Six Stories: A Thriller

Six Stories: A Thriller

by Matt Wesolowski

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Overview

Six Stories: A Thriller by Matt Wesolowski


1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivaled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame . . . 
As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth. A chilling, unpredictable and startling thriller, Six Stories is also a classic murder mystery with a modern twist, and a devastating ending

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781910633625
Publisher: Orenda Books
Publication date: 06/01/2017
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 351,439
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author


Matt Wesolowski has had short horror fiction published in Ethereal Tales magazine, Midnight Movie Creature Feature anthology, 22 More Quick Shivers anthology and many more. His debut novella The Black Land was published in 2013. He was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015.

Read an Excerpt

Six Stories


By Matt Wesolowski

Orenda Books

Copyright © 2016 Matt Wesolowski
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4956-2784-2



CHAPTER 1

Scarclaw Fell 2017


I recognise this bit of woodland. This recognition ignites a little ember of joy inside me, a sense of accomplishment. The more I come out here, the more familiar with it I get. The trees glaring down with their familiar, pinched faces.

When I first met this land, it overawed me, just an unrelenting mass; disorder. There was no way of straightening it out. The woods just sort of jump at you from the dark; all those trees filled with croaking, fretting birds, the buckled heads of ferns that slap lazily at your shins as you pass through.

At first, I wondered if I should call in the bulldozers, get it swept away; just like Dad did with that Woodlands Centre. Now I'm glad I didn't. In a strange sort of way, these woods are starting to become beautiful. Thinking this fills me with a horrible, leaden feeling; it's the last thing that should enter my mind. It's not proper. Yet the tiny pockets of spiders' webs, each holding a single raindrop, and the peppering of gorse flowers on the fell-side tell me otherwise.

There's magic here between the trees.

In my own way, I am beginning to understand this land. Its utter indifference to those who dwell here. Like the rest of us, these woods crouch in the shadow of the fell, which rears up in the distance; a cloud-crested wave of blackened scree.

Scarclaw Fell. It sounds like something from Game of Thrones.

I stop in a natural sort of clearing in the trees. I've been walking for ten minutes, now, and I can barely see the building behind me.

Dad was overjoyed when he finally got that place built on the site of what was once the Scarclaw Fell Woodlands Centre. Outside its front door, there's a brass plaque. I fought tooth and nail with Dad about the new name: 'The Hunting Lodge'. It just sounds so ... twee. I guess he wanted to sweep away everything that had happened here before.

Dad filled The Hunting Lodge's bookshelves with these tatty, leather-bound volumes. Something for the tourists to look at, though I doubt any of them ever read them. I've been looking through them recently. Their pages are thick, the yellow of old bones. The smell of pipe tobacco rises from them: like the ghosts of things past.

That's what I do when I'm out here: I chase old ghosts. Stir up shadows. Think.

Sometimes I wonder what I am, what part I play in this whole mess. Am I, Harry Saint Clement-Ramsay, just another Dr Frankenstein, grubbing the dead up out of their graves to try and heal some old wound?

Should I have even agreed to be interviewed at all? Should I have agreed to wake the dead? Will my words destroy the peace that has taken twenty years to fall on Scarclaw Fell?


* * *

He wore a mask.

Just a white thing, the features of which jutted out from beneath his hood. Cheeks and a nose in pale plastic. A forehead that curved like a skull.

It should have been comical. Like the masks that crusty lot wear when they're railing against the multinationals. But I was scared.

When he pulled up at the gate of the Mayberry Estate, we watched him from the security box. We had all his emails printed out; months of them – begging, pleading, promising. I was fully expecting a Hummer, blacked-out windows and all that. He was famous on the internet wasn't he?

So the Ford Ka with a rash of bugs across its bonnet was the last thing we imagined he drived. Tomo rang my phone. I answered and left the line open, slipped it in my pocket. Tomo put his on speaker. We'd practised this. The code line was, 'Did you try the farm shop on your way here?' Not very original, but it would take the lads less than a minute to get from the security box to the gate if I said it.

Wait till he gets close, I thought, wondering if I could go through with all this. If the other chaps hadn't been nearby, on guard, then I don't know what would have happened. Maybe I would have bottled it; bowed out.

He had warned me he was going to wear the mask. When I searched online for him, I read all about it, sort of understood why he wore it. Yet when he stepped out of that car, I nearly said fuck it, no way. Nearly turned around and closed the gate. If he wasn't even going to show his face ... He could have been anyone.

I suppose that was the point.

I was scared. But I wasn't going to show him that, was I? Justin had a shotgun. I don't know if it was loaded. Tomo had a knife, still sharp from the packet. They were there to protect me. But in some way it was like they were defending the memory of that night twenty years earlier. The memory of what we saw. The memory of what we found.

The chap in the mask got out of his car and someone I didn't recognise as myself walked over and shook his hand; that same someone betrayed no fear. I thought I could hear a smile in his voice.

He could have been snarling, scowling, mouthing profanities, hating the bones of me behind that mask. I'll never know.

He thanked me. We got in my car. He clipped a microphone to my lapel and turned on the recording device.

Then we talked.


* * *

I stop in the clearing and pour tea into the cup of my flask. Everything is damp and I don't want to sit down. It's a cliché I know, but you never really stop and listen to silence, do you? I have started to listen when I'm here, beneath the branches. When I first started coming out, I used to wear headphones, one ear-bud in my right, my left empty.

The woods aren't silent, not really; if you stand and listen there's all sorts going on: rustlings and chattering; when it rains, the sound of the leaves is a cacophony of wagging green tongues; in the mornings the indignant back-and-forth clamour of the birds is almost comical.

I've not come out into these woods at night. Not for a long time, anyway.

The last time I walked here in darkness was nearly twenty years ago – it was me and Jus and Tomo. That was the night we found him. That boy. It was where the woods begin to thin, where they turn upward towards the bare back of the fell; where the path turns to marsh.

I think I don't like silence because, when it falls, that scene begins its loop.

Nearly twenty years, and what happened that night, what we found out there, still doesn't fade.

The man in the mask said he understood that; said he understood some ghosts never die. I think that's what finally got through to me, and to Dad. If anything, he said, telling him what happened might help.

Help.

That's not a word I'd have ever expected when it came to us. People didn't think the Saint Clement-Ramsays needed help. Of course we didn't; we had money, right? Who needs help when you're rich?

Twenty years ago, Scarclaw Fell Woodlands Centre was still standing. The Hunting Lodge wasn't even a concept; not yet. All of it – the woods, the fell itself, the Woodlands Centre – was Dad's though. And the toilets and the showers still worked, so we just thought 'sod it', me Tomo and Jus. We left our cars sitting in puddles on the track leading up to the centre.

The Woodlands Centre back then was an awful, seventies block, all MDF and lino. It had a smell: steam, soil, warm cagoules; and in the kitchen the reek of veggie sausages and fried eggs. There was a spattering of muddy boot prints around the doorways; fold-up chairs, cobwebs in the corners, painted metal radiators. Someone – the Scouts or the Guides, one of the groups that used the Woodlands Centre – had made a frieze on the far wall in crêpe-paper: 'Leave nothing but footprints – take your litter home'. A smiling badger beneath it. One of its eyes had come off and there was a tight scribble of black biro in its place.

To be honest, that first day in August 1997 wasn't much fun. Me and Jus and Tomo were, what, all twenty-one or twenty-two-ish? It was chucking it down so the three of us sat in that long dining-room area, drank beers and played fucking Monopoly all afternoon. We ended up pretty trolleyed, just getting on each others' nerves. We were all hungry and no one wanted to start cooking; but Kettle Chips and dips don't fill you up. We were stupid, stupid city-boys. There were no takeaways around here and no one was sober enough to drive into the village or look for a petrol station. Jus pulled out some vintage whisky. That meant we'd drink till we were sick; be asleep by nine, with the rush and chatter of the trees haunting our dreams as we snored.

If only it'd ended like that.


* * *

I finish my tea, scatter the dregs into the undergrowth. Dawn begins to swell, her light expanding over the woodland. I turn toward the cloak of branches and brambles, and press on. That's what we did back then – went off the beaten track. We were so wasted and it was so wet, we couldn't even see a track, beaten or not.

I take another look back and the light in The Hunting Lodge window is still visible. I try to imagine what the Woodlands Centre looked like to that boy back then. This is the way he came, back in 1996. Through the branches, I don't imagine it looked much different: a light in a window; the promise of warmth, four walls.

I keep going, plunging into the wood. You only have to be careful where you step when the ground starts sloping upward. There are signs now, but there weren't back then. This was the way they came back in '96, I'm sure of it: a couple of miles north-west of The Hunting Lodge (or the Woodlands Centre, as it was back then) there's a sort of natural path between the trees. I follow it.

As I walk, there's a little pull of nostalgia inside me: a longing. As if some little part of me, some thread, has caught on the memory.

Like I have become part of everything that happened here.

Which, in some ways, I suppose is true.

CHAPTER 2

Episode 1: Rangers


— Dad bought up all the land round there just before ... before it happened. I mean, literally, it was a few weeks.

Then the shit-storm descended.

Oh, terribly sorry ... am I allowed to swear on this?


This is the voice of Harry Saint Clement-Ramsay; Harry's the son of Lord Ramsay, owner of the land around Scarclaw Fell. Owner of the fell itself.

Scarclaw Fell: For those old enough to remember, that name has a certain resonance.

These days, that resonance is largely silent.

Meeting Harry in person is somewhat of a breakthrough, to say the least. The Ramsay estate has not acknowledged my emails or letters for months. I actually thought we might fall at this first hurdle. Indeed, without Harry, this podcast would lose significant authenticity; become just more speculation about what happened that day in 1996. The teeth of a rake through the long-dry earth of an old grave.

It's been twenty years since the incident and the Ramsays have been consistent in their refusal to speak about it to anyone.

Until now.

Suited and booted, rosy-cheeked and athletic, Harry looks as if he's from fine stock. As a person, he's affable, but guarded. He reminds me of a politician visiting the proles in the lead up to an election. Every word is chosen with precision.

When it comes to Scarclaw Fell, Harry is evasive – careful with what he says. And to be honest, I don't blame him.


— I think Dad was going to get all the old tunnels – the mineshafts and what have you – filled in. Then he was going to try selling it – to one of those developers, you know? For log cabins, fishing holidays or something? But ... I guess it was too much of a job. And after what happened, the impetus just ... wasn't there anymore. And it's like a bloody rabbit-warren under the fell – all the fissures and hidden pits; and that's before you take into account the bogs and marshes and stuff where they ... where we ... well ... you know. It's a bloody death trap. Christ knows why they were even there in the first place, right? I mean, who would go there for fun?


Before the events of 1996, Scarclaw Fell was largely unknown. And today, most people have forgotten its name once more; despite that almost-famous photograph on the front of The Times; the hook-like peak curling through the clouds behind a spectral sheen of English drizzle. Most people have forgotten the name Tom Jeffries too.

Maybe that's about to change.


— Sometimes I wonder how things could have been different. If dad had called the contractor an hour before he did, they would have come out and knocked the place down – repaired all the fences and the signs, got in some proper security to keep people away and none of this would have happened. An hour and dad could have said, 'Sorry, it doesn't matter how long ago you booked it, things change.' That would have been that. I wouldn't be talking to you now.

Just one hour – and a boy is dead.

Face down in the marsh. Someone's son; someone's grandson.

He was only fifteen, wasn't he?

Christ.


* * *

Welcome to Six Stories. I'm Scott King.

In the next six weeks, we will be looking back at the Scarclaw Fell tragedy of 1996. We'll be doing so from six different perspectives; seeing the events that unfolded through six pairs of eyes.

Then, as always, it's up to you. As you know by now, I'm not here to make judgements. I'm here to allow you to do that.

For my newer listeners, I must make this clear: I am not a policeman, a forensic scientist or an FBI profiler. This isn't an investigation or a place I'm going to reveal new evidence. My podcast is more like a discussion group at an old crime scene.

In this opening episode we'll review the events of that day; introducing you briefly to the people present. We'll be hearing, not just from Harry, but also from one of the others who was directly involved; who was there; who knew Tom Jeffries personally; and for whom the shadow of what happened on that day in 1996 still remains, like some malevolent, unshakable stain on their life.

We will look back on what is, to some, a simple, open and closed case – a tragedy that could have, and should have, been avoided. To others, though, it is an enduring and enthralling mystery, to which there are no clear-cut answers.

At least not yet.

OK, now for a little bit of history. Buckle up, I'll be brief.

The fell itself rises from some of England's most beautiful countryside; Northumberland, north-east England. Scarclaw Wood was once an old glacial lake, filled with sand and gravel; the fell – a standstone escarpment – is now classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are several Iron Age cairnfields on its higher ground and the remains of scattered farmsteads on its slopes. Evidence of standing stone rings and Neolithic burial sites only add more layers to the landscape. The summit of the fell curls in a hook shape; as if something has taken a colossal bite out of its base. This is presumably the reason why Scarclaw has its name. Like much of Northumberland, inscrutable 'cup and ring' artwork decorates the rocks on its lower slopes.

Beneath the fell's higher ground is a complex network of lead mines that date back to the fifteenth century. They're all abandoned now, shut down in the 1900s due to subsidence. There were attempts to reopen the mines in the 1940s, but these were unsuccessful. Most of the tunnels beneath the fell have collapsed; and the resulting hollows and the weakened surface have created strange hybrid marshes and traps: half man-made; half claimed by nature. To attempt a walk across the marshland of Scarclaw Fell is to dance a jig with death himself. Without warning, the ground could simply swallow you up. Yet it is not only the marshland that is a danger to the unwitting; the majority of the mine's ventilation shafts have long been obscured by nature, so they are now great fissures lipped with moss and heather. The only signs of what they were are the remnants of the decrepit fences erected long ago. Visitors to the woods and the fell are advised to stay on the paths. Large sections were fenced off long ago, but there is still danger underfoot on Scarclaw Fell.

Amongst this no-man's land of reeds and marsh grass stand the remains of an engine house: a pale, crumbling tower encrusted with moss, and a wall with a single window; the only remnants of a remote hamlet.


— I don't know what happened to that boy ... I really have no idea. None of us do. How the police never found his body is just bloody ... ludicrous though, isn't it? A bloody year.


Harry and I record the interview in his car, in the driveway of Lord Ramsay's Mayberry Estate. He assures me that is father is away and tells me that it's probably futile trying to get even a statement from him.


— We don't talk about it, Dad and I; not anymore. Best to leave these things buried ... Oh gosh, I'm sorry ... poor choice of words, but you know what I mean, yeah? Dad still blames himself for what happened up there, but what could he have done? There were signs already, they knew what was up there, didn't they? They'd stayed there hundreds of times before. Hell, it was that lot who had insulated the place. They did it one summer; climbed underneath in those white decorators' overalls and nailed a load of polystyrene to the underside of the floor. Mad, isn't it? I mean, it was nothing more than a glorified barn.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. Copyright © 2016 Matt Wesolowski. Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Title Page,
Epigraph,
Scarclaw Fell 2017,
Episode 1: Rangers,
Scarclaw Fell 2017,
Episode 2: The Beast,
Scarclaw Fell 2017,
Episode 3: Daddy's Girl,
Belkeld 2017,
Episode 4: Nanna Wrack,
Scarclaw Fell 2017,
Episode 5: Qalupalik,
An A road somewhere in Northern England. Establishing connection ... 2017,
Episode 6: The Sixth Story,
Acknowledgements,
About the Author,
Copyright,

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Six Stories: A Thriller 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't get interesed in the story
Candice_S More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVED this book - the take on it being written and presented like a 6 episode podcast was so perfectly unique and interesting, and kept me completely hooked from start to finish. In 1997 the body of Tom Jeffries is found in Scarclaw Fell. In 2017 the investigative journalist behind the Six Stories podcast, Scott King, sets out to figure out what really happened the night Tom died. Interviewing all the major characters in the story, and left to draw your own conclusions, this book is a wild ride. I was convinced more than once that I could see where the story was headed, only to be completely knocked off track by the next interview. Intriguing, enthralling and wildly tense, this is a must read for thriller lovers!
RowingRabbit More than 1 year ago
Scarclaw Fell is a wild area in Northumberland popular with hikers, cavers & climbers. Its beautiful but treacherous terrain is riddled with marshes, old mine tunnels & neolithic grave sites. In 1996, two adults & 5 teens arrived for a few days of R&R during school break. Sadly, one of them went missing & was never found. In 1997 the land was purchased by Lord Ramsay, much to the dismay of locals & environmentalists. But for his son Harry, it was the perfect place to hang with a couple of friends & plenty of booze. Or it was until they stumbled across the body. Tom Jeffries, the missing teen, is found. Twenty years on Harry is approached by the enigmatic host of the podcast “Six Stories”. Scott King’s specialty is digging into old cases & retelling the events through multiple POV’s of the people involved. And although the Ramsays have never spoken publicly, Harry decides it’s time. What follows are conversations between Scott & 6 of the people who were there in 1996. And just like any story, there are definitely 6 different versions. Some of their memories are shared but each has something unique to add that puts their own slant on what happened to Tom. As the conversations progress, ugly truths begin to emerge. All the participants are 20 years older now & able to look back on some of their youthful acts with clarity & regret. As the series continues, it becomes extremely popular & reignites media attention. Everyone is on edge waiting for the final instalment & Harry begins to wonder if he made a terrible mistake. In alternate chapters, we walk with him as he visits the fell for the first time in years & reexamines everything that happened the night they found Tom’s body. I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot as there are so many different twists & elements to the story. It’s much more fun to just “listen” to the podcasts as they unfold & see if you can guess the ending. The novel’s format is so clever & reels you in from the start. It’s a modern day version of a time when people sat around the radio listening to their favourite serials. The lack of visual distraction created an an intimacy between the faceless voices & listeners as they (and us) hang on every word. There’s a tense, almost claustrophobic feel to the podcast chapters & it’s really tempting to race to the finish. Don’t. The devil is in the details & each of the people interviewed has a secret they’ve been keeping. Our walks with Harry are richly atmospheric & the fell itself becomes an ominous character that’s been looming over their lives for 20 years. It’s a creepy & compelling story that also makes you think about larger issues. Some of the passages will give you goose bumps, some will have you checking the locks. There are no bells & whistles here, just great story telling that allows your imagination to run wild. What else do you need?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
difficult to follow couldn't finish it. didn't hold my interest.
PNWBookworm More than 1 year ago
I adored this story. The unique style in which it was told offered a view into the story and the characters without adding in any extraneous detail. Despite the lack of descriptions there was a great sense of the setting and atmosphere throughout the whole book. The story itself was intriguing and held my attention. I enjoyed trying to figure out the mystery and the look into the mind of each of the characters, as seen through interviews. The book was creepy, mysterious and very compelling. If you love mysteries and thrillers with a creepy edge to them you should give this book a try!