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Two’s Company

Helen Laycock

The Visitors


 Helen Laycock has written three short story collections, Light Bites, Peace and Disquiet and Minor Discord.

   More information is available on her website, Fiction in a Flash:  flash


She is the author of several mystery/adventures for readers of 8-12, and has a website for children at:

Helen Laycock | Children’s Author


Helen regularly enters writing competitions and has had around thirty wins/shortlistings for both poetry and short stories, successes including Words with Jam, The Ryedale Book Festival, Writing Magazine, Writers’ News, Writers’ Forum, Flash500, Thynks Publications, Erewash Writers and various online contests.


She has also had work published in An Earthless Melting Pot, Vol. 2 (Quinn), the One Word Anthology by Talkback Writers (Alfie Dog Ltd), Songs of Angels (Thynks), the Aspiring Writers 2013 Winners Anthology (Blue Dragon Press), The Best of CafeLit 3(Chapeltown) and A Quick Read (Aspen Press). She is a regular contributor of flash fiction to CafeLit.


More information is available at:

   Amazon UK Author Page:


   Amazon US Author Page:


   She can be followed at:

   ‘Helen Laycock, Author’ Facebook Page:





There had always been the three of us.

‘Like two peas in a pod!’ my mother’s friends would exclaim when Julia and I stood side by side for inspection. We were a phenomenon. Celebrities! Freaks.


Yes, we had come from the same pod, but we were different. I told myself that every day. Reassured myself that I was nothing like her.


Julia had never looked at me square on. I often caught her taking sneaky sideways glances at me through narrow eyes. She barely spoke to me. When I did hear her muttering, it was incoherent… and it wasn’t with me she was communicating. It was with Marianne, her doll. They seemed to be in cahoots together. I was acutely aware that I was extraneous to requirements. My place had been ousted by an ugly china doll.


I’ve no idea where Marianne had come from, or why it was only Julia that had been given such a toy. She took her everywhere. Whenever I came into the room, they would leave, Julia smirking at Marianne and a burst of laughter erupting from the other side of the door as soon as they were out of view.


I followed Julia and Marianne one Sunday summer’s evening… to Saddler’s End. They slipped through the orange netting which cordoned off a large area filled with sleeping diggers, large drums of coiled cable which squatted like toads, and piles of rubble. It was where families once lived, but they’d long gone and now it was where Hodgson & Winslow were going to build a retail park.


A row of tall, dishevelled houses still remained. The windows had been smashed and front doors were missing; they looked dejected and unkempt. It was difficult to believe that they had once been homes.


I watched Julia and Marianne disappear into the mid-terrace house. It was the only one still with a door, a black door hanging off its hinges at an awkward angle. The two of them slipped through the gap and disappeared. I felt immensely jealous that they had a Secret Place.


I was acutely aware of crunching beneath my shoes as I skulked behind them. They seemed to know exactly where they were going as they climbed the broken stairs in practised choreography. I was surprised to see them ascend a second, narrower staircase leading up to the attic room. I jerked backwards as Julia looked briefly over her shoulder. Was that a snide smile upon her face? She slammed the attic door behind them and I heard a key turn.


They knew I had followed!

I felt utter rage. Then I saw it. Resting on a dado rail—a garish green lighter.

Once the flames had begun to lick their way up the banister, I ran.


I never saw Julia again. I didn’t want to look inside the coffin.

But would you believe it? Marianne survived.

She stares at me now, from Julia’s bed.



The waterwheel clunked around hypnotically, the dark water frothing below. Beneath the surface, a skull washed smooth was wedged on a stone ledge.


The evening was grim. No Christmas Eve snow, just a pewter sky where ragged black drapes intermittently washed over the moon like scarves dragged through the wind. Belligerent gusts collided with anything in their path, shaking branches and rattling hedges, scooping and regurgitating their plunder.


Rodney Beaverstock pushed his glasses up over the bridge of his nose where a scab had now formed. He was a creature of habit. His old red rucksack hung lamely on his back as if all the life had been kicked out of it. A bit like Rodney really. His rolled-up map protruded from his windcheater pocket and his red bobble hat bounced jauntily as he approached the Old Watermill.


The darkness told him he was the first to arrive. Dom and Jake had organised this Christmas get-together back in October. They had been a friendly lot on his corridor. Before he’d got to university he assumed that he would remain the loner he had always been, but, no, the lads had been so keen to involve him in their Christmas plans. He couldn’t wait to tell his mum the following day. She had been so pleased.


He still had the remains of a cheese and pickle sandwich in his right pocket. He’d carefully re-wrapped it in the layers of cling film his mum had insisted on. Rodney laid down his rucksack and took out the little pencil torch from its side zip. He removed the map from his coat pocket and took off the paper clip which was securing the email from Dom. He reclipped it to the front of the map and, shoving the sandwich into his mouth, he shone the torch on the piece of paper.


From: Dominic Grant


Sent: 23rd December 2013 12:03

To:  R. Beaverstock

Subject: Final details


Hey, Beaver. The guys are all planning to arrive by 9pm on 24th (depends on train times). Key in hanging basket. Let yourself in and choose a room.




A rude gust snatched the paper and Rodney saw it gulped by the blackness and disappear. He had scribbled Dom’s mobile number onto the back just in case. Damn.


He hoisted his rucksack onto his back again and shone his light at the old building. It loomed high above him, its black windows deep and hostile. His feeble light washed across the stone in an attempt to locate a door, but it seemed that the only door was at the top of the wooden steps above the waterwheel.


Rodney made his way up them, a little fearful at the way the handrail wobbled and the steps seemed to give beneath his feet. They were probably creaking, but the rush of the water drowned out any sound he made. Halfway up, he turned to look across the night landscape. In the distance he could just make out the silhouette of the range of distant hills, denser than the sky above which had been diluted by the weak moonlight. Further down the valley, tiny squares of light told him that there was a cottage nearby.


In that cottage Dom, Jake, Simon, the two Wills and Theo were on their third can of beer.


‘Abso-bloody-lutely hilarious!’


Simon’s mouthful of beer exploded from his lips as he laughed at Dom.


‘Honestly. What a first-class plonker! He’s probably there now, waiting for us.’


‘My man,’ slurred Will B, ‘you have, I think we can all agree, excelled yourself this time, young Dominic. I propose a toast to the Master Prankster. To Dom!’


‘To Dom!’


In unison, the merry lads clashed cans, sending fountains of sticky liquid over the chintz sofas of their rental Christmas cottage.


Meanwhile, the rain had begun to lash down on Rodney who was attempting to reach for the key from the swaying hanging basket at the top of the steps. It was just too high. Balancing on his rocking rucksack, he reached up again, his fingers barely making it over the edge. It was impossible. He would have to climb on something higher. He shone his torch around, but there was only a broken pot at the top of the steps. Some holiday home Dom had booked.


He looked for the lights of a taxi on the dark road below. Maybe one of the others was on his way . . .


It was no good. He couldn’t let them think he was such a loser. He’d get the key, switch on all the lights and put out his mother’s cupcakes that she’d baked for his ‘chums’.


There was only one thing for it.


Rodney lifted his leg up onto the balustrade. On the other side was the deep drop where the water gushed and gobbled below. He’d have to balance so carefully. Holding onto a metal pipe which wobbled back and forth against the stone wall, Rodney tried to get a grip with his shoes on the wood which had now become slimy in the rain. The soles of his black lace-ups were smooth and before he could stop himself, he had slithered down into the wet chasm.


Somehow, somehow, instead of finding himself mulched by the waterwheel which continued to churn, Rodney found himself hanging. His flimsy jacket had caught on a nail which had been protruding from the base of the landing at the top of the steps.


Rodney found that he was crying. And all the time he cried, he could feel a gradual ripping sound.


He reached up with both hands and could feel the damp, spongy platform above him between the rotting balustrades. Curling his fingers around the first two he found, he gripped tightly, afraid at any moment they would come away and would accompany him as he fell to a watery death. He strained to lift his legs until his feet had hooked themselves around, too. He hung there in a hopeless curve, snivelling. How he wished he had spent time at the gym instead of poring over physics books.


Summoning up the greatest strength he had ever mustered, Rodney somehow got purchase on the wooden poles and slid his hands higher and higher, inch by inch, raising his body. He crawled his feet along, pole by pole, until he could pull himself upright and climb back over.


Damn the key. He would sit in the rain and wait.


He dragged his rucksack to the doorway and sat on it, exhausted, leaning against the rough wooden door. He could feel the curls of paint digging into his neck. The door appeared not to have a tight fit. Had the water not been so noisy, he would have heard it rattle. Reaching up feebly behind him from his sitting position, Rodney felt for the handle and on a whim turned it.


The damn door wasn’t even locked!


He fell backwards onto a cold, tiled floor.


As shaken as he was, Rodney wanted to appear ‘chilled’ before the lads arrived, so he stood up and felt about for a light switch. It felt clunky and coated with dust beneath his fingers and when he flicked it, nothing happened. Where was the damn torch? Rodney bent down and swiped his hands across the grimy slabs. They were cracked and broken. Appalling. His torch was nowhere to be found.


Leaving his rucksack where it was, Rodney gingerly made his way through the building. His footsteps sounded hollow and somewhere a series of drips echoed and splashed. Large cobwebs netted his face like sprawling skeletal hands caressing him and from somewhere behind him papery whispers began to rustle.


‘Lads?’ Rodney suddenly felt that he was not alone.


A hysterical burst of female laughter erupted above him which evolved into a choking sound, then a gurgle. Rodney felt his skin prickle and a cold cascade of blood plummet to his toes.


‘Who’s there?’


The whispering began afresh, this time tumultuous, layer upon layer of wispy voices which appeared to swirl around him. He felt caught. He was prey.


Rodney closed his eyes. ‘GO AWAY!’ he yelled at the top of his voice.


All was silent for a moment.


A sudden jangle of heavy metal above his head told him to move. Rodney leapt to one side in the darkness as a ream of heavy chain coiled in a heap where he had been standing.


Rodney bolted for the door which was now shut. Inside, there was no handle. He leaned into it and pushed with every pound of strength he possessed, but the door which had seemed so weak before was suddenly impenetrable.


Luminous forms pulsated and vanished all around him and Rodney felt icy trails across his face. His hat was snatched and he was spun and thrust from entity to entity, feeling the heat sap out of him at each touch. Finally, he fell, breaking his glasses on the cold, hard floor, but before he could scramble to his feet, he felt a tugging at his wrists; he was being dragged over the irregular surface and taken deeper into the sinister blackness.


The sound of water became louder and louder and the musty odour of damp stone became stronger and stronger. He could feel a growing intensity of cold air and soon realised why. He was being pulled towards an open trap door. The torrent of water was deafening below. As his face hovered over the hatch, he felt hands reaching up, grasping at him. Their words trickled into his ear.


‘Come… come…’


Rodney screamed like he had never screamed before. It was blood-curdling, animalistic. He drowned out the sound of the water and screwed his eyes so tight that they ached. He felt hands all over him, grabbing him and heard his name shouted.




Rodney couldn’t shut up. He whimpered and cradled his head with his arms.


‘Beaver, open your eyes.’


He rolled over to see faces looming down at him in the darkness. A square of light shone in his eyes. Someone’s phone.


‘Beaver,’ said Dom. ‘It was a joke. This isn’t the cottage. We’ve got a great place to stay down in the village.’


Rodney could smell Dom’s beery breath.


‘We’ve got a tree,’ said Jake.


Rodney couldn’t speak. He let his friends help him to his feet and allowed himself to be led out into the darkness.


Simon looked at the time on his watch. ‘Merry Christmas.’


‘Shut up, Simon. … Prat.’



The boys made their way down the slimy wooden steps, guiding Rodney whose arms had become stiff and whose eyes saw nothing but flashbacks . . .  past the swinging basket of weeds and the broken pot.



And the waterwheel clunked around hypnotically, the dark water frothing below. Beneath the water, a skull whose grin was washed smooth was wedged on a stone ledge.





The glints in our eyes were so diamond-sharp,

they shredded and tore her armour apart.


We cackled like witches and sneered like the rich,

hurled stones, spat saliva and called her a bitch.


We crowded the pavement, blew gum in her hair,

lined with her, dined with her, pulled out her chair.


We cast her adrift with no anchor to lift her;

like bloodhounds, we sniffed her – our alien sister.


Our conspiracy fuelled with foul, fetid fantasy,

we caught leprosy, lunacy in our supremacy.


Our spite-infused parodies elicited cheer

and our hearts were engorged by her cold, swelling fear.


When she cowered in corners, we formed a tight scrum

round the misshapen ball with nowhere to run.


Locked in a stall, her effluent shrine,

we invaded the gaps, an insidious vine.


Her voice was a ghost’s, white-whisper-thin,

trapped in her body, a mute mannequin,


and her Munchen face dripped like cold, setting wax

through the catalogue of our relentless attacks.


Though defenceless and frail, like a china doll,

we cracked her and dug ’til we’d scooped out her soul,


and she let her cobweb spirit be torn

by the grappling fingers of malice and scorn.


Now she sleeps in the ground crushed by dark, heavy clay,

content to be spared the bright, golden day


while we trudge through the seasons, silent, apart,

each with a shard of glass in our heart.




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