Charlie and the Girl who Dissapeared
By : Vivianne Moore
Rain, rain and more rain. Charlie huddled further into her seat and looked miserably out of the window. Water continued to pour down on the van’s roof. It lashed against the windows and bounced off the bonnet. This van is ancient, thought Charlie, curling up her nose, what a decrepit old heap. The van laboured along, bumping and spluttering, covered in mud, splashing through huge puddles and over ruts so deep they almost shook her out of her seat.
“Hang on!” yelled Mrs Tregurrow over the noise of the engine, as she swerved expertly to avoid a large branch that was almost blocking the road. Charlie’s hands gripped her seat in panic as she was thrown against the door. She peered into the gathering darkness, hoping to see some sign of habitation, but there were just more trees. More stupid trees and stupid fields. A picture of the wedding she had attended earlier suddenly flashed into her mind and she squeezed her eyes trying to shut it out, but the picture remained bright and horribly real. Everyone looking at her in the dreadful pink dress – with frills! None of her friends had believed her when she had told them what her mum wanted her to wear. At her age, eleven years old, pink with frills as though she were three.
It was bad enough that her mother was getting married again without pink frills. She still couldn’t understand why her mum had said no to the black, that would have looked really cool, and the green streaks in her hair, mum had said no to those too. She sniffed and glanced sideways at Mrs. Tregurrow. You’re not my Nan, she thought, just because my mum’s married your son that doesn’t make you my Nan. Why, why did Nanny Iris have to fall and break her leg, I could have been on my way to France now instead of inside this crabby old van going to Cornwall. It’s Easter Friday and I should have been heading for Paris on holiday, visiting Euro Disney, instead of going to a stupid little village in the middle of nowhere. It’s going to be the absolute pits. It just isn’t fair.
She looked out of the window again, more wet trees, more wet fields, just the occasional light in the distance to show they weren’t completely alone in this alien landscape. Pete’s O.K., she thought, helping herself to a tissue from the pack on the dashboard and wiping her nose. He certainly takes care of mum, and he’s got a good job, looking after a wildlife reserve and saving birds and things, but why did it have to be in Cornwall, miles and miles away from London, away from my friends, not even close enough to see them at weekends. She could hear her mother’s voice, “Cornwall’s a beautiful place, there’s plenty to do, and you’ll love it. It will give you a chance to get to know Pete’s mother, and you’ll soon make lots of new friends.” Fat chance, she thought sourly, I’ll probably end up talking to trees! I’m just a parcel, being packed off with someone I don’t even know, to a place I’ve never heard of, while mum and Pete enjoy themselves in the sun. I shall HATE it.
She gazed blankly at the darkening landscape and thought about her friends, wondering what they would be doing. There’d been a game that afternoon and she had missed it, typical. It was
Sarah’s turn for the sleep over, they’d be at her house now, tucking into a pizza, they always shared a pizza on a Friday evening, pepperoni, her favourite. They’d be in the kitchen, teasing each other, talking about the football, who’d played well, who’d scored, decided what DVD to watch. Charlie felt her tummy clench. She hugged her sports bag containing her new football boots. They’d all go to training tomorrow and she would miss it. Tears welled up and she shut her eyes angrily, squeezing the lids together as tightly as she could to stop the tears falling. Her legs felt cramped and her head ached. She took another tissue. We must have been travelling for hours and hours she thought, Cornwall must be at the end of the earth, probably at the
end of the known universe. “How much further?” she asked again, probably for the hundredth time.
“Only a few more minutes,” shouted Mrs Tregurrow cheerfully, over the noise of the engine and the lashing rain. “The village is at the end of this lane. I think the van’s going to make it. I should have filled up with petrol back at Exeter.” Pete had said his mum was scatterbrained and she certainly is
thought Charlie. I hope we don’t run out of petrol and have to walk, we’ll get drenched, and that’s all I need to end this fabulous day. The van inched its way forward, going slower and slower, coughing and choking and sounding as if it would fall to pieces at any moment. At last there were lights ahead and Charlie looked out curiously. Is this it, she wondered? What a dump. A long row of small cottages, their grey slate roofs glistening damply under the streetlights, huddled along the edge of the road. Opposite was a surprisingly modern school. Thank goodness I shall only be there for a term, thought Charlie, secretly relieved that it must have indoor plumbing, she had imagined somewhere much more basic. The van passed the village store. Just the one shop Charlie noted. Not much chance of retail therapy here then.
The van paused at a cross roads, turned right, carried on past more cottages and the old school, now converted into houses. “There’s the church,” said Mrs Tregurrow, pointing straight ahead. Circled with trees, their bare branches waving wildly in the wind, the church’s square tower seemed to vanish up into the night. Overhead a pale crescent moon disappeared in and out of the black rain clouds like a boat tossed by the waves. A solitary streetlight shone by the church gates and illuminated the gravestones. Charlie imagined she could hear an owl hoot and felt the cold seep into her. I shall hate it here, she thought again. The van plunged on into darkness and eventually pulled up in front of a large, grey stone house. Hastily Charlie scrambled out, she had been travelling for so long that her legs felt stiff, as
though they would not hold her. She leant against the van and looked up at the tall, dark windows. The wind caught at her coat and whipped her hair against her face. She began to shiver. Mrs Tregurrow noticed. “Better get indoors quickly, out of this rain,”she said, lifting Charlie’s case from the back of the van, then takinga massive key from her pocket and unlocking the door. Inside she flicked a light switch. Nothing. The house remained in total darkness. “Blast!” she muttered. “Power lines must be down this side of the village. I thought it was dark outside, it’s this wind.” She fumbled in the darkness and finally struck a match, then lit a candle which had been sitting on the hall table. “Always keep one here for emergencies,” she explained. A whining and scratching noise came from far off in the house, then a deep and furious howling, followed by a clatter and a bang.
“Frankenstein,” said Mrs Tregurrow, in reply to Charlie’s unasked question. “I expect he needs feeding. The howling continued and Charlie shivered again.
“You look asleep on your feet,” added Mrs Tregurrow. “You’d better go straight to bed.” She lifted the candle and in the flickering light led the way up the stairs. Charlie trudged behind her, one hand clinging firmly to the smooth, polished banisters as the wooden stairs creaked beneath her feet. Her legs felt a million years old. She clutched her new bag tightly to her chest, stumbling slightly on the worn carpet. Mrs Tregurrow pushed open the door to a small bedroom. A large, black cat, the biggest Charlie had ever seen, was curled up on the bed.
“Magic, you know you’re not allowed on the beds,” Mrs Tregurrow scolded. The cat opened its green eyes and stared at Charlie. Then it pushed out its front legs and flexed its claws, digging them into the snowy white throw. Slowly it stretched, slid off the bed and, with a flick of its long tail, stalked proudly out of the door.
“That cat thinks it owns the place,” grumbled Mrs Tregurrow, brushing the dark cat hairs from the covers. She placed the candle on the chair next to the bed; its flame danced and cast shadows on the walls. “The bathroom’s across the hall. Be careful with the candle,” she cautioned. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Charlie had never got undressed so quickly in her life. Within seconds she was in her underclothes and, not bothering to find a nightie or clean her teeth, or even go to the loo, she jumped into bed and pulled the duvet firmly over her head. “I shall die in this horrid place,” she muttered, shivering. “And no-one will care. I shall be forgotten for ever.”
The wind continued to whip around the house, whistling and howling. The old sash window rattled and shook. Charlie’s head began to throb. “I shall never get to sleep with that dreadful noise going on and on.” She pulled the pillow on top of her head, trying to shut out the noise, but still the banging continued. Cautiously she opened her eyes and peered out from under the pillow, trying to work out where the banging noise was coming from. The candle flickered and strange shadows touched the old fashioned furniture. As she watched the curtains moved, flapping slightly in the draught. Creeeeak. Slowly the bedroom door opened, just a crack. Charlie was immediately alert. She felt a movement at the bottom of her bed. Something touched her leg. She froze in terror, afraid to move a muscle.