as just another government doctor. Someone to sign me off with the standard vaccines just like he did hundreds of new employees into The System. Because there was always room for new workers in The System. All these new prison colonies needing staff. Every month there had been a new recruitment drive. More and more choosing to withdraw from society, most of them by committing heinous crimes, the rest by offering themselves up to look after them. They all had to go somewhere, and what better place for these people than beyond the skies, setting up in the vast expanse of space? And that was what my organisation was banking on, that they wouldn’t suspect another lost soul lining up to participate. Because we needed to find out about the rumoured experiments somehow, we needed to find proof before The System would come crashing down.
But I suppose he was in it too, wasn’t he? The vaccine I thought was there to protect was given to offer a different kind of immunity. I knew a short spell in quarantine was required. They’d already told me I would be going up on my own that day and that meant doing the two weeks by myself. Not that this bothered me in the slightest. I used to crave peace and quiet.
It was when the food stopped during the middle of the second week. I banged on the dividing wall God know how many times, and after two more days, my heart was shrinking as quickly as my stomach. Luckily, it takes a lot more for my brain to switch off. This was no coincidence. Someone knew I was coming and they’d given me their version of a welcome gift. It was on the fourth day that the locks released on their timer and I had to step over the body of my guard, sprawled across the entrance to the control room. I ventured out to the main bulk of the ship briefly but shut down the locks on my return. It must have been in the food, or maybe another vaccination programme. Part of the big experiment. Prisoners and crew wiped out and me left to deal with the aftermath. But it was when I saw him on the monitor, dragging one after the other towards the vacuum pod that my blood really did run cold. I recognised his face from the news reports. Darius Dean. Responsible for the murders of twelve students, probably even more that had never been discovered. And when he waved up at the camera and bared all his teeth, that was the first time I felt real despair. I turned to the deck in the opposite direction, the only thing facing me was the empty darkness of space.
And so I snap my eyes back open, because these days I’ve got to keep my wits about me. I don’t crave the silence any more…
Jo’s Verdict: I would legitimately read this book, mostly because it sounds brilliant and I want to know more. Although, I would freak out because not only are we in space…. We’re alone.. EXCEPT WE’RE NOT BECAUSE THERE’S A CREEPY SERIAL KILLER CHILLING OUT. Also, he’s called Darius and that can only mean one thing.
Anna’s Fear # 3 – Taxidermy.
What She Said: Not as terrifying as the bird thing (apart from the stuffed birds, obvs), but it’s more the whole process that I really don’t want to think about – why would anybody choose to do this as a hobby? Why would they enjoy doing this? And there’s something a bit weird and creepy about someone keeping their dead dog in their front room, staring at them with bug eyes.
Stuffed by Jo.
About: So this actually became a bit of a dark comedy as I went on. Seventeen year old girl has a blog about her adventures in Taxidermy Land. There’s a boy involved somewhere.
Parents are supposed to encourage their children’s hobbies. That’s right, isn’t it? It’s supposed to make them well-rounded people. Transferrable skills and that kind of thing.
It’s not my fault that my parents want both of their daughters to have a normal hobby. Book blogging, though? When did that become a normal hobby? Who decided that that was socially acceptable, but my hobby isn’t?
At least mine’s scientific, it requires skill. It requires knowledge. It’s artistic. I have a blog too. A lot of people comment on my posts. Sure, I don’t get boxes full of books from publishers and authors don’t get in touch. But people read my site.
There’s a boy who comments. He finds me interesting. He comments on every post. I find him fascinating.
My parents and my sister don’t get it.
There’s a knock on the door and I turn my head to the sound. I listen to see if I can hear my sister moving upstairs, but I can’t. Probably lost in a book. See, how is that normal? She spends her days completely out of it, thinking those characters are real. That isn’t normal, not like me. I’m grounded. I’m here in the real world. I know what’s real and what’s not.
Whoever’s at the door knocks again, louder this time as if they’ve lost their patience. I reach out and stroke Milly, my dog, who’s standing at my feet. She’s watching the television. She loves cookery shows a lot, she barely even moves as she watches the chef crack a few eggs into a bowl and whisk them.
“Easy girl,” I whisper in her ear and stand up, shuffling along the carpet in my slippers, and open the door. The post man is standing there, wearing shorts and walking boots, his thick socks pulled up as high as they can go. He looks stupid. He smiles at me and I fix the smile I’ve been practicing. The one that makes me look normal.
He hands me a huge stack of parcels. I look down at them and see they’re all addressed to my sister. Books again, I think, as I sign my name on the electric hand held thing he always has. My signature looks like a spider’s web. You can barely read what I’ve written.
“Oh, I like your dog, she’s cute!” I look up at the post man who’s peering behind me, into our living room. When did people get so rude? You don’t just look into people’s house. I’m about to scowl but then I remember it’s polite to accept compliments. It’s normal to accept compliments.
“Thanks,” I turn and look at Milly, still standing in her favourite spot by the sofa, her eyes glinting in the glare of the television and still transfixed by the cookery programme. “I’ve had her a while.”
Anna’s Verdict: Jo, this is brilliant and you MUST FINISH IT. It kind of reminded me of The Wasp Factory – seriously messed up voice. Creep McCreeperson.
Jo’s Fear #3 – Boats Out of the Water.
What She Said: This is completely irrational, but I hate boats when they’re out of the water. If I see a ship in a dry dock or anything like that, I have a panic attack and squirm and swear horribly. Anything set on a boat would freak me out because a boat sinking would be my idea of hell.
Black Current by Anna.
About: Basically, 100 years after the sinking of the Titanic, the dead come back to haunt the shipyard where it was built and wreck revenge.
I had become immune to the effects of my home of choice over the past few months. Although, I admit, ‘home’ is stretching a bit. Home is a strange notion to a person like me. Somewhere to rest my head at the end of the day. I’m not that surprised that I found my way in. When you’re invisible for the most of the day, walking down the streets, leaning against a wall outside the shopping centre, you know how to make that work for you, how to get the shadows to welcome you with open arms and envelop you. Because, when it comes down it, most people don’t want to search you out in the darkness.
With a face like mine, it’s easy to blag my bus fare during the day. Before nightfall, I religiously catch the 92 down to my shipyard of choice. Three months ago, my first sighting of the never ending expanse of dry-docked ship made my empty stomach turn in on itself like a scrunched up piece of tin foil. Gun metal grey going on and on, skywards and into the distance. But it didn’t take long for my heart rate to quicken in the best way possible every time I caught sight of those vessels. And it pounded even faster when I pictured myself standing to the side, pressing my palm against the rock hard, icy surface and imagined watching the whole structure come crashing down next to me, and I would stand there, taking in the carnage. And when I moved closer to the propellers that were three times the size of any ‘home’ and I tried to think what it must do to someone’s body, to feel the pull and be dragged beneath the current.
Of course, I eventually made my way inside. When you have nothing much to lose, climbing a bit of scaffolding holds no fear. And even when I heard the bangs echo in the inside of my chamber, it was almost comforting, like the ship was thanking me for my awe. But when the banging continued, the comfort slowly turned into annoyance. Someone was intruding on my turf. And they were going to pay.
When I scrambled to the deck, I stood there staring at the girl, taking in every tiny detail of her appearance. Her hair, spread wide and framing her face, the strands slowly moving together into dozen spindly tangles. Her pale face. Her blue lips. Her eyes that were screaming louder than any raspy vocal chords could. It’s easy to take in every detail when the person is floating mid-air in front of you. It wasn’t so easy to concentrate on the others though. They were further away, dotted all around the hangar, limbs flapping desperation. So I decided to keep on watching her instead…
Jo’s Verdict: OK, I actually had to skim read the bit where you’re talking about the propellers because eeeeh, no way. But if that was it with the horrifying descriptions of creepy boats in the dry-dock and the cover was a picture of something completely unrelated to boats…. I would read this because I’m fascinated with the Titanic even though it freaks me out.
So, what do you think? Would YOU read these books? Do you think Anna and I are wimps with bizarre fears? What subject would you like more YA books to cover to really get you looking over you shoulder?