“Bats.” Mummy pointed at the flash of movement across the beam of the headlights. I drew closer to my sister on the back seat of the old Mercedes and peered out of the windows at the dark looming shapes of the high hedgerows and trees. I’d been dozing off after the long journey, but now my eyes were wide open. I twisted my head up to search the shadows for the bats that I knew would have large, black flapping wings.
“Look! Another one.” Gill leant forward trying to see better and I slid further into the middle of the seat.
“We’re almost there,” Mummy said.
A few minutes later the car slowed down and Daddy was looking out of the window. He said, “Can you see the lights?”
“I can see a light!” Gill shouted before I could see anything. I was at least a head shorter than her and in the back of the car I normally stared at the clouds unless we were playing I-spy and then I would kneel. I sat up in time for the house to disappear behind some trees and then we turned into the lane. Daddy drove slowly. The hedge was huge and almost touched the sides of the car. I felt if I breathed in we could pass safely. A frightened rabbit ran in front of the car and froze in the light.
“Don’t hit it Daddy!” I screamed at him.
“It’s okay, it’s gone.” He braked and I slid forward on the shiny cool leather of the seat. I grabbed the seat back in front of me and stood up looking over Mummy’s shoulder. I could smell her perfume. It always reminded me of the yellow flowers that came out after the last snow had gone. Not the big daffodils, but the small pinky-yellow smelly ones. By twisting I managed to nuzzle my nose into Mummy’s jumper; it was soft and itchy at the same time.
“Who’s going to open the gate?” Daddy said. He always said that and normally I would jump out with Gill and run. But this time I remembered the bats. I left my face buried in the jumper and listened as the door swung open and cool air spread through the car. I shivered.
“Nana will have put hot water bottles in the beds to warm them up. Straight to bed for you.” Mummy turned and kissed me on my ear.
“I don’t want to go to bed on my own,” I said. “Is Gill coming too?” I thought of the room at the top of the creaking, winding stairs with the large posted beds and massive wardrobes. There was a cupboard in the wall behind the bed where I always slept. The door never opened because the head of the bed was up against it. I had never dared to peek inside. Gill teased me and told me that that was where the skeleton-head-chopping-offers lived. Then she made excuses so that she was allowed to stay up longer as she was older and I had to go into the bedroom alone. I started to tremble.
“Gill hurry up with that gate. Julie’s shivering here.”
My nana appeared. She wore an apron over her dress and large slippers. I jumped out of the car and ran into her arms. I heard Gill running up behind me. “I’ve got some supper ready,” Nana said.
“The girls are too tired,” Mummy said. “I think I’ll put them straight to bed.”
“I’m not,” Gill said.
“Come on,” Mummy heaved me onto her hip and I snuggled into her curves. she kissed me then let me down again. “I’ll be with you in a minute when we’ve unloaded the car.”
“I’m hungry,” I said. I wasn’t, but I knew the alternative was going alone through the doors and up the stairs.
“I’ll heat you a cup of milk and bring it up to you,” Nana said. “Run along. There’s a hot water bottle in your bed.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say or do to put off the inevitable – I was going to have to go to face the skeleton-head-chopping-offers on my own. My body started to shake.
Nana saw me shaking and ruffled my hair. “Hurry along. You’ll be warm as toast once you’re in bed.”