“Look, Trudy, it’s your decision but I’d put my foot down if I were you.”
“I know mum, but Sally’s set her heart on it, been going on about it for days.”
My daughter Trudy, fifty-one, blonde, divorced, and ‘pleasantly plump’ to put it kindly, had, for once, asked for my advice. Sally, my sixteen-year-old granddaughter, had been invited on a caravan holiday and Trudy had qualms about letting her go.
“Funny things can happen on caravan holidays,” I said.
“Well, she’s only going with Jack and Joanna, oh, and Bob, of course, he’ll look after her, it’s just…”
Bob was Sally’s brother, my grandson, Jack was a school friend and Joanna his sister, all quite ‘sensible’, admittedly. “The other boys on the campsite. I know,” I said, “they’re randy sods at that age. They’ll do anything to get girls into their caravan, get them on the wine, and before long the lasses’ll be dropping their knickers!”
“Don’t hold back mum!” laughed Trudy.
“Look, make some tea, there’s something I need to tell you…” I replied.
I sipped my tea. “When I was Sally’s age, I went on a caravan holiday. I went with your uncle Robert and Timothy Ward, a classmate. His sister came too, Tammy, so there were four of us.”
“That sounds cosy mum.”
“Well, Robert had booked a caravan in the New Forest. It was on a very small site, just three caravans. Well, we’d just started walking when the heavens opened! I remember we’d got the train to Ashurst and then we had to walk five miles in the rain. We got soaked, despite our so-called waterproofs! Rob had a map but the paths weren’t all marked. We went down a long track that just fizzled out and had to walk all the way back. All the undergrowth was sopping wet. That was horrible!“
“Sounds awful.” Trudy pulled a face and sipped her tea.
“Finally it was just starting to get dark when we found what we thought was the site, but there was only one caravan, and it was mouldy and dilapidated.”
“Oh my God! What did you do? Couldn’t you phone someone?”
“Trudy, this was 1965! There weren’t mobiles, or probably even a phone within ten miles!” I rolled my eyes. “Anyway, it was still pouring with rain, we were wet through and the door wasn’t locked, so we decided to get out of the rain at least. Inside it was damp and smelly but Tammy got some oil lamps burning and there was an oven too. She lit it and it warmed the place up.”
“What were caravans like in those days?” said Trudy.
“Well that was the funny thing, this caravan seemed much older, even had magazines from the 1930s, nothing modern, well, modern for the sixties! I’d taken my tranny – transistor radio – they were all the rage then, but could only get old wartime-type music. It was weird. Anyway, there were two long seats at one end that would convert to single beds, and a table you could fold down over them. At the end where you went in, there was a sofa. I remember it was very worn and there was a teddy bear at one end! That was a double bed.”
“Was there a toilet?”
“You’re joking! No, it was the bushes. I remember poor Tammy was dying to go and us throwing soggy toilet rolls at her!”
“In the middle, on the side opposite the door there was the oven, a sink and some cupboards, and on the other side was a wardrobe with a big mirror, covered in mildew. So we made some tea and me and Tammy went to put some dry clothes on. Thank God for waterproof inner bags in our rucksacks!”
“Were you worried?” Trudy asked.
“You don’t worry much at that age,” I said. “It was a big adventure.”
I took another sip of tea. “Well, you could fasten the wardrobe door to the other side to form a partition, so we did that, and just as me and Tammy had stripped right down, Tim opened the door! We were young girls, larking about and I remember Tammy yanking my bra up and exposing my… um… boobs!”
“Mum!” Trudy blushed.
“Well, it was a ‘we’ve shown you ours, now show us yours!’ type of thing. Tammy was saying, “I want to see what that hard lump is in your trousers Rob, or is it your pocket knife?!”
“Well, just then someone knocked on the door! We almost died! A man was shouting that he needed someone to help, there’d been some sort of accident. We told him to wait whilst we got dressed. Then we opened the door and it was a Scoutmaster.”
“I suppose Scouts camp there quite a bit…”
“Well, he was kind of creepy, and one of his eyes, had, what d’you call it, when it keeps flinching?”
“Yes, that’s right. So he said he needed help, a boy had gotten burnt cooking sausages, and the others were squeamish, that’s what he said anyway. In the end, Tammy went with him, we weren’t happy, but he said he’d look after her. He said his name was John but to call him ‘Mac.’ ”
“What happened then?” asked Trudy.
“Well, we cooked some food, bacon and egg I think, and then played cards. Tammy still wasn’t back. Then Tim found a bottle of whisky, can you believe?! He said it was nice with water. Before we knew it we were halfway through the bottle and onto strip poker!”
“Exactly, this is why I don’t want Sally going to a caravan!”
“You haven’t heard the half of it,” I replied. “Well, we were all more or less down to our underwear when the whisky and all that walking hit home. We just wanted to go to bed!”
“Just as well mum!” laughed Trudy. “Had Tammy come back?”
“That’s just it, she hadn’t but I suppose we were too pissed to worry much. We thought she’d probably stayed for a campfire sing song and a sausage sandwich. Anyway, we were getting the bedding out – it was a bit smelly, but the blankets were quite thick – when Tim found some strange bits of cloth, like leather it was, pinky grey and semi-translucent, I think you’d say. We thought it was some kind of leather for cleaning the windows but it seemed too big and the odd thing was there were three of them. Rob said one for each window!”
“That night it turned out we all had the same dream! We saw a boy standing in the moonlight in the caravan, he seemed to be painted red. We got out of bed to see if he was OK. He took our hands. His were hot and sticky and we couldn’t pull away. He was laughing. I think we all woke up at that point.”
“I’d have been so scared mum!” said Trudy.
“Well, the next thing I remember is waking up quite early. My head was aching – probably due to the whisky! Then someone was pounding at the door and it was Tammy. She looked as white as a sheet, she’d no skirt and her panties and legs were covered in blood.”
“Oh my God!” said Trudy.
“Well, we didn’t know what to do, there was no one to call for help and she seemed hysterical, crying and saying that the Scoutmaster had put a knife up… well, up… inside her, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh God.” Trudy covered her face.
The boys decided to go for help, I locked the door and tried to clean her up and calm her down. I couldn’t tell what.. damage…he might have caused. After a while, she went to sleep and I didn’t see any fresh blood.
“What happened then?”
“Well, it was really weird. Tammy woke up after a couple of hours and seemed OK! She said we should go and look for the real caravan site. So we put our gear on, took our backpacks and walked down to the main track, about a mile away. Well, just before we got to it, a Land Rover came round the corner with a policeman, Rob and Tim in it! It was being driven by a forest ranger, Tom I think. The policeman, Sergeant Hogan I remember, seemed quite annoyed to see Tammy walking along normally!”
“Well, you can hardly blame him, after what the boys must have told him,” Trudy said.
“We all got into the car and Tom drove us back to the caravan. Well, we couldn’t believe it. Instead of the mouldy old one we’d slept in, there were three brand-new caravans! Rob and Tim’s stuff was outside one of them. Rob found the key he got when booking and we all went inside. It was lovely, everything new and sweet-smelling. The owners had left a card and a vase of flowers for us too.”
“What did this Sergeant, er Hogan, have to say?”
“Well at first he thought it was all some kind of practical joke. Tammy said she’d had a heavy period that had been made worse by all that walking about. She was very embarrassed. Anyway, he and Tom just left us to it.”
“That is seriously weird! What d’you think happened?”
“Well, it sounds odd I know but we think we went into some kind of time warp. The sergeant said there was a Scoutmaster in the 1930s who’d taken some boys camping there, as he did every year, but one year three of them slept in a caravan for some reason. His name was John McIntyre. Well, they say he went there in the night, drugged the three boys and skinned them alive. Then he cut his own throat.”
Trudy turned pale.
“Another boy found them in the morning. They say he went mad…”
Trudy opened her mouth but nothing came out.
“There’s something else you should know. Your dad was staying in one of the other caravans. He was nineteen at the time. Well….”
“Well, you were born nine months later!”
“Good God Mum, I know you said you and Dad had met on holiday, but I thought that’s when you were in your twenties.”
“Well, now you know.”
Trudy stood up and brushed her blonde hair back. “Right, that’s it. Sally’s definitely not going on any caravan holiday!”
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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