Hentan House: Daybreak

A knot gathered in my throat. It held me there motionless as my eyes bulged with an intense heat. Threatening to burst all I saw was my body hover over the cobbled ground. All I felt was cloth and rope. I had been hung. But it wasn’t me. No. I was somewhere else in a car. This was another person and I was merely inside. Shallow enough to feel just an echo of the throbbing violent pain. A passerby watching, with chin tucked to chest, as urine sprayed out across the rocks. A great shift and I felt myself slipping through the folds of skin. Falling out. My vision covered in a wet red and purple smear until light breached and I was free. Ejected, I looked up at the hung woman I was once inside. I knew those swollen blue eyes were vacant, but the feeling of her watching was so powerful I wanted to just weep there in the pool of blood and juices. A clacking of shoes approached.

A buzzer scraped through my head jolting me up. A large gate to the front of a property was retracting back automatically.

‘Play that song again Mum.’ Cora said from the back seat. I wondered just how long had I drifted off for.

‘No I can’t listen to it for a third time. We’re almost there so just let the next track come on.’

‘Come on, it’s my weekend. Let’s arrive there upbeat. I don’t want to listen to this old stuff.’ Cora continued as I pressed my temple against the cold glass of the door just waiting for it to end. If I could sleep in the car I would.

‘Let Aspen choose. You there Aspen?’ Mum waved her hand towards me but I barely moved. I grunted to show I was awake. My body body felt off. It was tight like breaking in a smaller pair of gloves. You could feel the second skin stretch.

‘What are the choices?’ I asked.

‘I want Spice Up Your Life but mum wants some Talking Heads old thing.’

‘It came out in the eighties. It’s not old at all. You know it Aspen, it’s Road to Nowhere.’

‘You know Spice Up Your Life is about crack right?’

‘Shut up!’ Cora shouted.

‘You and your friends all dressed up and sang it all the time. You made us watch you perform it.’

‘Yeah it’s got instructions on cooking meth.’

‘You’re talking shit Aspen.’ Cora said as mum beeped the horn.

‘No arguments. Okay. Aspen you’ve ruined it so we’ll just press random and listen to whatever comes on the playlist next.’ Mum fiddled with the buttons as I spotted another car approaching the gate too.

‘Here, I’ll sort that out while you drive.’ I clicked the small skip track button as we ventured onto the private land. As the gospel singing of mums choice ran through the car I stared out the window. Past the gate yellowing trees were fat and heavy with clusters of red berries. Like a pox the berries had filled the entire woods with a bloody sheen. And just as I began to wonder what they were the trees parted and the spa house stood proud over the trimmed green grass.

‘You used to live here?’Cora asked as she stuck her head forward to get a better look. I was surprised she could move so well considering she was as swollen as a gourd. I couldn’t believe a person could live in a place that large. You could house a small convent inside. It was amazing we had never heard of it let alone visited it.

‘The family still owns it. We rent it out mostly for private events.’

‘How come this is the first time we’re visiting it? I’d come here every summer if I had the chance.’ Cora said as she stroked her belly.

‘Because I like our space.’ Mum said. I could see on her face that there was more to it. We rarely saw our family except for Christmas when our Aunt Janet and her kids would visit. Janet was the youngest and was quite care free. Her two kids on the other hand were spoiled rotten. Maybe that was why Mum kept us removed from this side of the family, to protect us from becoming self-entitled brats. But there was a moment when I spied on Janet and mum talking about the past. Everyone except those two had gone to bed but I couldn’t sleep. I had caught sight of them on the decking in the back garden stood in the snow as Janet pressed her hand on our tree. As steam rose from their mouths I heard them speak about another sister called Lana. It was the first time I had seen my mother cry as she flung the last glass of red wine over the snow like a blood spatter. After that I rooted through all the house to find anything related to Lana but there was nothing.

The manor house turned spa stood proud over the gravel entrance and surrounding twice a week trimmed grass. A red streak of ivy ran across the front like a deep cut across the face that had been wrenched open and left to bleed down across the yellowing stone. The front of the building reminded me of the Jane Austen films Cora would make us watch when we were hungover in our teens. The clacking of the horse-drawn carriage and Cora’s deep sighs at those being the better times. I twisted my head and Cora was wide-eyed and dreaming. I had to check where her hands were to see if she was pinching herself. It made me happy to see her forget everything for even just a second. To not have to delve deep back into that hole filled with missing posters and baby worries.

‘Can we live here?’ Cora asked but Mum said nothing. She kept her eyes on the end of the road where the other cars had parked. There were six parked and one behind us. I had always wanted to ask her why she never spoke of her dead sister. But then she would change again. Further turning inward on herself until all we saw of our mum was this hard shell. My mum turned into the closest spot on the driveway and I went to the boot as her and Cora gathered their things. Just stepping down on the ground filled me with this overwhelming sense of comfort. If there was anything stressing me out or I needed healing then I would slide my shoes off and step barefoot onto the ground. It was electric.

‘Put your shoes back on.’ Mum said as she helped Cora wrangle herself and the belly full of baby out the car.

‘No need for shoes here. Hey there!’ A ladies voice bellowed out from the concrete steps leading to the large door. To call her an old lady was a disservice. She was the woman from the denture commercials, the actress who grew old with grace, those yogi woman who lived her life one pose at a time. She was definitely the right person to run a spa hotel. Turning to greet her too quickly I felt Cora’s suitcase slip from the boot. Suddenly I was not all smiles as the reinforced hard shell suitcase corner cracked my big toe.

‘Fuck,’ I shouted as the suitcase tumbled onto it’s side and I reeled back.

‘Jesus Christ Aspen,’ Mum spat out without even craning her neck around to check on me. I stared down in disbelief as my throbbing toe began to bleed out like a burst zit.

‘Are you okay there?’ The spa lady said as I continued to stare down. My face tingled and began to chill as the cracked half-open nail started to drain me like I had sprung a leak. Almost a perfect split across the top half of my toe nail. It reminded me of the hard boiled egg I had had for breakfast. The tip of the shell had been botched open you could see the cracks and runny yolk. It all went white.

When a person or neighbour in your village cries out “troll”, lock your children inside the house and keep your hunting rifle by your side. I used to believe they were only children’s tales supposed to scare the kids from stepping deep into caves or under bridges. They had bright pink hair and you stuck them onto the end of your pencil. There was nothing to fear because they were nowhere to be seen.

This all changed a few years ago. I was walking Hunter through the forest on a warm Summer’s day. He was off the lead and jumping through bushes and hopping over streams and rarely waited for me. But when I stopped to tie my shoes I looked up and he was gone. There was nothing but the faint groans of pigs. I moved through the bushes closer to the noise and to stop Hunter from scaring the animals. Clearing through the bushes I saw what looked like three children all dressed in black. They were hopping around the front of a cave and throwing something between them. I stepped closer and noticed they were not children at all. Standing four-foot-tall and covered in wiry black fur. They squatted at the entrance and squealed as they chucked something against the rocks. Stamping the ground and smashing their swollen grey hands down onto the item like they were pressing grapes for wine. Their faces were a mess of mangy hair and bulbous snout covered in warts. For a second I caught sight of their small pebble black eyes scan the trees. I stood horrified as one flung the creature they had been stomping on to the other. Amidst all the blood I saw one of the trolls spinning Hunter’s collar between its fingers. They were throwing my German Shepherd around like he was nothing more than a wet towel. They squealed and painted their cave red with his blood. Only after some time had passed, they finally grew bored and lazily clambered back into the darkness. As I stood there paralysed in fear the last thing I heard where the echoed howls of twenty more.

When I returned to the village and told them of the trolls the older men looked at me displeased. They said they had warned us many times of the trolls, but no-one listened. It was several days later when I heard that they had built a fence around the cave and done nothing more. Looking back now I agree with how they handled it. It was too much of a risk to try and fight them as an angry troll will often follow you home and sniff out your loved ones. Best to let them lay in their caves and hope you don’t catch their eye.

little-black-horn-v1

 

A woman struggles to hide the truth from a creature she believes to be her lover; a man journeys to Southern Italy in search of a witch; a child makes a pact with a voice he hears at the bottom of his garden.

From adult fairy-tales to suburban horror; dark intentions seep through this collection of tales from the imagination of Harley Holland.

Available now on Amazon and Kindle.

Sad Violins (Extract)

violin animation

 

Retreating to his music room, giddy in excitement, Alwin knew the realities of his talent-less body. What was once a room to practice, had become a private concert between him and Sofia. He would linger there for hours, bringing all work to this room when she rehearsed. It wasn’t just listening to the high craft of a genius, watching her playing – with such devotion and peace – let him forget his troubles. Being in her presence eased the pain that he could never replicate such delights.

Resting the case on the wooden table, he unclipped it and took hold of the violin. Light as a birds bone, he eased the chin rest into place. Plucking the strings lightly while twisting the pegs, Alwin was amazed that it was all in correct tune. Taking hold of the bow, he eased his mind to recall the month he spent on the violin as a child. His clunky fingers held down on the neck ready for the bow string. Old Joe Clark. At fifteen, his mother had gifted him a violin for his birthday. Sat on the long windowsill to his room, he cracked his knuckles and twisted the digits, letting sandwiches harden out on the table untouched. The hum of Old Joe Clark still remained in his adult self, a constant whisper. Here he was again, a man now with heavy fingers, fat and sprouting hair. Drawing the bow back and forth, he went over the tune, surprised to find how easily his fingers adjusted. He played it slow, discomforted by the lack of difficulty. Picking up the pace, he went through the repetitions, swiftly dithering his hand at the correct beat. Lost to his senses, he did not notice his fingers stretching along the neck. Finger tips along the razor wire.

He stopped. Pouring himself a celebratory glass of whisky from the cabinet. Running his finger along the spines of music books, he stopped over the violin sheet music. Shuffling through the papers, he rested on one and took position once more. Danse Macabre. Swiftly he began to play, not a touch incorrect. Raising his eyes to the ceiling, tears streaming down his cheeks. Rocking back and forth, the playful notes began to turn bitterly haunting. Fingers pushed down forcefully and switched nimbly. Frozen in ecstasy, he could feel his eyes rolling back into his skull as if possessed. Chin wet with tears, they dripped down the neck.

‘Alwin!’ Sofia screamed. Fingers froze as her presence. His soul sliding back between the familiar bones and flesh. Turning, he saw her with Stephanie, his daughter, clung to her legs. My darlings, he thought, they’re in shock at my skill.

‘Sofia, my love, did you hear? Had you been deceived in thinking I was playing a record in the music room? It is something is it not. To think, I had been so cruel on myself – too brutish in my early years, to not give myself the possibility I had potential. Will you play with me? Let Stephenie dance until ten even if it’s a school night. She can tell her teacher and classmates she danced to the music her father made.’

‘You’re bleeding Alwin.’ Sofia said, trying to comfort Stephanie with her hand.

Antidotes

I had never met Haddy in any personal way; she was, in my mind, just the beautiful girl who would ignore us all at the group meeting every Thursday. Her iPod would usually drum just a little quieter than the person chosen to speak about their motive for being here.

Our group only dealt with one topic – irrational fears. Most Thursdays we would just listen to the same people drone on about their daily struggles and wars with that fear, for instance a recurring speaker named Kelly Whitlow had to deal with a fear of balding men. The name escapes me for this but it was shown just a week ago how bad her condition was when a newcomer named Jim, who only attended that one evening, arrived with an eight ball head- all shiny and round it reflected the surroundings like a fish eye. With one glance of each other Kelly had saddled Jim like a neglected bull and began to strangle him with her own mangy hair. After we managed to pull Kelly away, it was Jim’s turn to go crazy on us, shaking in his chair like he was having a heart attack. What we all found out was that Jim had some strange phobia of women with long hair. Polar opposites attract as it goes. You would have thought the group would have some sort of admin to prevent this.

Today was different though, I decided to tell everyone my fear.

With a half eaten doughnut in my lap I spoke of how I think the fear began and what I did to control it. There is a frightening feeling with telling another your fear.  It is like opening up your armour for their dagger. I liked having the weird power of knowing their fears however; to just throw a button towards Jacky or sneeze in front of William if he ever stopped giving me free latte’s. After the clapping, patting of the back and that warmth in our hearts we began to call it a day. While helping myself to the free food and drink, which were all neatly placed in germ free Tupperware with stickers to allocate who brought their own in, I felt the presence of someone beside me. Turning I saw it was Haddy; ear phones out, dimple on left cheek from smiling, crystal eyes on me. She said, in her Swedish accent, that she enjoyed a new speaker in the group and asked if I’d like to go for a drink.

It was just turning twelve as she opened the door to her room and invited me in; I followed her and closed the door behind me. The room was quite tidy but due to the size of it being a student dorm even the smallest pile of clothes would get in the way. Haddy pushed me down onto the bed as she sat opposite, resting against the work table, her hips poking from under her obscure band t-shirt. Test-Icicles? She pouted before licking her lips. I leaned back and felt a plastic packet under my fingers before picking it up. A pack of party balloons, all shapes and sizes plucked from a rainbow. I squeezed the balloons between my fingers as I looked over to Haddy.

‘They’re for you Milo, let’s blow some up’ She said with excitement in her eyes.

‘And why are they for me?’ I said smiling back. Her hands slid over my cheeks. I gazed up wide eyed; now knowing I had drank too much.

‘I’m trying to set the scene and you’re not helping.’ She squeezed my lips together.

‘Anyone would think you’re trying to seduce me,’

‘Not yet…but blow them up for me while I go get changed.’ She walked to the bathroom as I tore open the packet. She was probably just going to want to chat in her pyjamas or something. But I could not forget that this was the first time I’ve properly met Haddy, and we are both drunk and in her room. I placed the opening of the balloon to my mouth and blew, listening to it strain and inflate. An image of yellow teeth and Cheshire cat smile flashed in my mind making me wince.

‘There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask Milo.’ She said through the bathroom door, still busy.

‘What is it?’ I said between tying a knot into the long pink balloon and plucking an average blue one to inflate next.

‘I want to know about your fear, you only grazed the tip in the meeting but it was why I plucked up the courage to talk to you.’

‘Coulrophobia. I got it when I was about six or seven. It was Halloween and a friend of my fathers had come round drunk and angry about something. I remember looking out my window and seeing him dressed up, breaking our fence down. He then saw me peering down at him and tried to climb the drain pipe up at me.’

‘That’s a horrible image. I know you’ve probably heard this before from all those student psychologists and counsellors but that man is not a clown. He is just some drunk who your dad probably hit for scarring his child.’ She was right, I had heard all of this before but it still didn’t sink in. ‘I want to show you something.’

The door opened slowly, I couldn’t see anything too clearly as the bathroom light was off. The light from the lamp beside me did not reach that corner. The shadow of Haddy was larger than her frame; the silhouette of her hair seemed hilariously large and curly, her clothes flaring out like a dress.  A dress with the prints of apples and oranges stitched over it.

‘What is this?’ I half joked as my brain pulsed and arms tingled. She walked closer into the light. Revealing a large orange bow now visible just under her neck – her skin white as porcelain.

‘I want to give you the cure Milo…I want to be your antidote to end this fear.’ She was dressed as a clown. Her large red nose bulged from the fat wrinkles of her ghost-white face as she smiled. An insidious smile just like that clowns. Yellow teeth reeking with disease and madness.
I pulled myself back against the wall, swaying my head from side to side unable to move. The bed sank to the weight and I knew it was coming for me. That sick, Haddy-faced clown, was climbing towards me and I could do nothing.