This story features Anne the Duck, who previously appeared in A Duck and a Turtle.
‘Having falsely been accused of murdering his wife through forged confessions, Lawrence ran to this bridge and leapt off from it, ending his life. It just goes to show what a terrible thing forgery can be, even if it involves writing wrongs.’
Most of the crowd chuckled at that line, yet Anne the duck couldn’t help but feel a little pang of guilt that she was listening to someone make light of a death like that. She attempted not to cringe or show any visible distaste, so she forced a smile.
‘He thought in death he would find peace from the constant accusations, but while it was later proved he was innocent of the murders, the true murderer has never been found. So people say they have seen a ghostly dog walking the bridge, probably attempting to solve the mystery himself. Don’t know how he’s going to solve it wandering about though.’ Norbert the snake tour guide laughed at his own joke, even wiggling the tail that made up his body as he did. His son, Harry, laughed too, but no-one else did. No-one else except for Anne, her titter out of politeness.
Anne had met Harry the snake during one of her Friday night outings, when Melissa had convinced her to go down to The Jungle nightclub. When she walked up to the dance floor, Harry slithered up beside her and danced with her. After they had tired each other out, he bought a round for the both of them – without her even asking him to – and they went up to the smoking area to have a chat. They met at the club again the next week, and then they shared phone numbers and Facebook pages.
Harry attended the same university Anne did, so they often stopped by each other’s dorms for help with each other’s work, or just to get to know each other better (yes, in every sense of the phrase). One thing Anne learned about Harry while in his room was that Harry was an aspiring horror writer, with shelves full of King and Barker and Halloween decorations when it was nowhere near October.
Anne had read a couple of his short stories, and thought them well-written, if not what she would call tasteful. One such story was about a serial killer who beheaded people and displayed their heads in his cellar. He had beheaded a giraffe and the scene where he cut off bits and pieces of the giraffe’s neck so it would fit on the display was described in too much detail.
Despite his interests, Anne did enjoy spending time with Harry, so when he invited her to spend the weekend with him in his hometown, she agreed. Catterville, considered one of the most haunted towns in England, with the gift shops displaying ghouls and goblins on their windows, and a ghost tour conducted by none other than Harry’s father.
‘And now we come to the street where the Slithering Snake Spectre is supposed to lurk…’ He then described a boa constrictor serial killer who crushed his victims to death before he was captured and hung for his crimes. It sounded like…something that Harry would write, in fact.
‘It’s said that his ghost still wonders these parts, continuing his killings,’ said Norbert, turning away from the tour group, ‘but we all know it’s just a story…or maybe the Slithering Snake Spectre…is right here!’ Norbert turned around, revealing his eyes were now a fiery red. Everyone in the group sighed; even Anne only flinched when Norbert took out the contacts, as it reminded her of the time she tried out contact lenses.
‘Thank you for coming,’ said Norbert to the group, ‘that concludes our tour, be sure to visit many of our fine establishments.’ The rest of the group disbanded, yet Anne stayed with Harry and his father. ‘And thank you for coming, Anne,’ said Norbert, ‘I hope you enjoyed the tour.’
‘It was…interesting,’ said Anne, ‘I can see where your son gets his inspiration from.’
‘Yeah,’ replied Norbert, ‘we’re hoping he writes the next big bestseller. Maybe he’ll even include you in his next story.’
Anne knew that remark was a joke, yet she couldn’t help but imagine herself as the victim of one of Harry’s many serial killers, her severed head rotting in a dark basement.
‘Yeah,’ said Harry, which actually gave Anne a brief chill before he added, ‘Anne, how would you like me to write a story where you’re a vampire hunter? Can you imagine yourself going down into the crypts with a stake in one hand and a gun that shoots silver bullets in the other?’
Once that mental image replaced the one involving her severed head, Anne smiled widely. There she was, making her way down the stone staircase illuminated by flaming torches, pausing when she saw the coffins. It was just like those fantasies she had when she was a duckling, what she’d imagine during playtimes. The vampires would rise and bear their fangs, and Anne would raise her gun…
‘Don’t you use silver bullets on werewolves?’ Anne asked Harry.
‘They can be used on vampires too,’ replied Harry.
‘Well,’ said Norbert, ‘vampires aren’t real, so you can really do whatever you want with them. Anyway, we better get back home, dinner should be ready.’
With Norbert and Harry’s talk about death and ghosts, it was surreal to see Margaret Hepford, the matriarch of the family, be a bright green snake in a pink dress. ‘Well,’ she said as she took off her husband’s top hat, ‘did you lot see any ghosts tonight?’
‘No, we didn’t, thank goodness,’ laughed Anne.
‘Well, I bet these two were disappointed,’ replied Margaret, pointing to her husband and son with her tail.
‘A little,’ said Norbert, taking off his greatcoat.
‘Well, for dinner, we’re having stew, and here’s some bread for…’
Anne gulped. ‘I’m sorry, I really don’t like bread. Do you have any seeds or anything?’
They did not, so Anne had the stew on its own. ‘You know,’ said Anne, looking at her bowl ‘this reminds me of a story my mum told me about what happened to her friend. He was a crane, right, and he knew a fox…’ After she told the story, she changed the subject herself, ‘You know, part of me kind of did want to see ghosts tonight. It’s like, you know, when you’re a kid, and you’re looking at the flowers to find fairies…’
‘Maybe we’ll see a ghost when we go out later,’ said Harry, for he and Anne had planned to go see a movie after dinner.
Margaret sighed. ‘You’re not going to see that new House Party Horror movie, are you?’
‘No,’ laughed Anne, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, actually.’ She remembered that Harry didn’t even suggest a horror movie; Guardians was his first choice as he said it seemed like the only film on both of them would like.
When dinner was done, Harry escorted Anne out of his home, and Anne actually felt a little freer now that she was away from Harry’s parents. Anne was about to suggest they hold hands, but then she remembered what Harry lacked (he tapped out his stories with the end of his tail). Harry was happy just slithering close to Anne while Anne put her wing around him.
Anne had to admit that action movies always did make her feel more energetic. When she walked to the cinema with Harry, she wondered if she would fall asleep in the theatre, yet when the movie was over, she and Harry ran out – or Harry did his equivalent of running. She had been reminded of the fantasy she entertained earlier, and suddenly Catterville became catacombs, and all around her were opening coffins. She even found herself going ‘Pew, pew’, not caring that she was acting like a duckling.
So when Harry suggested they both go into the street where the Slithering Snake Spectre apparently lurked, she accepted.
That energy she had, those fantasies of fighting evil, they all vanished in an instant when she ran down that street. When all the people of Catterville seemed to fade away into darkness. Where were the streetlights? Where were the lit windows of the takeaways and the shops? All of a sudden, Catterville was empty and dark, with Anne and Harry as the only people there.
The only living people.
‘Hey,’ said Harry, close to Anne as he had been when they went to the cinema, ‘where did everybody go?’
Anne’s stomach sank. This sudden solitude she thought was simply her imagination, the same imagination that made her a vampire-hunting heroine. Silly Anne. No, she actually was all alone with no-one except Harry, standing on the streets of Catterville…no, it didn’t seem like Catterville anymore.
All the buildings seemed to twist and stretch, bending over Anne and Harry as if they were prey ready to be devoured. The sky had turned a complete pitch black with no moon and not a single star. There was soon light though, as all the buildings were soon bathed in an ethereal blue light.
Anne tightened her beak. As the light burned her eyes, she closed them and tried to think of her earlier fantasies. Of her other nights out. Of Terry the Turtle.
Her eyes forced themselves open. Down the street floated a gigantic glowing snake, manoeuvring its way through the bending buildings. It had hollow sockets, yet it seemed to stare right into Anne and Harry, and as it did, it grinned widely, revealing teeth like broken shards of glass.
Harry, the same Harry who wrote of bloody murders and actually sought the supernatural, quivered on the spot, looking like his body was filled with water. The Spectre neared him.
‘No!’ cried Anne. She kept her eyes wide open, even giving her glasses a quick clean to make sure she could see the ghost clearly. After that, she tightened her fists, imagining the stake and the gun with the silver bullets in them. All her saliva had dried up, yet she attempted to force words out of her beak.
The Spectre turned to her.
She slapped it across the face.
The Spectre spoke.
‘Huh, no-one’s ever done that.’
The giant snake spectre shrunk into a little glowing globe, which then reformed itself into a deer in a tattered dress.
‘Who are you?’ asked Anne.
‘I’m the Slithering Snake Spectre,’ said the doe, ‘and the falsely accused murderer, the headless chicken, the cyclops dog. I’m the only ghost in this town that’s real; all the people who died here went on to the afterlife. I’m just staying on this plane to give this town the ghosts it wants.’
‘Well,’ said Anne, ‘well…’ She swallowed. ‘Certainly a ghost deer should be…impressive enough…’
‘I don’t exactly have an enthralling backstory. Nothing for the tours.’
‘Um,’ replied Anne, wringing her wings, ‘my friend here…’ She pointed to Harry. ‘…his Dad does the tours. Maybe…maybe he’ll let you be a part of them…’
‘What are you doing?’ snapped Harry.
‘Um, and he’s a horror writer. Maybe…maybe if he writes a story about ghosts you can give him some advice.’
The ghost looked at Harry and then back at Anne. ‘Why are you saying this?’
‘Well, maybe…maybe I see a bit of me in you…or something,’ she laughed, ‘Maybe we could be friends.’
‘Maybe,’ said the ghost, ‘Oh, my name’s Deirdre by the way.’ She held out her hoof for Anne.
‘Anne.’ They shook what they had for hands. ‘Harry? Wanna welcome our new friend?’