Last Autumn I blogged about a CSI-type event for which I was writing a couple of whodunnits. Towards the end of it, I mentioned a competition for schoolchildren for which one of my contributions was the starting point. I provided the first 500 words and they had to complete their version of the story by adding another 1500 words to it.
It seems I may have been too demanding in the task I set because there were very few entries. However, the winner was excellent and teachers said that the competition was badly timed because it coincided with quite a packed timetable at schools. Nevertheless, I’d be sorry if my stuff put anyone off.
But you can judge for yourself. What follows is my opening and if anyone feels like trying their hand at developing it (to between 1500 and 2000 words), I’d love to read your version(s).
It was the ghosts that brought Lizzie and her brother Duncan to Leith Hall. Lizzie liked old houses but when she went on about them, Duncan always made loud yawning noises. He only stopped if she mentioned something vaguely nasty but even then it had to be special. A ‘Grey Lady’ was no good. Every old house in Scotland had one of those. Duncan’s reaction was always the same:
Lizzie didn’t care. She’d visited most of the castles in Aberdeenshire and she knew if she told Duncan that he might see something grisly or some headless apparition with tendons hanging out of its neck, he’d go with her. Leith Hall didn’t have tendons but it had plenty.
‘There’s a woman in 18th century dress…’ Lizzie was saying.
‘I bet she’s grey,’ said Duncan.
‘Ah, but there’s the third Laird, John Leith. Murdered in 1763. Highland dress, head wrapped in bloody bandages.’
‘That’s more like it.’
‘Sometimes he wears dark green trousers and a shirt and just a dirty bandage.’
‘A ghost that changes clothes? That’s cool,’ said Duncan.
Suddenly, to her surprise, Lizzie found herself inventing a more modern ghost, just to seal the deal.
‘And there was a murder in the fields nearby not long ago,’ she said. ‘Some festival. People camping. A woman was assaulted and shot. They never caught the killer.’
She had no idea where the words had come from. But when she also told Duncan about the hanging tree near the house, he was ready to go.
And what happened was beyond anything they could have imagined.
As they approached the courtyard at the back of the house, Duncan pointed to the shield over the archway.
‘Spooky,’ he said.
Lizzie looked up and suddenly felt a shiver run through her. She stopped.
‘Something’s wrong,’ she said.
‘Dunno. Something creepy. Not a ghost. Something else.’
She stared at the shield, the two figures on either side, the crests and the mottos: SPARE NOUGHT at the bottom and TRUSTIE TO THE END on the belt looped around the top. She felt a sort of dizziness. The mottos were those of the Hay and Leith families who’d lived in the hall for hundreds of years but she felt they were telling her something else, something more modern, something to do with the murder she’d invented.
She squeezed her eyes shut and when she opened them again, the letters of SPARE NOUGHT seemed to be pulsing. She gave a quick gasp as they wavered, dimmed, reappeared and formed the words A REP SHOT GUN. She grabbed Duncan’s arm.
‘What? What’s up?’ said Duncan.
‘Didn’t you see it?’
‘There, the letters. A REP SHOT GUN.’
Duncan looked at the shield then back at Lizzie. His expression told her that he’d seen nothing. But she knew it was about her imaginary murder. She looked again and noticed that the ‘E’ at the end of TRUSTIE and the ‘H’ in THE had been worn away. The remaining letters started to pulse.