The former world, p.1
The Former World, p.1Jessica Grace Coleman
The Former World
A Little Forest Novel
Jessica Grace Coleman
Copyright © Jessica Grace Coleman 2012
Published by Darker Times
Ebook Edition September 2015
Jessica Grace Coleman asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved in all media. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author and/or publisher.
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This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events or localities is entirely coincidental.
To my parents,
and the village we grew up in
Also Available From Jessica Grace Coleman
Little Forest Series
The Former World
Short Story Collections
Grown By The Wicked Moon
Creative Ways To Start Creative Writing
Volumes 1, 2 & 3
Table of Contents
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Also Available from Jessica Grace Coleman
Little Forest is the only place I’ve ever lived, and it’s the place where I’m going to die.
My life wasn’t flashing before my tear-filled eyes and no treasured childhood memories were entering my muddled, exhausted mind. There was no time to remember friends or family, no chance for bravery of any kind and absolutely no hope that I’d somehow be saved from this crushingly swift fate.
At twenty-one years old, my time was up.
Considering what had happened to me over the past couple of months, it seemed darkly poetic that everything should catch up with me at Hallowe’en.
It would make a sensational headline.
If I was ever found.
For just one second, the sheer terror of my current situation was overridden by another - more unexpected - feeling: wonder. Pure and simple wonder that the tiny village I’d lived in my whole life could harbour such sinister secrets. Wonder that the place I’d always moaned about being boring was actually anything but. Wonder that I could have ignored all the signs for so long.
My persistent tears had at last succeeded in blurring my vision and everything in front of me was now in an eerie soft focus; the ground, the grass and the trees were now just smudges in the darkness.
With my sight impaired, the sounds of the forest suddenly bombarded my ears. I could hear the cold autumn wind blowing shrilly through the leaves of the surrounding trees, the scuttling of some small, nearby animal, and the calm hooting of a distant owl.
But there was only one sound that I was waiting for; the sound that would be the last I ever heard.
At this gut wrenching thought, my trembling legs finally crumbled and I reached out to hold onto the rough bark of the tree branch in front of me, scratching my already bloodied hand in the process. I didn’t even register the pain.
I was just steadying myself when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. Blinking frantically to remove my cloud of tears, I shifted my now slightly clearer gaze to the large hollow tree about ten feet away. I saw a silhouette of someone standing next to the bark and for one brilliant second my heart leapt in hope.
I blinked some more, wanting to get a better picture of my possible saviour, but felt a familiar sick feeling clawing at my stomach as my vision cleared and I realised there was no one there.
No one could help me now.
My desperate thoughts were cut off as the distressed voice next to me rasped, “I’m so sorry, Beth.”
It was the first thing either of us had said since we’d realised it was the end.
I didn’t even try to reply; the effort of talking seemed impossible. I wanted to tell him that it was alright and that it wasn’t his fault, but words - like my courage - failed me. I let the stinging tears run freely down my damp, dirty skin as I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and waited for the gunshot.
Sometimes, ‘impossible’ is just an excuse.
It is a convenient defence for the billions of people worldwide who just refuse to believe their own eyes. These people go out of their way to make sure they don’t believe. They ignore what’s right in front of them in favour of a logical explanation, they pretend to miss the unmissable, they try and rationalise even the most bizarre of occurrences.
How do I know this?
I used to be one of them.
I used to put bumps in the night down to the house settling, shadows in the corner of the room were just my imagination, wailing screams in the night were just the wind.
I played this game with myself for years, but I didn’t win.
Sometimes, impossible is just an excuse.
I say ‘sometimes’ because, more often than not, the bumps in the night will be the house settling, shadows will be your imagination, and unearthly wails will be the wind. Sometimes, though, they will be something else entirely. I learned this the hard way.
I don’t expect everyone to believe my story any more than I expect them to suddenly start trusting their own instincts and accepting what’s right in front of them. For most people, this will never happen. They won’t let it happen. But for those who find that the following pages conjure up familiar feelings, resurrect cryptic childhood memories, or make your stomach churn with reluctant acknowledgement, I urge you to open your mind up to the possibility that my tale - like many others before me - is true.
Sometimes, you need to look past the impossible and see the world as it really is.
Sometimes, you just need to believe.
So, when did I start believing?
I can trace that back to one Friday night around two months ago; that night was the start of everything.
Friday nights in Little Forest weren’t usually anything to write home about. Not that I had to worry about that; I’d never left mine. I still lived with my ordinary parents in our quaint house in a traditional English village. This had been fine for the past twenty-one years, but now I had to leave.
My best friend, Veronica, and I had been planning an escape to the Big City for a while. Both of us now had steady jobs and every penny we saved was one less second we’d have to be stuck in this small, claustrophobic place.
Little Forest was slowly but surely depressing the hell out of me.
“Come on, it’s not that bad.”
I glanced at Veronica, who was smiling widely at me but shaking her head in what I supposed was a kind of amused exasperation. She had been staring at her phone for the past five minutes and I hadn’t even realised she was listening to my ramblings about our home village. She didn’t really need to listen that closely; I often groaned about the area and I always said the same
My moaning was becoming as repetitive as my life.
“V, did you seriously just say Little Forest isn’t that bad?”
Veronica shook her head again and I noted (with only the tiniest hint of jealousy) her almost-perfect appearance. As usual, her barely-there make-up was immaculate and the subtle, natural shades complimented her soft features and large, brown eyes. Her soft, plump lips had been injected with a subtle pink gloss, the exact colour of candyfloss at a village fête. Her shiny dark hair had recently been cut into a sophisticated bob and the short, black dress she was wearing was simple and classic.
She looked like a Hollywood movie star from the Golden Age of cinema. She always did.
Her outfit made my chequered red skirt, black strappy top and purple Doc Martens seem clunky and outdated. It was what I felt comfortable in, though, and it showed off my most recent self-designed tattoo: a black and purple long-stemmed gothic rose on my left leg. My designer tattoos made up for my lack of designer clothes.
V linked arms with me as we made our way over to the bar. “Well, it’s Friday night, we’re at The Pit, and we have something pretty cool to celebrate, remember?” Veronica laughed - a beautiful, melodic sound that often attracted the guys (and some girls) - before gripping me in an extremely tight hug.
I hugged her back and turned to the bartender, catching my reflection in the wall-length bar mirror. I tended to style myself more with my hair and make-up rather than my clothes. Tonight I’d gone a bit crazy with the eye make-up, piling on the mascara and thick black eye liner (I never went anywhere without eye liner), while the colour of my lipstick was even brighter than my dyed red hair. When you were best friends with Veronica Summers, you did all you could to make yourself stand out - otherwise you ended up simply fading into the shadows.
I ordered two vodka and Cokes and let my mind wander to the village gossip that had been drifting through Little Forest for the past few days, gossip that was much more interesting than the usual kids going off the rails or the endless adultery rumours that constantly seemed to circulate around here.
“Do you think the new guy will be here tonight?” I tried to sound casual. It didn’t work.
Veronica smiled excitedly. “I hope so. He can’t go too much longer without anyone seeing him.”
A new family was big news in Little Forest; it was such a tight-knit community that people hardly ever moved away, leaving little room for anyone else to move in. The two new residents, an Irish man and his mother, were therefore unique, and currently the main topic of village conversations. The only information I’d heard about Connor was that he was 25, he was from Dublin, and he lived with his mum. He was made all the more mysterious by the fact that neither I nor any of my friends had seen him yet.
“Connor Maguire…” I let the name roll off my tongue in a slight Irish accent. “He sounds like a movie star.”
“Or a leprechaun.” V laughed. “Just don’t pin all your hopes on an exotic stranger, B. We won’t be here much longer…” She sang the last sentence, as she’d been doing for the past few months, and I couldn’t help but smile. She grinned back, an almost manic glint in her eye, then picked up her drink as she glanced at the clock on the wall. “Will’s late.”
I bit my lip to stop some sarcastic comment from leaving my mouth and settled for a nod as we turned to face the rest of the club.
The Pit was the only nightclub that catered for the three villages of Little Forest, Durwich and Renfield, and it was the last building on Main Street (along with the Picture House cinema opposite) before the village was swallowed up by the surrounding woods. On the way in, I’d just been able to make out the top of Little Forest Castle, a black mass in the darkness. The castle, though at the end of the village, was in many ways the centre of the community. It brought in the most tourists, was the host to endless local fairs and fêtes, and was on pretty much every postcard and promotional item that Little Forest had ever produced.
It was also incredibly creepy at night, and I’d only spared it a brief glance before I’d hurried into the warmth of the club.
Little Forest was nothing without its castle and the surrounding Great Specton Woods, something I’d find out soon enough.
As it was the start of the weekend, tonight was the regular Friday club night, ‘Rock Magic’. This was a hit with pretty much everyone - whether they liked rock music or not - but tonight there was something else to celebrate. It was mine and Veronica’s twenty-first birthdays. Or, more accurately, it was my birthday. Veronica had turned twenty-one the day before.
There were other places we could have gone, such as the local up-market cocktail bar (ingeniously named ‘Cocktail!’), or the Little Forest Inn where my mum worked, but The Pit was cheaper and much more my scene. Its gothic décor, reasonably-priced drinks and loud music suited me down to the ground. It was the perfect place for a birthday celebration.
I groaned inwardly as Will Wolseley entered the club. He was closely followed by Rach Williams and Max Rivers (nicknamed The Couple by Veronica), and was desperately looking around for anyone else he knew. His eyes landed on us and he ran over, relief flooding through his features.
He raised his voice slightly over the music. “Summers! Thank God you’re here. I couldn’t stand another minute alone with those two; I walked with them all up Main Street.” Veronica patted Will on the shoulder before turning back to the bar to get him his customary cider.
He was wearing his usual blue Converse, black jeans and geek oriented graphic t-shirt; tonight’s was a red number with ‘They’re Coming to Get You, Barbara’ printed in large black letters on the front. His short, spiky brown hair made him look younger than he was (he was the same age as V and I), and he often acted much younger, too.
He looked me up and down and winked. “Hello, Miss Powers!”
One of his most irritating habits was calling people by their last name, and I hated mine. I’d been teased for years at school by stupid kids who took my surname literally and thought I must be some kind of witch; if only I was, then I could magic Will away from me.
I laughed his greeting off. “Mr Wolseley.”
“Happy Birthday, Beth.” He started to lean towards me, possibly going in for a hug, then thought better of it. “I’ll, er, buy you a drink later on or something.”
I nodded, smiling, and said “hi” to The Couple as they joined us at the bar, receiving a cheery “hello” back from Rach. The most anyone ever got out of her boyfriend, Max, was a quiet grunt.
Rach gave me a quick hug and a peck on the cheek before passing over a birthday card; a girly glittery thing that simply screamed Rachel Williams. Rach was definitely unique in her look, especially for around here. Tonight she was wearing another of her floral print dresses with black leggings and silver ballet pumps. Her summery light blonde hair had been styled into soft waves and she wasn’t wearing any make-up; she didn’t need it - her smooth, peachy skin was so flawless I doubted if she’d ever had any spots in her life. Her lips were full and soft like Veronica’s, and her eyelashes were so long she could easily get away with murder just by fluttering them innocently at the judge and jury. She looked the least likely person to want to hang out in a rock club, but it appeared that Max was slowly getting her into some of the alternative music that The Pit played.
I didn’t think I’d ever seen Max in any colour other than black. Tonight he was wearing black skinny jeans, black trainers and a black hoodie, despite the heat in the club. He had small, squirrelly features, but it didn’t matter too much as his long, black hair usually covered them anyway. His hair always looked greasy and unkempt to me; he was probably too lazy to bother with any kind of grooming regime. He was certainly too lazy to get a job. Max’s overall look just screamed Tim Burton.
They looked like an incredibly unlikely couple, but maybe what people said about opposites attracting was true. Then again, pickings were slim in Little Forest.
Just one of the many re
I ordered some more drinks from Fred Steiner, the always tired-looking barman, and nudged Veronica in the ribs when I saw what was behind him. She followed my gaze to a large black poster mounted on the wall. In bright red letters were the words ‘Random Violation’ with next Friday’s date written underneath.
V smiled at me and did an excited little jump; Random Violation were our favourite band and we never missed one of their Pit gigs. They were usually supported by some spotty faced teenagers from the surrounding area, and next week was no exception; the group ‘Poison Prescription’ were named after the local legend of a murderous doctor. You may think that morbid, but believe me, it was pretty normal for around here.
Will suddenly pushed past The Couple to stand next to Veronica, and I could see Rach’s look of disgust behind his back. I worked with her at the local cinema and she shared my views on Will, even though she didn’t seem to notice that Max was possibly the lamest guy in Little Forest; on top of lacking any kind of social skills, I had a sneaking suspicion he was constantly high, as half of the time he didn’t even seem to know where he was. He made Will Wolseley seem like Prince William.
I did feel slightly bad for my less-than-positive views on Max and Will, but what can I say? They brought it on themselves.
Will looked to see what Veronica and I had been geeking out about and groaned loudly when he read the poster. “Random Violation again? Why here?”
I could see the rage entering V’s face (as much as she loved Will, it didn’t stop them from arguing about absolutely everything), and I braced myself for one of their famous fights. They were incredibly frequent and - like Veronica in general - almost always over the top.
“A band like RV will always come back to places that have supported them. Like me and B, when we live in London I suppose we’ll come back to visit you.”
Will’s usual cheery expression faded; he hated the idea of us leaving the village (well, just Veronica really). “I don’t know why you need to leave anyway. You’ve both got jobs here, friends, family… what does London have that Little Forest doesn’t?”
I turned away from the bar, trying to tune their conversation out. I’d come here for some fun birthday celebrations, and maybe to see the elusive Connor Maguire, and their bickering was beginning to get on my nerves.
The Former World by Jessica Grace Coleman / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on38 votes