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Cherringham — Scared to Death

Contents

  1. Cover
  2. Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series
  3. About the Book
  4. Main Characters
  5. The Authors
  6. Title
  7. Copyright
  8. 1. A Scream in the Night
  9. 2. The Third Incident
  10. 3. The Goose Gets a Visitor
  11. 4. Hill House
  12. 5. House of Secrets
  13. 6. A House of More Horrors
  14. 7. The Snake Strikes
  15. 8. Horrors from the Past
  16. 9. Waiting for Evil
  17. 10. A Long Night
  18. 11. Spaghetti Supper
  19. 12. Behind the Scenes
  20. 13. A Shot in the Dark
  21. 14. Scared … to Death?
  22. 15. The Killer in the Crypt
  23. 16. When the Dead Talk
  24. 17. The End

Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series

“Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series” is a series made up of self-contained stories. The series is published in English as well as in German, and is only available in e-book form.

About the Book

When classic horror movie star Basil Coates becomes the victim of a series of scary pranks, the local police put it down to a crazed fan. Just pranks, after all …

But with Halloween only days away, the spectre of murder suddenly visits the ghostly Coates mansion on the hill outside Cherringham — and Jack and Sarah find themselves caught in a mystery worthy of Basil’s spookiest roles …

Main Characters

Jack Brennan is a former NYPD homicide detective who lost his wife three years ago. Being retired, all he wants is peace and quiet. Which is what he hopes to find in the quiet town of Cherringham, UK. Living on a canal boat, he enjoys his solitude. But soon enough he discovers that something is missing — the challenge of solving crimes. Surprisingly, Cherringham can help him with that.

Sarah Edwards is a web designer who was living in London with her husband and two kids. Three years ago, he ran off with his sexy American boss, and Sarah’s world fell apart. With her children she moved back to her home town, laid-back Cherringham. But the small town atmosphere is killing her all over again — nothing ever happens. At least, that’s what she thinks until Jack enters her life and changes it for good or worse …

The Authors

Matthew Costello (US-based) is the author of a number of successful novels, including Vacation (2011), Home (2014) and Beneath Still Waters (1989), which was adapted by Lionsgate as a major motion picture. He has written for The Disney Channel, BBC, SyFy and has also designed dozens of bestselling games including the critically acclaimed The 7th Guest, Doom 3, Rage and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Neil Richards has worked as a producer and writer in TV and film, creating scripts for BBC, Disney, and Channel 4, and earning numerous Bafta nominations along the way. He's also written script and story for over 20 video games including The Da Vinci Code and Starship Titanic, co-written with Douglas Adams, and consults around the world on digital storytelling.

His writing partnership with NYC-based Matt Costello goes back to the late 90's and the two have written many hours of TV together. Cherringham is their first crime fiction as co-writers.

1. A Scream in the Night

Maud Foy shivered as she made her way up the drive to what she called — whenever she talked about her job to her village friends — “that big old pile of bricks”.

Just ahead, Hill House — which its owners, Basil and Alyssia Coates called “the mansion” — looked like a gloomy and forbidding castle.

And on a chilly night like this — the sun in retreat early, with only a few days of October remaining — it definitely did not look like a mansion.

Not a desirable one, anyway.

Fallen leaves crunched under her feet as she approached the tall iron gate that led to the red-brick mansion, with its multiple pointy turrets and gabled windows.

Never catch me living here, thought Maud.

Not enough fireplaces in the damn thing to take the chill off on a night like this. Out here, perched on the edge of Winsham Rise, Hill House caught the worst of the bitter winds that swept through Cherringham in autumn and winter.

Much nicer to be in our little two-up two-down tucked away in the heart of the village, she thought.

She didn’t mind the walk up from the lane — much easier to park her car down there than drive up, get out and pull the creaky metal gate open wide.

And that rattly old thing needed more than a few squirts of oil!

Like the house itself, so in need of repairs and modernisation.

Make more sense to just bulldoze the creepy place down.

Of course, she never voiced such opinions to Basil and Alyssia. For all they knew, Maud loved the place as much as they seemed to.

Though she suspected Alyssia, a good twenty years younger than Basil, would have preferred something smaller, more modern. One of those lovely villas they have in the sun-drenched hills of her native Italy.

Probably had her fill of English winters, poor woman!

Maud finally reached the tall iron gate. It must once have been locked and controlled from inside the house. But that too — no surprise — was no longer working.

An old intercom by the side did work, but Basil and Alyssia would be expecting her to come right in.

Five nights a week, save for the Saturday and Sunday.

Always returning after her own quick supper to prepare their evening tea, turn down their beds, and — these days — remind the ever-more forgetful and frail Basil to take his array of pills.

All things that Alyssia should have been able to handle. But both of them were trying to keep up appearances, with their minimal staff, trying to carry on as if they were … what?

Lord and Lady of the manor?

Ridiculous, she thought.

She started to pull on one side of the black metal gate, its tall metal poles topped with bats.

Bats!

Typical Basil: wanting to remind everyone where his fame and one-time fortune came from.

Bats, monsters, ghouls and ghosts! All that nonsense seemed ridiculous when there were real horrors on the news, day in, day out.

She pulled open the gate and it creaked loudly.

Some bird, maybe a magpie, squawked back in response. Perhaps it thought another species had invaded its domain, eager to compete for the mice that roamed the gloomy red-brick building as if knowing that — someday! — it would be all theirs.

Maud slipped through the narrow gap, then pushed the gate closed behind her. Another ominous screech of metal echoed against the walls of the mansion.

She shivered in the cold night air.

She could hear a window creaking and banging somewhere high up.

Even after all these years, the place still gave her the creeps.

She hurried up the path and climbed the crumbling stone steps that led up to the oak doors of the mansion.

*

As usual, she didn’t knock — just pushed at the unlocked door and went in.

She wondered — did they even lock the door in the evening after she left?

Perhaps they didn’t care.

As far as she could see, there wasn’t much worth nicking inside. Whole place just stuffed with silly rubbish from Basil’s old films.

Dust traps most of it — and who was the muggins whose job it was to clean up that dust?

With Basil, the perfectionist, looking on …

Yes, Maud Foy!

She hurried inside, into the big hallway with its minstrel gallery and old pictures.

She peeled off her raincoat and shivered again.

Although she was now sheltered from the wind whipping around outside — it wasn’t much warmer in the house.

This little nightly chore would get even more difficult, more chilling, when autumn gave way to winter.

Maybe it was time to look around for another job?

But then, how many times had she thought that?

And each time, Basil — always with that smile, his face so animated, showing why he had indeed been such a big movie star — would put an arm around her, and say Maud — dear, dear Maud — our loyal and trusted servant.”

Then a touch to her cheek — itself feeling a bit much, even a bit cheeky.

“When the time comes, you won’t be forgotten. Of course …”

And with that lure, Maud had found it hard to leave. Would Basil indeed remember her in his will? A little something; maybe more than a little something?

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Perhaps there’d be enough to make that dream come true. A tidy little cottage in Spain, perhaps?

Hear they’re going dirt cheap these days, she thought.

So she stayed. Smiled. Fulfilled her duties as housekeeper-cum-cook … though Alyssia sometimes fancied herself in that latter department, leaving the out-of-date kitchen an absolute mess while preparing her Bucatini Pomodoro!

Maud hung her coat on the rack by the door, near the wellingtons, umbrellas, and spare macs, all at the ready for guests and visitors.

In recent years — hardly any of them, that was for sure.

Though, this last month, the house had been busier than usual. What with the prodigal daughter — Karina — back from her catwalks in New York, seemingly for good.

Catwalks. Very appropriate.

Get her upset, and Karina did indeed have claws.

And that funny journalist bloke, lurking around the place, always watching her, his feet never making a sound, hair all slicked back like he’d put some old-fashioned cream in it.

Eyes always a bit bloodshot, revealing his daily regimen.

Up to no good, that one, she thought. Very shifty.

Luckily, most times she was working in the house he was either locked away in the library with Basil — working on their book project, the big biography of Basil Coates himself! — or, more often, sleeping it off at the top of the house in the old servants’ rooms.

Or, when she was home, sniffing around Karina …

As if …

Oh yes, not much goes on in this house that I don’t see, thought Maud with a satisfied smile to herself.

She turned to head towards the kitchen at the rear of the house. She passed the grand staircase with its worn maroon carpet, the pattern faded. The staircase and hallway were overseen by a row of grim paintings, the bulk of them scenes of Basil in, as he described them, “my most important movie roles”.

Basil as a vampire. Basil in a pith helmet opening a sarcophagus. Basil in a lab, ready to bring some monstrosity to life.

Like the house, most of the paintings were dark and creepy.

But then, a few also featured Alyssia — back when she was an ingénue — looking stunningly beautiful, her dark Mediterranean beauty absolutely striking.

Maud walked down the long hallway to the kitchen area, going through the evening’s chores in her mind.

Get the kettle on. See to some biscuits and cakes. Clean up any dangling things from the night’s dinner, a Dover sole with a simple romaine salad. Then lay the table for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Basil certainly did like to take care of himself. Eating healthy. Staying as active as he could.

A few steps into the kitchen.

Floorboards creaking.

Suddenly — a shrill scream reached every part of the stone house.

Maud froze.

And again, a scream — now mixed with a man’s voice, Basil for sure, babbling loudly.

Maud felt her heart race as she turned; for a moment, frozen on that spot with the terrifying sounds slicing the air like a knife.

Until she shook off her own fear, and hurried as fast as her legs could carry her — which wasn’t fast at all — to the stairs, and up. Thinking …

Something must have happened up there. Like what happened last week. And the week before.

Something bad …

2. The Third Incident

Maud’s feet hit the stairs, her hand holding onto the rail tightly.

Not in the best shape, this hurrying to the screaming above had made her breathless, even a little dizzy.

When she got to the landing, she worked out where the noises were coming from.

The master bedroom, one of the gloomier rooms in this gloomy house.

But the screams had changed to sobbing, and now Basil’s voice. Intelligible words: “My God, I don’t understand!”

And, still breathless, Maud walked slowly towards the bedroom.

At the doorway, she paused, took a breath.

Whatever would she see on the other side?

*

The bedroom empty, lights low.

Maud turned to see — a sliver of cold light from the half-open bathroom door, shadows moving.

She crossed the room and gave the door a tentative push. The bathroom: cold, clinical, white tiles on the floor and dingy white walls like a nineteenth-century operating theatre.

And there — backed up against a towel rack — Basil holding Alyssia close. Both of them shaking their heads, standing as if huddled against something incredibly horrible.

She heard water running.

The bath was across the room. Not modern, of course. None of those fancy Jacuzzi jets. The ancient tub, claw-footed, something that the mistress of the house liked to enjoy with candles dotting the room.

Always with her airs.

Everything so fancy, like she was bloomin’ royalty!

But when Maud turned from the shaking, shaken couple to that tub, she saw the tap spitting out … not a stream of water …

But blood.

Blood flowing, splashing into the tub, sending up spits and drops of red onto the hospital-white porcelain of the walls.

“My God,” Maud said, her hand drawn instinctively to her chest, now backing away from the gory vision.

She turned back to Basil, the old coot looking as if he had seen the grim reaper.

*

The three of them sat in the kitchen, each one huddled over the tea that Maud had prepared.

Basil shook his head, an arm around Alyssia, whose radiant face — still beautiful even aged sixty — was now looking grim, angry.

Not a lady to tussle with, Maud knew.

But for a moment, nobody said anything.

Until finally Maud felt she had to speak.

“Mr. Coates—”

Basil was never the one for dropping formalities among the staff, even when that staff was reduced to two or three.

“Perhaps you’d better call the police — in Cherringham? Let them know it’s happened again?”

A nod, Basil still keeping his eyes focused on the distance.

Maud had turned the tap off; no easy task, being so close to the tub of blood.

But then, when she was a foot or so away, she could tell.

It wasn’t blood.

Red, oh yes. Thick and syrupy.

But not real blood.

Then the questions … how did someone do that? And why?

Now Alyssia, her face fierce, spoke. The accent, so often nearly musical, now hard and cutting.

“Oh, sure — right! We can call that policeman. That boy — what’s his name — Rivers? With his little car and his notebook and his radio. And then what?”

Alyssia turned from Basil, then to her.

At times Maud felt that Alyssia looked upon her as an ally, not only in keeping the house and their lives running, but in her support of Basil, who at a flinty eighty-five — and despite protestations of independence — certainly seemed to need protection.

She certainly didn’t get much help from her daughter Karina, whose contribution to Hill House seemed to start and stop at the drinks cabinet.

Funny, she thought. I wonder where Karina is? Can’t have slept through all this racket.

Probably lying on her bed with her headphones and a facepack on!

She turned as Alyssia slammed her hand down on the kitchen table. “But this … this is the third time, hmm? Third time in a month, yes? Someone doing this to …” a look to Basil, “to you, to us. And what does that silly policeman say?”

Maud knew what was coming. She had been there the first night, when they’d found human skulls arranged on the back patio.

Alan Rivers saying he would put the place under regular surveillance.

But in his view, a thing like this, done to a once-famous horror star, smacked of pranks. Maybe just an eccentric fan?

And then the second time: a noose, hanging, swaying in an empty bedroom. Frightening — maybe even a threat.

But when Alan Rivers suggested installing CCTV, it was Basil who protested that they couldn’t afford such a thing.

Alyssia looked at Maud. “There must be something else we can do, eh?”

She nodded as if Maud could read her mind, remembering a conversation they had in passing.

“You told me … there is this man. This American. He solves crimes. Right here!”

“Well, I had heard about him. He works with someone in the village, a mum—”

“We will go speak to him. Ask for his help.”

It seemed Alyssia had dismissed the fact that the American, this detective, in fact worked with a local woman.

American. Detective. Those were enough words for her.

Alyssia had developed, over the years, the art of selective hearing.

She turned to Basil: “We will go to him. Ask for his help. And he will tell us who is doing these terrible things,” she rubbed his wrinkled hand, “and put an end to them!”

But Basil slowly shook his head. “I don’t know, Alyssia. I mean, the police are involved.

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