Scrapefoot #4

Hello! Hope you are doing fine. Thanks for dropping by to catch up with Part 4 of Scrapefoot. I thought it would only be four parts, but this story has other ideas! Thanks so much for reading.

This week, who exactly has broken in to Rebecca’s mum’s house?

SCRAPEFOOT #4

 For the first time in my adult life, I felt a bit blindsided. How on earth was I going to get him out?

    “If you don’t leave immediately, I’m definitely going to call the police and have you done for breaking and entering.”

    “I didn’t break anything,” he said. “I fix things.”

He nodded towards the table leg. He was crafty.

     “How exactly did you get in?”

He laid a finger aside his long, elegant nose and tapped it. “Ways and means, ways and means.”

    “What? Look, this is my mother’s home and-”

     “But she isn’t, is she?”

    “Isn’t what?”

    “At home.”

     “She’s in a home. Look, this is really none of your business.”

He put another log on the fire as if the words coming out of my mouth meant nothing to him.

      “I’ve cut some logs for her, out the back.” He dusted his hands together.

      “But-but she doesn’t need logs. She’s in a home, where she is being looked after.”

        “Looked after.” He repeated. “After. Doesn’t that word mean behind? Like something left behind, or a second thought?”

I was so angry I couldn’t reply. I glanced at my phone screen. Was calling 999 an overreaction? He didn’t seem dangerous, just…odd. I was just trying to remember the non-emergency police number when he stalked past me. I caught that sharp whiff again, the foxy, musky smell. I’d forgotten about the fox. Had it gone into the other room? That’s where he seemed to be going, the strange man, crossing the floor with long loping strides. Into the sitting room he went, and I followed him. He sat down in the big easy chair where Mum used to relax to watch Coronation Street and do her crossword. The memory made something go chink inside me, like a bit of ice breaking off. The man gave a couple of experimental bounces.

    “This is better, isn’t it?” He jumped up so quickly I backed away, but he came after me, took my arm gently, the way a spaniel picks up a feathery game bird. “Come on- you try it. Remember how this chair was really lumpy?”

    “No I don’t. This was my mother’s chair. I’m not in the habit of sitting in it and she never complained”

Reluctantly, I let him guide me to the chair and I sat down. The cushion moulded to my shape. Even though every sinew in my body was knotted with tension, I let myself imagine how wonderful it would be to let the softness of the cushion lure me into complete relaxation. Horrified, I sat bolt upright.

    “Is this a new cushion? What the hell are you playing at?”

The pale stranger plonked himself down on the sofa, did another couple of experimental bounces, and then moved to the wing chair by the window, the one that had been my grandmother’s. That chair, I recalled, was evil. It seemed to have springs pinging from its soul.

    “This chair is dreadful,” he said. “So hard and uncomfortable.”

     “Yes, you’re right. I’ve never liked that chair.”

      “And the couch- well, that is too soft.”

  I tipped my head in consideration. “I always quite liked the couch. I used to curl up there to do my homework.”

   “ Bad for your back. I bet you have a bad back.”

  “ I have sciatica, but that’s neither here nor-”

   “ So I found that cushion in the skip and now your mother’s chair is just right. She’ll be so happy when she comes home.”

He looks so pleased with himself, like a smiley collie dog, that I don’t have the heart to tell him she will never be coming home.

Thank you for reading!

While you’re here, please take a look at my novels and writing courses. I love to blend a little folklore into my novels, and from my interactions with readers, I know you like it too! If you can, please leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads. With book shops closed, it would really help. Thank you in advance!

Sandra x

Scrapefoot #3

It’s Sunday again! I can’t believe it. For people who are confined to barracks, we’re fairly rattling through the weeks and months! Let’s hope time is propelling us towards a bright spot on the horizon. Anyway, I hope you are keeping safe and well and have a few moments to spare for the third instalment of Scrapefoot. Who is behind the brightly-lit windows of a seemingly empty cottage? Enjoy…

Scrapefoot #3

My heart must have stalled, because it suddenly started up again, rattling in my chest like a freight train. This time I did fumble for my phone, not to access the flashlight, but to have 999 at the ready. Squatters. That was the only explanation. Eel Beck Cottage was an ex-forestry worker’s dwelling. It had its own modest patch of land, with a vegetable plot at the back and a front garden over which, despite some heavy-duty wire netting, my mother had fought a long running battle with the deer. This was not a house you’d stumble upon. There were no passers-by in the wood, no ramblers, or tourists or opportunists. Whoever was behind those warm amber windows had chosen to be here. Had been led here. I glanced up at that bright star.

How dare they? Mustering all my courage, and mentally rolling up my sleeves, I started up the garden path. I was not afraid of confrontation. Most people, be they board members or gnarly trespassers, could be viewed as naughty children. They just needed the error of their ways pointing out to them in no uncertain terms. I had only taken a handful of steps when I realised I was not the first to mark this pristine blanket of snow. There were tracks, a single animal, leading right up to the front door. Animal prints. Fox prints. I stopped dead. Despite the cold and the dark, the front door was slightly ajar.

I faltered. Icicles, like crystal drops, had formed on the stone lintel and now they were melting, drip, drip ,drip. Someone had lit a fire in house. I could smell woodsmoke and the snow which had been banked up against the bottom of the door caved in like a child’s sandcastle. The amber light around the door seemed to grow brighter. For a second, the idea of a dirty, smelly fox slipping into my mother’s home outraged me more that the notion of a vagrant take-over. I could smell fox; that sharp, musky whiff. The same scent that greeted me in London when I went out to my car in the early mornings. The scent of something waiting and watching, anticipating my next move.

Giving the door a shove, I stepped over the threshold of snow. A rich, dark heat hit me: smouldering timber, winter apples, spice. It propelled me forcibly back to childhood, to my mother’s far-fetched tales, fleecy pyjamas, hot chocolate before bed. I had to swallow something hard that lodged in my throat and when I called out, my voice had lost its usual authority.

    “Hello? Who’s there? You shouldn’t be in here, you know.”

I let my gaze roam around the walls. The place was filled with candles in jars. On every surface they sat, little flames dancing like fireflies. I’d been imagining a crime scene, the place burglarised, upturned drawers and scattered paper and desecration. But none of that was evident. The place looked broadly as we had left it twelve months ago, when the paramedics had skilfully manoeuvred my mother over the same threshold. She’d looked back once, and I’d had to avert my eyes from the deep well of sorrow in hers.

No the place looked undisturbed. I said it again- hello -in a much firmer voice. A head popped up from behind the table, quickly followed by the rest of the man who’d been crouching there. There is a strange man in my mother’s kitchen. That’s all my brain would come up with. There is a strange man in my mother’s kitchen.

And he was indeed strange.

He was very…pale. Like a faded painting. Hair the colour of ash and a wispy beard to match, an Arran jumper unravelling at the hem, and those camouflage pants that soldiers wear in the desert. He was barely there, yet somehow he seemed to merge with the kitchen and all its neutral shades; whitewash, stone, limed oak. When he looked straight at me, his eyes reflected the amber glow of the candlelight.

“Hello,” he said, as if I was the visitor, the intruder.

“What do you think you’re doing?” My voice was gaining ground, becoming more confident.

He glanced at the floor tiles. “I was fixing that table leg. It’s wobbly, the table.”

“It’s always been wobbly, but-”

“No problem. You’re welcome.” He moved over to the hearth where a healthy blaze was spitting and crackling. Sparks detached themselves and floated up the chimney. As a child, I used to rush outside to see if I could spot them emerge, little specks of fairy dust against the night sky. I shook the notion away.

  “My mother hasn’t used that fireplace for years. There’s central heating and light.” I marched over to the wall and clicked a switch. The kitchen was flooded with a harsh artificial glow, making the stranger wince. I could see him clearly now. My first thought was that he was much younger than I’d first thought. Maybe he’d gone prematurely grey, like Philip Scofield. His skin was still young and taut, and his facial hair looked a bit tentative, like a teenager’s. It was hard to work out his age.

   “I like the dark,” he complained, rubbing at his eyes.

I immediately clicked off the switch and we reverted to candlelight. What the hell was I doing?

   “Look- who are you? I’m going to call the police.”

He laughed at that, one of those seen-it-all-before laughs. “I wouldn’t bother. They’d never be able to find this place. It took me all my time.”

  “So how did you find it?” I was feeling frustrated, angry and my legs were tired. I wanted to sit down, but I had to get this person out of the house first.

 “The star, of course.” He jerked his head towards the low ceiling. My thoughts travelled upwards, through the rafters and the attic, up into the sky to the Great Conjunction. I brought them back down to earth and rearranged them. I had to get this CRAZY person out of the house. Something else occurred to me.

 “That fox- is it yours? A pet or something? It came in here, I saw the prints in the snow. You need to get out and take it with you.” I suddenly moved from the spot where I’d planted myself, looking under the table and between the legs of chairs. “They’re unhygienic.”

“The white fox?” His voice sounded amused.

     “Is it a dog?” I straightened up. That would make more sense. “Is it your dog? Look, seriously, you and your dog need to sling your hook. Get out now. This is my mother’s house. I don’t even know how you got in.”

I glance around wildly but there is no sign of a forced entry. Everything is untouched apart from the addition of a warm fire and soft lighting- and a fixed table leg.

    “No, No, it’s not a dog,” he said eventually, but he didn’t elaborate.

Thank you for reading! See you next week for Scrapefoot #4

Scrapefoot #1

I’ve set myself a wee challenge. In an attempt to get my creativity back on track in the New Year, I’m undertaking The Artist’s Way with Dawn Geddes. Elizabeth Frattaroli and Gillian Duff. Thank you for the inspiration, Dawn! There’s no doubt that circumstances have taken a toll on our inner lives, so I’ve set myself the goal of producing a drawing a day for the next few weeks and as a little 2021 gift for my readers I will be serialising a short story!

Entitled Scrapefoot. this is a modern folktale set in a snowy Yorkshire wood.What is going on in the mysterious Eel Beck Cottage and why does Rebecca keep seeing a white fox? I have no idea, because I’m still in the middle of writing it! Watch it unfold RIGHT HERE. I will be uploading a new part every Sunday in January.

So grab a coffee, put your feet up and enjoy! Follow my WordPress site so you don’t miss anything.

Scrapefoot #1

Each crunch of my booted feet detonated in the silent winter wood. Fingers of snow dislodged themselves and showered my head, and underneath the white blanket, things cracked and creaked and stuck out at odd angles like broken bones. Those bits of sky visible through the black ribs of the trees were already navy blue.  My preferred type of snow was vast, smooth and well-curated; a short ski-lift ride from a smoking glühwein, but this was no holiday. I’d left it too late to come here.

I hadn’t realised how frail my mother had become. The care home seemed vast about her narrow shoulders, a large, bustling place full of strangers. She kept to her room as much as possible, emerging as requested to sit politely at the table three times a day. She ate like a bird, and she felt like a bird, stick-like bones beneath the ragged plumage of her best hand-knit. I held her the way you’d hold a fledgling, half-afraid of doing more harm than good.

    “I’m fine,” she would reply to all of my questions, and I had many, many questions. I hadn’t seen her in person for so long. She didn’t perform well on Facetime. Like a child, there was something about the screen that confused her and she couldn’t get emails, of course, unless the manager printed them out for her and even then she couldn’t see to read them. I tried to remember to use a bold font, but often I’d forget. I’ve never hand-written a letter in my life. I think we’ve come too far to go back to that. We might as well return to the quill.

Do you like it here? Is the food good? Are they kind to you? Have you made any friends?

  “I’m fine,” was all she would say, and then she’d smile, leaving me none the wiser. She never asked for anything either. I brought her magazines, chocolate, a hand-held fan in case it got too hot, fingerless gloves in case it was too chilly. She accepted them all with grace, but she never asked for anything. Until this morning. The request I’d been trying to avoid, even though I knew it was on the cards.

   “One thing you could do while you’re here, Rebecca.” She rested her hand over mine. It was dry, and insubstantial, like an autumn leaf. “I’d be really grateful if you could go up to Eel Beck. Nobody has been there for so long, and I’m worried about it.”   

  “Yes, of course I will.” I squeezed the crinkled leaf of her hand. My gut shrank a little. Eel Beck may have been my childhood home, but I was in no rush to go back. I’d struggled so hard to be free of it…

Check back next Sunday for Scrapefoot #2 ! Until then, stay safe, my friends…