The Things You Didn't See

The Things You Didn't See

Ruth Dugdall

To my great-uncle, George Hair. I never met you, but you have been there with every word I wrote.




In the blurred dusk someone moves, dipping in and out of the hedge. The girl searches the shadows, too nervous to call out, then in a swell of relief sees it’s Jamie, her brother. He turns his torch on her – the beam makes her blink. ‘Go back home, Holly! Quit following me.’

‘I want to come ghost-hunting too,’ she whispers, tugging the hem of his coat.

‘You can’t come, you’re too little!’

‘Let me or I’ll tell Dad you’re here.’

Dad’s forbidden them to go outside the fence at night and especially not to the farm – he says because of the machines it’s dangerous. But Holly knows the real reason: the farm is haunted. Everyone at school says so, lots of them have seen the ghosts, a woman in white and the falling man. Back on the airbase, her friends are collecting bags of candy and the only ghosts are pretend: that’s why she followed Jamie. She’s not little, she’s almost nine.

‘Fuck’s she doin’ here?’ Coming behind them, too large to be quiet, is Carl. His family just arrived, bringing to the sleepy Suffolk airbase all of his American bulk and brag. Holly doesn’t like him, doesn’t like how Jamie gets louder when Carl’s around.

‘Squirt followed me,’ Jamie grumbles. ‘But she’ll keep her mouth shut.’

They move through the wood, Jamie leads with his torch, then Carl, then Holly bringing up the rear. In the distance is the farmhouse. The setting sun hits the window panes so it looks like bloodshot eyes are watching their approach.

Holly’s feet feel heavy. She’s getting tired, but daren’t say so. A lone car crosses the plain, headlights strafing the far field, making for the town. She suddenly wishes with all her heart that she were in that car, going to Ipswich to see a film – her favourite treat – eating sweet popcorn and snuggled into a blue velvet seat. Safe.

The sound of cracking twigs, behind them. Holly gives a yelp and moves so close to Carl, they bump arms and he says, ‘Fuck’s that?’

Jamie stops, searches with his torch, finds yellow eyes glittering low in the grass. ‘Cat.’ He kicks out and Holly hears a feline cry of pain, then rustling as it scrams. He continues, and they follow, trudging onwards.

The house appears, stone sides suddenly upon them.

‘Fucking spooky, isn’t it?’ says Jamie, giving Carl a triumphant punch on the arm. ‘That’s Innocence Farm.’

The spreading glow of the setting sun has bathed the house red, as if the blood has seeped from the eye sockets and the whole face is bleeding. Holly clenches her hands, pushing the nails into the fleshy part of her palm to keep from screaming. They should go home now, she thinks. Time to turn back.

In front is the farm, but going back isn’t possible either. Something is behind them, cracking twigs as it moves, casting shapes against the inky sky. Telling herself it’s only the cat returning, she puts her hand over her mouth to stop the scream that’s building inside. But the noise comes closer, the shape much larger than a cat.

‘Holy crap,’ Carl says, pushing Jamie and snorting in surprise, ‘the freak actually showed.’

The shape approaches, shrinks, and turns into the outline of a teenage boy.

‘All right?’ he asks, bending into the light of Jamie’s torch. It’s Ash, who’s in Jamie’s year, who lives in the cottage along the lane. Jamie raises his hand and they press each other’s palms in a high five. The sharp slap of it makes her flinch. She looks at her brother, confused, but it’s too dark to see his expression. He bullies this boy, calls him weirdo and freak – why are they acting like friends?

Ash notices her. ‘Why’d ya bring the little kid?’

‘She followed us,’ says Jamie, landing a sharp kick on her shin.

Ash lifts the latch and gently opens the barn door, just enough for them to snake through the gap. Inside, the smell is sharp and makes her eyes water. She can hear angry clucking.

‘We’ve gotta be very still,’ Ash says, leaving the barn door ajar, and pulling a bale of straw in front of it for them to crouch behind. ‘This is the best place to watch from.’ His voice is shaking like he’s cold, but she thinks he’s excited too. Jamie and Carl are popular – everyone at school and on the base wants to hang out with them – but now they want something only Ash can show them. ‘The ghosts only come when it’s really quiet. And not every night, so I can’t promise you’ll see summat.’

‘We better!’ Jamie says, smacking Ash on the arm with his fist.

It’s uncomfortable on the uneven earth with the straw bale in front of her, and she wants to sneeze. Around them the chickens are getting brave, coming closer on red-clawed feet, beaks open as they cluck warning sounds.

‘Come on, ghosts, it’s your night. Come join the party,’ Carl booms, not caring that the others try to hush him. He takes a bottle from inside his jacket, then stands and raises it towards the house before taking a swig as if to toast it. ‘Halloween! When the dead walk the earth.’

Holly reaches for Jamie, moves close to him. ‘Please can we go home?’

Ruth Dugdall's Books