Ahead of publishing a new anthology of children’s horror short stories, I’m road testing some of them. Here’s the eponymous story which opens the anthology. Let me know what you think.
The Sounding Rocks
Jake didn’t like the Sounding Rocks. He said they sounded like crumbling pain. Like when you have toothache and you can hear it as well as feel it. Like that. Like sharp jagged bits of stone all jabbing in your mind at once and all together. He called them the Sounding Rocks.
‘I don’t like the Sounding Rocks. They put bad feelings in my ears at night.’
Jake’s mum smiled. What else could she do? It was all a mum or dad could do most of the time. Jake kept talking.
‘They sound all hateful when I hear them.’
Jake’s mum loved living by the sea. It was a cottage on the beach that she loved as a kid and promised she would buy if she ever got the chance. She got the chance. So she and Jake now lived in the cottage on the beach by the sea.
‘Just think of all that fun we’ll have on the beach, Jake. Splashing and chasing and laughing and singing.’
But Jake hated the beach. It hurt his feet. There was one small patch of sand. It was normally covered by the sea. Jake only saw it occasionally. There was never the right time to play on it. The rest of the beach was stones. Jake hated the beach.
‘I never get the chance to play on the sand, Mum. Only on the stones.’
‘That’s because of the tides. I can’t control when the sand is there or not. Only the moon can do that. And gravity.’
What did Jake care about gravity? All he wanted was to leave the cottage and go back to the city where they came from.
‘We were happy in the city, Mum. We didn’t have to hear the Sounding Stones.’
‘But we heard all sorts of other nasty noises, like helicopters and sirens and car alarms.’
‘They weren’t nasty noises, Mum. They were just the sounds of the city.’
Jake’s Mum knew he missed his dad. But the cancer had been so quick. Almost just a weekend. A wonky weekend; Thursday morning until Sunday morning. A clean break felt like the best thing for everyone. Selling the house meant that she could buy the cottage and still have enough to live on until Jake was at school full-time.
‘It is only one summer and then you’ll be making new friends at school.’
‘I don’t want new friends. I want my old friends. And Dad.’
‘I know, darling. So do I.’
Mum didn’t know but Jake woke every night to check if the sand was there to play on. He could see the beach from his window. It was just over the road. Sometimes it was too dark for him to see properly. Or too cold for him to want to go outside. But one night it was just right and when Jake looked out he saw the sand shining in the moonlight. He knew he had to go outside.
Jake opened his window, grabbed his bucket and spade and climbed out. He tiptoed across the road and walked down the beach. It was late at night and the stones crunched. He thought Mum would hear him. She stayed asleep.
Jake reached the sand. He put down his bucket. He knelt beside it. He raised his spade. He was ready to dig the sand.
‘Oh no you don’t,’ said the Sounding Stones. ‘That’s our sand and you can’t play with it.’
‘Why not? It’s only on the beach.’
‘You’re not dead. Only dead people can play with the sand.’
‘But I don’t want to be dead, I just want to play with the sand.’
‘Well, you can’t,’ said the Stones.
Jake thought for a minute.
‘My dad’s dead, could he play?’
‘Of course he could. Only dead people can play with our sand.’
Jake kept thinking.
‘If my Dad was playing with the sand, could I play with him?’
‘Only if you were dead.’
The next morning Jake spoke to his mum.
‘The Sounding Rocks said I had to be dead to play with their sand. They said Dad could play with it because he was dead but I couldn’t play with him because I’m not.’
Jake’s mum was frightened.
‘When did the rocks tell you this?’
‘Last night when I asked them.’
‘Why would you ask them that?’
‘Because they said it was their sand and I couldn’t play with it.’
Jake told his mum what he had been doing. She hugged him.
‘Why didn’t you ask me to come with you?’
‘Because you were asleep.’
‘You could have woken me, Darling. You didn’t need to go to the beach on your own.’
‘I wanted you to be pleased that I was playing on the beach. I know how much it means to you.’
She hugged Jake again.
‘It does, Jake, it really does, but there’s no need to creep out in the middle of the night without waking me. I’ll come with you next time. Maybe I can speak to them.’
Jake was thoughtful.
‘I know, Mum. I’m sorry.’
It was a while before the sand was there again. This time Jake and his mum climbed out his window and crossed over the road. They tiptoed over the crunchy stones. The moon made the sand all shiny. Jake put down his bucket. He knelt down beside it. Mum knelt down too. Jake raised the spade.
‘Oh no you don’t,’ said the stones. ‘We told you before about playing with our sand.’
‘But I’m with him this time,’ said Jake’s mum. ‘Please let him dig your sand.’
The Sounding Stones were not happy.
‘We don’t mind you digging our sand but your son is not allowed. Rules are rules, after all. If everyone just did what they wanted then there would just be chaos.’