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Thickets Wood

224 Pages

A young boy once did what any brother would do. Something so simple, yet it would change the course of his life forever.

Life in Thatchbury Village seems normal enough until the vanishing of Charlie Whitehall rekindles the myth surrounding Thickets Wood. As idle gossip spreads, lives are altered and innocence destroyed.

Tommy Tinkit, a twelve year old boy haunted by his past, finds himself torn between reality and the dark uncertainty of another dimension. The shadow of the woods is pushing at its boundaries, spilling into the village like a primeval mist, bringing torment and desperation.

Meanwhile, as the lines between sanity and delusion become blurred, a nameless young woman struggles with her memories. Forced into a world of make believe, she becomes her own salvation. Her mind is both her torturer and her key to freedom.

Could it be as they say − the spirit in the wood brings retribution?

A dark psychological thriller, Thickets Wood is the second novel in Rebecca Reid’s Thickets Wood Trilogy. It follows The Coop and precedes Cherry Tree.

Read Excerpt

Thickets Wood

The light is dim. It flickers, not gently, but with urgency. She worries it may be suffocating and pulls her hand back in panic; she hadn’t thought that the movement might add to its intensity but it does, only momentarily. There’s a wildness in her eyes as she holds her breath, waiting, just hoping she hasn’t snuffed it. It settles back to a flicker and she finally exhales but this time she thinks, turning her face to the side before letting out the stream of air; sheer stupidity at this point would be unforgivable. There’s life in the shadow it casts on the wall, the way it moves, free life. If only she could remember. The flame calms and she cups it again, more loosely this time. There’s a smile on her face. She notices only because the muscles begin to ache, forcing her to wonder how long it’s been there. The palm of her hand catches her eye, the dirt all dry and caked; it’s not a surprise, just illuminated by the flame. Spit, that usually does it. She works at it for a moment, rolling her tongue in her mouth until a well of saliva rests behind her teeth; some days it takes longer than others but she’s lucky, it’s one of the good days today. She drips it down onto her hand. It’s better than licking it. She wouldn’t want to do that. It would only contaminate her mouth and then what would she do? No, she has to spit. There’s less than she thinks when it hits her palm but anything will do; she reaches her hand around to the small of her back and rubs it vigorously on the material of her dress, checking it a few times before she’s satisfied. It’s always the back of her dress, not the front; no − she likes it to appear as clean as possible. After all, that’s the only bit she can see, the back is worthless to her. She has never seen her hands in this way before; her lips twitch from their frown.

He gave her the candle because it’s snowing outside. It’s her only source of heat. He hasn’t said it is snowing, she only knows because the wind blew some flakes through the vent. They lay for a moment before melting; she assumes that the cold of the concrete kept them alive. Now they’re just drips.

It’s short, the candle, just slightly longer than her index finger, and white, except where the ash has stained it. She watches as the drips of melted wax gather over the edge and tumble down, stopping just short of her finger. It won’t matter if they hit it; might even feel nice, warm. She huddles closer to the wall and curls her shoulder in as far as it can go, being sure to keep her hair draped behind her; it’s not difficult, it’s far from soft. She’s exactly where he left her, except sunk to the floor rather than standing; she turned her back and sank as soon as he walked away, knowing the pull of the door would blow it out. She saved it; that pleases her.

BANG!

She jumps, bumping her head on the underframe of the cot. She rubs her forehead where the spring hit her, just above the brow; it’s an automatic response, it’s not terribly sore.

It was another cell; she can hear the muffled voices of doctors.

She breathes a sigh – that was before.

Chapter One

His legs spun with the peddles, crashing through the puddles as he tore around the corner of the field and down the track. He was going too quickly, his legs barely keeping up with the rotation as the front wheel bounced over the dirt path, twigs snapping beneath their combined weight, sending the water beneath the leg of his trouser. The rain meant nothing; if anything it added to the moment of clarity. He needed it to feel alive. The bicycle shuddered as it aquaplaned across a channel of leaves; the track was thick with them. He gripped the handlebars more tightly than before as he felt his legs flail to the sides, both peddles spinning freely in his attempt to steady himself in the slide. The skid was short, stopping abruptly as the back wheel rode a foot or so up a tree trunk, sending Charlie, elbow and shoulder, hard into the ground. He winced as he rubbed the ache out of his arm, the blood just catching the edge of his vision; he paid little attention, his focus was elsewhere. He dragged it to its wheels and swung himself back on. Glancing, he saw that the tyres were still in working order, for now anyway; he wouldn’t bet on them lasting much longer, but they should hold up long enough. That’s all he needs, long enough.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

Its face was white. He had never noticed before. He always imagined it was different, how, he didn’t know, but not white. The noise used to soothe him, the repetitive rhythm, now it was more of an incessant interruption.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

Before he knew it he was stuffing things into his satchel. What was he doing? He sank to the bed and trailed the jumper out onto his knee. It was purple. He smiled. Reaching in for his journal, he gently thumbed the upper right corners of its pages. They were well-worn, dirty around the edges from battering against all four corners of his life. Worn and bruised. Reminded him of himself. This time he didn’t smile.

The clock was driving him mad; its persistent ticking. He’d soon put a stop to that, he thought, lifting it free from the wall and stuffing it into the now empty satchel; already things were quieter. It wasn’t good enough. He swung it over his shoulder and charged into his sons’ room. Kneeling on the floor he gently pushed the bag beneath their bed. There, he thought, wiping his hands clean, peace at last.

The boards on the upper floor creaked as he walked on them., they always had but that was annoying him now too, had been for weeks. He’d cast a blind eye, or deaf ear before, but now it was unignorable. He began down the stairs for a lever to ease them up, that way he couldn’t stand on them, the noisy ones, he would just walk on the silent ones, and stack the rest out back for firewood. The wood. He paused. Thickets Wood. His toe broached the outer edge of the third step from the bottom. He hesitated, wavering slightly as he hovered over the edge, the railing saving him. What was he thinking? Sandra would go wild if she came home to hopscotch flooring. He had to get a grip. His journal, that was it. It had become his saving grace. What an appropriate turn of phrase, he thought. He turned to it now more than ever,

‘What you get me a note book for?’ he’d asked.

‘Thought you could keep it like a little diary, all your recipes and the like,’ Sandra said warmly. She knew he’d use it even if he didn’t. She was the one stacking the piles of notes together at the end of each week; he’d use it all right.

That was a long time ago. He slammed the bedroom door behind him and knelt on the floor, his weight indenting the bed with the pressure of his elbows as he began writing frantically, every thought leaving him, staining the paper rather than his mind. He wrote for what felt like hours. He didn’t know, it was maybe far less, he’d gotten rid of the clock.

He was forty-three. Overweight. Immaculate, or so he would have been had he not let himself slip. Slip, good choice of word. He had let that happen all right, in every department. His clean-cut hair didn’t curl around his hairline any longer, it hung miserably above his brows. Two inches longer than ever, and dull. The subtly creased shirts were less subtle and more in your face than was commonly associated with his appearance. He had given up. Cinders had previously been his excuse for an iron, that, and an effortless replacement for one. They went to waste now, replaced by badly folded creases. She had noticed his slip. She had offered to iron. Presumably he refused, or neglected to care. Either way, he’s scruffier than before. He is pale, rosy-cheeked – broken-veined to be exact. A family man, a warm-hearted, hard-working family man with two kids and a wife.

‘Charlie, you up there?’

He jumped with the noise, snarling at the interruption.

‘Charlie?’

It was Sandra. He remembered now that he was meant to collect the twins.

‘Have you got the boys?’

He jumped to his feet, flinging the journal beneath the bed before dashing down the stairs, knocking her shoulder as he passed her on the bottom step.

‘I’m just getting them,’ he bellowed from beyond the front door, still banging against the frame.

She sighed. It wasn’t worth shouting after him, not any more. His shoes caught her eye, tucked beneath the table in the hall. She glanced back out and caught him before he turned at the gate; he was in his socks, she could see the dirtied soles against the pale tops. Pushing the door closed, her smile faded. It wasn’t funny, not really. She hadn’t got more than a stifled giggle out of it; there was a day she’d have cried with laughter, but not now, not recently. It wasn’t a rushing man’s mistake, that would have been hilarious; they’d both have laughed later.. No. She knew what would happen, he’d stroll back in oblivious, not a mention of the shoes or the socks stuck to his feet. She’d have to ask to see if he even noticed. That wasn’t funny, it was worrying.

It was a fifteen-minute stroll to Mrs Spool’s. Walking quickly he could be there in five, or thereabouts. He wondered how late he was. Hadn’t noticed the time, that’s right, he’d got rid of the clock. It didn’t really matter, they wouldn’t be set out on the doorstep, they’d be having the time of their lives, but Sandra hated lateness, especially when it came to collecting their children. Too late to think about it now, it was done.

He followed the path along the edge of the wood a little way; he didn’t need to, he chose to. It gave him a thrill, made his heart race one beat ahead of itself; he could feel the pounding in his chest, echoing all the way into his ear canal. Like Russian roulette, he was drawn to it, the risk. He wasn’t comfortable, not with any aspect of it. His hands were twitching, his thumb running the length of his fingertips on both hands as he chattered silently to himself, head hung in the hope it made him less conspicuous. He felt pathetic. He was pathetic. The fear subsided and his breathing relaxed as he turned up to Mrs Spool’s. It took him a moment to catch his breath. He hadn’t realised how quickly he had been panting; it left him faint, wavering on the spot while his vision caught up with him. It felt good.

The Spool house was set back off the road just behind Sparkle and Spools. It was quaint and slightly shabby around the edges but she much preferred it that way to freshly painted. Howard had offered his services to them for a day on their anniversary a few years prior, thinking he might be set about painting the place up but no, instead she asked him to do a little weeding and then join her for lunch. Each to their own.

‘Hello,’ he hesitated, ‘sorry, em . . .’

She looked back at him confused.

‘Debbie,’ she said with a faint smile.

He knew her name; she’d known him all her life. Her mother was obviously right, she thought, looking at the scruffy spectacle hovering awkwardly on the doorstep.

‘I’ll just get them,’ she said without him asking, stifling a giggle as she dropped her gaze. ‘Forget your shoes on the way out, Mr Whitehall?’ she asked, trying her best to stay composed.

He looked at her in bemusement, then looked to his feet; he hadn’t noticed. How had he not felt it? His forehead furrowed as he puzzled it.

‘Whities, time to go!’ she bellowed up the stairs, stepping back for him to follow her in.

He chose not to. He was embarrassed as he felt the wet on his feet for the first time; he thought it best to wriggle his toes, give the illusion he was happy with it. It wasn’t working; he was utterly mortified.

John’s laughter broke his thoughts – a good thing really. He was being too self-indulgent again, a decline he had made recently that everyone bar himself had noticed.

‘Tell me you did that on purpose?’ he chuckled, Clay joining in, both their fingers wagging toward his feet.

‘Yes, yes, boys. Now did you thank Mrs Spool?’

‘Thanks again Spoolie,’ they bellowed.

John felt a quick slap to the back of the head.

‘We said thank you properly before we came down,’ he grumbled, still rubbing the sting out of his scalp before lifting his hand to the back of his twin’s head.

‘Ouch!’ Clay yelped, more in shock than in pain.

‘It’s only fair. I shouldn’t just get a slap ‘cause I’m nearest him!’ John grumped, as he lead the way down the path.

‘Thank you again Mrs Spool,’ Charlie called through the door, his feet still on the outer step.

‘Not at all,’ she shouted above the ruckus of children’s’ voices, her head just visible peering over the top railing, ‘tell Sandra I’ll be over tomorrow.’

He said nothing as he walked away. He hadn’t even heard.

Sandra was right; he didn’t say a word as the three of them ambled into the house. He was even quiet as the boys laughed about it, tears streaming down their cheeks as they told her.

‘I’m away to see the reverend,’ he said quietly.

‘What Charlie?’ she asked. He was barely audible above the laughter.

‘The reverend I’m just going to pop over and see him,’ he repeated, staring vacantly toward the door.

‘It’s almost dinner time, could it not − ’

She stopped short; he was walking away.

‘At least put some shoes on?’ she pleaded. ‘Boys! That’s enough!’ She realised her tone when she saw the shock on their faces. ‘You’re muck up to the elbows as usual, can’t be eating your dinner like that.’ She smiled warmly in an effort to make up for her outburst.

Charlie was on the front porch already, straddling his bicycle. It was pelting down and he was in little more than a shirt and trousers.

‘You’ll catch your death.’

He looked at her, really looked at her for the first time in weeks.

‘At least pull something more on?’

She’d lost him; just like that he sank back into himself, his weight beginning to bear down on the far pedal as she scavenged for something more to say. It was pointless; she was blank.

‘When will you be back?’ she shouted anxiously, watching as he eased down the lane of trees.

He said nothing.

The rear tyre was softening; he could feel the plunge of the bike as he peddled to the river.

‘It’s better this way, me taking charge. Yes, better,’ he mumbled with uncertainty.

The rain was easing as he stepped off and manoeuvred the frame onto his shoulder. It was heavier than he remembered; either that or it just hurt more because of the fall.

‘I did it, I know. It’s my fault. Stupid, stupid man!’ he flustered, shaking his head.

The water was freezing as he stepped into it, balancing as best he could on the larger stones as he made his way across; he had tried to strategise a route as he approached it, a waste of time – you do whatever comes once your feet get in there.

His teeth were chattering with the cold. He hadn’t noticed.

‘She did it before. Made things right, that’s what she did − ouch!’

He went over on his ankle, crashing the bicycle to the ground before stepping out; he couldn’t hold it any longer, not with that arm. Its back wheel missed the bank and sank into the water; he struggled with it, stumbling in an attempt to get both himself and the bicycle onto dry land.

‘Polly, there was Miss Polly. That was before, a long time ago. Then the Tiding girl, that was recent enough. God, there was her and the boy from the coop, that – that boy didn’t come back.’

The air was thick with moths and midges from the moment he broached the water’s edge; he waved his arms frantically in an attempt to disperse them but it was useless. Midges were flying into his mouth, he could feel them like grit as he swallowed. The moths batted off his arms and face. Thankfully they were too big to breathe in; the prospect of eating one made midges acceptable. Everything is competitive, he thought. Hauling himself back on the bike he resorted to steering one-handed, his other acting as a vent as he wobbled through the trees. She knows, I know she knows, he thought, his eyes darting from side to side, craning his neck to look behind through the clearing to the river as best he could.

He knew the woods were strange now, different. Everyone did. He’d overheard talk of it, chatted about it in the shop, but he’d never seen it for himself. It had been coming, they all saw it. Even those who turned a blind eye knew it was there. He wasn’t much of a hunter, never had been, but he heard the men when they came back, complaining of the stagnant air; he knew now what they meant, for as far as the eye could see there was a thick haze of moths. He blinked rapidly to protect his eyes, feeling the thud as they bumped into his lashes. He could feel the tickle as they walked on his scalp, along with the nipping, he was being nipped everywhere. He couldn’t see himself but he could imagine he was thick with them, like a moving blanket. He shook his head; they were too close to his ears. He didn’t like the wafting and the hum. The air was thinning as his legs began to wane from the peddling. He’d been fighting the ache in his arm for too long; it was becoming unbearable. It hurt more as he eased it outward, cracking at the elbow joint in the stretch. The tyres were done, they had been for a while, but he couldn’t have stopped in the thick of it. Only now he felt happy to leave it behind, knowing he could breathe freely.

Stepping off the bicycle, he stood straight as a die and motionless. It was then that he noticed it, the calmness in the air; it was limp, just hanging around him, completely dead. It reminded him of his father. There was nothing, not a breeze.

He knew what he was doing, at least he thought he did. Stumbling his way through the trees it became darker, dank. And then he heard it. He knew he would, that’s what he was there for, getting there first. It’s what he wanted. Still, it made him jump.