Fiction Horror Sad

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Emma brushed damp hair from her face and tucked it behind her ears again, but within moments it was back, whipping her eyes and sneaking blonde curls into the corners of her dry mouth. It was pointless to try to stay tidy, or even comfortable, in this weather. She thrust her hands back into the deep pockets of her wax jacket and dragged her green wellies through the muddy puddles on the dirt track. The farm couldn’t be much further now.

Emma stopped for a moment and looked back at her Land Rover Defender. Its headlights, now switched off, still caught a slight glint of the sinking yellow sun, as if taunting her, pretending the vehicle was still road worthy. Two punctured tires in as many miles since she turned off the country lane. The last sign of tarmac was far behind her, out of sight, and the dirt track had proven treacherous. If the weather had been better, she might have at least attempted a quick fix of one of them, but with the storm coming in it made more sense to walk the last few hundred meters. Surely the farmhouse would have a landline she could use. Her mobile had had no signal for over half an hour.

She trudged on. The gate at the top end of the farmland was in sight and, if Aunt Mary’s directions were correct, the house was just down the path on the other side. Aunt Mary. How did a woman in her late seventies still manage a farm by herself? This place would either be spectacularly well kept or a complete shit hole. Emma’s money was on the latter.

The gate was stiff and creaky. It took several attempts to get it latched again and Emma was on the final downhill stretch. Light flickered in an upstairs window, as if provided by a lantern on a draughty sill.

Oh God, is that why she wrote to me longhand? No electricity? No phone?? Or perhaps the storm has knocked out the power from further away and candles are a temporary measure. I can hope.

The dimly illuminated window flung open and caught a current of air. It banged shut and blew open again several times as Emma approached the stone house.

The horseshoe knocker made three satisfying clanks against its strike plate. Loud enough to barge their way through the howling wind and meet the ears of Aunt Mary, just as a scrunched-up piece of paper escaped from the open bedroom window and danced downward in the moving air. Emma instinctively grabbed at the paper as it drew level with her head, it took a few tries to catch it, but it was safely in her jeans pocket and out of the rain before Aunt Mary appeared at the front door.

“Emma! Oh, it is you! Come in out of all that weather. You look just like your pictures, only slightly wetter.”

Emma hadn’t seen any recent pictures of Aunt Mary. Her letters had apologised for her lack of a camera to take any with but had included written descriptions of herself. The woman in the hallway was indeed short, stocky, and bespectacled. Her greying hair was pulled back into a loose bun from which wavy tendrils escaped, forming a kind of wispy fuzz around the outline of her face. She had the ruddy cheeks usually associated with a life spent outdoors. Her green, multipocketed utility trousers were topped off with an oversized cable-knit jumper, and her stocking feet left slightly damp marks on the terracotta floor tiles.

The hallway was warmer than expected. The kitchen door was open and the snaps of a log fire greeted Emma as she removed her gloves and boots. She hung her waterproof jacket, rain beading off it, on the tall wooden coat stand, and offered Aunt Mary a stiff hug.

“Come through. I’ll put the kettle on. You must be frozen half to death. Take a seat by the inglenook fire, you’ll soon be warm.”

Emma sat on the seat on the right of the fire alcove while her aunt boiled the kettle and found some mugs. She idly picked up the poker and pushed it into the flames. There were several red-hot logs surrounded by charred bits of wood and thick, grey ash. But the poker hit something chalky, too. As the metal scraped against it a white tinge was revealed for a moment.

“Please don’t disturb the logs, Love.” Aunt Mary approached carrying two steaming mugs of Horlicks. “Takes a while to get them properly stacked up. How was your journey?”

“Oh, you know, wet, windy, full of mud and flat tires.” Emma returned the poker to its stand. “Speaking of which, I don’t suppose you have a phone I could use please? My mobile hasn’t had any signal since I left the tarmac roads and Mark will be worried sick.” 

“That’s right, your husband. No, Love, I’m sorry. No phone for a while now, the lines came down on Tuesday and I had to drive into Hopton last night to get the vet out to my ram. I can take you into the village tomorrow morning. I’m sure you can get a signal on your mobile there and make as many calls as you need.”

“Thanks Mary, that would be great. The other thing is that I left my luggage in my car, in my hurry to get out of the rain. I’ll have to nip back and grab it.”

“Oh no, not tonight, Love. You’ll catch your death. I can lend you some pyjamas for now. There’s an iron and ironing board in your room you could use to warm them up. How does that sound?”

An hour of small talk later and Emma climbed the stairs. Aunt Mary showed her to the guest room, handing her a set of blue paisley PJs. Emma made a stop off in the bathroom and then said good night to her hostess.

Once in her room, which had a faint scent of lemons, Emma flicked on the light and glanced out of the window. Surely this must be the window which had been banging earlier, but there was no sign of a candle or lantern on the sill, and the window itself was now firmly shut. Neither Emma nor Mary had been up to see to it.

Is there someone else in the house?

Don’t be silly, I must be mistaken.

Emma pulled back the bedclothes and ran a hand over the flannel sheets, they were soft but pretty chilly. Then she plugged the iron in and switched it on, before fishing her phone out of her jeans pocket to check one last time for a signal. Her fingers met the ball of crumpled paper she’d stuffed in there earlier. She pulled the paper out and teased it back into a flattish square, which she smoothed out with her hands on the ironing board. There was that smell of lemons again.

It was the same type of writing paper that Aunt Mary sent her letters on when she was a child, before she fell out with Emma’s mother, Claire, and stopped writing. In the last few months, when Mary had got back in touch following Claire’s death, the letters had been on feint-lined A4, exactly the kind of paper she had once told Emma never to use. She claimed it stifled creativity and made every letter look the same. Her letters to Emma as a child had always been on beautiful tinted writing paper, often with floral borders or watermark animals. This particular piece was duck-egg blue with a small robin in the top right hand corner. Emma's favourite bird. Also back then, Mary would write secret messages in lemon juice at the bottom. They could only be seen by heating the paper. It was a kind of game they played, exchanging little jokes and riddles.

The red light on the iron pinged itself off. Emma pushed the pjs to one side and lifted the iron over the pale blue paper instead. She carefully ran the hot metal across the page from side to side, flattening the creases out of it and watching as the invisible lemon-ink turned brown.

The writing was familiar, if a little distorted from having been scrunched up. But a message became clear quite quickly:

Dearest Emma,

The woman at the farm is an imposter. Don’t be fooled. She put tire bursting stingers on the track to stop you escaping. She wants the farm, and she wants you dead for the inheritance now your mother has passed. She locked me in my room until I damn near starved. I jumped out of the window and broke my neck. Don’t come to Hopton Farm. Send the police. They’ll find my bones in the inglenook. Do not come to Hopton Farm.

Please stay safe, late Aunt Mary x

Emma’s breath caught in her throat and her hands shook. She folded up the letter, pushed it back into her pocket and tiptoed to the door. The handle refused to turn, she rattled the door in its frame. Locked.


Mark had driven out to Hopton farm several times since he reported Emma missing, but every time, her aging Aunt Mary told him the same thing through her wavering sobs. Emma had never arrived there and her letters had stopped. The police had visited, much to Mary's dismay, but found no reason to search the place.

On day seventeen after Emma had vanished, a letter arrived at the marital home. It was in a plain white envelope, postmarked Edinburgh, and Mark's name and address were shakily hand written on the front. To his knowledge, Emma had never been to Scotland. Mark ripped the flap of the envelope and pulled the letter out. It was on unremarkable feint-lined A4 paper:

My Darling Mark,

I hope you understand my impossible decision. I have resolved to end my life. The grief I suffer for the loss of my mother is overwhelming. I couldn't bring myself to visit Aunt Mary after all. I never went to Hopton. There was too much risk that she would remind me of Mum and make matters even worse. I feel terrible for leaving you like this, but I think you will understand, in time. Poor Aunt Mary will be beside herself. To try to make her life a little easier I ask you to please ensure that she inherits a substantial proportion of what I leave behind. I know she isn't named in my will, but I trust that you will do the right thing by me, and by her.

I cannot say sorry enough.

With all my love,

Emma xxx


Mark folded the letter into his inside pocket, grabbed his car keys and dashed out of the house. Wiping tears from his eyes as he drove, he made the three hour journey to Hopton Farm. Arriving in the murky dusk, he hammered on Aunt Mary's door and shouted her name.

The door didn't open, but a window banged above him and a crumpled piece of paper fell out of it and drifted towards the ground. Mark managed to catch it before it hit the driveway. It was pale blue writing paper, but on smoothing it out he found no words, just a small robin in the top right corner. It smelled faintly of lemons. Emma had told him stories of her secret communications with Mary as a child. This fitted the description of one of her letters.

He turned the door knob and the door creaked open.

"Mary?" he shouted through the hall, but there was no answer.

The flames were dwindling in the kitchen inglenook and Mark let himself through to sit in the alcove. He held the piece of blue paper near the embers and writing appeared as if by some kind of magic.


It's safe for you now, but it's too late for Mary and me.

An imposter killed us both. The woman at the farm is not my aunt at all. We have taken our revenge and quite literally frightened her to death.

The farm is yours, if you want it.

Our bones are in the inglenook. Please lay them to rest.

Her bones are hanging in the barn, along with the rest of her. Do with them what you will.

Love always,

Emma xxx

March 03, 2024 22:04

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Darvico Ulmeli
03:28 Mar 14, 2024

It made me literally shiver. Such powerful writing. I want more of it. Very nice.


13:44 Mar 14, 2024

Thank you!


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Jon Casper
20:35 Mar 07, 2024

Hopefully my notes will arrive in time for your consideration. Strong opening! Main character, plodding through the elements, with a well-defined goal (get to the farm!). “Come through. I’ll put the kettle on[.] [Y]ou must be frozen half to death. Take a seat by the inglenook fire, you’ll soon be warm.” Emma sat on the seat on the right of the fire alcove while her aunt boiled the kettle and found some mugs. [She] idly picked up the poker and pushed it into the flames. - "She" is indeterminate here. Suggest: Aunt Mary ushered her into the...


21:38 Mar 07, 2024

Thank you Jon! Hugely helpful :-)


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Mary Bendickson
05:26 Mar 07, 2024

Quite scary!😬


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Alexis Araneta
06:46 Mar 04, 2024

Oooh, intriguing ! I love the twist at the end. Great job !


00:02 Mar 07, 2024

Thank you Stella. I have finished it now in case you are interested in how it turned out.


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Mary Bendickson
05:16 Mar 04, 2024

Good bones here.


00:03 Mar 07, 2024

Thank you Mary. I have finished it now, and it has even more bones! Haha. I don't know if you want to read the finished piece, but please feel free if you do.


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Cedar Barkwood
20:13 Apr 18, 2024

Horrifying. Ingenious. And devastating. Once again a wonderfully written piece.


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