Book Extract: Jessica’s Friend by Jason Manford from Dead Funny: Encore

Is Jason Manford shaping up to be the new Stephen King? He has not one but two scary stories in the pipeline. He has written That’s the Spirit, a new short film for Sky Arts which is part of their Halloween season which will be available on demand from October 21. And then there is the story Jessica’s Friend, which is published in Dead Funny: Encore, the second anthology of literary chillers edited by Robin Ince and Johnny Mains, which also features writing from Stewart Lee, James Acaster, Josie Long, Alan Moore and many more. In Jessica’s Friend an ordinary family are on a luxury break in the Lake District, but their relaxing holiday is not quite as relaxing as they hoped…Read an exclusive extract below.

Order Dead Funny: Encore here.

 

 

  

 

The long drive to Keswick in the Lake District was picturesque, Steve had always said so; and on this still, calm evening, with the burnt-orange sun setting behind tree-covered hills, the landscape was on full charm offensive. On the rare occasions he and the family made the long trip up North, Steve felt it was always worth the time it took. Just as the hours of monotonous grey motorway started to take their toll, the roads would turn into long, winding country lanes. On both sides the eye was treated to lush emerald grass carpeting the peaks or huge silent lakes with only their vastness equaling their beauty.

When his wife Claire drove them, she’d take the motorway all the way up to Penrith and drive across the top of the Lakes, missing most of their splendour. Steve felt this sacrilege, preferring the ‘scenic route’, taking in the beauty and history of Kendal, passing the scattered yachts of the mighty Windermere – framed by the hills like a Turner painting – and then up through the sleepy town of Ambleside into Wordsworth’s Grasmere. Each time they visited the poet’s favourite town, where many of the buildings and roads are now named after him and his poetry, Steve would note the cottages, the quaint flowerbed-filled roads and the traditional shopfronts and quote the great man himself (often to a rolling of eyes from his wife and young daughter, Lucy).

“Of that magnificent temple which doth bound,” he would start in as grand a voice as he could muster. “One side of our whole vale with grandeur rare; Sweet garden-orchard, eminently fair, the loveliest spot that man hath ever found,” to which Claire in her deadpan way would answer drily, “Well he would say that wouldn’t he? He’s got his own hotel and spa here.” She always timed it as the car pulled away from the Wordsworth Hotel and Spa, and the family would giggle at this long-running joke between two people, very much in love.

“Why are we staying here for the whole weekend?” moaned Lucy from the backseat of the battered Fiat Punto as it pulled into the driveway of Coleridge House, an imposing 19th century, detached country manor on the outskirts of Keswick. “Kelly in Year 6 has gone to Centerparcs!”

“There are several reasons we have come here, young Lucinda Robinson,” Steve answered playfully. “Hmmm now, let’s ask Mummy. Is it because Roger and Christine are our oldest friends?”

“No, Daddy,” Claire replied.

“Is it because Lucy just loves playing with Jessica and sleeping in her room on the floor for three nights, even though they have nothing in common? Or that Daddy and Roger just adore being in each other’s company?” Steve asked with mock inquisitiveness.

“Erm, nope and definitely nope,” repeated Claire. 

“Could it be because there is no way me and your dad could afford to stay in a house this big and this nice in the middle of the Lake District in the middle of July for nowt?”

“Oh yessss,” said Steve with his best Churchill dog impression.

Claire turned to Lucy, ruffling her hair, “So little missy, we’re all going to be on our best behaviour, enjoy our hosts’ kindness and warm-heartedness and have a lovely super duper weekend, okay?”

“But Mum, Jessica is sooooooo weird, I really don’t wanna stay in her room!” pleaded Lucy.

“Well, so is your dad, but I still stay in his room, don’t I?” she said, giving Lucy a kiss on her head as they climbed out of the car.

“Hellooooo you gorgeous people, come on in!”

 

In a floaty white dress, long dark hair and push-up bra, Christine Jackson opened the door to the family Robinson. With real tits and a fake smile, her eyes attempted to focus on the threesome although they did everything but – the smell of gin evident even from back inside the car.

“Hello, Christine, you started drinking without us?” A kick in the shin from Claire did nothing to stop Steve enjoying his early evening quip.

“My dear friend, I started drinking in 1987, I’m hardly going to stop now, it’s quite literally my only hobby,” Christine laughed to herself, walking into the house, the presumption being that her guests would follow.

Entering the dark but impressive hallway, Claire whispered pointedly, “Why have you always got to be a smart-arse with my friends?”

“I’m sorry,” Steve said, “I was just getting mine in before old red trousers Roger has a go . . .”

“Stop it, Steve,” Claire warned. “I’ve been friends with him since uni, you know he’s harmless enough.”

“I’m just saying,” Steve replied defiantly. “I’m yet to meet a bloke in red trousers who wasn’t a massive bellen . . .”

“Claire! Lucy! What on earth are you doing with this homeless man in my house? I told you to bring Steve!” a pompously posh voice bellowed from the staircase and laughed raucously at its own joke.

“Too late,” Steve muttered to himself.

Extract continues here.

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