It wasn’t fair, he hadn’t done anything! Joe stomped up the stairs to his bedroom. Sent to his room “without dinner or devices” as his mum had said. Which was a laugh as he didn’t have any ‘devices’ and a stale cheese barm barely counted as dinner. This time it definitely wasn’t his fault, but as the youngest he’d got blamed. Grandad had seemed suspiciously quiet sat in the corner by the fire, rubbing a blue smudge from his face. Didn’t matter, he’d sneak out the house later. Mum would never notice, she’d be dead to the world after a double shift. He wanted to get out onto the moors, out where he could breathe and be himself, not that he really knew who that was. Joe Heap, youngest of five. No dad to talk about, and a mum who was either always at work or out with the girls, something his eldest brother Paul would sneer about. You didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Paul. He had a temper and a half, with muscles and fists to back it up. That had been useful for a while at school, no-one had messed with the brother of Paul Heap, but he’d left school a couple of years ago now and the threat of his fists has faded over time. Now Joe hid away best he could at break time and kept his head down in lessons. There were days he thought he had the skill of invisibility down to a fine art and he began to breathe a little easier, but that didn’t last long. It was near dark by the time the house quietened down. He’d heard his mum come up stairs about 40 minutes ago, and now there was a snuffling snoring sound coming from her room. He opened the bedroom window, it was an old-style sash, which his mum joked was a ‘period feature’. All Joe knew was that it was freezing in winter, and most of the rest of the year round too. Slipping out the window he pulled it down, leaving it open just a crack. He balanced on the sloping roof of the kitchen, being careful not to make too much noise in case his grandad with his blue smeared face was still snoozing in his chair by the stove. Then he slid down the corrugated roof onto the bin. The lane petered out by the last cottage, becoming just a footpath up onto the moorland. Well-trodden in places, less so the further you went. He debated going up to the top of the moor, to listen to the night screechers as he wrapped himself in darkness whilst the city lights glimmered in the distance, an orange glow that didn’t come from the sun. Tonight, however, he was drawn to the water, and the idea of throwing stones at something that wouldn’t retaliate. Unless he saw the boggart, of course. Joe knew all the stories about the Greenbooth Boggart, he’d been hearing them ever since he’d been old enough to listen. His grandad had been collecting them from before he was Joe’s age after he’d had the wits scared out of him one Sunday by the boggart himself, or so he claimed. Most kids round here were warned at an early age that the boggart would ‘get’ them if they didn’t behave, that it’d be hiding under the bed to catch them unawares. They also knew that the boggart was to blame if a plate got smashed, or the car failed to start in the morning. ‘Boggart is, what boggart does,’ Grandad would say. Joe had not seen a boggart, not the Greenbooth Boggart who would slip beneath the cold waters of the reservoir, or any other boggart, although he knew the scrubby moorland of the Pennines was rife with them. For a while he pretended to his friends that he’d disturbed the Greenbooth Boggart while it was stealing eggs from Judy’s hens next door and had run it out of the hamlet. That was when he was about 8 and still had friends. A few years later it was turned against him, and he was seen as the baby who still believed in fairy tales. ‘Nowt wrong in fairy tales,’ Grandad would say, ‘they hold a truth oft forgotten, if you learn to listen to them right.’ Joe wasn’t sure about that, but secretly he loved the tales. He knew none of the other boys at school would go near the head of the reservoir after dark. Dark didn’t bother Joe, nor the boggarts really. If he could respect them and leave them alone, he figured they’d do the same to him. He’d sometimes leave a bit of food out for them, not often as he went short himself a lot of the time, and never in or near the house. You didn’t want one taking up residence after all. When he was really little he’d even wondered whether his dad was a boggart, it would have explained a lot. Joe was often getting blamed for things, just like boggarts, and he had no idea who his dad was. He was still feeling right mardy after the evening’s arguments and stomped along the path not paying much attention where he was going whilst muttering to himself. An owl called out suddenly as it flew close by his head and Joe stumbled, missing his step. Before he knew what was happening he slipped down a pile of loose stones and tipped headfirst into the reservoir. The icy water swallowed him whole. He cracked his head on a stone just below the surface and his jumper, although not that thick, was immediately water-logged, dragging him down. Dazed by the fall and the bash to his skull it was as if he was in a dream, or rather a nightmare. It was too dark to see anything, or to know which way was up or down. He flailed his arms around half-heartedly. Water went up his nostrils and filled his ears, whilst his lungs were desperate for air. From far away he thought he could hear a muffled whining noise, like a wasp outside a window. It was a high-pitched peal of laughter, a disturbing giggle that echoed across the reservoir. Struggling to find the surface and unable to breathe, a stray thought grazed his brain that it was typical that someone could find his drowning amusing. Sharp bony fingers grabbed the back of his jumper and with supernatural strength pulled him up out the water to fling him on the bank. Gradually, as he coughed up water and his ears popped and cleared, he realised whoever had saved him was laughing manically. The sound was shrill and uncanny and, on another occasion, would have raised the hairs on the back of his neck. Even now it felt out of place, but not quite as wrong as the mouth it issued forth from. Finally, recovering enough to sit up, Joe turned to find his rescuer. The face he saw seemed to have a blue tinge to it, although it was a dark and cloudy night so that might have accounted for the colour. It was the large pointy nose and flappy ears on the sharp face that was most disturbing, that and the gleeful laugh that still emanated from the thin-lipped mouth. The creature snorted and giggled as it peered at him. ‘Thanks mate,’ croaked Joe, still coughing up peaty water. The creature continued to laugh in response, then jumped up and ran off into the darkness. Joe lost sight of it almost immediately but could hear its squeals for a long time afterwards as he sat taking in deep gasping breaths. Eventually Joe managed to stagger home, squelching and soggy, leaving a damp trail unseen in the dark. He knew he’d probably get in trouble in the morning for his wet clothes, they’d hardly dry out overnight, but better damp than dead. He could blame it on the boggart, but only his grandad would appreciate that.
Karen F. Pierce is a writer, librarian, and artist based in South Wales (although she grew up on the edge of the Pennines). She has a PhD on Helen of Troy, enjoys cataloguing antiquarian books, and thinking up stories on her early morning walks. She is interested in folklore, mythology, and mythical interactions with the landscape, and has published several articles on these topics, including within Lien Gwerin: A Journal of Cornish Folklore. In 2020 she was a winner in the Phoenix Short Fiction for Children Competition.