Cornish Reading Challenge: Read Street of the Scream by Sharon Tregenza

Children’s author and Cornish maid Sharon Tregenza has provided The Bandwagon with her short story, Street of the Scream, for Cornish Reading Challenge participants to read and enjoy.

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Beware the scream that can’t be seen, the icy stare, beware, beware – or it will push you over.

Saved by the bell? All well, all well, saved by the bell – it cannot push you over.

The whole class sang it as loud as they could and then burst out laughing. I had no idea what the hell they were doing and felt more like the new kid than ever.

Ms Penrose laughed too. ‘Okay you guys, enough, enough now.’ She flapped her hands to make everyone sit back down. ‘So, your holiday project is local myths and legends.’

She turned to me. ‘Ollie, I believe you’ve moved into the old Lanyon place on the dunes?’

This provoked an outburst of hoots and shouts and dumb zombie impressions. What the…?

I nodded.

‘Then you probably already know about the Street of the Scream?’

More wolf howls and ghost moans.

‘No,’ I said.

For a second there was an eerie silence in the classroom. Then the noises erupted again.

‘Enooough,’ Ms Penrose called out.  She turned back to me with a serious look on her face. ‘Where you live there’s a story, a legend. It’s all rubbish of course and I don’t want to scare you. I’ll tell you what, you can make your own enquires it’ll be a more interesting project. An outsider’s view – not that I mean you’re an outsider, Ollie,’ she added quickly.

She turned to the class. ‘You’ll work in pairs and, to help Ollie with the Street of the Scream legend, I think it should be…’

As she scanned the class, inside my head I whispered, Kenza, Kenza, Kenza.

‘Kenza,’ Ms Penrose said and I had to stop myself from fist pumping the air.

This was my chance to impress the most popular girl in the class. I may be rubbish at sports but I was smart. Once she got to know just how smart I was, maybe…’

It was break before I caught up with Kenza. She was sitting alone on the low stonewall that divided the playground from the tennis courts.

‘So what’s the deal with this ‘Scream’ crap?’ I said. I tried to sound casual and cool but my voice chose that moment to break and came out of my mouth like a duck squawk.

She giggled and I felt my face redden.

A group of girls rushed over, surrounded Kenza and began a garbled story about some local band. Shrieks and laughter drowned out any hopes of a quiet talk so I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulder and stood up.

Kenza grabbed my wrist, slid my shirtsleeve up and scribbled a series of numbers on my arm. She mumbled something.

‘What?

Snatching the pen lid from between her perfect teeth she said, ‘text me.’

I ran my fingers gently across the numbers and smiled.

 

***

 

Mum was making a Cornish flag by gluing seashells painted black and white onto a piece of chipboard.  Since we’d moved to Cornwall six months before she’d gone Cornish crazy.

‘I love it here, Ollie. I love it so much, the sea, the light. Everything. Cornwall is my spiritual home.’

‘Well maybe it was hers but I wasn’t sure it was mine. I missed my old school, my friends, Bristol. And with Dad working away, I missed him too.

I wriggled out of my backpack and let it drop with a thud to the floor. ‘What do you know about the Street of the Scream,’ I said.

She frowned. ‘Funny you should ask that. We were talking about it last evening. I told the people at my Cornish Culture class we’d moved into Mrs Lanyon’s house and they got all silly. They made ghost noises and stuff and one started singing this song. Something about beware, beware and listening for a bell.’

Mum flicked her hand to dislodge a shell that was stuck to her fingers. It shot off, pinged against the microwave and ricocheted into a corner.

She ignored it.

‘Wait. Here. Look,’ she said.

I followed her over to the window and focused on where she pointed across the sand dunes to the cliff edge.

‘See? Those piles of rubble were once cottages, part of a street of houses. In the great storm of 1916 a huge chunk of the cliff collapsed into the sea taking several homes and drowning a whole family.’

She shuddered. ‘Just imagine, Ollie. Horrible.’

‘Yeah, but what’s all the scream stuff?’

‘Oh that? Apparently, where that lost street was, is haunted.’ She screwed up her nose. ‘No one seemed sure of the legend. They had different stories. Some of them said on the anniversary of the storm you can hear screams in the night, some that you can hear screams during storms. Just screams really.’

She opened a cupboard, took out a saucepan and put it on the hob.

‘It’s probably just gulls, or the wind howling between the sand dunes. Nice creepy little Cornish myth though, don’t you think? Beans and fish fingers be okay?’

‘Yeah. Beans and fish fingers are fine.’

 

***

 

I Googled: Street of the Scream, Perran Sands, Cornwall. Not much help there – bits and pieces on legend sites about ghostly screams and an article about the disaster of the great storm of 1916.

I read: Mr and Mrs Arthur Carew, their fourteen year old daughter and ten year old son are missing, presumed dead, after last night’s storm. Their home, at Perran Sands, plummeted into the icy seas when the cliff top collapsed at high tide. The rest of the street has been evacuated…

 

I lay face down on my bed and texted Kenza:

Meet me on the

                Street of the Scream

               tonight at 12:00.

               Research for our project?

                Ollie

 

It took a few minutes but when my mobile rang its text alert, I saw:

Totally!

Kenza

 

I sat upright. My heart thudded. I didn’t expect that. I was only joking. What now? Now I’d have to go. She’d think I was a total wuss if I backed out. Damn.

I looked out of my window into the darkness. A sudden shower of rain rattled against the glass like pebbles. Damn. Damn.

***

Almost Midnight. The stairs didn’t creak and the door unlocked silently. No reprieve by irate mother for me, then.

I stepped outside. The sand dunes were lumpy with shadows and the sea a mass of solid silver in the moonlight. The rain had stopped but clumps of damp sand clung to my trainers as I walked.

I reached the spot where rough squares of old stones and rubble showed where a line of cottages had once stood. They led to a massive gouge in the cliff. A black cleft hollowed out where the rest of the street should have been.

I turned in a circle. No sign of Kenza.

The sea churned slowly. A sudden wind moaned through the patches of long grass and they undulated like sea anemones. A shiver ran through me.

I texted:

I’m here. Where R U?

Ollie

 

The moon disappeared behind a cloud and the darkness made my skin crawl. I darted quick looks around me and took a deep breath, sucking in air that tasted of salt.

When the moonlight returned I saw her. She was standing on the crest of a sand dune, watching me. For one joyful second I thought it was Kenza but quickly realised this girl was taller, darker. She was wearing something long and white like a nightdress and her hair hung wet across her shoulders.

There was something wrong about her. Odd. As if she was a photograph cut out of night colours. As we stared at each other the sound seemed to drain out of the air.

Then, like a wave, she slid down the dune towards me in a shower of sand.

Into the intense silence she screamed. She screamed with her whole body. Her eyes locked wide and the black hole of her mouth stretched and rigid.

The scream hit me like a blow. I staggered backwards. My heart thudded like a rock inside my chest.

The next scream was even louder – the most piercing sound I’d ever heard – wild with hysteria.

I tried to run but my legs felt like water. In a panic, I stumbled and fell to the ground. I lay there, curled my knees up into my body and squeezed my eyes shut.

Somewhere inside the depth of the terrible scream I heard another sound. A bell.

The scream stopped dead. Instantly replaced by the whisper of the wind.

I forced myself to count to ten before I opened my eyes. The girl was gone.

My mobile was a bright rectangle of light in my hand. I scrambled to my feet swinging the phone back and forth like a torch.

I saw then how close I was to the edge of the cliff. Less than a foot away the ground dropped steeply down to the rocks and sea far below.

I ran.

Racing back across the dunes in wild frightened leaps.

In the safety of my room I dived under the duvet my body shaking uncontrollably. My mobile was still gripped firmly in my hand and I stared at the text:

 

 

R U CRAZY? I’m

not really going to meet

U in some haunted street

 at Midnight.

C U tomorrow.

Kenza x

 

I didn’t sleep at all that night. As my heartbeat gradually returned to normal I lay thinking over what had happened in the Street of the Scream.

I mean ghosts aren’t real. Right? So what the hell…?

The creepy song played over and over in my head like some horror movie opening:

Beware the scream that can’t be seen, the icy stare, beware, beware – or it will push you over.

And, anyway, if some hundred year-old ghostly, drowned girl was trying to murder me why had she stopped?

Then I remembered. The text from Kenza. As I teetered on the cliff edge my mobile had rung.

Into my confused brain crept the last line of that song:

Saved by the bell? All well, all well, saved by the bell – it cannot push you over.

*

Find out more about Sharon Tregenza here, read her Cornish poetry on The Bandwagon, and visit her website.

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