Nearly 70 Norfolk writers have taken on a pre-Halloween creative challenge and penned a chilling ghost story inspired by the arrival of a supernatural play at Norwich Theatre Royal.
The producers of Haunting Julia challenged people across the county to create a thrilling tale to tie in with the touring play’s arrival in the city for a week of performances beginning on November 5.
And they have been overwhelmed with the response to the creative challenge from individuals, schools and writing groups.
The producers and Norwich Theatre Royal’s education team joined forces to read through them all and pick a final winner – David Vass, from Diss, who wrote a chilling story about a GP’s surgery with a sinister secret. Read the story in full below (be warned – it’s pretty scary stuff!).
His story will be read by the understudies from Haunting Julia at an exclusive VIP performance for his friends and family while the show is in Norwich, and David also wins tickets to see the play.
The two runners-up – Bob Bishop from North Walsham and Chris Holmes from Norwich – also won tickets for the production.
John Bultitude, of Norwich Theatre Royal, said: “The judges found it really difficult to pick a winner as the quality of the writing was just so high. People picked a range of imaginative plots and settings, with some of the stories proving genuinely chilling and packed with some pre-Halloween horror.”
The competition comes ahead of the first ever UK tour of the acclaimed London production of Alan Ayckbourn’s play Haunting Julia. It stars Duncan Preston as a father mourning the death of his child prodigy daughter, dubbed Little Miss Mozart by the press and public as she was penning symphonies at the age of nine.
He opens a special centre in her memory while trying to piece together the circumstances of her death with the aid of her former boyfriend (Joe McFadden who appeared in a host of plays and TV shows including Heartbeat and The Crow Road) and a mysterious medium (renowned stage and TV actor Richard O’Callaghan).
Haunting Julia, Monday 5-Saturday 10 November at 7.30pm, and Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets £5.50-£23. Discounts for Friends, Corporate Club, Over-60s, Under-18s and Groups.
BOX OFFICE 01603 630000. For more info or to BOOK ONLINE.
The Haunting Julia Ghost Story Winner: General Practice by David Vass.
When you’ve worked as a GP for as long as I have, you realise that it’s as much about pastoral care as sickness. Most of my patients come to me not for a cure, so much as for assurance that everything’s fine and nothing needs to be done. I understand that, and I try to make time for it. But this morning is hot and airless, despite the long autumn shadows that fall across my desk. I’ve opened the window, but that means noise from the traffic, and flies buzzing around the examination room. Today I just mean to get through this as quickly as I can.
Mrs Sanderson is first in. Her fever appears to be abating, and I prescribe some cream for the blotches on her face. Mrs Douglas says she has lost her appetite. She jokes this may be no bad thing in view of her frequent bowel movements. I prescribe ibuprofen for Mr Henderson’s headache and then some more for Mrs Carver’s aching bones. They both have the sniffles, so I tell them to go home and sleep it off. Mr Harris can’t sleep because he is nauseous, so I prescribe him an antiemetic.
I’m done with them all, on my way out, and locking the examination room door when I see the young man waiting in the surgery. I should tell him I am finished for the day, but he is in uniform, and I’m from a generation that still finds the police, however youthful, a little intimating.
“You’d better come in,” I say.
“I didn’t expect to find anyone here,” he says. “I thought the surgery was closed.”
“It should be,” I say, “but I can see you if we’re quick.”
“That’s not why I’m here. I just thought I should wait until you’d seen all your patients. I don’t feel unwell.”
“Sometimes people don’t look poorly,” I say. “Not really poorly anyway, but they are.”
“That must be very difficult,” he says.
“It’s what a doctor’s does. It’s those little signs I have to look out for.”
“You must examine so many people,” he says. “Do you always see the signs?”
“Over the years I have made mistakes, if that’s what you’re asking. All doctors do.”
“They must haunt you,” he says.
“Everyone one of them haunts me,” I say. “I had a lady come here with a face covered in blotches. She already had a fever. I should have made the connection. Together they’re a sign of septicaemia. I didn’t spot it, though, so she died. Another had diarrhoea and no appetite. That usually means nothing. That time it meant hepatitis. She died as well. There was a man with a headache and the cold symptoms. He had HIV. There was a woman with aches and pains that died of cancer. I had a man come in who couldn’t sleep because he always felt sick. I gave him an antiemetic and he felt much better until the next heart attack killed him.”
“I suppose you have to learn to put those things behind you,” says the policeman.
“I don’t think you quite understand,” I say. “You asked if those people haunt me, and they do. They were here this morning. That’s who you waited for. Every day, one by one, patients that I have failed, return for my help. That is their curse. And every day, I fail to diagnose their illness. That is mine. They will die, as they have died before, and I can do nothing about it.”
“You’ll excuse me if I struggle to believe that, sir.”
“I don’t expect you to. Not at first. Every new patient finds it hard to believe that they have passed away. I’ve come to think it’s because you had so much faith in me when you were alive. A misplaced faith, as it transpires.”
“I don’t know about that, sir, but I am not, and have never been, a patient of yours. I’m here because a disturbance was reported. I presumed the building would be empty.”
I look at him, trying to remember. Unusually, I cannot place him.
“And you’re sure you’re not dead?” I say.
“I think I would have noticed,” he replies.
Then I understand.
“I think you had better come into my examination room anyway,” I say.
It’s still horribly hot in there, and the flies seem to have multiplied tenfold. I see now that the room is bare, and filthy. There is a gagging smell of bad meat. The young policeman is coughing into his handkerchief. He’s looking up high, over my shoulder, so I follow his gaze, and see what had been casting a shadow all morning. In front of the window, my body is hanging by a makeshift noose.