Genre: YA ghost mystery
Kate settles into a life with her new family: a murderer, an alcoholic, a thief, a teenage runaway…and a wolf.
I shiver in the cold night air and drape my arm around, my little brother, Tosh’s shoulder. In my other hand, I hold the shovel I used to dig our sister Ellie’s grave.
Mannis tightens the ragged sheet around her body. With thick clumsy hands, he lays her corpse to rest in the wet soil.
Thud! That’s the noise her corpse makes as it hits the ground.
Thud! Just like my heart.
Tosh flinches at the sound.
It must be rainwater trickling down my face. Yes, I remember. It was raining, not so long ago and the wind blew leaves across the lawn to lash at my face. That’s why my eyes are stinging and my cheeks are numb.
My fingers fumble over Tosh’s lips and over the bridge of his tiny nose, sweeping across his tear-stained cheeks. I cover his mouth to stop him from screaming again. I don’t want Mannis’s temper to flare up. Not tonight.
I hide my own grief, it’s silent, aching, tearing at my insides.
I’ve dug a hole deep enough for us all.
Mannis mops his brow with the cuff of his shirt. He closes his eyes. He crawls out of Ellie’s grave, his fat body swaying, and for one second, I think he’s going to retch. His lips twitch and his grey eyes roll in their sockets. He doubles over, grabs hold of his knees, takes a deep breath and then straightens. He takes the shovel from me. I watch him scoop the damp earth over her body.
I say a mute prayer and hug Tosh closer to me. And then without looking back, I lead Tosh away from our sister’s grave and into the bungalow.
I knew she’d never
2 Mannis the Bear
Four days earlier, on the 3rd of October 1983, we celebrated Ellie’s sixth birthday.
It was Saturday. The sun peeped out through the dark clouds. We sang happy birthday to her as loud as we dared. I persuaded her to blow out the candles, on her imaginary cake, with her cold blue lips. She wore her own blue jeans that day and her pink jumper.
She loved pink.
Tosh spent ages traipsing through the fields looking for pink flowers to give to her. He couldn’t find any. He returned, blurry-eyed and covered in scratches, having settled on a bunch of wild daisies. He gave Ellie six kisses to make up for it, three on each of her hollow cheeks.
And what did I do? I plaited her shoulder-length hair into pigtails. I told her how cute she looked and how much I loved her. I told her a story, one that I’d made up, about an enormous grizzly bear that lived in the woods. She had heard it before. I thought I’d change it up a little.
The bear had no friends because everyone in the village was afraid of him. Then one day, the bear met a little girl, the spitting image of Ellie. She had big brown eyes and curly brown hair. Her name was Eleanor and she and the bear became the firmest of friends.
She tried to laugh, but coughed instead, when I told her the bear’s name was Mannis.
I knew she’d never
The hospital’s forty miles away.
Anyone of us could have gone for help. If we had wanted to…only…none of us really want to leave the bungalow.
Mannis waited with me on the long-twisted road, a good hour’s walk from the bungalow. He held Ellie in his arms like a newborn. She couldn’t walk. She couldn’t talk. We sat and waited for an hour on the grass verge. We saw no one. That one hour was more than enough for Mannis. He turned back, grumbling that he was asking for trouble. He was afraid of what people would say if they saw a grubby fat man on the roadside with two children, afraid of what they might do.
I believe I could have walked those forty miles with Ellie in my arms, if I’d have found the courage. Instead, I sat and waited on my own, watching the shadows erupt as the darkness fell around me. It didn’t seem to matter that I hadn’t brought a torch with me. I can spot a car’s headlights a mile off, and I’m not afraid of the dark.
Although, after a while, every little noise startled me, from the chirping crickets in the grass, to the light breeze rustling the trees. I kept telling myself, I have no choice but to endure this. I placed my hands over my ears and waited.
Later, Mannis came out on the road and hauled me back inside. I think I may have hit him because in the space of a few hours, a red and black blotch appeared on his right cheek.
The next day, I went out alone to the roadside and again the day after that.
I kept going out. I can’t count the number of days I sat, huddled on my flattened patch of grass, waiting.
But I clearly remember rising early, determined to set out before anyone could stop me. I was terrified and I didn’t want Ellie or Tosh to see me crying.
As soon as I was outside, I’d cry until I nearly choked. The crying became something of an indulgence, wearing me out, stripping every fibre of strength I had left. In the end, I made a conscious decision to stop crying. Crying wasn’t going to help Ellie.
One day, a prune-faced woman pulled up in a red Ford pick-up truck.
Her hands reminded me of an eagle’s talons, most inhuman like, and her neck was like a worn piece of twisted rope. Her silvery-white hair was piled on top of her head, and I could have sworn her eyes were yellow.
She looked me up and down when I told her my little sister was sick and that we needed a ride to the hospital.
Not wanting to frighten her, I tried my best to sound calm and normal, but it was hard because my voice was all shaky. I hadn’t long stopped crying.
‘She’s up the-the road. If you could take me, p-please.’
She wouldn’t listen. She asked how old I was.
‘Eighteen,’ I said. I’ll turn seventeen this year.
Then she asked my name. My first name is Celia. No one calls me that. It’s a girlie name, way too timid for me. Mum hardly ever called me Celia and my dad used to call me Kat, which I hate.
‘Kate,’ I told her. My middle name is Katherine.
I knew I didn’t smell so good because I hadn’t washed in a while.
The prune-faced woman held her nose, took hold of the bottom of my jumper with her claw-like talons, and tried to drag me into the back of her stuffy red truck.
I never got in.