Darkwhistle & the Haunted River

Darkwhistle & the Haunted River

Quest/Supernatural. Middle-Grade. When Kenneth, an adventerous mouse from the underground tunnels of London, ignores warnings of danger and embarks on an above ground expedition, in the steps of his dead explorer father, he encounters the malevolent Darkwhistle, the Lord of the Yesterday Tunnels and the collector of human souls. Kenneth befriends one of his 'prisoners', an old spirit called Stanley, and he resolves to to rescue him and re-unite him with his dead son, who is being held down deep in the Yesterday Tunnels. Unsure of who he can trust, and with enemies and perils everywhere, can he expose Darkwhistle's secret in order to re-unite father and son in the afterlife, and ultimately free the spirits of underground London?


Paranormal fiction / Magic realism


Gillian Brownson (United Kingdom)

1. Orphans Under London
London sits at the bottom of Britain, like a packet of broken biscuits and Britain sits on the west of the world, shivering in the middle of a cold sea. It’s an enormous, loud, crooked old City, with some new bits, where the Queen of Britain lives, and lots of other busy people too.
Usually, in the world, it’s busy above ground and quiet underneath, where only insects and small animals live, or a few dead people, if you happen to be in a cemetery, but in London, things are a little different. Far, far under the ground, the deeper you go beneath the City’s roads, it gets even busier, as this is where you will find the twisting train tunnels of London’s underground railways.
The old, subterranean railway lines have been carrying London’s people from east to west, and north to south for over one hundred and sixty years. Some of those people, while they’re buzzing around, being busy, call this railway ‘the tube’, where full trains, fat to bursting, run every day in the drizzly dark.
To get anywhere on the tube, you have to look at the mingled, mangled railway lines of the London Underground Tube map. It’s not like any other map you’ve seen before, as most maps look like maps, but this map look like a big plate of spaghetti. All of the lines weave in and out of each other. There are no landmarks, or buildings, or roads on this map. It just has squiggly lines. It has all sorts of colours; reds, yellows, greens and blues, brilliant colours of all different hues. One of them is a big black line called, ‘The Northern Line’.
In that tunnel of northern black, round the bends and down the track, there is a train station called Kennington. Deep under the dome of the station roof, past the long lit platform and into misty dust, just outside the light at the end of the tunnel, is Orphanium; a miniscule place where tiny creatures live, but their parents don’t; they were simply found, in puddles, in soot, in oil and in holes, under sleepers and on tracks, anywhere that baby creatures might be left alone. One of the foundling creatures is a little mouse named Kenneth and every day, he stares into the light, from within the dismal dark.
Kenneth is no bigger than the size of a human finger, a little one, and dirty from the soot, from his furry head to his little pink toes. He’s lived in Orphanium since he was a mousicle, not a baby, but not yet old enough to find his own food either.
Though there are many mice in Orphanium, Kenneth preferred instead to talk to the ghosts that lived in the walls. He had always been a spooky sort of someone, who could see the dead and talk to them too. If they appeared, he talked, so as not to be rude. He would tell them about his little crammed corner, with shelves of bank notes and jelly babies, badges and his collection biro lids, splendid treasures from far beyond the platform edge. They never stayed long. They had a habit of disappearing. At night though, the ghosts of a hundred and sixty years, silent, would come back, hang in the air and listen to the snores of the tiny Orphanium mice, which sounded like little bells, travelling down the track of the tuneful tunnel. Kenneth’s bed, which was once a child’s red shoe, but now lined with newspaper sheets, sat on the stones in line with all the other mice beds. They all lay there together, under the sooty dark in the dirty, filthy dormitory, crooked but comfy, and dreaming of whistles, beetles, wheels or rat’s eyes.
There was another creature there, not so small, who looked after all the mice and who did the finding of the baby creatures. Mrs Miasamable, an old rickerty rat from down the track. She was tall with a twisted nose and hairy with eyes as black as the dust. Kenneth watched her every day, in her apron, made from an old Christmas card. He never quite knew why she wore it, as it didn’t stop the dirt. She had been in Orphanium for as long as he could remember, all of her old age years. Every day, she made goo cakes from crushed beetles and train oil tea in her cold kitchen, a hole in the east tunnel wall. She never said very much, but she looked after the mice until they were grown up enough to look after themselves, and though Kenneth wasn’t very keen at all on her train oil tea, he drank it down every time she made it.
For Kenneth, most days in Orphanium were the same. He’d wake up, collect some treasures, tell a ghost what treasure he’d collected, if one appeared, then he’d have his train oil tea and whatever Mrs Miasamable had made for dinner, before settling down in his red shoes bed. The days never changed.
A day never went by though, without thinking about his parents. They had gone a long time ago, but had left him with many things. Hi mam was the mouse who introduced him to the ghosts, as she could see them too. She had an eerie best friend called Sylvie, a purple mist with no face, whose haze floated into their little mouse hole and talked to his mam all the time.
“When you see an old one Kenneth, never worry, just smile and say hello. They usually just want a friend.” His mam told him this when he was just two and he never forgot. Sylvie would often play hide and seek with little Kenneth, who always felt she had an unfair advantage, as ghosts are very good at hiding.
His dad, though small, told tall tales of wonderful adventures. He had travelled beyond the platform edge many times, to great food festivals; he had faced all manner of danger to get there too and always told Kenneth that mice, though small, can still have big dreams.
Although his dad had been on all those adventures beyond the platform edge, it was on the train tracks that he died and Kenneth’s mam too. They were in the light one day, in the station, when a train rolled in, on top of them. Kenneth never saw them again. That was when Mrs Miasamble found him.
Kenneth decided one morning to go to the place his parents had died. Perhaps they’re old ones now? I could to talk to them again!

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