Tenancy Agreement, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman

Haunt 2

It is 1995, a Saturday afternoon, and tonight Fern and her friends will head to Leeds to a club. The chapter opens with the group sprawled out in a self-contained flat in Harrogate.

There are never fewer than three people here, even when we’re asleep. Me and Sean might be the only ones on the tenancy agreement but James, being homeless, is here all the time. He said it’d be temporary but he’s been here for, let me think…it must be over a month now. I watch him, slouching on his elbows on the floor. He sees me looking. He’s got bad red eye – must be really caned. I don’t think he’s even started trying to find somewhere yet. I could mind but James is fairly innocuous – good word that: having little or no adverse or harmful effect – a Lou word. Besides, I like it, have always had people around me.

The only downer about it is that me and Sean can’t fully go for it when we’re having sex. When he first moved in, James dropped some sarky hints about moans and groans and strange rustling in the night. Funnily enough he’s gone fairly quiet on the subject since Sean told him we had to do it sometime and that if he didn’t like it, he could find a higher class of hotel. Truth is, Sean buzzes off having someone in the room. I’ll be trying to be as quiet as possible and he will suddenly thrust really deep inside me so I gasp. Bastard. Still, I suppose having an audience is better than there being no performance at all…

Anyway, what was I thinking about? Oh yeah, all the people coming round the flat. Cheltenham Mount is definitely the place to be in Harrogate. The problem is, it’s getting to the stage where me and Sean have very little control over who comes round. People who’ve been to a party here or who’ve been round with a mate once get to thinking they’re welcome every day and start bringing ‘just one or two’ friends around to score. Lately it’s got a bit much.

Can I have a bath?” James asks. The stereo’s halfway through Dougal’s Love Of My Life, which I hadn’t even noticed coming on. Must be all the smoke in the air.

Yah man, go for it,” Sean tells him. “You know where the towel is.” The other one is going mouldy in the laundry basket.

We really do need some more towels,” I say. Two months on already and no one has actually managed to find the nearest launderette yet. If it’s absolutely urgent, I’ll go to my sister’s to do the washing but I really don’t want to see her, let alone crawl round, asking favours.

Nah, it’ll be right. We’ll just go to your Lotus’s,” Sean says brightly.

It will not be alright. I ..do… not.. want to go… to my sister’s just… to do some washing.”

She won’t mind.”

Evidently stoned or he’d have picked up on the tone in my voice.

Come off it Sean, you know how fucking superior she is.” I affect the mock upper-class voice my sister has adopted since she moved to Harrogate, “‘Well, if you had a job, you’d be able to pay for your own washing machine. You’re a clever young lady, Fern. How about some office work?” And then she would produce the local paper, dump the job page on my lap – so fucking predictable.

So. Just ignore her.”

Easy for him to say but there’s no point in trying to explain. He just doesn’t understand why I don’t want to have to answer to Lotus. It’s alright for him: he can lie his way out of awkward questions, will maintain till he’s blue-faced that he’s been to three interviews that very day but that there just aren’t enough full-time jobs to go round. That last bit is true, even in a wealthy small town like this. Personally, I would consider a job in which I was permitted to use my brain but unfortunately I don’t have the qualifications – the brains but not the qualifications. And I absolutely refuse to work in a dead end job. I don’t want to be anaesthetised by the system and neither do any of my friends. Won’t catch us being neatly-packaged by society. Not like my sister, a twenty four year old newly-wed who’s just bought her three bedroom semi, is working as a personal assistant to her husband – one of the directors of a small retail outlet – and is planning two point four children in the near future. I shudder. Besides, as I’ve told her over and over again, it’s not as if we don’t want to work; it’s a matter of principle. I mean what’s the point when there isn’t even a minimum wage? Anyway, the last time I went to see her, she whinged about me only coming round when I wanted something. There’s no way in the world I’m giving her more ammunition by asking if I can do my washing.

Do you want to go into town now?” I ask Dan, seeing the necessity of escaping before I start shouting at Sean or someone turns up and it becomes a major mission to leave.

Alright.” Dan launches himself off the sinky chair and pulls me up. Unlike Sean, he seems to have noticed me getting annoyed.

_________________

Me and Dan leave the flat and turn left up Cheltenham Parade. Dan stops at the nice bakery to buy a Cornish. I wait outside and a snooty old woman in a lavender coat uses her elbow to nudge me out of the way. This is what I fucking hate about Harrogate.

We walk on the road to pass the townie kids outside McDonalds. I’m wearing my jeans and Dan looks like an older version of them so we don’t get any comments today. They’re always giving James and Sean stick but it’s cheeky rather than aggressive; James and Sean either laugh or ignore it, depending on their mood.

On the grass near the cenotaph there is some kind of scuffle. Dan grabs my jacket with his fingers and pulls me closer so we can see. Some bloke is running after the scrawny Big Issue seller with the ripped-up trainers, the one who usually stands outside Woolies. He catches him, spins him round by the collar and swings. Looks twice the size and, even though we’re about fifty feet away, I can see how much the poor dude is shaking.

Shit, it’s Cafferty.” My hand goes to my mouth.

That’s not Cafferty, that’s…”

I take my eyes off them to look at Dan. “It’s Cafferty,” I repeat. “Who did you think it was?”

Nobody.” He flushes.

Look back and Cafferty’s still beating the faeces out of his latest victim. The man’s magazines are strewn all over the road and he’s not even trying to fight back. Cafferty is holding his collar with one hand so the poor bastard can’t fall to the floor. With it being Saturday, there are fuck loads of people about but that’s not stopping him. Then a siren starts up.

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Tenancy Agreement, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman

The Knight-giant In The Wall By Becky Cherriman

Nobody but the knight-giant knew why he had left his cave and transmogrified into the wall of a cliff. But the question was the subject of local rumour up until the last century, after which such debates were, somewhat predictably, removed to academic institutions.

The knight-giant was one of the few from the York district to have made it back from the wars but, on returning, he had found himself without shelter. Worse than that, Miriam’s first reaction to his knock at the door was to draw back and wring her dress through her fingers. He had witnessed enough abroad to know at once that she was no longer a maid, done enough to allow him to forgive her for that. But seeing himself through her wary eyes, not a brave man but a scarred man, ganglier even than he had been before he went away, he realised he had been foolish to hope that she would open her arms to him, seven long years on. There was no denying it; the cords of their betrothal were severed.

As he left Miriam’s place some young uns leapt up from the mud where they were playing and scattered. Quick enough to catch one of the smallest by the scruff, he lifted him up to eye level. ‘Does Mrs Adcock still abide by the tanners?’

The boy stopped struggling and began to cry.

A girl of about twelve edged towards him. Mary-Ann, Louise’s eldest? The boy’s sister, most likely. ‘Mrs Adcock’s passed on two years hence, Sir.’

The cold stone of grief filled his stomach.

She gulped. ‘Will you put him down? He thinks you’re a ghost.’

‘He might be right, at that.’ And the knight-giant put the boy down with a gentleness that hadn’t left him though he’d had little cause to use it for many a year.

A little way down the street, was the farriers. He paused by the door but either his old friend Peter was intent on the stubborn stone in the hoof he was examining or he was too afraid to offer him a hello.
Because he could think of nothing else to do and because war and the journey back had made him used to walking – not all knights had the privilege of a horse to ride – the knight-giant left the village. Pebbles pressing through the thinned leather of his shoes, he pushed his way into the forest. And for days and the nights that followed, he trudged without sleep in the circles of wolves, tormented by the ghosts every soldier carries with him.

By the time he came to the cave on the banks of the Nidd, he had walked off much of his grief for his mother and Miriam, much of his resentment at a country that only valued its soldiers on the battlefield, for villagers that could not bear to be reminded of the wounds he had gained for them.

He carved a bed of stone from a fallen rock and took up residence in the cave. It was a natural hollow, small, but it never grew very cold and the woods had berries and rabbits enough to keep him. Besides, apart from the rush of the Nidd, it was a quiet spot and after the clatter of war he was glad of that, so glad that he pledged to honour its tranquillity by keeping his silence until he had something to say.

It was in his daily baths in the nearby dropping well that his gashes began to heal, their infections soothed by the saline water. His fractured bones benefited too, mended with the calcium carbonate that filtered through the rock into the waters. Unlike in the village he hailed from, those he met at the well did not retreat from him for they understood well that those wounds could not be passed on to others. Yet he didn’t speak to them for he still had nothing to say.

Every day from his cave he watched handfuls of them trudge along the riverside – pilgrims in pain – watched them walk back, often a little lighter, until one day, after the shadow of noon had passed, a bright-eyed young boy stopped at the cave mouth. John had noticed him because he had passed both ways several times over the last few months and because of his limp that did not improve for all his visits to the well.

The boy swung his stiffened leg into the cave and asked a question. After eighteen months of silence, the knight-giant found it was a question that he could answer, and so he did. The boy went away with the limp he had come with but lighter nevertheless and he did not visit the dropping well again. After that the knight-giant had many visitors, all with questions that he found he could answer and they all went away lighter, unless gravity was what they needed, in which case that was what they found.

This way of things went on for more years than anyone knows until one day the knight-giant left the cave and took up post a little further along the cliff. It could be that from outside the cave he found it easier to hear the prayers uttered by the torrents of the Nidd or that he simply liked the feel of sandstone against his back or perhaps he knew that one day a man would carve a holy place into the cliff and would need someone to protect him and his icons. It is not known whether from his place as sentinel of the rock he continued advising the pilgrims that came by there or whether he had run out of words altogether. But what is known is that he had showered so frequently in the waters and breathed in so much of the calcium carbonate in the stone that his flesh eventually solidified to rock.

So if, on the course of your pilgrimage, you visit Knaresborough and happen to have a question, do pose it to that knight in the cliff, just at the entrance of where the chapel is now. Listen carefully for his answer before standing beneath the dropping well to let those waters wash over your skin. Only take care you don’t stay too long.

N.B. This story was inspired by the etching on display at The Mercer Gallery 7th Feb-21st June. ‘St Robert’s Church at Knaresborough near Harrogate Spa in Yorkshire’ by an unknown artist.

The Knight-giant In The Wall By Becky Cherriman

Impish by Steve Toase

haunt 1. Sulphur

The sulphur turned us impish, nestling in our marrow like a hiding toddler. Staring at our faces you may have noticed small nubs of keratin erupt upon our foreheads. Behind us dragged our tails of thorns and fox tongues.

We did not inflict our mischief upon others. All our tricks were inward looking. We were both Grifter and Mark.

Our horns we hid. The girls with concealer, the boys with fringes that scraped their eyes. But our tails? Oh, we were proud of our tails. We bedecked them with ribbons and lengths of neon climbing rope. Bottle tops that caught the light, and some with bells teased from the necks of friendly cats. We dressed them like we were mingling at Carnivale, and we were proud of them. Yet they were treacherous things, our tails. Their thorns snagged three score times a day. Sometimes upon ephemeral things like a whispered word. Or the glance of those taking afternoon tea beyond a window we would never see from the other side.

Other times they caught in the route of a store detective. Shifted his footsteps until they fell in behind ours. The dance moves of the uniformed were never as rapid and staccato as those tapped out by our cloven hoofs.

On curtained days the thorns of our tails became knotted, tearing into our sheets. Became wrapped around with strands of brown and blue smoke. In the dark the fox tongues whispered words to us like blackberries. Some sweet. Some sour. We picked ourselves free with care, thread by thread.

2. Chalybeate

The chalybeate turned us ferrous, seeping into our skin like midnight thoughts. If you looked close enough at us you would see cuisse and revebrace cleave to our limbs. Plackart wrapped around our torsos. Vental covering our face when we no longer wished to talk. Yet we had no oils to care for the iron that wrapped us. No wax to rub into the once polished surface.

On our slow walks around town, feet weighed down by rusted sabaton, blisters of corrosion chipped off with each step. Our armour became shabby with each encounter. Rusted crumbs littering the well-tended grass where we lounged. Where we avoided people and homes that were not homes.

3. Magnesia

The magnesia turned us luminous, woven through our fingers like strands of radiance. No-one paid us attention, but we glowed. The midday sun at midnight. Magical and out of place. We gleamed and glittered. They ignored us. We knew this was because the brightness under our skin would scorch their eyes out. So they stepped aside and lowered their heads away from us. Glanced anywhere but in our direction.

Impish by Steve Toase

Call for submissions for Haunt anthology

Tunnel

We invite stories or poems from people who have experienced homelessness, or vulnerable housing in Harrogate.

Please send 250 words, or 25 lines of poetry including blank lines, and a 50 word bio about your experiences of homelessness or vulnerable housing. 

Closing date 20th April.

All appropriate submissions will be put on the website and some pieces will be selected for the anthology.

Submissions to haunt.harrogate@gmail.com

More Info

HAUNT /hɔːnt/

v.  To inhabit, visit, or appear to in the form of a ghost.

n.  A place much frequented.

v.  To haunt one’s thoughts or memory.

The history of this town haunts us.

These buildings in which we live are spectres of past opulence.

The healing of this town is not for us.

Harrogate is known for its past as a wealthy spa town, and still has a reputation as a genteel place of tea rooms and flower shows.

This is not the Harrogate of everyone. For some people this idealised history is a haunting presence in their lives. In the fabric of buildings where they live in one room, or the parks where they sleep.  Their experiences are muffled beneath the dominant voice of Harrogate.

Haunt explores how people who are homeless, or bedsit residents, live inside these ghosts of the town’s past. Haunt gives people a place to tell stories not normally heard within the accepted narrative of the town and bring them to a wider audience.

Call for submissions for Haunt anthology