result is in! It’s a merit for me. The standard is a lot higher this
year; there’s quite a jump between the two parts of the Masters. I
was pleased with the feedback, which was thorough: positives included
the setting and mood, character development and a structure that
showed ‘technical fluency’. The tutor thought the main character
should have been more active, and made a couple of suggestions about
the plot. This is the beginning of a hypothetical novel, in which a
family discover a child out on the moors and come to believe he’s
their own missing relative returned after seven decades. They don’t
immediately call the police because the domineering mother, Clara,
tells them to wait; this will complicate matters when they have to
pretend that they found the child later than they did. The tutor
thought their failure to call the police wasn’t adequately explained.
here it is. As it’s part of the novel, it opens with a brief summary
of the plot.
novel opens with a discovery. Jenny, middle-aged and browbeaten, is
walking on the moors when she finds a small child tucked into a gap
in the rocks. When she carries him home, her widowed mother is
immediately convinced that the boy is her own brother who vanished on
the moors some seventy years before. The local area is rich with
legends of disappearances going back to Medieval times, mostly of
family has lived at the edge of the moor for generations. They have
developed their own rituals and superstitious thinking. Because of
Clara’s powerful belief that the boy is the missing Tom, the family
hesitates at first to contact the police. As strange events escalate
around the farmhouse, a DNA test proves the boy is a close relative.
The local vet and the family of missing girl Megan Price are among
the people who get involved; the story is also picked up by the
national press. The truth however is not that the boy is a ghost or a
time child, but the son of Megan, who had been abducted and held
prisoner by the vet. Unknown to the family, the vet is Jenny’s
When Jenny first heard
the sound, it made her think of wind howling through cracks in the
rock. That was odd in itself, because the air hung cold and still.
She was tramping
upwards, following a muddy and fern-fringed path that coiled high
into the moors. Sam, her collie, powered on ahead. The breath was
snagging in her lungs by the time she reached the top, and she rested
against the great rock slab with its covering of moss that glowed
bright on sunny days. Today the sky was bleak, holding on to a burden
Strange, that noise.
It teased at the back of her brain, but the moor was so familiar, the
routine so ordinary that she was numb to any novelty. Instead she
squinted down at Hirst Farm and frowned to see the collapsed sticks
and wire at the end of the orchard. Leo should have fixed that by
now, even though there were no animals to keep in. Well, he’d told
her when they married that he was no farmer.
The sound picked up,
rising in tone. It seemed to come from somewhere close by, but she
was alone except for Sam, who’d plunged down the other side of the
hill and was thrashing about in a sea of ferns.
Never mind, then. She
let her mind wander to the cross jutting out of the rock. Although
small, it had escaped the encroaching moss. As she often did, she
gave the metal a reverential pat. Tom’s cross. Poor vanished Tom. Her
own uncle, swallowed into the earth a lifetime ago.
This was no time to
remember old stories. She opened her mouth to call Sam, but then the
sound came again.
It was unmistakable—a
Surely not human, not
on an afternoon like this and at this time of year. Perhaps an
injured animal. A few feet away from Jenny, the rocks parted above a
cave just wide enough to hold a lamb. It would be a strange early
creature if it were a lamb.
When she peered into
the crack, a foetid stench of water-logged leaves rose up to meet
her. For a moment all was dark, but then came a ripple of white.
Something must have blown in there: a plastic bag, perhaps, a
stricken bird or a scrap of wool.
The shadows stirred
again, and Jenny found herself looking into the eyes of a child.
She must have yelled,
because Sam’s head snapped up from his playground. As she plunged
down the slope, her boots gouging into the mud, he rushed to join
her. He was barking when she dropped to a crouch at the end of the
The poor thing had
been shocked into silence.
‘I can’t reach you.
You’re too far in.’
He was huddled in the
furthest corner, a knot of arms and knees. Dark hair flopped across a
grubby forehead and his trousers were splattered with streaks of
earth. He looked no more than three years old.
‘Come on.’ Jenny
glanced over her shoulder, hoping to see another adult nearby.
‘Where is your mummy?’
She had to scold Sam
away. It was a while before the boy unfolded himself and began his
crawl towards the light.
walk. Jenny struggled beneath his weight, gritting her teeth against
the twinges in her spine. Sam didn’t help, lunging across the path.
Every minute or so, when she had the breath, she called, but nobody
trembling by the time they reached the yard. When her boots found the
chequered floor of the porch, she lowered the boy and sagged against
the wall. He made no effort to stand, but slumped onto the mat beside
the iron tokens her mother had scattered to ward off evil. It was a
minute before Jenny felt able to knock—the special pattern that
revealed it was her—and let herself in. The hall was warm and
flooded with a mixture of smells, cleaning spray and baked bread
among them. Her mother must be indoors; Jenny could hear the
television’s drone. Although it sent more pain chasing up her back,
she lifted the boy and hauled him into the kitchen.
sent her whirling around, clumsy with the weight of the child. Clara
was standing at the pantry door. Around her feet lay turquoise
fragments of pot.
Mum? Are you alright?’
mother’s face had pinched in on itself; she made a vague, trembling
motion towards the pot.
sorry I startled you. We have to call the police. I found this little
boy on the moor. His parents aren’t anywhere.’
the boy down before the hearth. Clara peered, as though some
supernatural creature had manifested itself on her kitchen rug.
Slowly she moved towards him, the shards crunching beneath her
slippered feet. She brushed his pale cheek with her fingers.
cold. Cold as a ghost.’
‘Can you look after him while I phone?’ Jenny’s voice quavered.
Clara knelt. She was studying the boy so intently that his eyes
widened, and for a moment he looked much older; almost adult.
‘There’ll be no calling the police.’
‘His parents must still be up there. Go find them. You could be
accused of child abduction.’
The kitchen window faced out onto the moors, and Jenny could see an
orange sun already touching the Dragon’s Teeth. ‘Mum, they might be
at the police station already.’
‘Why are you always so stubborn?’
Christ. There was no point arguing with her mother, even with Jenny
the age she was and a mum herself. She took a step away. Clara had
scooped the child’s hair back and raised his chin to examine him more
‘I’ll call Leo. He can come home from work.’
‘No, I’ll ring him.’ Clara didn’t look at her. ‘You go on, before
Maybe she was right. What if he’d been playing hide and seek?
Perhaps his brothers were still wading through the bracken, sobbing
and calling. Jenny could’ve got herself into a lot of trouble.
She grabbed her mobile from the worktop. It was useless higher up,
but she’d phone Leo from the yard. The moor was no place to be alone,
with dark coming.
They were empty, those eyes. The boy didn’t want to look at Clara,
but what he did see, she couldn’t know. He was confused, thrown out
of the natural order of things.
She leant towards his porcelain curl of an ear and whispered. ‘What
is your name?’
He pressed his lips so tightly that a bead of spittle formed.
‘Can you remember… anything?’
He was staring at the rug, tracing its clots of dirt with a finger.
‘Do you remember… me?’
The boy looked up, frowned and dropped his head again.
Clara sighed. She was being ridiculous, surely. ‘You’re an abandoned
waif aren’t you?’ She stroked his head; his hair was soft as a
kitten’s. ‘You can’t be anything else.’
Those vacant eyes were on her as she grabbed a chair and hauled
herself up. The black-framed mirror was in a drawer on the other side
of the room, buried beneath candles and bobbins. She brought it back
to the hearth and paused just a moment before, swiftly stooping, she
thrust it in front of his face. A child’s pallid features filled the
She’d been holding her breath. ‘You’re solid enough. What is your
A gust rattled the window and she almost dropped the mirror.
‘Something crept off the moors. I can feel it. Can you?’
He mumbled. Lowering herself on painful knees, she tried to catch
It sounded like ‘help us’.
A breeze was whipping round the hilltops as Jenny clambered upwards.
She’d tried to bring Sam, but she’d made the mistake of feeding him
and now he wanted to rest his belly. Half a mile distant, smoke
poured from the chimney of the vet’s cottage. A minuscule figure was
striding across the yard towards an outhouse. It would have been
pointless to shout.
the sun eased itself below the horizon, the rocks cast nets of
shadow. Jenny walked and called. At Pilot’s Haunt, where years ago a
Hurricane crashed, she stopped. Was that a flash of red? Clothing?
Worse? In that moment she’d have given anything to meet a wild-eyed
hiker screaming about a kidnapped child. But the red was tangled
leaves. Nobody yelled and nothing appeared.
This was stupid. She shouldn’t have let her mother talk her out of
calling the police. She turned to go back when, at the base of the
path, something moved.
It was only Leo. He was yelling, but at first the wind carried the
sense away. He’d come straight from the office and was hobbling over
the clumpy grass in neat shoes, his jacket flapping around him. As
soon as he was close enough she grabbed his shoulder.
‘There’s no one here. We should call the police, and quick.’
‘You mean you haven’t already?’
‘I didn’t—Mum might have.’
He rolled his eyes. ‘You know she bloody won’t have done. When does
she ever phone strangers? She’s as useful as a tin handkerchief.
Well, were there any cars parked at the Outcrop?’
Jenny hadn’t been that far up. Together, they climbed the path until
they could make out the grey triangle where hikers left their
vehicles. It was deserted. Leo brushed at a skeletal fern that had
snagged on his trousers. ‘Weird isn’t it. Normally kids vanish up
‘Maybe one came back.’ As soon as it was out, Jenny wished she
hadn’t said it.
‘Huh. Ten years since the last one went.’ They turned to trudge
downhill. ‘Megan Price.’
swear her parents still come up here looking.’ For a moment it felt
as though the Prices might appear, struggling hand in hand over the
stones, Lucy clutching the purple ribbon that used to belong to her
glanced back. There was nothing behind them but twilight.
Hirst Farm was gleaming. Light spilled across its yard, and as they
crossed it Sam romped towards them, evidently barred from the house.
call the police as soon as we get in,’ Leo said. Jenny could tell he
was rattled. He didn’t give the ritual knock, but banged sharply and
let the door fly open. She heard him say ‘how—’; then came a scream
like a rabbit in a snare. Leo stopped so abruptly, she nearly
cannoned into him.
The screech tailed off into a whimper, and a chair scraped. Sam,
who’d been pushing against Jenny’s legs, wormed past her. She craned
over Leo’s shoulder to see what was happening.
Her mother was standing by the table with the child in her arms, his
head buried in her neck. After that first shriek he was quiet, but he
clung so tightly to the old woman that he threatened to break her.
There was something different about him; Clara had dug out a set of
toddler’s clothes, green and white.
Leo clattered forward, allowing Jenny to squeeze past. She reached
the table in four strides, slipped an arm beneath the boy and lowered
him into a chair. He was quivering like a hunted fawn.
‘Did you call anyone?’ Leo glared at the phone on its hook.
‘There wasn’t a soul about,’ Jenny told Clara. ‘His mum and dad
might already be at the police station. We need to—’
‘They won’t be,’ Clara interrupted. Her eyes were glittering; she
looked almost ill. ‘They’re probably out of their minds on drink in
some disgusting flat. Have you seen the shade of the poor darling?
He’s grey as a ghost. We can’t send him back to people like that.’
‘It’s not up to us.’ Leo’s voice rose. He was trapped, kept away by
the boy’s shrinking and shivering. ‘If it’s rough for him at home,
the police’ll chuck him into care.’
Something white caught Jenny’s eye. Chalk was looping across the
flagstones, circling the chairs by the hearth. It hadn’t been there
‘Mum, he can’t stay here. They might already ask questions about why
we haven’t phoned.’
stared at Jenny; Leo might have been a phantom. ‘Look,’ she said, and
Jenny noticed what her eyes had seen but not understood—the
cardboard box on the table, blotched with age, its corners fixed with
tape. A relic of years ago. Her mother pushed back the flap and drew
out a photograph. It was sepia and dog-eared, with a crease across
the bottom. Jenny experienced a tingly recognition.
The face in the picture was babyish and smiling, with thick hair
feathering across an infant brow.
‘Little Tom.’ Clara held the photo up. Once, Jenny had spent hours
studying that pudgy grin. It was Tom of the memorial cross, Tom who
Jenny looked from the photograph to the child and back again to the
photograph. The likeness between the living boy and the one who
vanished was so uncanny, they might have been twins.
Word count: 2182