Wonka Presents! – A Spooky Tale!
Published by Madeleine Masterson at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Madeleine Masterson
The minute Wonka announced he would tell a ‘spooky tale’ for Halloween or perhaps the New Year, I hid my face in a cushion.
‘But you know I am hopeless when it comes to spook….’ I moaned to him. It was true. I had read all the great horror stories (The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier for starters ) watched all the creepy films – but, paid the price.
Despite writing a Halloween story and one for the New Year, both bringing in a touch of the supernatural I could not shake off an over vivid imagination; the moments between marking the page of my current night time read, putting the lamp out and wishing Wonka a pleasant night’s sleep could all be overturned. I may as well have said (to the no one there) ‘Come on then! Here I am, waiting!’
Of course Wonka said I was being dramatic, and what about him crouched under the bed listening to every creak and shudder, all the natural noises of a house closing down for the night, except when you are laying there frozen, caught in the spiral of those thoughts. One of my specials, was hearing things as opposed to seeing them.
‘Good.’ said Wonka, keen to get on with his tale. It seemed that his spooky tale involved that sense more than the other five. Or was it four? While I wrestled with the amount of senses us humans have, Wonka made a start. He was firm on it, and said I must be his one listener for now. Reluctantly I settled on the settee, his giant nest, and said I was ready.
‘Then I’ll begin,’ he said.
This is the story, he told me, of ‘The Lost Hour’. Just before the dark short days of the month of November, you humans (that’s me and you!), insist on the custom of turning the clocks back. Indeed we did; it reminded me of watching a programme all about one of the Queen’s palaces, in which all the clocks had to be adjusted so. I had enough on with my measly collection and never mind the timer on the central heating. Images of clocks great and small floated by me, and Wonka continued on:
‘It so happened, that this particular clock, a Napoleon Hat clock, was perched on a shelf in a village antique shop. The Proprietor, Pamela, had bought it as part of a house clearance, doing the family an immense and important service. Raking through the heartland of your memories, realising that a portion of your life is gone now, and each dusty ornament, each yellowing piece of paper a stab at you – best got through quickly. Pamela, not immune to all of this and recently having her own demise (her parents dying, first Mum and soon after Dad) was fair and sympathetic to their cause. It is a final rite of passage that is sometimes a bitter secret, sometimes a reckoning up; in this instance, Pamela sensed more.
The two sisters, Elizabeth and Alice, seemed estranged from each other, and the loss of their father instead of bringing them closer, had obviously made differences deeper. They were happy (this was individual rather than shared) for Pamela to take a look at the household, price it up and make them an offer; it was Alice who took charge and it was Alice, who would go on to sell the house as fast as you like.
‘Pets?’ I wondered to Wonka, always worried about who might be left behind.
The old gentleman had loved animals, and had taken in most of the neighbourhood strays. The last of this ancient practice, a proud ginger tom, had known his master was to make the final journey; in their own deep knowledge, cats are privileged to many of the secrets denied to humans – he foresaw the end of his protector and made arrangements to move on. Watching the comings and goings from his hideout in the overgrown shrubbery of the back garden, Ginger Tom (yes, that was his name) noted the arrival of the sisters. He recognised one of them, as the one who was with her father when he had his heart attack – instead of ringing for an ambulance she had settled herself in one of the old armchairs, and watched him suffer.
‘It is from him, Ginger Tom, that the tale is handed down,’ Wonka paused to tell me.
This was interesting, as I knew of the sisters already! They had put in an appearance in Wonka’s Story for New Year’s Eve, and even now I was writing a follow up. In my story, Alice Snood was doing all the haunting, so I was keen to know what had led to all of it. ‘Did Ginger Tom move on then?’ of course I wanted to know he was safe. I didn’t want him taken up by Alice, and even Elizabeth perhaps was too weak willed to take on a much loved, newly domesticated, cat.
Wonka continued: Ginger Tom stayed around long enough to check that all was in order, and to find out if anyone else had suspected his Protector’s death was an untimely one. He watched Pamela go round the house, appearing first at the downstairs windows and then upstairs, pulling aside a curtain to stare outside. She had indeed given Alice a price for it all, also checking for a last minute change of heart; there were so many books, ornaments and obvious family heirlooms that she hesitated to buy it all as a ‘job lot’. Alice reassured her that she and her sister had taken all they wanted whilst there for the funeral; this had been held at the village church, St Peter’s, on a cold damp January day and most of the village had paid their respects. Some of them did suspect something – but that was all, a little suspicion about the suddenness of it, and a strong dislike for the daughter. There had been raised voices on that day (according to a passing neighbour) and couldn’t she have done more for her father until the ambulance, coming all the way from the nearest town arrived? By a miracle, he had recovered sufficiently to leave hospital and be taken to the very same daughter’s flat up in town for some respite care before returning home. The return to the village never happened, as the death that had been avoided in his own home, happened whilst he was with his daughter Alice.
Ginger Tom had cried. Wonka assured me that cats do cry, not like us humans, but an inward sorrow released by a plaintive sound. He had made these noises by the armchair of his old friend, and would have remained there had Alice not thrown a book at him – even then, she stayed put in the armchair, finally ringing for the ambulance when she was sure he was nearly dead.
‘Poor Ginger Tom!’ I said winning Wonka’s approval as this meant I was listening hard to his story. Of course I was listening! Alice was every bit as cruel as she had been in the New Year story, and probably in the latest one too. The cat though, was new to me, and I wanted to know what happened to him but instead Wonka continued with a different subject.
‘And now,’ he said to me,’ there is the missing, or lost hour, and the clock.’
This particular clock, the Napoleon hat clock, so called due to its sloping shoulders coming up into a hat shape to house the old fashioned dial, was now on one of Pamela’s shelves in the backroom of her (so called) antiques shop in the village. The villagers liked to refer to it as their antique shop although it rarely lived up to this. Times were hard for Pamela, and the shop was turning into a second hand furniture come junk shop these days. But the clock, yes, she had taken a fancy to it and decided to pay a fair price for it, in with all the rest of the household clearance. The thing was, it needed a lot of encouragement to start up (the key was discovered in the back of it) and would then just stop altogether. It also seemed to depend on where it was situated, and believe me (Wonka stressed this bit), the clock had been tried out just about everywhere in the premises ending up in the backroom, which it seemed to favour for its short bursts of ticking.
Wonka paused here to check out back – there was often a visitor to our yard thanks to my over generous attitude towards the feline world – and it gave me chance to remember one of the clocks from my childhood; it was a leaving gift to my Grandad on his retirement from the firm of Gurteens, in Haverhill, where he had worked all his life, this being in a small village not unlike the one of our story. Like most important clocks of that era, it chimed the hour and then had to go one better and hit on the quarter and half too. Many a night, staying over with my daughter and loving it too, I had been certain that the clock chimed an extra hour! Clocks seem to have a language of their own, contained in their ticks or chimes, and I wondered just what the clock of this story would turn up with.
‘Ready?’ Wonka fixed me with one his looks, and I smiled over and said I was.
For a while, Ginger Tom made do with a stop here and there in the neighbourhood. Most homes were welcoming when he put his head through their gate or weather depending, sat on their bins. He was awarded a number of different names and answered to them all; yes for a while, he managed, until one night not long after the season you humans call the New Year, he had a dream. He had struck lucky on this particular icy evening, and had bedded down on a good piece of sacking in a greenhouse. There was just enough of a gap between the floor and the old wooden fence at the back, for him to squash through; a few hours later he was awake with his fur and whiskers a tingle. Outside, it was still and when he squeezed back through the gap, to follow the calling of his dream as it were, there was the beginning of a sharp frost on the ground. Nevertheless, he pressed on.
In the deep of the night, for it was around two in the morning, the village was rather like the weather, frozen and still. Thanks to the new by-pass, the only cars that came into the village now were journeys to and from home. As Ginger Tom rounded the churchyard he still checked the narrow crossroads for traffic. It was all clear, not even another stray cat darting across to see what he was about.
He continued on, up the high street until he came to The Beehive. This was Pamela’s business and home, for she lived above the premises, and Ginger Tom jumped over the fence dividing off the building from the street and landed on a bin in the back. It was here that he stopped for a bit to have a good wash round. He had knocked off a couple of plant pots as he landed, but they were only plastic, and fell neatly to the ground of the yard. He paused, to see if the slight noise had disturbed the night. Again, nothing. He carried on with his washing, licking his paw and rubbing his eyes and face.
‘All cats do this to think clearly,’ reflected Wonka. I did think that he, Wonka must be right on it, as he was always having a wash round. Golly, my dearly beloved and now in the great sanctuary in the sky with St Francis, well he used to wash Wonka round in the beginning. The thought of Wonka allowing anyone to do the same now made me smile. ‘Go on Wonka, what happened next?’
Ginger Tom, wash and brush up completed, now moved from the bin and onto an old windowsill. From here he could see into the back room of the shop, and immediately recognised the clock from his old home. There it was, perched on a high shelf, and the time, according to its old dial, was half past midnight. In his dream, Ginger Tom had been summoned. No one quite knows how to explain this, except to say, should you receive such a summons, you must follow it: in the said dream, he was instructed to go to the old village blacksmiths now called ‘The Beehive’, whereupon he would know what to do.
‘Have you seen us cats, hurrying along as if on an important errand?’ Wonka asked me, but not waiting for an answer,’ that is because we have been given instructions to carry out, immediately!’ I took a moment to think about this and had to agree that there must be secret strings in the feline universe, pulling them this way and that. Perhaps one of them had sent Wonka to my doorstep!
The Beehive was Pamela’s shop and everyone had forgotten now why it was called that, for the only sign of this was the sign hanging over the shop door.
Ginger Tom, as Wonka recounted, had indeed gone straight there as revealed to him in the summons, and waited patiently on the sill. Unlike you humans, went on Wonka, cats know how to wait.
Wonka carried on, leaving Ginger Tom on the sill, to have us inside The Beehive, and with Pamela, who unable to sleep had come down into the shop with a cup of tea. She had put on one of the many lamps that were dotted round and was sitting in an old armchair; it was one of those that had such wide arms you could stand your cup of tea on it, and never fear it would topple over.
She had the kind of insomnia that meant you fell asleep within minutes, but then awake in the middle of the night with no end of anxious thoughts. Most of it was related to her fairly recent bereavement (her parents) but the rest of it was the usual money worries. They never went away. Sitting there, in the still of the shop sipping her tea, Pamela suddenly realised she could hear a clock ticking. Loudly.
‘Oh no.’ the ticking was so loud and insistent, it broke into her thoughts and brought her right back into the present; which was the middle of the night and in the middle of her shop. ‘How can that clock tick loud enough to be heard in here, when I put it in the back?’ questioned Pamela to herself – or maybe she had said it out loud.
When she first acquired the clock, it had been placed just about everywhere in the business to encourage it to work. This had included her own flat upstairs, and for a few days, the clock had sat on the mantelpiece above the old Victorian fireplace in her bedroom.
Pamela made herself remember why she had moved it, even though just thinking about it made her uncomfortable. Had she imagined it? Lying awake, in one of her sleepless times, it wasn’t ticking she heard, but a plaintiff chant,- it had seemed to fit in with the rhythm of the clock’s tick as well, and repeated itself over and over again. ‘Pocket Money, Pocket Money, Pocket Money! It went on and on, until Pamela had got out of bed, picked up the clock, wrapped it in a towel (seized from the bathroom) and put in a kitchen cupboard for the rest of the night.
In the morning, when Pamela feeling tired but more able to cope with strange clocks, had lifted it out of the cupboard to remove it downstairs to the shop; it had stopped ticking in the night, and pronounced the time to be two o’clock.
‘Oh Wonka!’ I said from behind the cushion,’ this is indeed a spooky tale!’
Pleased at his storytelling, he had a proud look as he continued to tell more.
Pamela moved slowly and wearily towards the backroom, drawn by the loud ticking and trying not to listen to whatever it might be saying; was it to do with the old man and those strange daughters? The pestering and insistent ticking dominated her thoughts as she arrived in the room where it was coming from. And once there, she understood in a flash what had happened to the old gentleman, and how the hour had passed for him. Whilst Alice had made herself comfortable in the armchair and her father lay dying, had this same clock marked out his last hour. His lost hour really, and some of it shared by Ginger Tom. The last chapter, the fall downstairs at Alice’s flat where he was supposed to be recuperating – Pamela knew now, it could not have been an accident.
She could not help but feel his despair and loneliness, and the ticking was quite overpowering now. Instead of ‘pocket money, pocket money’ (Had the very same Alice been a demanding child? Of course she had.) the ticking had something new to say: ‘Never loved me, never loved me, never – ‘
Pamela got out of the backroom as fast as she could, was she dreaming, or awake now? Either way, that clock must go – but in her hurry to escape the nasty accusing words, tied into the mechanism and rhythm of the tick, she tripped on an old doorstop and fell, striking her head on the corner of the door frame.
Ginger Tom, with the foresight of the great cat that he was, sized up the situation. He was not frightened of the clock, no. It was merely serving witness to the Master’s death and the person who had so coldly left him to it; but he could also see Pamela, lying very still now, through the open door of the backroom. While there was some hope of her being alive, he must get help!
Ginger Tom was in a hurry and he turned to leap back over the fence into the high street; but instead came face to face with a shining beam of light, and a large drooling dog! The neighbouring premises belonged to one of the most active members of the local community watchdog.
Not only did this neighbour have all the tendencies required for a watchful community, but she also had a dog! And it was said dog, that had managed to hear the movement of some plant pots, and wake his Owner up. Luckily for Ginger Tom, Growler was on a leash, and was only drooling due to waiting for his reward, a biscuit, from said neighbour’s pocket. Ginger Tom quickly jumped back onto the Sill and stretched up to the window – it looked like he was trying to escape, but the neighbour, ready to apprehend a burglar at the least, approached the window and looked in. Ready with the torch, for there was nothing like a good blinding beam of light to disarm your victim, instead, the neighbour saw what Ginger Tom had; Pamela laying on the floor.
‘Thank goodness!’ this meant she would be rescued, and not left for days on end. ’Like those people you read about Wonka, with no one keeping an eye on them.’
‘Hardly likely,’ continued Wonka, ‘with a dog like Growler next door who can hear a pin drop from the other end of the High Street.’
It transpired, that Growler had begun life as a hearing dog until he failed one of the tests – a rigorous process as it should be, to accompany a deaf person and alert them to all the many noises we take for granted in our daily lives. Happily, his trainer had fallen for him rather, and he found his home anyway – also he was such a pal to the dogs who were training that he was the star of the village. ‘He even featured in one of the magazines,’ Wonka told me before continuing with the spooky tale:
Using the spare key under the mat to go in the back, and frowning at the lack of security here (could have used a key safe!) and then having another frown at the absence of an alarm – ‘We’ll be having words Growler!’ – the neighbour advanced through the back rooms to Pamela, still laying still on the floor. Not long after that, an ambulance pulled up outside The Beehive and to the delight of the many wakeful and watching villagers, wheeled her into the vehicle and set off to the nearest hospital. ‘The very same,’ remarked Wonka, ’that had taken Ginger Tom’s master – only he was not to survive, in the end, whilst Pamela did.’
Ginger Tom, once more, watched the back of an ambulance pulling away into the night, and wondered if he had saved her from the same fate as his old Master. Naturally, it was Growler who would receive all the praise and attention for saving the day, and to give him some credit did make a small attempt to include Ginger Tom; but for all his hearing skills, Growler did not speak Cat, and could not fully understand why Ginger Tom was there. The neighbour, having seen Pamela off to the hospital, was busy for a short while making sure all was closed down and safe in the shop.
Leaving by the same back door she had entered, she suddenly noticed the clock, now ticking away on the shelf; she didn’t recall this from earlier, and at the same time she felt very, very cold. Growler, who despite his name, was given to a happy friendly nature, started a low growling that quite shook her up. Fumbling with the key in the door, as it now seemed urgent that they leave the premises, she finally got them out into the yard, into the clean crisp and frosty night.
And whilst they were hovering by the back door, Ginger Tom sped in. The clock was just doing its job as far as he was concerned, and he knew Pamela would be back soon. He settled in the very chair she had been sitting in, and went to sleep.
‘Ah, ‘I breathed out in relief, knowing the fate of Ginger Tom was secured. Perhaps even Growler might warm to him eventually.
‘Yes, Ginger Tom made a good home for himself with Pamela, who recovered fully and was home the very next day.’ Wonka answered my question as he finished off the spooky tale.
But what of the clock? Between the chilling messages contained in the tick and the revelation that followed, Pamela knew what to do. ‘This clock,’ she announced to Ginger Tom who was busy washing on another shelf in the back room, ’will have to go!’ Personally, and as we already know, Ginger Tom was quite fond of it. It had been a fixture in his old Master’s home, and he had often stood by the mantelpiece winding it up. He suggested to Pamela that if it had to go, it should be returned to one of the sisters. After all they were his daughters, and it had been there most of their lives. Pamela, like Growler, did not hear or understand the language of Cat, but could pick up thoughts; the idea that the clock must be returned to its rightful place floated into her mind and she seized on it. ‘I know!’ she again spoke out loud, ‘the clock must be parcelled up and posted to the sister called Elizabeth.’ And so it was that the post office clerk duly weighed the parcel and wrote down the contents.
‘Value?’ she queried, not entirely out of administrative duties, for like the rest of this small community, she was taking quite an interest in Pamela and the Beehive these days.
‘It’s just a clock – no real value except sentimental I suppose.’ Pamela smiled and then paid up. She actually felt lighter as she left the village post office and rounded the corner for home. There was a note in with the clock to explain to Elizabeth why she was returning it (for family reasons) and that she thought, was that.
Wonka stopped telling the story to remind me about his tea time, and then finished it.
‘Did Ginger Tom live happily ever after?’ I had to ask the stock question; the films I had sat through on tenterhooks praying that the animals in it survived the plane crash, the house fire, the long march through the desert – they weren’t in the plot for nothing.
‘As happy as the day is long – happier because in time he made new friends round abouts and really was more of a guard dog than a cat. Growler could have taken some lessons from him!’ Ah, I sighed and wondered what Elizabeth made of the clock turning up. This would feature in the sequel to The New Year’s Eve tale already full of the mystery of Alice Snood.
Ginger Tom was the only one who did miss the clock. He watched Pamela take it from the shelf and knew this time it wasn’t to move it somewhere else in the shop.
It seemed to him, his last link with his old master and to his utter everlasting delight, as Pamela lifted it from the shelf where it had stopped ticking, did it start up. Surprised and startled by this, she nearly dropped it, and cried out in alarm ‘Oh shut up!’
But to Ginger Tom it distinctly said: ‘Master loved me master loved me master loved me………’ purring with happiness at this late but welcome message, he went back to sleep on his shelf. Good things do come to those who wait!
The End of Wonka’s Spooky Tale (and time for his tea!)
Tis the season to be Spooky! Wonka has a brand new story, 'The Lost Hour', especially for Halloween; it has a secret to tell and a clock to tell it! And in our best tradition a proud feline to take us from beginning to end, in this case, Ginger Tom. He is not afraid to follow his senses and sniff out danger journeying through the deep of night to answer a strange call for help. Take the journey with him, and listen to Wonka’s new tale of spook! Along with this new story, Wonka has allowed me, his Owner to pop in a few illustrations too. Do enjoy and as always it is sent with lots of love from us to you X