This following is part one of a serialized novella by New Westminster author JJ Lee and features the first two chapters of The Ghosts of Havenholm. We are so very proud to be able to publish this work.
The story: “Oscar has a number of problems. He just moved to Havenholm, a creepy neighbourhood that most people in town avoid. He has no friends. Nearly everyone he meet appears to be dead. And then there is the decrepit groundskeeper, Mr. Maurais, a man who hungers to consume Oscar’s soul.”
Stay tuned for Part Two in August.
The summer haze may have made her shimmer, if she was real at all. In the tall grass across the road, a distance away, Oscar saw a tail of red hair and the flutter of a yellow skirt or dress.
He rubbed his eyes. He hesitated on the top step of the front porch of his new house in Havenholm. New isn’t quite the right word for Havenholm because it was, in fact, one of the oldest neighbourhoods. It was isolated from the rest of town. Only one road led to the area, which was plenty enough. Few people in town ever visited for the place had a grim history.
Havenholm had been the grounds of a sanatorium and later an orphanage. Then it had been a college for deaf and blind children. A great fire had burned down all the buildings on the hill. Now, Oscar saw only thick woods and bits of meadow.
His father had told him that lives were lost and, as a result, only on rare occasions did local folk cross the road that ringed the hill to set foot on Havenholm proper. On the outside edge of the ring road stood the only houses that survived the fire. A mere three of them had families living in them, including Oscar’s.
But none of Havenholm’s history was the cause of his reluctance.
He leaned on a column with flecks of white paint that barely hung onto the greyed, sun-faded wood. His right foot hovered over the next step down, its toe pointing towards the grass. On his left foot he leaned away, back towards the door, which lead to the hall, which lead to the kitchen, where Oscar knew his mother continued to unpack.
Oscar really did want to call out “hello” but the word caught in his throat. He coughed. Words often caught in his throat because he rarely knew what to do unless someone told him to. That someone was usually Simon, who, to be quite frank, was the very reason Oscar’s parents decided to move. They believed Oscar had to learn to think for himself. Which would have been a good thing to do the day Simon convinced Oscar to come with him to the overpass and drop a number of bricks on cars passing below. No one was hurt but police did come and, well, his parents did not say so much, but Oscar knew why they moved.
Still, he wondered what Simon would have thought about the girl. Simon probably would have said Oscar hadn’t actually seen anyone and therefore Oscar would be silly to call out to nothing. However, Oscar’s father would have argued that there would be no harm in trying even if it caused some embarrassment.
Yes, Oscar also thought about what his father would say and his mother, and if the cat talked he would wonder what the cat would say as well. As Oscar’s mother once put it, “It’s the way his mind works.”
Oscar held a willow switch in one hand and waved it back and forth, as if trying to dispel the vision. But somebody was there. He stood on his toes, attempting to see over the tall grass. He saw no one. Only blades waved back. Oscar turned to go into the house.
Before he planted both feet inside, his mother called out, “Try not to let the screen door slam.” It did. He heard his mother sigh from down the hall.
Oscar kicked at the crumpled newspapers piled around his mother’s legs.
“I think I saw a girl out front.”
“Was she your age?”
“I guess. She was kinda far.”
“See, I told you there would be friends your age.”
“She’s not a friend. She’s a girl I saw or I thought I saw.”
“I have no idea what you mean by that but maybe you’ll see her again. Now clean up. Your dad’s coming home with pizza.”
Oscar stared at the ceiling. He kicked at the sheets. He looked for the cool spot on the bed and then searched for a warm one. He expected the new place would be quiet at night but he was wrong.
The warm air that came off the lake during the day gave way at night to cold winds from the valley. They shook the trees and buffeted the house. The floors in the hall creaked. The old heater, which should have been off, ticked, and sighed on its own. He strained to hear what he thought was skittering. It moved between the walls. A gust tugged the curtains. They flapped out the wide-open window.
He recalled leaving it nearly shut with just a crack open before he went to bed. Ugh. He got up and pulled the drapes back in. As he shut the window, he took in the full moon in the sky. Below it laid the dark woods that seemed to devour the light. The tall grass, streaked in blue and silver, swayed in the wind. A shadow emerged from the field. It was the girl, her body rising out of the meadow. She extended her arm. She pointed to the spot where he first saw her. Oscar could not see her face in the murk but he felt certain her eyes fixed on him.
Again, he wanted to call out to her. Yet he couldn’t imagine himself yelling at a stranger across a road and field in the middle of the night. What would he say, anyhow? She brought her hand back to her body and repeated the motion, pointing to the spot.
Oscar threw on a housecoat and snuck down the stairs. He made sure not to slam the screen door. On the last step of the porch, he sat and slipped on sneakers. He left the laces untied and the dew on the grass made them wet and heavy. They began to swing and he felt their coldness when they touched his ankles. Oscar pulled his housecoat tighter. Again he thought about Simon. It would be nice to have a friend beside him. Simon would have enjoyed the sneaking out and the thrill of walking across a field in the dark. Though he would not have apologized for doubting Oscar. He would have said horrible things about the girl, like “I wonder if she wants us to pull her finger or smell it.”
From deep in the woods something howled. A coyote, not a wolf. Wolves don’t come this close to town, do they? What would Simon do? Oscar bent down and picked up a rock. He glanced to see if the girl noticed or was frightened. She continued to point.
Again, Oscar found it hard to move up the slope and across the rough terrain. He stubbed his toes on large rocks and he staggered through hidden furrows and troughs. He nearly twisted his ankle on a fallen log hiding in the tall grass.
Finally, he reached her, just a few steps away. He looked up at her and saw they were about the same age. Her hair was long and braided. She watched him with fixed, unblinking eyes.
He said, “Hello.”
She remained silent. She extended her arm and pointed again at the spot. All he could see was more grass. “What is it? Is there something you want me to see?”
Until that moment, he had assumed the girl had climbed upon a large rock or log to rise so high over the grass. But now, he could see the girl’s toes hanging down, pointing at the ground. She stood on nothing. She floated.
Oscar began to tremble. His teeth chattered. He wanted to run away but the vision enthralled him. The girl pointed again. Without thinking—had he thought at all he never would have done what he did—he reached towards her and attempted to grab her wrist. This could have been a fine moment of personal development and progress except that his hands passed through her.
Oscar turned and ran. His heart pounded. He had not run like this in three years, when a doctor had listened to his chest and tutted. His mother and the doctor had huddled and Oscar had strained to hear what they said.
“It’s not a real concern. You just have to be cautious.”
“What will happen to him?”
“Maybe nothing, maybe never.”
“But it can just stop.”
Since that appointment, Oscar’s mother had cautioned him not to run under any circumstances.
But here he was running down a hill, through tall grass. He heart thundered and he felt an incredible urge to pee. His teeth chattered and amidst his panic he thought about the swift blur of his feet and pumping of his legs in the dark. He never felt more alive. An incredible, gaudy thought flashed across his brain, “I saw a ghost,” and that was the moment Oscar tumbled headfirst into the grass and a darkness, deeper than the night, took him.