The village school was not quite at the highest point of the steep main street, but it was elevated and isolated enough for Stacy to see the sea through the chain-link fence that bordered the far side of the playground. She could smell the sea from here too, crisp and salty, especially on a day like today, when a brisk November wind bowled up and over the hill, unimpeded by the buildings and patches of woodland that proliferated further inland.
She’d always wanted to live in Cornwall. She’d been in love with the place since spending family holidays here as a kid with her parents and her elder brother Paul. She had such happy memories of Fowey—Daphne Du Maurier’s house, and the annual regatta with its carnival procession and its hilarious pasty-eating contest, Looe Beach, where the seagulls would steal the food right out of your hand if you didn’t remain vigilant at all times, and beautiful fishing villages like Mousehole and Polperro, which to her had seemed deliciously mysterious with their tales of smugglers and pirates.
Carl hadn’t been keen on moving so far south, but after their divorce two years ago she’d thought: What’s to stop me? They had no children to complicate matters—when things had initially started going wrong between them she’d blamed her own inability to conceive, but with hindsight she realised that Carl’s increasing lack of consideration and reliability had been far more pertinent factors—and so she had started looking for teaching jobs in the area.
It had taken nine months, but eventually she’d been offered the deputy headship of the little primary school in Porthfarrow (only thirty eight pupils and five members of staff). Accepting the job had entailed her biting the bullet and taking a twenty per cent wage drop, but in her opinion the positives of her new life far outweighed the negatives. Life was slower here, and less stressful, and more community-minded, all of which suited her down to the ground. She could walk to and from work instead of having to negotiate the nerve-shredding hassle of the Manchester rush hour, which meant she not only saved on petrol but was fitter than she’d been since she was a teenager.
Okay, so she might not have the dating opportunities here that Manchester offered, but that was something that bothered Stacy’s mum more than Stacy herself. And small though the village was, it wasn’t as if she hadn’t turned a few heads since buying her little white cottage just a couple of turns off the High Street. Cliff Monroe, who owned the hardware store, had taken her out to dinner a couple of times, and although he hadn’t exactly set her pulse a-fluttering, he was a nice guy with a nice smile—and interesting too. Although he’d been born in the village, and had confessed to her that he’d probably die in it, he’d travelled the world a bit before putting down his roots. Plus he owned a boat. Not that she was particularly materialistic. In fact, she’d become far less so since leaving the city—and Carl—behind.
The little yellow bus, with its daily contingent of more than half the school’s pupil population, crept into view at the bottom of the winding, leaf-strewn hill. There had been a couple of days last winter when the icy roads had proved too treacherous for the ancient vehicle, as a result of which those pupils who relied on it—most of whom lived in isolated farmhouses and remote cottages out in the sticks—had had to stay home.
As the bus wheezed to a halt and disgorged its twenty or so passengers, Stacy crossed the playground and opened the little iron gate to admit the chattering hordes. On Friday she had announced that today would be Show and Tell day, and so she was pleased to see that most of the children were carrying something other than their school bags. Richard Charlton had a skateboard, Maisie Flynn had a photo album, and Kylie Kendall, who was crazy about gymnastics and often had to be stopped from cartwheeling about the playground in case she did somebody a mischief, had a large plastic wallet stuffed with certificates and rosettes. Little Adam North, whose black and permanently tousled hair was like an ink dab above his pale, secretive, mole-like face, was clutching something long and curved, wrapped in newspaper.
“What have you got there, Adam?” Stacy asked. “I hope it’s not a Samurai sword?”
She had made it an ambition to get Adam to smile—he was a solitary soul who barely spoke unless spoken to, and who hardly ever showed emotion, be it anger, unhappiness, mirth or joy. If she had been a betting woman, Stacy would have put money on Adam turning up today with nothing to show the class, and so she was secretly delighted that her idea, although not a particularly original one, had at least motivated him to make an effort.
As always he responded to her flippant comment with deadly seriousness. “No, miss.”
“Well, that’s good,” she said, and laughed more heartily than the occasion merited. “We wouldn’t want you to . . . ”
She’d been about to say ‘slice off any heads,’ but at the last second it occurred to her that the phrase was inappropriate, given the terrorist atrocities that turned the news into a rolling account of seemingly ceaseless depravity and horror every day. She hesitated a little too long, glanced again at the sea as if seeking inspiration, and in the end muttered lamely, “ . . . do any damage, would we?”
Adam regarded her with a deadpan expression. “No, miss,” he said again, and followed his fellow pupils into the school.
Show and Tell, which took place between morning break and lunchtime, turned out, on the whole, to be a great success. Most of the children were loquacious and enthusiastic, and Daniel Roberts’ account of his recently departed grandfather’s heroism during the Second World War, as he held up the old man’s medals, was so poignant that Stacy felt tears pricking at the backs of her eyes.
As each child finished his or her turn in the spotlight, a mass of increasingly fewer hands would shoot up and a chorus of “Please, miss! Me next!” would fill the classroom.
Perhaps inevitably, the only child who didn’t stick up his hand was Adam. He sat near the back, his face expressionless, the strange, curved, newspaper-wrapped object held protectively against his body. Stacy thought he might have remained there all day, if, with six or seven children still to take their turn, she hadn’t said, “What about you, Adam? Do you want to go next?”
He blinked. Shrugged. Made no move to rise from his seat.
“Come on,” she said gently, beckoning him forward. “Show us what you’ve brought.”
The other children turned to look at Adam as if they’d only just noticed he was among them. Looking neither intimidated nor resigned, he rose slowly from his seat and ambled to the front of the class. He turned to face his fellow pupils and for a moment just stood there, holding his newspaper-wrapped bundle. They stared back at him silently.
“Do you want me to help you unwrap it? Is it fragile?” Stacy coaxed.
Adam glanced at her, then unceremoniously pulled away the sheets of newspaper and dropped them on the floor.
Revealed beneath was a curved half-moon of what appeared to be a pearly, shell-like substance. It was smooth on one side and serrated, or ragged, on the other. It was perhaps a metre long, and Stacy’s first thought was that it was a large boomerang, her second that it was something organic—part of the exoskeleton of some sea creature, perhaps. The children craned forward, their faces puzzled. Stacy held out her hand.
“May I see?”
Adam hesitated for just a second, then handed the object over.
It was lighter than she had expected, and there was a rime of what appeared to be dirt on one side of it.
“What is it, miss?” Caroline Fairley asked.
Stacy had no idea. She turned to Adam with a smile. “Perhaps Adam can tell us?”
He looked at her blankly.
“Don’t you know?” one of the boys—it might have been Luke Cooke—sneered.
“You shouldn’t have brought it in if you don’t know,” another boy, who was yet to be summoned to the front of the class, piped up sulkily.
“Shhh,” Stacy said. “Don’t interrupt when it’s not your turn to speak. It’s rude.” The class quietened down. She glanced again at Adam. “If you can’t tell us what it is, Adam, can you tell us where it’s from?”
Quietly Adam said, “Found it.”
“You found it?” Stacy repeated it loudly, for the benefit of those who hadn’t heard. “Where did you find it? On the beach?”
He shook his head. “Farm.”
“The farm where you live, you mean?”
“And whereabouts on the farm did you find it?”
His eyes narrowed, as though he was wondering how much he ought to reveal. “Field.”
“I see. And was it lying in the field?”
He hesitated, then shook his head. “Was buried.”
“And you dug it up?”
So quietly she wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly, he said, “Came up by itself.”
“What did he say, miss?” one of the girls chirruped, and Stacy was about to reply that the buried object had worked its way to the surface of the soil, before realising she wasn’t sure entirely how that process would work. To avoid having to explain it she held up the object and said, “So what do we think this is, class? Hands up. No shouting out.”
The hands went up, and Stacy pointed to each in turn.
“An alien sword!”
“A shark’s jaw!”
“A dinosaur bone!”
“A hockey stick for a caveman!”
Some of the suggestions made the children hoot with laughter, and Stacy laughed along with them. At one point she glanced at Adam, who was still standing silently beside her, and saw that he wasn’t joining in with the laughter. He was gazing at his classmates, or at least gave the impression that he was doing so. Looking at his unfocused eyes, though, Stacy couldn’t help wondering whether he was staring at something else entirely.
The next day, Tuesday, Adam didn’t turn up for school. Between registration and morning assembly, Stacy popped her head into the office.
“Have Adam North’s parents rung to explain why he’s absent today?”
Moira, the school secretary, a blowsy, middle-aged woman who wore a lot of orange, scowled as if Stacy was accusing her of not doing her job.
“Not yet. I was about to call them. It’s on my list.”
“I’ll do it,” said Stacy.
“You don’t have to.”
“No, but I want to. So could you please give me the number?”
She didn’t know why she felt compelled to take personal action. Was it because the boy was such an enigma? She told herself it might be useful to speak to Adam’s parents anyway, regardless of his absenteeism, perhaps call them in for a chat. She tried to remember whether she’d met them at any of the three Parents’ Evenings she’d attended since arriving in Porthfarrow, and couldn’t recall. Not that that was entirely unusual. Some parents were simply too busy.
Moira gave her the number with a disapproving huff, and Stacy punched it in. The phone rang out at the other end. She let it ring fifteen times before replacing the receiver.
Moira looked almost triumphant. “The Norths are farmers. They’ll be busy during the day.”
Out in the fields, digging up alien swords, Stacy thought, and said, “They’re bound to be in at some point. Keep trying, will you?”
Next day was the same story. Adam was a no-show; his parents didn’t call; their phone rang out, unanswered.
“Shall I write them a letter?” Moira offered, albeit in a tone that suggested she thought the action onerous and unnecessary.
Stacy shook her head. “No, I’ll take a drive out there after school, see what’s what.”
Moira pulled a face. “Are you sure? It’s a long way.”
“It’s fifteen miles at the most.”
“Like I said, a long way. Pardon me for saying so, but don’t you think you’re making a fuss?”
“No I don’t. I happen to be worried about Adam.”
“He’s only one boy.”
“And he’s the one who’s currently causing me worry. I’m his teacher and he’s not attending school. It’s my job to be concerned.”
Moira sighed. She conveyed an awful lot in that sigh. “They won’t thank you for it.”
“The Norths. They’re a funny lot. Keep themselves to themselves. Always have. The only reason Adam’s not in school is because John North’ll have him helping out on the farm. They’ve never been big on education, that lot.”
“Well, I’ll just have to point out the error of their ways to them then, won’t I?” Stacy said.
Moira rolled her eyes. “Rather you than me.”
At 4:15 that afternoon, Stacy found herself driving along a narrow country road between high hedges that her sat nav was trying to convince her didn’t exist. The wind had picked up considerably in the past few hours, and was making a high-pitched whining sound as it attempted to squeeze through the doorframe gaps of her little Ford Fiesta. The sky was deepening to a muddy blue blotched with muddier clouds, and leaves which had been red and gold when she had set off, but which now looked black, swirled in mad flocks through the twin beams of her headlights.
“Make a U-turn when necessary,” her sat nav instructed her.
“Shut the fuck up!” Stacy retorted and jabbed at the button to silence it as savagely as if it was the speaker’s eye. Distracted, she only registered the dark opening on her left, and the lopsided sign beside it, after she had passed them by. She hit the brakes, and then, hoping that nothing was beetling along the narrow, winding lane behind her, put the car into reverse.
And there it was. An opening in the hedge marked by a pair of rotting gateposts. Sagging from the left-hand post, the paint faded, was the sign she’d seen: North Field Farm.
“Hallelujah,” she muttered, and manouevred the car around in the lane until it was in a position to nose its way between the posts and on to the dirt track beyond. Flanking the track were huge, flat, muddy fields, bordered in the distance by stunted trees. After the narrow confines of the country lanes the sudden space was almost bewildering. Ahead of her, perhaps five hundred metres away at the far end of the track, she spied her destination: a huddle of buildings that were little more than silhouettes in the encroaching twilight.
Wondering whether the Norths had gone away for a while (Do farmers go away? If so, who looked after their livestock?) she began to meander along the track. It was muddy and rutted, and she took it slowly, keeping the car in second gear. Above the grumble of the engine and the whistling of the wind, she could hear the sustained screeching of what sounded like crows coming from somewhere on her left and glanced in that direction. Jutting from the centre of the field, perhaps a hundred and fifty metres away, she saw five lopsided standing stones, above and around which were indeed a flock of crows, flapping and cawing.
Her eyes were swiveling to face front again when one of the stones moved. Or at least, she thought it did; in truth, the impression was both slight and fleeting. It was enough, though, to make Stacy stamp on the brake and bring the car to a jolting halt. As the seatbelt locked across her chest she gasped. By the time she had settled back into her seat she was aware her heart was beating rapidly.
She turned to look again at the stones. Stared at them for a full ten seconds. They were motionless. Yet one of them had seemed to . . . what? Lean over? Bend in the middle? The idea was ludicrous. It must have been a trick of the fading light, perhaps exacerbated by the constant whirlwind of swirling leaves and circling crows.
She shuddered, as though sloughing off the vagaries of her own imagination, faced front again, and put the car into gear. The dark buildings loomed larger as she approached them, until eventually they filled enough of her windscreen to mostly blot out a sky that was now the colour of slightly faded denim. She passed through another set of equally rotten gateposts and in to a yard of slick, uneven cobbles, across which was strewn a combination of rubble, muddy straw and sizeable clumps of either mud or manure.
Peering at the farmhouse bathed in the glow of her headlights, and at the shadowy buildings set back on either side of it—the most prominent of which appeared to be a barn on the right, which was twice the height of the house itself—Stacy found herself hoping, for the first time, that the Norths wouldn’t be home, after all. The farm where Adam lived with his parents was a dismal place. Not just run-down, but squalid enough to be unsettling. There were tiles missing from the farmhouse roof, the windows were filthy, and the stonework was black and crumbling. Against the side of the house were stacked rotting planks, rusting machinery, stone slabs and large, white plastic bags, many of which were split and leaking what might have been grain or sand or rubble.
For a good minute, Stacy sat in her car, the engine running and the heater on, her hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly that her forearms ached. Despite having come all this way, she thought about turning the car round and driving all the way home again—thought very seriously about it. Then she muttered, “Fuck it,” and cut the engine.
As she did so, the headlights cut out too, and she was plunged into blackness. But then, as her eyes adjusted to the dim light still bleeding from the darkening sky, her surroundings acquired a sketchy definition. Pushing the driver’s door open and placing one foot on the muddy ground, she felt the wind biting into her. She was leaning forward when an extra strong gust buffeted the door and tried to slam it shut on her leg. She caught it just in time, heaving it back open as she stood up. Instantly her dark reddish hair began to whip about her head. Stepping away from the car she found she didn’t even have to push the door shut again; the wind did it for her.
“Hello?” she shouted, but the wind whipped her voice away. She picked her way across the filthy yard towards the farmhouse. Why, if the Norths were here, was there not a light showing in any of the windows? She reached the door and used the metal knocker, in the shape of a fox’s head, to rap on it four times. Faintly she could still hear the crows in the field screeching and cawing. The sound reminded her of a full-blooded, drunken family argument, like the ones they always had on EastEnders at Christmas.
There was no answer to her knock. I’ll try once more, she thought, then I’ll go home.
But after the next four raps had elicited no response, she found herself trying the doorknob. It felt greasy beneath her grip, but it turned. The door opened.
Tentatively she stepped forward, edging into the widening gap. “Hello?” she called. “Anyone home?” She wrinkled her nose. The house smelled . . . mouldy. As if food had been left out. As if the building’s occupants had been cooped up for too long without a wash or a change of clothes.
Was that all it was? She hovered on the threshold, unsure whether to go further. Slipping her hand into her pocket, she gripped the reassuring shape of her mobile. Should she call the police? But what would she tell them? That she had found a dark and empty house? No, she had to have more evidence before her claim that something was wrong here would be taken seriously.
Her arm snaked out to the left, fingers stretching for a light switch. For a horrible moment she imagined touching a face in the darkness, then she found what she was looking for. The light switch depressed with a chunky click; for a split-second she was convinced that nothing would happen, that the power would be off. Then she was screwing up her eyes, blinded by the light that filled the room.
Slowly her vision adjusted. Squinting, she looked around. The door had opened directly into a big farmhouse kitchen. It was a tip, the work surfaces and the big wooden table covered with dirty dishes, empty tins, food that had been left out. There was a broken mug on the floor, the spillage from which was a sticky-looking stain. In one corner were a jumble of clothes and muddy boots.
Stacy’s eyes widened as she noticed Adam’s school bag dumped on a chair. Above it, on the table, between a bowl that held a detritus of brown sludge and the evidence of what that sludge consisted of—an open Coco Pops packet and a half-empty bottle of milk—was the strange curved object of pearly-white, shell-like material that Adam had brought to school a couple of days before.
“Adam?” Stacy called. Her voice echoed, as if the house was hollow, or at least devoid of carpets. “Mr and Mrs North?”
A door leading out of the kitchen on the far side of the room was standing ajar. Stacy glanced at it, then up at the ceiling, as if anticipating the creak of movement. But there was nothing. And all at once she knew instinctively that the house was empty—of life, at least. So where—
From outside came a hideous, high wailing sound.
Instantly Stacy felt as though her body had been doused in freezing water. She hunched her shoulders to her ears, opened her eyes wide and released a shocked gasp. The wailing continued for three or four seconds, then died away. It sounded forlorn, even despairing. It also sounded utterly chilling—and utterly inhuman.
For a moment Stacy couldn’t—didn’t want to—move. She considered slamming the door of the farmhouse, sliding into place any bolts that she could find. Then she thought of what it would be like to spend a night inside the building while the wailing thing, whatever it was, prowled the darkness outside. And rather than face that prospect she found herself instead calculating how many running steps it might take to reach her car, how many seconds after that it would be before she could turn the car round in the rutted yard and hightail it out of there.
The door to the farmhouse creaked open a little, and she jumped—but it was only the wind. Oddly it was this that broke the rising spiral of fear inside her, enabled her to view what she had heard more logically—or at least less hysterically.
Perhaps it had simply been the wind, rushing through the buildings to the rear of the farmhouse, warping wood and even metal with its strength and making it screech in protest. Or if not the wind, then an animal, or several animals, in distress. Hungry pigs maybe? Cows that needed milking?
Should she check? She didn’t want to leave animals to suffer. Neither could she drive away from here without finding out . . . well, something. Because at the moment there was no guarantee that the police would investigate if she reported what she’d found—or rather, hadn’t.
She took a deep breath, then stepped back out of the house and closed the door behind her. The wind lashed at her body, intermittently blinding her with her own hair. She wished she had something to tie it back with, but she didn’t. Dead leaves swirled and swooped, making a rat-like scuttling as they swept across the ground. She looked longingly at her car, then turned away from it and headed towards the looming shape of the barn behind the farmhouse.
She’d gone no more than half a dozen steps when she stopped. Something large and bulky, further up the track, was squatting beside the wall of the barn, or perhaps leaning on it. She held her flapping hair away from her face, vowing that the instant the thing moved she would turn and bolt for her car. Then she realised what it was. A tractor. Nothing but a common-or-garden tractor. Now that she had identified it, she wondered how she could ever have imagined it was anything else. Get a grip, girl, she told herself, and laughed, though almost immediately she swallowed the sound with a grimace, because it hadn’t sounded like a laugh at all; it had sounded like a sob.
She resumed walking, keeping to the ridge between the channels where the wheels of the tractor and perhaps other farm vehicles had compressed the ground. The large door of the barn was facing her, the wood dark grey in the twilight. The black line between the edge of the door and the squared-off arch of wooden wall into which it was set was wide enough for her to realise that the door was slightly ajar. As she came to within five metres of the barn an extra-strong gust of wind plucked the door a little further open. As it widened with a grinding creak, Stacy saw a glimmer of light from within.
Her heartbeat quickened. She couldn’t decide whether the glow was a welcome sight or the opposite. It was a sign of life, at least, but that didn’t stop her from feeling wary; didn’t stop a little internal voice from whispering that the light might be a lure. She opened her mouth to call out, then closed it again. Perhaps in this instance discretion might be the better part of valour. Her hair was still whipping around her head and she could feel the tiny hairs on her arms prickling as they rose.
By the time she reached the barn door she was creeping like a burglar. The glow from within was dim but steady. Not a candle flame then, which would have flickered, but certainly something that didn’t cast much light—a lantern of some sort, perhaps.
The gap between door and frame was wide enough for her to slip through. As she did so, her eyes darted everywhere, her senses alert for attack. The lamp was on a wooden box just inside the door, its area of illumination fairly minimal. Certainly the majority of the vast space in front of her was in shadow, dwindling even further back to a darkness so impenetrable she couldn’t see the far wall.
There was a smell in the barn, hot and . . . what was the word? Visceral. Yes, that was it. Not rank, exactly, but unpleasant all the same, like the thick, lingering odour of someone’s meaty belch after a rich meal. Could it be the smell of animals? Horses or pigs? Or maybe it was silage? Some sort of organic matter used on the crops?
Her eyes continued to dart left and right as she listened. If there were stealthy movements in the barn she couldn’t hear them beneath the shuddering and creaking of the wooden walls as the wind battered against them. After a few seconds she moved forward, her steps light and tentative, her weight shifting carefully on to each probing foot to lessen its impact with the ground. Something loud enough to be heard above the wind suddenly shifted in front of her. A rustle of straw? If so, caused by what? A rat—or something heavier?
Oh, for God’s sake! she thought, and almost before she had decided she was going to do it, she barked, “Who’s there?”
She was answered not by a voice, but a sound—a deep and oddly wistful groan. It sounded like the involuntary sound a child might make turning over in its sleep, albeit amplified a hundredfold. Yet although it was loud, the sound was fleeting, and tangled up in the still-howling wind, and therefore impossible to identify. It was disquieting enough, though, to set off a jittering in her belly, to make her feel suddenly claustrophobic, trapped by the dark. All at once the urge to see what was in front of her overwhelmed her natural caution, her desire to remain undetected. With a trembling hand she snatched her phone from her pocket and switched on the ‘Torch’ app, shining it in front of her.
She couldn’t help it—she let out a gasp that was sharp enough to emerge as a breathy scream. No more than two metres away was a circular pit that, as far as she could tell, stretched from one wall of the barn to the other. She thought of animal traps, in the bottom of which might be sharpened stakes designed to pierce the animal’s body as it fell. Oh God, oh God. Was that what this was? She tilted her phone down, shining it into the hole.
It wasn’t black down there, as she had expected. It was red.
And she could see something moving. Something huge and glistening and slug-like.
She jerked back so quickly she stumbled and almost fell. Her fingers sprang open, an involuntary defence mechanism, and her phone flew out of her hand and into the hole. She watched in horror as it dropped out of reach, briefly illuminating the wet red walls of the pit, before bouncing on the glistening, slowly uncoiling thing at the bottom and winking out.
Now she was in darkness, and she could smell the thing, its meaty, burpy stench, as it rose towards her. At least, she imagined it was rising towards her. Imagined it adhering to the walls, hauling its bulk upwards, extruding tentacles to coil around her limbs to ensnare her, pull her down.
“Won’t hurt you,” said a voice.
She whirled round with a scream. Squatting in the corner of the barn to the right of the door, just out of the reach of the lamplight, was a small figure. Her heart thumping, she stared at it, and then in a flinty voice she said, “Adam?”
The figure rose and stepped forward. Now the lamplight illuminated it from below, transforming its small, pale face into a skull-like mask. Stacy saw that Adam’s hands were red. Blood red. Like the colour of the pit.
“It’s old, but it’s just a baby,” he said. “Got no teeth. Likes meat, though.”
Disjointed and staccato though his words were, Stacy thought this was the most she had ever heard him speak in one go. She glanced behind her, in the direction of the pit.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Told you. Just a baby.”
“That thing in the pit is a baby?”
She saw shadows rushing into the creases his frown made.
“Ain’t a pit,” he said. “That’s its mouth.”
For a moment she couldn’t make sense of his words. Then all at once she was hit by a revelation. The glistening thing in the red pit wasn’t a creature. It was a tongue.
“Its mouth,” she breathed. “You mean . . . there’s more of it?”
“Lots more. Found its hand first. Came up through the soil. Then it started singing to me. In my head. Told me where to find its mouth, where to dig. Told me how to feed it.”
Its hand . . . came up through the soil . . . Stacy thought of the standing stones in the field, how she could have sworn one of them had moved. She thought of the curved, shell-like object Adam had brought to school.
“Oh my God,” she said. “Show and tell. That was one of its fingernails, wasn’t it?”
Her mind was whirling. “How big . . . ” she breathed. “How big is this thing?”
“Big,” he said, and frowned again. “Ain’t a thing. It’s a giant.”
A giant. Cornish folklore was full of tales of giants. But none of them could possibly be true, could they?
A hysterical giggle bubbled its way into her throat. But she thought if she let it loose, if she gave rein to it, it might become something else. Might become terrified, helpless sobbing. She had to hold it together. Had to get back to her car and inform the authorities. Let them deal with this.
Sliding a glance from Adam’s motionless figure to the barn door, she asked, “Where are your parents, Adam? Your mum and dad?”
For a moment Adam looked anguished. Then his face cleared. “He sang to me. He was hungry. I couldn’t say no. It was quick. I used poison. Lots of it. On the animals too. But he’s still hungry.”
Oh God, oh God. Her mind kept repeating it, two panicked syllables, over and over. The jittering in her belly had extended to her limbs and she was shaking badly. Her mouth had gone so dry she couldn’t even lick her lips.
She made a mighty effort. Unpeeled her tongue from the bottom of her mouth. Forced herself to swallow. When she spoke her voice was a rasp.
“I’m going now,” she said. “Are you going to stop me?”
His expression was bland. His red hands, his bloody hands, hung by his sides. “No, miss.”
She nodded and edged towards the door, her eyes never leaving him. He was only a ten-year-old kid, and a smaller than average one at that, but what if he had a knife? Or even a gun? Farmers owned guns, didn’t they? If he made a sudden move she’d jump him. She wouldn’t hesitate. He might only be a child, but she’d do all she could to get away.
She reached the door. Still he hadn’t moved. He was no more than two metres away from her now. She said, “What are you going to do?”
He shrugged. “He’ll be hungry again soon. He’s always hungry.”
She nodded, as if she understood, and slipped out of the door. As soon as she was outside she started running.
The wind howled around her, buffeting her body as though trying to stop her from leaving. She slithered in the mud, went down on one knee, then picked herself up and stumbled on. She glanced back at the barn, expecting to see Adam coming after her, a shotgun in his hands, but there was no sign of him. She started to shake again. To shake so badly she could barely stand. Then she realised it wasn’t her who was shaking. It was the ground.
She staggered from one side of the track to the other. She fell. What was this? An earthquake?
The land was wrapped in a deep, dusky grey, but it wasn’t quite dark yet. The sun was still hovering on the horizon, providing just enough light to see by.
But all at once a huge shadow raced across the ground, smothering the farmhouse and the yard where her car was parked, blotting out what little light there was. She saw it coming, a tide of black. She looked up.
The shape was vast, vaster than vast, against the darkening sky. She thought of what Adam had said about the creature in the ground, the creature whose open, wailing mouth was in the barn, and whose fingers were jutting from the soil of a farmer’s field.
Won’t hurt you, he had said. It’s just a baby.
The ground shook again. The shadow passed over her like a vast tide.
Only one word filled Stacy’s mind.
Originally published in Terror Tales of Cornwall, edited by Paul Finch.