This story is by David Newcombe and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jonathon Egmont Vaughan, known as ‘Jonno’ to his friends was a petty thief. He came from a hard-working family and had been brought up in what was considered a squalid area of a squalid mining town. His father had insisted on the unusual middle name, fully aware that it would be a source of teasing and even ridicule during his son’s school years but believing that ‘It would make a man of him.” The strategy had worked only too well. By the time he left school, the young man had become the toughest kid in the area and a welcome member to the local criminal gangs.
He didn’t really consider today’s break-in to be a challenge, but his mates had dared him, and Jonno could never resist a dare. The almost theatrical setting helped him to agree to the heist. The chosen house was dark, dank and drab, with an old female occupant whose appearance matched that of her home perfectly. The local children called her a witch. Some of the older residents in the town embellished the tale further by claiming that she could take souls and keep them in eternal torment. Some of the more imaginative characters in the area even swore that her victim’s screams could be heard, coming from the depths of the building.
As though pushing the boundaries of superstition to their limits, today happened to be Halloween. This was the perfect opportunity to prove himself; to show that what mattered was the here and now, not some threat of never-ending suffering. That sort of thing was for fools. What better circumstances would he have to show his gang that nothing in this world frightened him?
The biggest hurdle was the dogs. The old lady regularly left the building for hours during the day to visit local shops or often to walk for hours in the woods that surrounded the town, returning, sometimes even after dark, with shopping bags brimming with leaves, herbs, fungi, and other such produce carefully garnered from the trees and meadows. During her absence, the house was protected by the dogs. This did not deter Jonno.
He had begun experimenting with drugs in his early teenage years and now, almost twenty years of age, had an impressive knowledge of what cocktails to take to give him the desired effect. He wasn’t too sure of the doses needed for dogs and he knew there was a risk of putting them to sleep permanently. But so what if they died? They were just two dumb and vicious animals as far as he was concerned. Well worth it for the kudos to be gained from successfully burgling the ‘witch’s’ home.
He had waited until mid-morning before making his way to the rear of the building. The dogs were prowling the garden, a sure sign that their mistress was not home. Jonno stayed in the shadows, away from prying eyes as he carefully took the drugged meat from a plastic bag and tossed a piece to each of the animals. To his surprise, instead of immediately swallowing the treat, each launched itself at the fence in an effort to get at him. Shaken, he stepped back quickly until the snarls subsided and they could be heard stalking back towards where the meat lay.
A little embarrassed at his forced retreat, Jonno quickly collected himself and peered over the fence. Both dogs were lying motionless on the ground, maybe he had used too much sedative, but rather their lives than his he thought.
The rest was easy. The door was unlocked, the stupid old hag probably thought the dogs were enough security. Maybe for others but not for Jonno, he thought. With a smug smile spread across his face, he entered and did what he did best, ransacking.
He was disappointed that there was no large nest egg of cash, although he thought this was not surprising, given the poverty in which the old woman lived. There was an ancient earthenware pot on the mantel piece. It seemed to be completely sealed, there were no handles, no spout, lid, or other means of seeing what it might contain. Smashing it onto the ground solved the problem. Inside were some interesting pieces of jewellery, two rings, possibly gold, and a strange looking knife that looked like it could be made of silver. It was razor sharp with a serrated edge, and each side of the handle, near the top of the blade, was embedded a small emerald stone. This gave the knife a face-like appearance, rather like a devil with green, shiny eyes.
Jonno smiled to himself, this made the job worthwhile. He reckoned these would fetch him quite a return from the local pawnbroker who was used by his gang to find homes for their more unusual stolen items. Such things were sold to a select group of wealthy collectors who lacked any moral misgivings about the origins of their acquisitions.
Feeling very satisfied with himself, Jonno had over-indulged in his favourite drug mix that evening and had difficulty negotiating the stairs to his bedroom. This explained why he was not disturbed by the unusual sight and sound of a small, scrawny, but very agile, black cat that managed to wriggle its way through the letter box of his front door. The animal then walked into the lounge, leaped onto the window frame, and tapped its paw against the latch of an already half open window.
It was the weird glow that woke him. Jonno opened his eyes blearily to see that the silver knife he had stolen that afternoon, was hovering, unaided, in front of his face. It had a luminescent sheen that seemed to envelope the entire room. He pulled himself onto his elbows whilst frantically trying to move away until he was pinned against the wall. He tried to tell himself this was not more than a bad trip, a drug induced nightmare. Meanwhile, two cats, one of which had opened the window for his mistress, jumped up and sat preening themselves at the foot of the bed.
Suddenly the door was flung back and two enormous dogs, both looking refreshed from their afternoon nap, stalked into the room, before sitting at either side of the bed, next to their feline comrades. The room became very still, apart from cat preening and dogs panting, there were no sounds. Then he heard footsteps on the stairs together with a cackling laugh mixed with a distant, anguished, pained screaming that seemed to come from nowhere yet was all pervasive.