Here's a story that a kind of wrote a few years ago, put down and picked up again this year. I hope you like it.
Bodach (bod-ack): A malign creature from ancient folklore that lives in the recesses in chimneys and emerges after midnight to terrorise naughty children in their beds.
It was only six days to the arrival of Christmas but it might as well have been six years. In the long, dull, empty days leading up to that magical time when I was eight years old and boredom often led to disruptive behaviour, I would be shooed out of the house by my mother and would sit on the garden wall at the back of our house and pull faces at the people who walked by, but only when their backs were turned. It wasn’t a particularly constructive or intelligent thing to do but it passed the time. Towards the end of the afternoon as the sun was going down and the street lights were casting their long shadows on the flag-stoned pavement, an old man with long hair and a scruffy grey beard shuffled noisily past my perch. He was dressed in a shabby brown raincoat, tied at the waist with a length of frayed string. His trousers were ragged and on his feet he wore a pair of gaping, suede shoes that were wrapped in plastic bags that made him rustle as he tramped past. I was going to pull a face at him but he stopped suddenly and looked around, as if he were searching for something that he had misplaced or forgotten. And then he spoke to me.
“You,” he said. “You live here?”
“Y . . . yes,” I replied. I glanced quickly over my shoulder to see if my mother was watching from the kitchen window. There was no sign of her, but if she had seen this exchange she would have been out of the house like a shot, wagging her finger and lecturing me about how I should never ever talk to strangers.
The old man looked at me, cocking his head from side to side like a curious dog. “You bin ‘avin’ nightmares,” he said. “You bin a bad lad, an’t you? Bin a bad lad, eh?”
I stared at the old man, wondering how he knew about the terrors that had been waking me up screaming in the middle of the night.
“You got a Bodach in there,” he said, breaking the silence. “It’s ‘im who’s bin waking you up.”
“A what?” I asked, finally.
“A Bodach, lad.”
“What’s a Bodach?”
“It’s ‘im who scares you. Comes to see you after midnight, he does. I knows about ‘im, see. Came to see me when I were a bad lad. Not much older’n you, I reckon. Reckless, I was. A pest to me ma an’ pa. Never gave ‘em a moment’s peace, I didn’t. Always in trouble. But then the Bodach came to see me. Night after night, ‘e came, pinching me ears, tweaking me nose an’ all. Some nights ‘e’d pull open me eyelids and stare inter me, and I’d see ‘im crouched over me, ‘is leathery face touching mine, his slitty eyes starin’ right inter me. Scared me ‘alf ter death, he did.”
“Well, there’s no Bodach here,” I said. I tried to sound convincing, to cover up my fear of what tonight might bring. “There’s just me and my mum and dad.”
“Bodach in’t no person,” the old man said, “he in’t no human been. You won’t never see ‘im, not in’t daytime anyways. But ‘e’s there all right. Lives up yer chimney, ‘e does. Lives up everybody’s chimney an’ waits there until they bin bad. They ‘e comes down an’ tortures ‘em. Only preys on bad children, ‘e does. ‘E likes bad children. Taste better’n good children, they do.”
“We don’t have a Bodach up our chimney,” I said defensively, “and I’ve never seen such a thing.”
“No point lookin’ fer ‘im. You’ll never see ‘im. Tucked up that chimney of yours, right an’ proper, ‘e is. When you’s asleep, that’s when ‘e comes down. If’n yer wanna keep ‘im away just sprinkle some salt on yer fire afore yer go ter bed. That’ll keep ‘im away. Dun’t like ter tread on salt, dun’t the Bodach. You mark my words, lad.”
“Well, I don’t need any salt,” I told him, “because there’s no such thing as a Bodach, and even if there was there isn’t one in my house.”
The old man looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Night night, sleep tight, don’t let the Bodach bite.” Then he turned and, laughing to himself, tramped off down the road, his plastic-bag shoes rustling as he went.
The old man had been right, of course. I had been bad. I’d been in a bad mood ever since the school holidays started, mainly through boredom and a lack of imagination and the previous day I had thrown a tantrum that had spiralled out of control until my mother lost patience and had sent me screaming to my room. There I had laid on my bed, my hands clenched into fists, wondering how it had all started, until I drifted off into a deep sleep.
I was still dressed when I woke up and the house was silent and dark. At first the only sound I could hear was the loud tick-tocking of the clock in the hallway downstairs. But then I heard something else. Something in my bedroom. Something crawling across the carpet. Something that sent a chill right through my body.
Scraaaaatch. Scraaaaatch. Scraaaaatch.
I kept my eyes shut tight. I daren’t look, daren’t move. Whatever it was it was under my bed. I heard sharp, claws scratching against the wooden frame of my bed. I felt the sheet move as the thing crawled up onto the mattress, onto the counterpane. Cold sweat trickled down my body. I was terrified, struck dumb with primal fear – fear of something nasty lurking under the bed, something waiting to grab me and drag me down into Hell.
Then I felt my nose being pinched, felt something tugging at my ear. I could smell its rotten stench, its foul breath as a set of long, hard, sharp claws took hold of my eyelids. I wanted to cry out, to call for my mother, but I couldn’t. I felt sure that whatever was crawling on top of me was going to consume me and only a pile of gnawed bones would be all that was left of me in the morning.
I felt my eyelids being slowly forced open and I saw that its own eyes were just slits, a malicious glint shining through them. Layers of skin fell from its leathery face. Its hands were gnarled, deformed, claw-like. It hissed at me and its breath stank of old sewers with dead things floating in them, dead thing that were rotting away, eaten by maggots and worms. Its pointed fingers forced my eyes open even wider and it leaned forward, a long, stinking, rough-edged tongue licking at my cheek.
Baaaaaaaaaaaadddd Boy, it hissed. Then my eyelids snapped shut and I began to scream.
Louder and louder and louder.
When my parents burst into my room it was gone. There was just me. On the bed. Screaming.
“Just a bad dream,” said my mother soothingly, stroking my hair. “Go back to sleep.” But I knew it wasn’t a dream and if I didn’t do something about it the thing would be back night after night after night.
The old man came to me in my hour of greatest need. His suggestion of the salt worked. I sprinkled it liberally around the fireplace, like he said, just before I went to bed. And, like the old man, the bad dreams disappeared from my life forever.
And then time began to take its relentless toll. I grew older. As each Christmas came and went the years appeared to get shorter and as the years flew by I got a job, I got married and we had a daughter. In that long passage of time that seemed so short I never told anyone about my encounter with the Bodach – not even my wife.
Like all children of a certain age temper tantrums become an essential part of making their parents’ lives as miserable as possible in order to get what they want. It doesn’t always work and the child more often than not gets sent to their room in disgrace, to ponder on the acceptability of their behaviour. That also doesn’t always work. It was an hour before my daughter had quietened down and sobbed herself to sleep and it was the dead of night when she woke up again, screaming.
My wife and I both dived out of bed in the same instant, rushing into her room and clicking on the light switch. In the glare of the ceiling light we could see that she was terrified. Sweating and crying, she had been woken from some terrible nightmare that she couldn’t relate to us. We eventually managed to calm her down, but she slept fitfully for the rest of the night, my wife lying beside her, gently caressing her forehead.
Yesterday was Christmas Eve, a bright sunny day with, as usual, no hint of snow in the air. My daughter was playing in the street outside the house and I was about to go out and ask her about the night before when I saw that she was talking to herself.
“You know,” I said to her when she came in, “People think you’re mad if you talk to yourself.”
“I wasn’t talking to myself,” she told me. “I was talking to my friend.”
“Your invisible friend?”
“Dur, he wasn’t invisible, stupid.”
“Really? What have I told you about talking to strangers?”
“He wasn’t a stranger, dad. He said he knew you.”
“Oh, yeah. What was his name, then?”
“He didn’t say.”
“Well, what did he look like?”
“Old,” was my daughter’s reply, “like you.”
Then she ran into the lounge and turned on the television. The sound of some moronic Christmas themed game show was blaring from the lounge when I stepped out of the kitchen and into the back garden. I walked to the gate and looked down the road – it was deserted, but carried on the wind a distant sound made the hairs on the nape of my neck stand on end. It was a sound I thought I’d never hear again, like some long forgotten memory had just been pulled from a disused information storage cabinet in my brain. It was the sound of someone shuffling along with plastic-bag shoes on his feet, rustling invisibly on the paving stones of my past.
It was the sound of my childhood.
That evening as the last of the presents were placed under the tree and the stocking were laid out by the hearth, I ate the mince pie and picked up the glass of whisky that had been left for Father Christmas. “You go to bed,” I said to my wife, “I’ll be up soon. I’ve just got a couple of things to sort out.”
When I eventually climbed into bed I snuggled up next to my wife. “Did you find it?” she asked me as I rested my arm over her shoulder.
“The salt.” She turned around and kissed me lightly on the cheek. “Night night,” she whispered, “sleep tight. Don’t let the Bodach bite.”
I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas to everyone who has supported my blog over the years. Now that I'm settled back in the UK I should be able to get more stories and articles written for Travels With My Rodent. Also A Life in Cheese will recommence and go on to its conclusion at the start of February.Merry Christmas to you all and have a Happy New Year.