• 15 July 2010
    I wrote the following story for a Times Educational Supplement article about childhood memories. They decided, quite rightly, that it wasn't appropriate for what they wanted, so I wrote a different piece (which they accepted) and decided to use the original story here. Although it doesn't tie in directly to the Darren Shan world of circus freaks and vampires, I think it's a humorous, ghoulish little tale which is in keeping with the macabre tone of the series. Hope you like it!


    “a highly dubious ‘true story’ by Darren Shan”

    Summer + the weekend + me aged 8 = Beach! A long, beautiful stretch of golden sandy dreams, an hour's drive from where I lived. Stunning, chilling cliff caves to explore. Choppy waves to surf on or break. Ice-cream, candy-floss, the arcades afterwards. Heaven!

    The gang: me, Mum and Dad, my younger sister Annie, two older cousins, an aunt and her boyfriend, and my grandfather — Grandy. Squashed in Dad's big white Datsun, with a boot the size of a whale’s stomach, into which all the kids were packed.

    Bombing along, the adults chatting, the kids bored in the boot. Killing time. Singing songs. Telling stories. "I spy with my little eye …"

    We spotted the sea from the road, an incredible expanse of blue, stretching on into eternity. The smell hit us next: the air aflame with salt. Then the shrieks and laughter of those on the beach. Desperate to escape the confines of the boot and be part of the crowd. "Faster, Dad, faster!!!"

    We parked on top of the cliff and ambled down to the beach, making slow progress because of Grandy, who walked with the aid of a cane. Finally -- the beach! Finding a relatively quiet spot near the cliffs on the left (the ones without caves). Laying out a blanket. Locating swimming costumes and towels. Changing, shouting, arguing.

    Five minutes later, a race to the water. "Last one in's a rotten egg!" My older cousins made lots of noise and ran in up to their knees, but soon were back on the beach, teeth chattering, waiting for the sun to heat the water. They’d have a long wait!

    Dad came with Annie (she was too young to come with us by herself) and kicked water at us, Annie squealing in his arms. Within seconds we were all at it, soaking each other, roaring from the shock of the freezing water. A minute of that and we were acclimatised, ready to fall in, fight the waves, splash about — maybe even swim!

    Later. Roasting. Mum rubbing sun-tan lotion all over me. Gobbling ice cream while she worked. The others were off exploring the caves, but I was saving them for later -- the day was young. I sat with Mum, my aunt and Grandy. Grandy looked bored and was fidgeting a lot, digging out his pocket watch every few minutes to check the time. Mum suggested he play with me. I didn’t want to -- with his bad leg, he couldn’t play football, tennis or anything good. I started to sulk. Grandy tried telling Mum he was happy just sitting there, but she wouldn't listen.

    Then Mum suggested I bury Grandy in the sand. That sparked my interest! I nodded eagerly, smiled and pulled Grandy up by the arm when he resisted.

    Giving in, Grandy led me away from the crowd, out of the sun, into the shadow of the cliffs where it was quiet -- everybody was either swimming, sun-bathing or exploring the interesting cliffs on the other side of the beach. He helped me dig a deep, long grave, put his hat down, took his jacket off, even loosened his braces a notch or two. Wild man! Then he eased himself into the grave and I shovelled sand back over him, Grandy warning me not to spill any on his face.

    Grandy played along beautifully at first, kept perfectly still and breathed lightly so the sand could settle around him. But then, with his legs and most of his stomach covered, he began to jerk about. He pulled a frightening face and shook, cracking the previously smooth mound.

    I was having none of it. He wasn't escaping so easily. I spread myself out on his chest and pinned him down. "No you don't!" I grunted.

    Grandy struggled, gasping and panting, wheezing like a dog. He tried to push me off but his fingers were twisted and weak. I hadn’t seen them like that before. I thought they must have shrivelled in the sun.

    Eventually he stopped struggling. There wasn’t even a shiver out of him after that, and I swiftly finished covering him with sand. When I’d patted the sand into place, I looked at his face. It was eerily calm and expressionless. I’d have said he was asleep, except his eyes were open. His mouth too. For fun I poured some sand in, to see him splutter and rage, but he didn’t react. I poured more in — nothing.

    I let some sand trickle into his eyes, ready to run for my life if he roared and leapt after me. But he didn’t even blink! A bit more … more … more. Soon his entire face was covered — and still he didn’t move! How was he breathing? It was incredible.

    When he didn’t surface after ten minutes, I decided to leave him. I joined my cousins and Dad -- Annie was with Mum and my aunt-- and we played football and built castles. Then we went for another swim and finished off the last of the sandwiches when we came out. We were having a great time. I forgot all about Grandy until Mum asked where he was. I said he was over by the cliff, performing a magic trick. She frowned, looking around for him, and asked exactly where he was. I pointed to the mound of sand.

    The tide was coming in and had licked away at the base of the grave. From where we were, you could just make out the yellow glare of Grandy’s toes. Mum stared at them, confused. Then she leapt to her feet and ran. She hurdled over kids and ploughed through sandcastles. Reaching the grave, she collapsed on her knees and scrabbled sand away from around Grandy’s face. I was going to yell at her to stop – she was spoiling the trick – but my throat suddenly went skeleton dry -- I sensed something awful in the air. Getting up, I hobbled after her, a sick feeling in my belly, and stopped a few metres away, watching silently.

    Mum cleared the sand away from Grandy's face. His eyes and mouth were full of dry, crusty sand. My bad feeling got worse — like when I broke a window at home a few weeks earlier, playing football. Mum stared at Grandy. She turned around and stared at me. Then at Grandy. Me. Grandy. Me. Grandy. Me.

    Then she screamed -- and the day went totally downhill from there.
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