This story, Cissie's Heebie Jeebies was written late in 1994 and was first published in issue 15 of Peeping Tom magazine, since then it's made a digital debut on the excellent Twist of Noir webzine and now I present it here on The Tainted Archive as part of our Halloween weekend. It's one of the few horror stories I've written, for another visit a Twist of Noir and read The Way to a Man's Heart.
Cissie's Heebie Jeebies by Gary Dobbs
Cissy struggled out of bed. She wasn’t sure which creaked the loudest; the aged mattress or her ancient back. Nether were up to much, she thought and smiled to herself. She grabbed her teeth from the jar besides the bed and popped them into her mouth. Her face immediately filled out, her cheekbones becoming less prominent, her chin much more rounded.
‘Another day,’ Cissy chuckled. ‘Won’t be many more.’
Cissy had taken to talking to herself many years ago. At first, she had been self-conscious and would cast a head over her shoulder, as if someone were there watching and listening, but now it had become second nature. Cissy Jones was her own best companion – her only companion.
She dressed quickly so the cold air would not linger on her skin and chill through to her bones, and went down to the kitchen to get the kettle brewing. A day started without tea is a day of woe; her mother had been fond of saying. Cissy smiled at the memory of her mother, long dead now, more than seventy years gone to ground.
‘You’ll be joining her soon, Cissy gull. Mark my words you will.’
She made her tea, thick like tar, and took it through to the living room. She sat down and switched on the electric fire the Social Services had provided and heat instantly filled the room. She relaxed; eyes looking at the soft orange glow but focused on the past. There was such a lot of it to see. More each day.
Cissy had been born on the first day of a century that was fast drawing to a close. She had come into this world during one of the harshest winter the area had known. Of course, Cissy didn’t remember it herself but her mother had often told her about it. All in all 1900 was a year that boasted of firsts – first flight of the Zeppelin, first Browning revolver produced and of course Cissy Jones had drawn her first breath.
1900 – 94 years ago, closer to 95. It was still relatively recent and yet as distant as Christ’s birth, ancient Rome and the birth of Mankind itself. None could ever be touched again. They were gone and gone is gone. There are no degrees of distance concerning time, Cissy had learnt. A minute ago was no closer than an hour, a year, a century even. All were gone forever and gone was very much gone.
‘Awck, at Cissy gull. You’re becoming morbid.’
For a moment there was silence and then Cissy answered herself. ‘That’s as maybe but morbidity is all I’ve got left.’
Cissy felt one of her regular bursts of pain, a severe burning in her chest, and she buckled up as he coughed a globule of phlegm into her handkerchief. At one time she had been able to hawk the vile stuff up into the fire, watching it hiss on the coals and it withered into a blackened reminder of her pain. But now she had to catch it and toss it into the bin. Couldn’t cough lumps onto the electric fire.
Cissy knew the ferocity of her coughing meant that she was going to die soon and she feared that more than anything. She was 94 years old and riddled with the cancer – the end was approaching fast. She did not want to die, though and had not accepted the inevitable. Death would force her to confront her heebie-jeebies, and she had such a lot of those waiting to torment her.
‘No, Cissy gull. Best not think of such things. It’ll do no good to dwell on things.’
Cissy rolled and lit a cigarette. The doctor had warned her that the habit would kill her sooner rather than later, but she was still realistic enough to know that tobacco abstinence would not stave off death’s icy grip. It was coming, almost had her. She could feel the cold grip of eternity upon the back of her neck.
Cissy smoked and tried to think of better times but her heebie-jeebies came to taunt her.
In the afternoon, after watching her favourite daytime soap opera, Cissy went outside to the yard. It was a wonderful day, of the variety she would have called, "a real cracker" when she was still young enough to care about such things. The village of Gilfach Goch in the valley below basked in the heat, the red roofs of the houses shimmered in fiery contrast to the blue skies.
Cissy wondered what the inhabitants of those brick boxes to combat the heat. Rabbit hutches, that was what her mother had called the houses that sprung up around the once thriving coal industry. She looked back at her own farmhouse. It may be a little ramshackle and the farmlands were no longer working, most of the arable plots having been swallowed up by the other farms, but it was still home. She had been born there, was determined not to die there.
In all her 94 years Cissy had never left Gilfach Goch. The nearest town was Blackmill and that was reached by going over the long bridge that spanned the River Ogwr. Of course this wasn’t the original bridge, it had been rebuilt when the old wooden structure succumbed to age, but it still served the same purpose it always had.
Cissy though had never crossed that bridge, never ventured out of Gilfach Goch.
That fact had played on her mind a lot lately, and she had come to the conclusion that if she could cross the divide that separated communities she would be able to leave her heebie jeebies behind. It was as if Gilfach Goch was a prison, and the bridge had become symbolic of the trials that had shaped her life. It was there, taunting her for her inability to take its freedom road.
But she feared that bridge. Crossing it would force her to confront her heebie jeebies. Of course, Cissy knew that was nonsense but the bridge seemed unconquerable within her mind. It had taken on the physical form of her fears. Her heebie jeebies.
Cissy had such a lot of those.
‘Come on gull, don’t be scaring yourself.’
She went back inside and fell asleep in the armchair besides the fire. She slept a lot lately, perhaps in preparation for the big sleep.
Good old Cissy – that’s what the locals called her. Eccentric old Cissy, a little bit dotty but she’d never harm a fly. Good old harmless Cissy. But they didn’t know about her heebie jeebies, and indeed they would never have believed the old woman’s dark secrets had she told them herself.
Such a lot of heebie jeebies.
There were minor heebie jeebies such as the fact that Cissy had once stolen eggs from Mort the Shop during the Thirties, and that she had slept with her father for years before and after the heart attack claimed her mother. There were minor heebie jeebies, on the scale of heebie jeebies they barely registered, and when placed next to heebie jeebie number one, the mother of all heebie jeebies, they were nothing.
Cissy’s eyes tightened to slits as she remembered that day back in 1918. She had been a young girl then, full of the joys of youth. She had been partaking in a vigorous bout of lovemaking with a local lad, Smithy he was called, when her retarded sibling, better known as Billy Bob had happened along.
‘I can see his cocky,’ Billy Bob had shouted, terrifying Smithy. ‘And your titties. I see your titties, Cissy. I’m telling,’ his face had been a split melon as he smiled.
It was all too much for Smithy and he yanked his breeches up and had it away sharpish, running past Billy Bob with the look of sheer terror in his eyes. Whilst Billy Bob may have been carrying less than a full load upstairs, he made up for his lack of mental skills in stature. He cut an huge, ogre-like figure, but Cissy wasn’t afraid of the boy father often called, ‘shit for brains.’
‘I see your titties, Cissy,’ Billy Bob was delighted. His face looked like it did on harvest day when Harris the Grocer gave him an apple or orange. ‘Can I have another look. I’m telling lessing you give me another look.
It was then that Cissy did it. Without thinking, in anger, driven by instinct, she grabbed a spade, swung it wide, and brought it down on Billy Bobs head. His head split open and briefly he looked at her, surprise in his eyes, but then he collapsed as blood and gore burst from his head.
That was Cissy’s biggest heebie jeebie. She had murdered her brother, hadn’t mean to, not really, but dead was dead. Her father had come into the barn at that moment. He looked first at his dead son, and then at his daughter who was still holding the murder weapon. Cissy had expected him to beat her within an inch of her life and then drag her off to the police houses, but instead he took her in her arms and hugged her tightly, all the while whispering soothing words.
That night father had buried the boy beneath the old oak tree on the rise above the farmhouse. Later Cissy would hear him telling friends that Billy Bob had gone off to live with relatives in London. Mother covered up too, but the guilt brought on the heart trouble that eventually killed her. And for years following that incident in the barn Cissy found herself giving her nubile young body to her father whenever he wanted it. Once she had gotten pregnant, but a bottle of strong spirits and a scolding hot bath had finished that.
‘Damn the heebie jeebies,’ Cissy said. ‘They’s nothing see. Jus’ memories is all.’
The evening, Cissy watched her usual television: Coronation Street, Brookside and an episode of Frank Parade Investigates. That took her up to ten, well past her usual bedtime and she was suffering for it. She felt dog tired, drained and moody.
She went to the kitchen and put the, still warm, kettle onto boil. A day that ends without tea is a bad day indeed, her mother used to say. As she waited for the kettle to boil, Cissy watched the steam rising from the spout. It curled upwards, making patterns in the air. At first they were indistinct, more imagination than substance, but then Cissy saw Billy Bob’s face appear within the steam.
‘I see your titties, Cissy,’ the steam brother said. ‘And his cocky. Ah, look at his cocky.’
Cissy pounced at the kettle and switched it off. Billy Bob’s image was sucked back into the spout like a genie to a lamp. She looked around the room and then at the puddle on the floor. Her bladder had given away again, something it was doing more and more lately, and as she looked at the pool of urine her father’s face started to form in its surface.
‘Don’t you worry Cissy. I’ll keep your secrets, just between us,’ it said, the word bubbling within the piss and sending out ripples like an echo. ‘You mustn’t tell that Daddy comes into your room, Cissy. But you like it. I can tell you like it.’
‘Heebie jeebies,’ Cissy screamed and ran her foot through the urine, smearing her father’s image. ‘Heebie jeebies, nothing more.’
But the heebie jeebies persisted, and Cissy knew that she had to get out of the house, had to get away. They were here to stay, somehow she knew that and what’s more, she knew that to do. She went to the hall and grabbed her coat, and then went outside. Once on the porch she buckled over and coughed a globule of phlegm onto the yard.
‘Heebie jeebies,’ Cissy gasped. ‘They’re here for good now, gull. They’ve come to take you. It’s time, gull. You know what that means.’
She did indeed. It meant that death was even closer. The pain had intensified lately, and she was finding blood in the sheets of a morning. Her bladder had become a random animal, shedding its load without warning, and her lungs felt as if they were constructed out of glass-paper. She had no real quality of life and she found that there was nothing more to fear from death. She welcomed it but she would be damned if she’d take her heebie jeebies to the grave with her.
She had to banish those ghosts. And that meant crossing the divide, leaving Gilfach Goch and curling up her toes in Blackmill, away from her sins and fears. That way, she was sure, would release her from the nightmares of the past.
The heebie jeebies, Cissy had concluded, were a part of Gilfach Goch. They were as much a part of the area as the coal scarred mountains. The trouble was that crossing that bridge – a mere quarter of a mile – had become an insurmountable challenge to Cissy. The divide seemed to repel as garlic would a vampire. There was no sense in it. It just happened.
‘Rubbish, Cissy gull. You’ve got to cross that bridge and you’ve got to do it tonight. Don’t be a victim to your past, forever. Do it...do it, now.’
Gilfach Goch, that silent brooding village, stood like a lecherous whore laughing at the people who made their homes within its cancerous womb. Gilfach Goch was not so much a place as an entity formed out of tainted land. No one lived here. They existed.
Cissy was surprised at the articulate thought and she shook it off and headed for the great bridge.
When she had been a slip of a girl, Cissy had been able to run the half-mile from the farmhouse to the bridge, but now she couldn’t even walk the distance without stopping. And stop she did, several times, before she found herself standing on the road before the bridge.
She looked at the bridge but didn’t see it as it was. Rather, she saw it as it had once been: constructed solely from wood with huge supports so that it could support the industrial trucks that once rolled in and out of Gilfach Goch, carrying the coal that fed, clothed and ultimately poisoned the area. Now though, it was all steel girders and concrete, its surface smooth with cat’s eye running down the middle. It didn’t even look like a bridge these days, but a road magically suspended over the river.
Cissy took a step onto the bridge and a mild electrical jolt seemed to run up her leg. Immediately she saw the image of Billy Bob floating in the air before her.
‘You can’t leave us, Cissy,’ Billy Bob told her. ‘You can’t go on. You must stay with us until the end. And it won’t be long, will it? Look at you; you’re riddled with cancer. You titties are flat and deflated like punctured tyres on your stupid stomach.’
‘Get away,’ Cissy ordered. She placed her other foot upon the bridge. She was now out of Gilfach Goch, standing on the divide between communities. She took another step, now gone further than ever before. Cissy smiled. She was going to die, there was no question about that. But she was leaving her heebie jeebies behind. They were not coming to the grave with her.
Then Cissy saw her mother standing before her. Mother had always been thin, cadaverously so, but now she was so much worse. Her skin was drawn in and hanging on her bones.
‘Go back, Cissy,’ the ghost shouted. ‘You’ve got to answer for your sins. You didn’t just kill Billy Bob, but me, too.
‘No.’ Cissy placed her hands over her ears, but the words were not aural and they appeared fully formed within her mind.
‘You killed me, too,’ the ghost persisted. ‘Not directly but it was the grief over Billy Bob that claimed me. And you’ve laid down with your father. You’re an evil girl, Cissy. You can have no redemption.’
‘I’m crossing,’ Cissy howled with determination and walked straight through her mother. ‘I’m going.’
But crossing was the hardest thing she had ever done. It wasn’t just the visions that tried to drive her back, but her own inner fears. It was as if she were suffering from agoraphobia and Gilfach Goch was more than a village, it was her home, her safety.
‘Come and hold my cock,’ a vision of her father, naked, and aged somewhere around his mid-Forties appeared on the air. His penis was erect and as Cissy looked at it, its single eye winked at her. ‘Come and hold it, Cissy. I’ve kept your secret. You owe me.’
‘Owe,’ Cissy screamed, tears running from her aged eyes. ‘I owe you nothing. I’ve paid in spades. If it weren’t for you and your stinking perversions I’d have married. I’d have made a life for myself.’
And now the three of them were there, floating on the air, and they had been joined by Mort the Grocer.
‘Where’s me eggs?’ Mort asked. ‘Thief! Robber! She stole my eggs, everybody.’
‘Bitch.’ They all screamed as one. ‘Bitch. Bitch. Bitchbitchbitch.’ The word became one long verbal snake.
Cissy kept walking, putting one step before the other. Her chest felt as if it was on fire, but she wouldn’t allow herself the luxury of coughing. She had to keep moving, reach the other side.
‘Walk,’ she told herself. ‘Walk, one foot and then another. Walk.’
Until, she had finally done it.
The heebie jeebies vanished, leaving the faint trace of ozone behind.
Cissy sat by the side of the road and looked at the village of Gilfach Goch in the distance, the lights of the houses twinkling like satanic eyes in the velvet night. And she felt better than she had in a very long time. It was Gilfach Goch that had sown her cancer and polluted her blood, but she had escaped its grasp. She was still going to die but it would be on her own terms.
It started to rain. At first, soft droplets, but then it became a torrent and each side of the road was torn up. Cissy smiled. She would be dead by morning if she stayed out in this rain.
She didn’t care.
Cissy laid herself down on the cold ground and closed her eyes. Now she was ready to meet her maker and face whatever judgement should befall her. But she was thankful that Gilfach Goch would have no say in the matter.