The Scuttler :
This is the first time I’ve ever shared the story I’m about to tell you. Sometimes, in the still of the night, it runs through my head on a loop – so I feel the time’s come to put it out there in the hope that certain demons can be laid to rest.
It all started with a dare – like many unspeakable things do. I mean, when Gemma and I initially took up the challenge to stay in the old Chantler house overnight, it’s not as though we hadn’t heard all the stories about the Scuttler – we just didn’t worry too much about them. Girls of logic, that’s what we were – and no amount of crazy stories could shock us or put us off. That’s not to say that the old house wasn’t spooky in its own way. It had been abandoned years previously and, as with all empty, decaying houses, it had an air of melancholy about it that wasn’t entirely pleasant but certainly didn’t appear threatening or other-worldly in any way.
Well, I’m sure you know how it is; a group of university friends sitting around after an evening’s revelry, bathed only in the glow of blossom scented candles, tanked up on a little too much to wine and up way past our bedtimes. Naturally, the conversation turned to ghosts and ghouls and all the other rubbish that people like to talk about when a good spine-chilling session is in order. It was Roger who first introduced the topic of the Scuttler, and not for the first time either. Ever since we’d taken up residence in our own house in the second year of our degrees, Roger had shown a keen interest in the subject, not least because we lived almost opposite the old house. It wasn’t an obsession exactly, more of a vague amusement combined with a certain degree of wide-eyed belief. So, once again, he broached the subject on the night in question. The assembled company groaned audibly when the topic of the Scuttler was raised and Gemma, stubbing out a cigarette with a bored yawn, grumbled, “Here we go again…”
“No but really,” said Roger, “it’s such an odd story that it could almost be real.”
“Yeah, almost but not quite,” I said. “That is the point of urban myths, Rog, to sound believable when, even underneath it all, you know they can’t be true or ninety percent of it is made up.”
“I agree,” said Sophie, “it’s like that stupid story about the man who hammered a nail through his penis for a thrill, split it open, poured Coke over it to stop the bleeding and then passed out.”
“So, what’s unusual about that, anyone would pass out if they’d just split open their most prized possession,” commented Roger.
“No, that’s not the end,” continued Sophie. “Apparently he came round hours later and when he looked down his lunchbox and, by that, I mean the entire ensemble, it had been entirely eaten away, as had part of his lower intestine. It’s said that rats were attracted by the smell of the Coke and had gnawed the whole of his tackle away.
“That’s absolute nonsense,” laughed Gemma.
“Well, you don’t know for certain,” said the ever-believing Roger.
“It is such nonsense,” Gemma giggled, “everyone knows rats don’t drink Coke, they only like Pepsi.”
“You can joke about it all you want,” grumbled Roger, “but I wouldn’t dismiss it so lightly if I were you. And I wouldn’t dismiss the tale about the Chantler house either.”
“Why not?” Gemma said, “it’s not like I ever have cause to visit the place. It really doesn’t affect my life one bit.”
“Yes and I’ll bet you never would visit the place either,” said Roger, in a tone which indicated he thought he’d proved his point.
“Well I don’t need to visit it, so I probably never will but I wouldn’t be scared to.”
Roger held Gemma’s gaze steadily for a full minute before licking his lips, raising an eyebrow and challenging her to prove it.
Gemma, brazen as ever, lit up a new cigarette, inhaled deeply and told Roger that, if that’s what he needed to prove it was all a crock of shit, she’d be perfectly willing to do so. But only on the understanding that, after she’d spent a full night there, he would never raise the subject of the Scuttler again.
Feeling it unfair to allow Gemma to go on her own, and eager to prove Roger wrong, I offered to take up the challenge with her. And, so it was, that we prepared ourselves to spend a full night in the shadow of the Scuttler the following weekend. My joy knew no limits.
So, perhaps now is the time to fill you in on the story of the Scuttler. Legend has it that the house was inhabited by the Chantler family in the early nineties. Said family consisted of a mother, father and two of the most gorgeous children you could ever hope to meet; a blue-eyed, blonde haired dream of a girl and her strikingly handsome brother who, at ten years old, couldn’t do enough for his younger sister.
Life jogged along in a merry old fashion for the Chantler family, with all the obligatory visits to the zoo and Disney World and skiing holidays in the Alps during school holidays. Life was fine and merry for the family. Merry, that was, until one summer morning in 2000 when nine year old Rosa was playing in the driveway of the house, jumping from square to square on a hopscotch board that she had chalked onto the gravel.
She was so engrossed in her game, long blonde hair swinging like a golden sheet in the sun, that she only registered the sound of the car when it was inches away from her. Frozen to the spot, she was unable to move quickly enough before the car reversed over her, crushing both her legs in the process.
Hearing her screams, Mrs. Chantler came rushing out of the house, to be greeted by the unenviable view of her daughter trapped beneath the wheels of her husband’s car, covered in blood and convulsing violently. Her beloved son sat in the driver’s seat, hands still gripping the steering wheel from where he had reversed it out of the garage.
After that the Chantlers’ lives changed considerably. Young Rosa had both her legs amputated above the knee and spent the rest of her childhood in a wheelchair. But, apparently, that wasn’t all. In the time it takes to reverse a car, poor young Charles had gone from being the hero of Rosa’s childhood to being an antichrist. Heart filled with a burning rage, Rosa began to create ways to make her brother’s life a nightmare. Hell-bent on vengeance, she would terrorise him in every way she knew how.
Knowing that he hated the sight of her useless stumps, she refused to learn to wear the prosthetic limbs the doctors had made for her and insisted on making her brother come face to face, on a daily basis, with the results of his actions. Of a night, Rosa would roll out of her bed and, using her arms to move, would scuttle towards Charles’s room where she proceeded to inflict her own injuries on him.
When Charles’s mother commented on the cuts and bruises that had suddenly started to appear on his body, he remained silent or told her that he had simply tripped over, fearing the new-found power of the little girl who plagued his every waking moment. Of a night he would lay rigid in his bed, ears straining for the telltale scuttling sound that marked his vengeful sibling’s approach.
Like all good victims, Charles continued to keep quiet which, in the end, was the biggest mistake of his life. In fact, it was the last mistake of his short little life. In the wee small hours of a cold winter morning, some eighteen months after her accident, ten year old Rosa sneaked into her brother’s room for the last time. Wielding a large steak knife, which she had requisitioned from the kitchen earlier in the day, Rosa set about cutting her brother into small pieces. She ripped so much flesh out of his body that by the time she was finished, the knife was allegedly blunt and there was barely an inch of the room that wasn’t covered in blood.
Now here’s where the story starts to get really silly. Having done away with her brother in the most grotesque manner, Rosa scuttled away and, squeezing her small body through an old service-hatch in the wall, disappeared into the dark crawl space of the house, never to be seen again. Except, of course, on the odd occasion that an unwitting tramp decided to bed down in the abandoned Chantler house, when Rosa would put in an appearance, never getting any older mind, and scuttle over and slash the poor old bugger to death. I mean, have you ever heard such nonsense in your life?
Anyway, armed with a few bottles of wine, an emergency supply of chocolate that would have sent a dietician into a fit, and a carrier bag of large candles, plus a strong torch, and a few blankets, Gemma and I crept into the abandoned Chantler residence. Belief or no belief in spooky tales, it wasn’t a pleasant place. In fact it was rank. It stunk of years of decay and you couldn’t tread on a floorboard without it making some form of protest.
“Yuck. Remind me why we’re doing this again?” said Gemma, untangling a cobweb from her long, fair hair. Usually in pristine condition, I wondered how long it would be before it started looking a bit ratty from all the dust in the house.
“Don’t go blaming me, you agreed to it,” I reminded her, delving into the carrier bag and lighting a few candles.
After a quick reccie of the place, armed with our trusty torch, everything appeared to be Scuttler-free and rather normal – well, as normal as you could expect. Coming down the stairs, my legs gave way slightly and Gemma reached out and grabbed roughly at my sleeve, in order to save me plummeting head first down the wooden staircase.
“Christ, be careful,” she said, a flutter of concern in her voice. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said, brushing her off and reclaiming my sleeve. “You know what a clumsy cow I am, and these mouldy old stairs don’t help much.”
“You’re too bloody clumsy if you ask me,” responded Gemma huffily and then her face broke into a mischievous smile as she reminded me of the time I had tripped over and landed face-down in Roger’s birthday cake.
“Well, this is fun,” I said after a while.
“Sure is,” Gemma replied, breaking open a bar of Cadburys Fruit & Nut and taking a huge bite. “I sort of wish I’d never agreed to it now,” she said around a mouthful of chocolate.
“We could always go back.”
“Oh right, and have Roger laugh at us for being cowards. He’d never believe it was just because we missed our creature comforts. No, I reckon we’ve got to stay or we’ll never hear the last of his Scuttler stories.”
So saying, we settled down into a companionable silence, of sorts – the silence bit was total but the companionable part was a little questionable. Gemma and I, although we used to get along fantastically and were still reasonably good friends, had experienced problems in the past; a long story involving her nabbing a tall, hunky post-grad that I’d had my eye on for months. Although we made it up in the end, things had never been quite as rosy between us since. It was during times like this that I always feared she would bring it up again. Silent, all-girls-together times which generated topics of conversation that I just couldn’t deal with. It was not my way to talk problems out and I hoped that she wouldn’t raise the subject that night, because I knew myself well enough to be certain that it would work me up into a temper again. And then where would we be? Back to square one, with a disagreeable atmosphere in the house and people tiptoeing round us.
As bad luck would have it, Gemma managed to last a whole fifteen minutes, roughly the amount of time it took her to polish of a Mars Bar and half a Kit Kat, before she mentioned the hunky post-grad.
“Look Emily,” she began, twisting a strand of hair around her index finger, “I just want to let you know again how sorry I am about all that business with Adam.”
“Don’t mention it,” I responded mildly, trying to stop her before she got going.
“It’s just that I still feel bad about it…”
“Really, don’t mention it,” I said, cutting her off and hoping she would take the hint. No such luck. For the next half an hour I was subjected to the spectacle of Gemma’s guilt. On and on she went until, at about half past one, we heard a scuttling sound from above. Both of us froze and I immediately strained my ears to try and catch the sound. Then it came again, a slow, scraping sort of a noise like a sack, or a very small body, being dragged across the floor.
“You don’t think it’s the Scuttler do you?” hissed Gemma, her eyes wide with fear.
“I doubt it very much, it’s just a story,” I replied. Nevertheless, it certainly sounded like someone was up there.
The noise continued, moving over our heads and then making its way slowly, slowly down the stairs. Bump, scrape. Bump, scrape. Gemma and I stared at each other, mouths slack with fear. Licking my lips, I heard the noise approach the lounge and shrunk back into the shadows. It couldn’t be the Scuttler, I mean it was just a story, right? A pile of crap. But, nevertheless, something was in there with us. Suddenly the door banged open and Gemma and I screeched, grabbing each other in a fear-induced embrace as an old tramp lumbered in, a half-finished bottle of Gin hanging limply in his hands.
“Whaa yer doin’ ‘ere?” he slurred, as his glassy eyes tried to focus on us.
Gemma and I, still catching our breath were unable to answer.
“Bloody treshpassers. Bet you’re lookin’ out for Scuttler,” he said and giggled manically. “Well, I hope she fin-findsh yous,” he scowled and, with that, he shuffled out of the house, letting the front door bang loudly behind him.
Gemma and I looked at one another and then her blue eyes crinkled into a smile and she started to laugh in relief, lightening the atmosphere somewhat until, that is, she insisted on raising the issue of Adam again five minutes later.
By half past two I was in a blind rage with her. The girl didn’t know when to drop an issue. Above us, a floorboard creaked again and something scuttled in the murky depths of one of the rooms. Probably just a rat, I thought. I tried to convince myself that the Scuttler didn’t exist anymore. Perhaps had never existed but, as Gemma flicked back her long, blonde hair and surveyed me with cool, blue eyes that knew too much, I instantly sensed that the Scuttler was amongst us. Hidden all those years, she had been right there without my even realising.
As Gemma’s eyes looked fearfully at a point just beyond my shoulder, as though assessing the chance of escape in the presence of the damned, I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise and a cold chill fill the hollow of my stomach.
Suddenly there was blood everywhere. Before I knew what had happened, there was a snapping sound inside my head, or maybe it was one of Gemma’s bones because, in that instant, Gemma was being torn to pieces. I watched the whole thing, as though standing outside of myself – saw the gelatinous, viscid gore that eased out of her body and matted her hair. The glutinous pop that her eyeballs made as they were ripped apart and the shocked, rictus grin that her mouth made as she realised the truth and, through it all, the shadow of the Scuttler hung over us, terrifying me more than anything ever had before, driving me into a demented, petrified panic.
And then I was running along the pavement with all my might as I sought to gain the sanctuary of my own house on the other side of the street and outrun the spectre of the Scuttler. Twice I stumbled and fell, and twice I clambered unsteadily to my feet, looking behind me at that house of horrors before I lurched forwards again towards the warm lights of the student house. Screeching through the door, I was met by the aghast faces of my friends as I told them that something, I knew not what, but something unearthly had attacked Gemma.
Unable to stop them, I watched as they ran across the road towards the old Chantler house and, slowly, I ascended the stairs and made for the quietness of my own room. Once there, I surveyed myself in the mirror. Quite a lot of Gemma’s blood had made its way onto my fair hair, tingeing it with ruby-red highlights. As I sat down on the bed, I contemplated once again the strange myth that had attached itself to the house. My, I thought, as I ran my hand over my aching thighs, how people liked to exaggerate. How things get changed over the years. As if a small girl would refuse the use of artificial limbs, preferring to scuttle around. And as if a girl would beat and bruise her brother, and then to think that she would kill him and slip away forever into the bowels of a house, living there even after it was long abandoned. No, that would never happen.
A girl would run to her parents, confess what she had done but they would understand. In time they would understand. Her brother had taken away her life and, in turn, she had exacted her revenge but not in a gory display, just with one swift motion of the knife; one exact, precise thrust into the heart of her once-loved sibling. And, surely too, she would be given proper psychiatric care allowing her, eventually, to live a normal life.
Yes, apart from the occasional bout of anger her life would be normal, almost boringly normal. Perhaps she would even go to university and try to get herself a degree, change her name and, at some point, forget the past – just so long as people stopped stirring up that buzzing nest of anger in the pit of her stomach. Yes, I though, as I bent down and ran my hands over the length of my artificial legs – legs that I had become so adept at using over the past ten years that, apart from the odd bout of clumsiness, nobody would ever guess I wore them – that’s the way it would happen.
I should know, because that’s the way it did happen.