The women in grey – Joyce Janes

George was happy when they moved to Stanton in the Peak.

He chose a room looking east.

‘Don’t you want to look out over the garden, over the beautiful view? All you can see from that room is the hillside.’

No, George was insistent.  He wanted to wake up with the morning sun flooding his room with brightness.  He liked the lush hillside and most of all he knew this room looked toward the Nine Ladies Circle.

On their first visit to the village one of the locals mentioned the site to his dad.  Intrigued the three of them had walked up the hill and crossed fields to reach the ancient monument.  Nine standing stones arranged in a circle with another stone off to one side.

Legend told of nine ladies watched by a King turned to stone, as punishment for dancing on a Sunday.  George was hooked.

It wasn’t only what he saw but the atmosphere of the place.  He could sense the presence of the nine ladies, felt as if they were there watching him.  It was the strangest feeling he had ever experienced.

They moved during the summer holidays.  George often visited the stones and last thing at night he looked out of his window and whispered goodnight to his beautiful ladies.

The trouble began for George when he started school.  The first few days weren’t so bad but he soon realised none of the children made any effort to get to know him.

‘Just wait and see,’ said mum, ‘you will soon make friends, ask one of the boys to come and play.’

George knew that wasn’t the answer.  These children didn’t want to play with him, they didn’t want anything to do with him.

‘He’s weird.’

‘Listen to the way he talks, he talks funny,’ all the children laughed and the boys mimicked his accent.

In the playground a teacher overheard this teasing and told the children off.  Things just got worse for George after that.

Because he did well in class the teachers praised his work, the children called him brain box and teachers pet.  He gave up trying at school so others would come top but then the kids just called him stupid.

He couldn’t win whatever he did.

He dreaded going to school even the thought of it made him feel ill.

In a morning his stomach was in knots but worst of all was night time.  He found it almost impossible to sleep.  Whenever he lay down, his head was full of the children’s voices calling him names.

Late one night George sat at his bedroom window and leaned his head on the glass tears running down his face.  He didn’t understand why this was happening to him and he felt powerless to stop it.

He became aware of a shape drifting over the field toward the house.  He brushed his tears away and rubbed his eyes.  He jumped back as a woman dressed in grey, hand outstretched, touched the window with her finger and entered his bedroom.

Her face was one of deepest sorrow and she looked at the boy her eyes full of pity.  She didn’t speak but slowly opened her arms wide and her greyness filled the room.  George felt as if a weight had been draped over his shoulders dragging him down.

He heard whining voices in his head.

‘Poor me, how sad I am, there’s nothing I can do, poor me.’

He shook his head and the lady with her tragic face drifted back through the window and up the hill.  Her terrible eyes never left the sad face of the young boy who felt drained.

Sobbing George went to bed only to lay awake all night the words going round and round in his head.

In the morning he was pale and didn’t eat breakfast.

School was awful he was teased at playtime each insult dragging him further down.  It was a sad boy who sat at the window that night.

His heart sank as a grey shape approached.  Her finger touched the window.

Soft folds of her dress fluttered gently in the breeze, but there was nothing gentle in the cruel eyes that stared at him.  He couldn’t look away as the face scowled and grimaced.

Screeching voices tore through his head.

‘They all hate you, hate them back, they will hound you, you are helpless to resist.’

He shook his head and covered his face with shaking hands

‘Hate, hate, hate.’ the voices told him as they raced through his body.

She pulled his hands down forcing him to look at her terrible face filled with hate.

George cried out and she retreated, mouth distorted in a grotesque smile.

Trembling he sat at the window until next morning.

That day he took no comfort from the sun.  For George there was nothing beyond the wicked face and the voices still wracking his body.

He didn’t even attempt to eat and at lunchtime he found a hidden place near the corner of the playing field hoping no one would see him.

That night with dread in his heart George waited.

Like the other ladies she came into his bedroom.  Her face was cruel and as her hand brushed his shoulder it was as if she were a flame, pain seared his flesh and he pulled away.  Her laugh was of pure evil.

‘Hurt them.  Torture them if you want.  Do it, it’s the only way, get them before they get you.’

George was horrified, ‘no,’ he shouted ‘no I won’t do it.’

Pulling the grey around her she backed away drifting up the field.  Her face broke into an evil smile as she left, ‘hurt them they deserve it.’

Exhausted George fell into bed knowing sleep would not come and the voices would hound him all night.

Next morning Mum wanted him to stay at home, he was ill she could see him wasting away.  George almost gave in but the thought of hours in bed listening to the voices filled him with as much dread as going to school.

His head ached and it was worse than ever that day because he felt bullied and tormented even before the children started to taunt him.

The lady that night was so terrible George could hardly breathe as she hovered in front of him soft grey folds of her gown swirling wildly round her body.

Leaning forward her hand brushed his chest.

It was as if a knife had been thrust into his lungs.  Shards of ice pierced his body and he knew utter despair.

‘There is nothing you can do, no one can help you.’  Her work was done she gave him an ugly smile and George watched as slowly she backed away.

He sank to his knees.

When his mother came in next morning that was how she found her son.

George didn’t go to school that day.

In the evening ill and weak he sat in his usual place by the window and waited knowing there would be another one.  He was exhausted, how much more could he take.

He sensed she was coming even before he saw her and shut his eyes as she touched the window.

He knew she was there standing close, he could hear her gentle breathing and he felt the soft grey material of her gown touch his arm.  He opened his eyes to see a lovely face close to his.  She smiled and touched his cheek.  Warmth radiated from her hand and soft whispers echoed through him.

‘Things will get better, just you see. ’

Warm golden light filled his body and for the first time in weeks he had hope.  There was a faint glimmer to lead him through this darkness.  Her warm fingers slowly moved to his hair before, gently, she pulled away, smiled and holding his gaze drifted away up the hill.

As she left weakness overtook George once again and he returned to bed where he fell asleep.

His mother sat by his bed all the next day and watched as her son slept.

The following night George waited eagerly.  As this lady approached he could feel the love she carried even before she touched the window.  Arms aloft her love flooded the room and George.  He returned her smile and the whispers began.

‘Expect the best and it will happen, love those around you but most of all love yourself.’

‘Love yourself,’ echoed through him and he felt calm.

He went to bed and thought about all the people he loved and all the people who loved him, then he slept.

That day George managed to eat his breakfast.  His mother breathed a sigh of relief hoping this was a turning point in the mystery illness that was haunting her son.

He spent a quiet day but as night time approached George became apprehensive, what would happen tonight?

He stood back as this lady entered.  He could tell by her gentle face she had not come to torment him and when she lifted her hand to rest on his shoulder it was weightless like silk sweeping over him, ripples of kindness drifting down his body.

Soft voices told him ‘it isn’t your fault, they are the ones with the problem, give it back to them.  They can’t upset you, only you allow that.  Be kind to yourself.  Have courage.’

With a gentle smile she drifted away holding his gaze until she blended with the hillside.

George didn’t allow himself to be upset the next day when he returned to school.  He reminded himself, ‘I am not the one with the problem they are.’  It took all his courage to hold his head high but he did, ignoring the taunts and it wasn’t so bad.  He knew none of it was his fault and he knew he was loved.

At the end of the day he congratulated himself, told himself he had done well.

The voices were right he believed them now.  .

As evening fell he waited.  She was all he could have wished for.  There was lightness about her and happiness flowed from this lady.  George opened his arms to allow her happiness to pour over him.

After so much torment he felt at peace and his spirit soared.

‘Happiness is the best revenge,’ the voices breathed, ‘be happy.’

When she left George held onto the feelings she brought and in the morning when he woke he was surrounded by a warm glow of happiness.

Walking to school George felt more confident.  He heard the taunts but smiled, they were silly remarks they didn’t bother him anymore.  The bullies were surprised and stood back silent as he walked away.

George had seen the ladies, listened to the voices and now he realised name calling wouldn’t hurt him.

That night George waited, he had hope, love and courage.  He was brimming with happiness and he knew he would cope with this ninth lady whatever she brought.

Her lovely smile lit his room and he welcomed her.  She looked around then her gaze settled on George.

Gently she took his face in her hands.

The voices started all at the same time quiet giggling soft gentle sounds like waves lapping on a pebbly beach.

‘Enjoy being you, love and be happy, be nice to yourself, expect the best, always believe in yourself, don’t accept their problems, love and be loved,’ on and on the sounds went until eventually they faded to nothing.

Then she spoke her soft voice filled the room.

‘Know yourself George be confident that you have skills and knowledge.  What you do with that knowledge is for you to choose.’

It was only as he walked away from school that afternoon that George realised he had gone a whole day without any of the children making fun of him.  He had set off that morning expecting everything to be alright, he decided when he woke up not to let anything bother him and nothing had.  He stretched up tall, smiled and ran the rest of the way home, he was happy

That night when George sat by the window he strained his eyes for a glimpse of a grey shape.  He wasn’t really expecting a visit after all there were only nine ladies.

He was about to go to bed when he saw a soft shape emerge from the trees.  Her finger touched the window and George gasped she was so beautiful, eyes blue as a summer sky and a smile that made him feel as if he was melting.  She spoke in a honey voice.

‘I am the Queen Stone.  My ladies have shown where sadness, hate, evil and despair will lead.  They blessed you with hope and opened your heart to love.  They showed you courage, brought you happiness and gave you knowledge.

We have given all we can.  It is up to you now, do with it what you will.

Her gentle hand touched his cheek once more and with a smile she left.

~~~~

George did use the knowledge he had gained.  No longer was he weighed down with sadness, his life would not be wasted in hate because he knew the bullies didn’t hate him so he let it go.  He had no time for evil and despair he would not allow these things to drag him down.

Things do get better and there is always hope.

He was happy, he loved and received love back.  When he went to bed at night he listed the people who loved him one by one and there were so many he often fell asleep before he got halfway through.

Happiness is the best revenge the ladies told him and he knew this to be true.

He used his courage to deal with problems.  He talked to the children and gradually they realised he wasn’t so different from them.

He often visited the ladies up on the hill and although at first he was a little apprehensive, he remembered they had all been sent by the Queen stone to give him their most precious gifts.

Now George had their gifts and he knew it was up to him to use them wisely.

Joyce Janes writer for children

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