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Book: Sussex Horrors - Stories of Coastal Terror and other Seaside Haunts by Jonathan Broughton, Mark Cassell & Rayne Hall

Book: Sussex Horrors - Stories of Coastal Terror and other Seaside Haunts by Jonathan Broughton, Mark Cassell & Rayne Hall

categories: Book, Dark Fiction, Dark Fantasy, British Short Stories, Stories about England, Seaside Stories, British Horror Fiction, East Sussex England, English Coast, Sussex Coast, Creepy, Suspenseful, Horror Fiction




Rayne Hall

Author Rayne Hallabout this book: Three horror authors based on the coast of East Sussex have created dark and twisted stories about the place where they live: Mark Cassell, Jonathan Broughton and Rayne Hall.

Some of the stories are creepy, some are funny, and some are downright scary.

SCRUPLES
by Rayne Hall

"A chance like this won't come again, Alditha," I urge. "We will be rich."

Wind whines against the walls and rattles the shutters. This year of Our Lord 1287 has brought more storms than I have seen I have seen in my life.

Alditha fingers the barbette under her chin. "Yes, but John ...isn't stealing a sin?"

"This isn't a time for scruples. Do you want to gut fish for the rest of your life?"

I place a slice of cold venison on her trencher and watch her eyes widen. As a harbour fishmonger, she has never tasted meat. What I have shown her tonight has whet her desire for a finer life: the fresh rushes on the floor, the tapestries keeping out the winter chill, the dried flowers hanging from the rafters, the wax candles fragrant with the scent of honey. When she raises the wine goblet to her lips, her face glazes as if she is tasting paradise.

The house jolts as another rock breaks from the cliff and crashes into the sea. Alditha snaps out of her bliss and crosses herself. "John, this isn't right. I shouldn't be here. We shouldn't be doing this."

I've waited for years for this chance, and I will not let Alditha spoil it.

Master De Coucy and the family have gone away visiting, and taken the maids with them, leaving me - their trusted steward - in charge. Their wealth is waiting to be carried off, and Alditha is the perfect helpmeet, or so it seemed when I first told her of my plan. Then, she was as keen as I, but tonight, her fear-pale face is flushing with guilt. I thought she possessed a ruthless streak. Was I mistaken? I must find a way to bring her ruthlessness to life.

This is the first time she sits in a chair, since the common folk in their harbour huts own no furniture, and from the way she strokes the carved armrests, I can tell she likes the comfort.

I stoke this glimmer of greed into bright flames. "One day you will own a chair, and candles like these, real wax. You'll eat meat every feast day, at least four times every year. You'll wear the finest wool, and your surcoat will be of embroidered velvet."

"Oh, John, this will be so good." Her eyes light with dreamy desire, then darken with concern. "When they come home and see their things are gone, won't they be hurt?"

"Don't worry about it. They are so rich, they can buy new things and will barely feel the loss." When she frowns in disbelief, I give her a reassuring smile. "Trust your future husband."

I gather the selected items, pieces of modest weight and great value, easily sold - the gilded candlesticks, the finest tapestries, the casket of spices – and stuff them into the sack for Alditha to carry away. When Master De Coucy returns, he will find his home robbed, and his trusted steward gagged, bound and beaten.

The wind picks up, slaps against the walls like wet sheets. Another jolt shudders through the cliff, followed by a crash. Alditha pales, crosses herself again. "John, what if this is a sign from heaven that what we're doing is wrong?"

Will those scruples never cease? "Rockfalls happen all the time," I assure her. "If you lived on the cliff, you'd be used to them. "

She frowns, probably thinking of the storm in February, when the sea hollowed the sandstone cliff so much that a whole section of it collapsed. But we're safe here, so close to the castle.

Pressing ahead with my plan, I kneel on the wooden floor and hold my hands together behind me. "Tie me up. Tighter. Real robbers wouldn'tt be kind. I must be uncomfortable for the night." The chafing rope bites into my wrists, then my ankles, and the short rope between hands and feet pulls my back into a painful arch. When de Coucy finds me, he'll see real suffering in my face. But it needs more. "Beat me. I need bruises."

"I don't want to hurt you, John." She gives me a few feeble slaps with her slipper.

"Harder, harder!" I urge, spurring the ruthlessness I know she has in her. "Think of the life you will lead! The candles, the dresses, the meat, the chair! Now put the gag into my mouth."

My link with Alditha is unknown. No one will suspect a fishmonger in cahoots with the steward of a fine house, or search her harbour hut for silver. On a stormy night like this, nobody is out in the street, especially not on the clifftop at Hastings. Huddled in their houses, the neighbours won't see Alditha lug away a big sack of loot.

As I lie curled on the rushes, Alditha hoists the sack, but hesitates once more.

Another jolt cracks like the lash of a gigantic whip. The whole house judders, shakes, roars. The last jolt uproots us, breaks the house into two. The candles go out. Icy wind slams into my back, but the gag swallows my scream.

More than half the house has crashed into the sea, and I lie on the edge of the abyss.

The floor rushes hit me, then get sucked into the void. I must get away from the edge or I will fall hundreds of feet into the howling darkness. I try to crawl to safety, but can scarcely wiggle with my hands and feet bound behind my back.

Alditha clings to a tapestry on the landward wall, staring in open-mouthed horror through the near darkness. I want to yell at her to untie me, to pull me to safety, but the gag permits a mere gargle. The storm roars like trumpets and cymbals on Judgement Day.

As I roll my eyes to convey my despair, she stays by the wall, as if fear has nailed her to the spot.

Then the wind drops. Into the sudden silence, a seagull screeches. Waves crash below, timber creaks around me, and my heart thuds. A stone breaks under my arm. I hear its scraping crumble, the clattering and finally the splash.

At last, she comes. Good girl, I knew she would not leave me lying on the edge. Her steps are cautious, testing the ground, as she overcomes her fears.

With my eyes, I try to reassure her, to tell her that fate is on our side. De Coucy will assume the treasures have fallen with the house, and I with it, never suspecting the truth. Alditha and I will leave tonight, make our way to London, sell our treasures, begin a comfortable life.

The corners of her mouth turn up. Her eyes narrow and gleam. Her streak of ruthlessness is asserting itself. I wait for her to bend to undo the knots. Instead, she smiles coldly.

"This is no time for scruples." Her slippered foot pushes against my chest. "I will be rich."


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