Authors: Helen Phifer
The Lake House
is the fourth chilling thriller in the best selling 'Annie Graham' series by Helen Phifer, author of
The Ghost House
The Secrets of the Shadows
The Forgotten Cottage
Elderly Martha Beckett is a prisoner in her own home, and has been ever since her older brother disappeared at just nine years old. He went to hide in the cellar and never came back. And now Martha has sworn to protect anyone else from the evils lurking just below her floorboards. But whatever it is, has woken up – and is hungry again…
When she calls the police for help, Annie Graham is the first to respond. Now Annie Ashworth, she is happily married to fellow police officer Will, with a gorgeous home and a job she loves. But then she hears the news – serial killer Henry Smith has escaped from his mental hospital and is on the run. So when a severed head lands at her colleague Jake’s feet – they can only assume that Henry is back to his old tricks. Last time he nearly killed Annie, and this time she’ll bet he wants to finish the job.
So Annie now has two monsters to track down, before they kill again. And time is running out…
The Ghost House
The Secrets of the Shadows
The Forgotten Cottage
The Lake House
lives in a small town called Barrow-in-Furness with her husband and five children. She has lived in the same town since she was born. It gets some bad press but really is a lovely place to live, surrounded by coastline and not far from the Lake District, where she likes to spend at least one of her days off from work. She has always loved writing and reading and loves reading books that make the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Unable to find enough scary stories to read, she decided to write her own.
I would like to thank all my amazing readers, family and friends. Without your support, Annie, Will and Jake would not be on their fourth adventure. I’d also like to thank Emma Kierzek, the most talented tattoo artist in the North West for her amazing tattoos and the inspiration last time we met. Once more I’m for ever indebted to my editor, the fabulous Lucy Gilmour, and the rest of the Carina UK team for all their support, hard work and talent. You guys make being a writer so much easier. Last but not least I’d like to thank my family for being there when the going gets tough. I couldn’t do this without them.
For my children Jessica, Joshua, Jerusha, Jaimea & Jeorgia
The fairground filled the middle of the huge, open park. Its lights were blazing so bright that the girls had to squint to take in the sight before them. The darkness surrounding the fair was a stark contrast; the air felt much heavier where the shadows fell across the acres of trees and shrubs. Once they got close enough to bask in the warmth of the light, they were drawn inside the gates with no hesitation, their excitement taking over. Laughter filled the air along with the smell of candyfloss and hot dogs. Agnes’s stomach rumbled. It was so loud that Eleanor giggled. There were so many people walking around smiling and chattering. Eleanor had never seen anything like it. When her sister, Agnes, had first suggested they visit the fairground she had frowned and said no, but now, as she looked around at the brightly lit stalls, sideshow tents and carousels, she was smiling. They walked around arm in arm so as not to get separated in the crowds. The rides were busy and Agnes rhymed off which rides they were going to queue for. She pointed to the Ghost Train and Eleanor shook her head. Definitely not. They approached a red velvet tent where a man who looked not much older than them was shouting.
‘Roll up, roll up. I dare you to come and see the monsters and strange creatures that haunt your dreams. Never in your life would you expect to see them in the flesh, with your very own two eyes. Come inside and see the bearded lady, the world’s strongest man; or how about the real, living mermaid who was captured by none other than a shipwrecked sailor who clung on to her for dear life after his ship crashed into the rocks? Come and see the one, the only Windigo, all the way from the plains of North America. It is the most feared monster of all, half man, half demon – the only one in the whole world in captivity. Even the Indian chiefs won’t look him in the eye. Are you brave enough to?’
The two girls looked at each other and giggled. ‘Should we go inside?’
‘No, we should not. It’s just a shameless trick to take our money. There is no such thing as a mermaid or a Windigo.’
He stepped closer, towering over them with his top hat. His black cloak billowing behind him, he bent towards them and whispered, ‘How can you be sure until you’ve taken a look? If you don’t believe that it’s real then I will give your money back. Now that’s surely an offer two pretty ladies like you can’t refuse?’
‘I don’t know. I suppose it is.’
‘Come on, Agnes, I want to go and see the animals, not some scary monsters.’
He looked at them both. ‘Yes, you are scared, but you, my little flower, look as if your interest is piqued.’
‘Come on, Eleanor, if we don’t believe it we can have our money back. Please. You know how much I love to be scared.’
The slightly older girl rolled her eyes at her sister, and opened her purse. She handed over the money to the man who took it from her, then bowed.
‘Take it from me, you will not be disappointed, but if you are then I’ll be here with your money.’
Agnes pushed her arm through her sister’s, pulling her towards the deep red velvet curtain.
Eleanor didn’t want to go inside the tent. Her heart was racing and her mind was telling her to get away from there as fast as she could, but Agnes pulled her through the gap in the curtains and they were inside the gloomy tent. It was hard to see after the bright lights from seconds ago and it took some adjusting before they could make out the glass display cases and cages that were lined up around the sides of the tent. Agnes stepped forward but Eleanor stayed where she was, finding the air much thicker in here than it had been outside. It was warm and she felt a trickle of perspiration form on her brow and start to roll down her forehead into her eye, making it sting. She began to blink.
From somewhere inside the tent, which now felt as if it had tripled in size, she heard her sister’s voice as she gasped. Eleanor felt the room swim and shook her head to clear it. Now was not a good time to faint. She felt her legs begin to give way and she stumbled, catching herself against one of the glass display cases. She looked at the thing that was inside and froze. It was staring right at her. She screamed. It was tall and very gaunt. It looked like a man but she knew that it wasn’t. The whole thing was grey from head to foot with a larger than average head, which had thick, black tufts of hair sticking out from it in patches. Her eyes frozen to the creature, she looked down at where its hands should have been and gasped, crossing herself. Instead of fingers there were long, black, sharp claws.
Eleanor felt as if she was suffocating and couldn’t breathe. She needed to get outside into the fresh air before she fainted, but she couldn’t tear herself away from the thing inside the case. It had long, pointed teeth and blood-red lips. She could imagine them biting into her soft, warm flesh and ripping her throat out.
All of a sudden there was a succession of loud popping sounds and the crowds that had been laughing outside the tent now began to scream. A loud whooshing noise and an immense heat enveloped the tent. A hand grabbed hers and Agnes screamed into her ear, ‘We have to get out of here. The whole place is on fire.’
Eleanor couldn’t move; the terror that had taken over her body wouldn’t let her. A hand slapped her face, breaking the gaze between her and whatever monster was inside the case. She came to her senses and let Agnes lead her to the back of the tent where there was a dimly illuminated exit. She turned to take one last look at the beast inside the glass case and felt her blood turn to ice. Its eyes, which had moments ago been cold and dead, were now glowing red. Then she was pulled through the curtains out into the fresh air.
People were screaming and running, trying to get away from the rides and tents that were now all beginning to glow red and orange as the flames took hold. All but a few of the bright bulbs had exploded and there were people running around in the dark amongst the thick clouds of black smoke that now filled the air, not knowing where to go or what to do. Both girls looked at each other. If they ran to the crowd they would get crushed, trampled in the panic or, even worse, not be able to escape and burn to death. The man in the top hat appeared, his handsome face now covered in soot.
‘Follow me if you want to get out of here alive.’
He pulled off his hat. Without it he looked like any normal boy his age. He grabbed hold of Eleanor, who was clutching on to Agnes, and dragged her in the opposite direction from the entrance to the fair.
‘We’ll never get out of there alive. Come on, there’s an exit a bit further up for us carnies to use.’ Neither of them was about to argue with him because the heat from the flames was getting intense. Screams of panic were now turning into screams of pain and the sound was horrific. Eleanor turned and saw a woman whose skirts had caught fire. She made to run and help her but the man dragged her back.
‘It’s too late; you can’t help her. We need to get out.’
Agnes nodded and pulled her sister’s arm as hard as she could, then all three of them continued running until he stopped and made a sharp left. Within seconds they were out of the confined walls of the fairground. It was only after they were a good distance away that they stopped to catch their breath. Fire engines were on their way and the whole fairground in front of them was in flames. The screams could be heard even above the fierce crackling and popping as the fire took hold, and Eleanor began to pray for the people inside. Agnes looked across at the man.
‘Shouldn’t we be going in to help get people out?’
‘No, we should not. We would be crushed or get caught in the fire. I’m afraid it’s hopeless.’
Agnes glared at him. ‘But we might be able to help!’
‘Or you might die. What would you prefer?’
Eleanor reached out for his hand. ‘Thank you; you’ve saved our lives. I’m Eleanor Sloane and this ungrateful wretch is my sister, Agnes.’
He took hold of her hand. ‘You’re very welcome. James Beckett at your service, and that sideshow you were very much enjoying was mine. I hunted far and wide to find those exhibits.’