Extract from ‘The Garden of Jenny Marais’

Jenny is haunted… but no-one believes her


“I Am Good. I am not evil. I am good.” The child chanted the mantra over and over, softly. She walked, holding her hands out in front of her, as if she expected to touch something.

At the same place in the passage, every time, just at the steps, the child stopped. Her hands, palms facing the floor, bent up as if they were placed against something solid. Then her whole body shuddered and her fingers clenched. Just for a few moments, her hands became hideously distorted, as if bones pushed through the skin in unnatural protrusions. And the child screamed.

I am here, The black-robed man whispered smoothly, I am here, my little sinner, come forward, let us look at your vanity now.

“I am good,” the child chanted furiously, “I am not evil. I am good.” The child stood immobile, unable to move forward, unable to retreat. The slate reflected shimmering irregular shapes up at her. She shivered. She took a deep breath and then she ran forward. But she felt her chest tightening. Something reached out for her lungs and squeezed.

The black-robed man seldom moved from the passage, he never moved beyond the two steps  to the living rooms, but sometimes, like today, he slid towards her bedroom, and she had to dive through him and slam the door shut. She felt safe for the moment, on the edge of her white melamine bed, her feet not quite touching the ground. She looked out of the window at the blue sky and the yellow roses creeping round the window sill. Slowly her heart stopped pounding, her chest stopped feeling like a balloon that had deflated. “I am good,” she said, and felt surer about the idea, found it believable.

It took longer than usual for her chest to feel loose again, and although she diligently removed her schoolbooks from her satchel and placed them on her little white desk, she was weary. She thought she’d lie down, just for a few moments, and she kicked her  school shoes off and pulled her bobby socks up higher and stretched out on her bed, facing the window.

She watched the clouds drifting, languidly. Soon, the clouds lifted her up, carried her away over green fields dappled with tiny gold flowers, then dropped her gently, she floated down with a happy breeze tickling her shoulders. She came to a river and the water was clear, gold-tinged, and felt warm as she stepped in. She knew where she was – she came here often, and as always, she never wanted to leave. She glanced up – and there was the tall, shining woman who always came to meet her. The woman held out her hand. She took it, floating up from the water effortlessly.

And then her mother knocked. “Jennifer, come out, it’s supper time.” She stood a moment longer with the shining woman, then she stepped back onto a rock that quivered, coppery gold, under the water. “Jenny? Are you coming?” Her mother was insistent now.

She took one more small step, into the shimmering grasses. “Can I stay?” She turned to the shining woman. “I want to stay here,” she said.

Not yet, Jenny, the woman whispered all around her. But one day.

“Jennifer?” The door creaked open. “My goodness, Jenny, how long have you been lying here, sweetie?” Her mother reached out briefly, to touch the straggly blonde plaits that hung each side of her head. The pale sky outside held strange greenish wisps of cloud, fading remnants of a swaying field, floating away. Her mother moved swiftly, pulled the curtains shut. “Everyone is waiting,” she scolded. And marched away. Jenny was lost, she was in this place again.

“Wait, Mom,” she called. I want to hold your hand, she wanted to say to her mother, but her mother was already walking down the passage.

The passage, again. The dark slate, the steps, he was always there, hooded, black-robed Inquisitor; smiling, fleshy and full-lipped, skin crumbling, in later years, she’d know it was acne that scarred the surface, to match the scarred heart. But now, the terrible face cracked into a smile, as she girded herself for the torturous journey back out of her bedroom. “I am not evil,” she chanted, but surely she had to be, why else would something so terrible come for her? “I am not evil,’ she whispered, “I am not evil.”