Another day of horror as the story about the mass grave in Tuam, co Galway, Ireland goes on. For those of you who have not heard the bodies of over 800 hundred children were found in a septic tank at a home run by the nuns. How much more of these vile acts have to be uncovered before the government and the police do something about it? Everyone who took part in these atrocities should be hunted down like the Nazi war criminals and brought to justice. When I was researching my novel, Whispers, I just touched on the subject, but |I heard stories from those in the know that were too sickening to put in to print. Please share this post with your friends around the world, so the outcry is heard even in the farthest corners of the globe. Maybe, then those in power will be forced to act and those poor little children will get justice at last.
This is a modern ghost story that happened a week ago to a friend of mine who works in a nursing home. There was one patient, an old lady in her eighties who she was particularly fond of and would spend hours chatting with her during the night shift. This went on for many years. Each night the old lady would come in to the common room and sit in her favourite chair. Anne, my friend, knew she was on her way, as her arrival was preceded by a racking cough. The old lady suffered from her chest and the cough was a distressing and painful one. One night, last week, the old lady failed to turn up, so Anne went to check on her. Sadly, she had passed away. The following night, Anne sat reading in the common room. Every now and then she glanced over at the old lady’s empty chair and felt her heart ache with sadness. Around 4 a.m., when the wards were all silent, Anne was roused from her reading by a racking cough coming from the empty chair. In that instant her nose started to bleed for no reason. You can imagine her fright, as she rushed from the room. She has never suffered from nose bleeds, her blood pressure is normal and there was no one else around with a cough. Strange, of course, and something that makes one stop and think.
Another wet and grey Sunday here in Limerick, but below is a link to put you in the mood for such a day . Click on the link to find a list of events for the coming October, and although it may seem far away, you know how the months fly by, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out. For all of you with a yearning to put pen to paper, you will see from the site that I will be teaching a Creative Writing Workshop on the Gothic novel. I know we have a wealth of people in Limerick who have so many great ghost stories to tell about our city,so go on and have a look. And keep liking the Locating the Gothic page.
Some months ago I took a break from writing my usual Gothic ghost stories and missed them terribly. I was in the middle of writing the history of a haunted house, it’s titled An Undesirable Property and am taking up where I left off with this. I’ve missed the suspense and the creeping terrors the dark nights bring with them and I know from your emails, that some of you have missed them too. So back to work I go, along dark, deserted corridors with creaking floorboards and darting shadows. The chill in the air warns that the house is a place of unrest, but there are those not sensitive enough to feel it. I’ll keep you undated as the house comes to life and bring you with me as we enter its ancient door, past peeling paint and rotting wood. Stay warm, my friends.
There was nothing beautiful about the house, but it obsessed her from the moment she saw it. Its fascination had nothing to do with anything strange or otherworldly; it was just that she had never had anything of her own before; not a house, a room, not even a bed. Everything had been leant to her; as though the giver warned “this will be yours for a while or for as long as I say.” Well, all that was at an end and she was now the proud owner of Bracken House, a Gothic monstrosity set in a remote location and lacking any of the charm that such buildings can sometimes have. The front of the house was a mismatch of tower rooms and angles, as though the builder, uncaring of where he placed each brick, let the house rise from the foundations of its own accord. This gave it a rather simple, moronic look and were it to vie for place among other buildings of its era, it would, in all honesty, be thought of as the court jester, it’s misshapen limbs a joke among the majesty of finer houses. Still, its new owner saw none of this and after the bare cells and cold stones of the convent; she saw only her new home and the start of a new life.
It had come as quiet a shock to the Mother Superior and her other sisters when she told them she was leaving. The look of outrage and disbelief on each face still sent her in to giggles of delight and she relished the upset she had caused by abandoning what was a depleting calling.
“But, you’re sixty eight years old,” Mother Superior gasped.
“It’s never too late or so they tell me,” Sister Anne, as she was then known, replied.
“Where will you go; what will you do?” The Mother asked.
“As you know, my mother recently died and it seems she has left me her whole estate, “Sister Anne said. “I intend to use the money before it is too late.”
“We are always short of funds, Could you not stay here? It had been your home for over fifty two years after all, and it seems only fair that the other sisters should share in your wealth.”
“I have no intention of sharing one penny with any of you,” Sister Anne replied, before getting to her feet.
The Mother Superior’s face was ashen in the fading light, her lips drawn in to a thin line of anger and Janet; she had reclaimed her old name, wonder if it were not for the large, mahogany desk that divided them, would the woman have struck her? How glad she was to leave the office that day and know that she would never return. The image of that room was imprinted on her retinas and the smell of trapped heat and old books seemed to have lodged itself in her nose. The idea that she would share her new found wealth with others! But then, Janet had never been one to share anything. Truth be known, she would not be missed by those she lived and worked beside and she knew that there was those who had breathe a sigh of relief when she walked out through the gates of the convent. There was nothing wrong with her; she decided many years ago, it was other people who had the problem. She had no time for the fake friendships they offered and the harlots who were placed in her care were a burden to be endured. She was a strong woman with even stronger principles and if they thought of her as cruel in her treatment of others, that just showed their weakness in both morals and spirit. It was time to go anyway, as the years changed and the unmarried mother was no longer an outcast and therefore of no value to her order. The other sister had become fat and lazy from decades of inactivity, while she stayed lean and unbending in all, especially her beliefs.
The rather stupid young man in the estate agents office had tried to dissuade her when she picked out the house from a stack of leaflets. It was very remote; he said and had the audacity to add, for a lady of her age and should she need help it was miles away from a hospital.
“I have never known a day’s sickness in my life,” she snatched the leaflet from his hand. “And I don’t intend to start now, even at my great age,” she added.
He had the grace to blush then and agreed to take her to view the house. Even as they drove, he pointed out, what he believed were more suitable properties, but she had ignored him, refusing to turn her head to look.
She loved the house on sight.
“Your photograph does not do it justice,” she told him.
“Really?” He stared from the leaflet to the house and scratched his head in wonder as she drank in the mottled brickwork, trailing ivy and peeling wood. “It has quite a reputation round here.”
“In what way?” She thought this just another ploy to put her off buying.
He shuffled from foot to foot and kept his eyes on the ground.
“Come along, young man. I have no time for dawdlers.”
“They say it’s haunted,” he mumbled. “That’s why no one wants to buy it.”
“How ridiculous,” Janet huffed. “Haunted indeed!”
One of the former sister’s downfalls was, like all salesmen familiar with a particular product, she knew all its faults and so it was when it came to spirits and religion. She feared nothing and no one and if that young upstart thought he could frighten her away with his tales of hauntings, he had quite another thing coming.
“I would like to see the interior now,” she said, her lips drawn in to their usual line of disapproval, her eyes thin slits in her skeletal face.
There was no arguing with someone like his present client and the young man took a large, rust-stained key from the glove compartment of his car and led her towards the house. Whatever Janet’s beliefs, the house did have a bad reputation. It was well known that it was haunted. In fact, it was the glue that held most ghost stories together. It was included in most tales of terror and one told by the old women of the surrounding area, round winter fires they whispered its name and crossed themselves with fear, to add substance and terror to the telling.
Janet felt a delicious thrill when he opened the creaking front door. The hallway smelt mouldy and clouds of dust rose from the threadbare carpets and muffled their footsteps as they descended further in to the house. She scanned each of the downstairs rooms, making a shrewd assessment of what it would cost to repair and what she might knock off the asking price.
The rustling ivy outside the windows sent darting shadows across the bare walls and their grotesque shapes made her shiver. It was all that young man’s fault; she glared at him for putting such thoughts in to her mind. The noises in the wainscoting were nothing more sinister that the scuttling of mice and the creaking floorboards overhead signalled that other wildlife had made there home within the house. She was right; there was a life of sorts within the house, but it was not one that could be easily explained away.
It’s strange how hauntings begin. One imagines they happen because of some dreadful, violent act, the sudden spilling of blood and taking of a life, but this is not always the case. The worst haunting are those of love turned to hate, when anger and misery eats away at the soul and strips the spirit of its most human qualities. But the young know little of such things and Kitty never imagined, as she set off that first morning, that she was about to become entwined in a nightmare from which there was no waking.
Kitty Morgan carried the small bundle that was made up of all her worldly possessions round the back of the house. Despite the warm weather she felt cold and nervous as she tapped on the door. She had just reached her sixteenth year and after much negotiation on her parents’ part, she was offered the job of live in maid at the Nesbit house. It was one of the finest in the district and she knew she was lucky to get taken on there, but this was her first time away from home and she was already missing her family. Her knock was answered by a stern-faced old woman, who stood eyeing her from head to toe.
“Well, what do you want?” She asked.
“I’m Kitty Morgan, Mam, I’m supposed to start work here today,” Kitty said.
“Ah, Mary’s girl,” the woman’s face brightened when she realised who Kitty was. “I was in service with your mother years ago. Come in girl and sit yourself down, I’m Joan by the way.”
It was a relief to find the old woman’s sour looks belied her true nature and within minutes they were chatting away like old friends. Kitty was to have a room at the top of the house and next door to Joan. It was a thrill to have a room of her own and so unlike at home where they were packed in like sardines. Once she had unpacked her few belongings Kitty went down to the kitchen.
“There’s just the two of us to run this whole place,” Joan told her. “So you’ll have your hands full fetching and carrying.”
“I’m no stranger to hard work,” Kitty assured her.
“I dare say you’re not,” Joan smiled. “Not if you’re anything like your mother.”
The hours flew by as Kitty was taught what her duties entailed. There were just two people living in the house, Joan informed her, a man she called The Mister and his young sister Ruth.
“You’re about the same age,” Joan said, opening a door on the first floor. “This is her room.”
Kitty was dazzled by what she saw. She had imagined a room such as this, but only in her dreams. A heavy wine, brocade quilt covered the bed and sunlight gleamed off the polished mahogany furniture.
“Have a look in here,” Joan whispered, opening a wardrobe.
Kitty gasped at the rainbow of coloured dresses hanging inside.
“Miss Ruth has over twenty evening dresses,” Joan stroked the rich fabrics lovingly, her own thoughts mirroring those of Kitty’s.
What they wouldn’t give to have just one of the fine dresses.
Both brother and sister were out at a local fair and wouldn’t be back until that evening. It would be Kitty’s job to help at table and she was anxious for her first glimpse of her new employers. She worked in the kitchen beside Joan for the next few hours, helping prepare the food for the evening meal. Her heart began to beat faster when she heard the sound of horse hooves on the yard outside.
“They’re back at last,” Joan’s face was flushed from the heat of the stove as she brushed a lock of hair from her face. “And about time too. The dinner would have spoiled if they’d been any longer. Run up and help Miss Ruth change,” she said to Kitty.
The hallway was silent as Kitty climbed the stairs. She tapped on the door to Ruth’s room and waited for her order to enter. The young woman sitting at the dressing table was as lovely as her surroundings.
“Hello, who are you?” Her blond curls bounced as she turned and surveyed the new arrival.
“I’m Kitty,Miss.I’m the new maid.”
“Someone my own age at last,” Ruth dazzling blue eyes filled with delight. “You have no idea how boring it’s been with only Joan to talk too. Come and help me with my hair, Kitty.”
Ruth talked non-stop as Kitty brushed and piled the hair in to order, so by the time she was finished she knew most of what there was to know about her new mistress. Later, in the dining room, she saw her new master for the first time and she was taken aback by the difference in the pair. Anyone who didn’t know them might mistake them for an unlikely married couple. John, the brother, was a big fellow and would have passed for handsome were it not for his eyes. They were small and set deep in to his face giving him a mean and watchful look. Perhaps it was this that caused the local girls to shy away or it may have been something more primeval, a sense of danger that warned of things to come. Still, he seemed content with his lot, according to Joan and the love he showered on his sister could not be faulted. Ruth was fourteen years his junior and tiny compared to her brother. Their mother died shortly after giving birth to Ruth and when their father passed away ten years later it was left to John to take the place of both parents, a job he did well and without a grumble. Kitty saw very little of him as the weeks passed. He worked on the farm most days and came in to the house only at meal times. Ruth on the other hand, became a good friend and the young girls were forever whispering and sharing secrets. Joan had to scold Kitty on numerous occasions and remind her that was there to work and was not a guest in the house. And so the months passed. Happy, carefree months filled with wonder for the young Kitty until He came. It started out innocently enough. It was lambing season and both Joan and Kitty were run off their feet providing meals for those hired on to help at that busy time. One night, as she served at table, she heard John tell his sister.
“I took on some gypsies today to help out. There’s not as many able bodied men about since the war and they seem a decent lot.”
Gypsies, the young girls stole fleeting glances at one another, how romantic.
“They’re parked in the field behind the orchard,” John continued. “There are three men, a father and two sons and a woman I take to be the mother.”
“Do they have horse drawn caravans?” Ruth asked.
She had only ever seen gypsies in books and expected them to live up to her imaginings.
“They have, but that’s no business of yours Miss,” he scowled at his sister. “You’re to keep well clear of them, understand?”
“Yes, John,” Ruth pouted. “I was only asking.”
“That’s all well and good, but I don’t want to hear stories about you hanging around there.”
“I won’t,” she winked at kitty.
The lure of the gypsy camp proved too much and later that night when John was gone to the pub, Ruth came down in to the kitchen.
“Is it all right if Kitty comes for a walk with me?” She asked Joan.
“Yes, a bit of fresh air will do her good,” Joan nodded at Kitty. “Off you go.”
The girls were soon running hand in hand across the fields and out in to the orchard. Using the trees as shields, they crept closer to the wall dividing them from the gypsies and hid behind the bushes. The air was cold and a fierce fire blazed in front of the caravans. There were two men and a woman huddled round the flames. The girls watched as a door opened in one of the caravans and a man stepped out. He was huge and the wooden steps groaned under his weight as he climbed down. His hair fell in coal black curls to his shoulders and despite his size he walked with graceful, panther-like movements towards the small group.
“Let’s go back,” Kitty urged.
She had a strange feeling in her stomach. It was unlike anything she had felt before and she longed for the safety of her room.
“No,” Ruth hissed. “I want to see his face.”
“Your brother will kill us if he finds out,” Kitty hoped this would break the spell.
“I don’t care,” Ruth said, louder than intended.
Her voice carried in the still, night air.
“What have we here?”
They looked up from their hiding place and in to the blackest eyes they had ever seen.
“I’m Ruth, from the house,” Ruth stood up, pulling Kitty with her.
“Won’t you come and join us ladies?” He waved towards the fire and his watching family.
“No, we have to go back,” Kitty said.
“We have time,” Ruth turned and glared at her.
“Let me help you,” he leaned over the low wall and scooped Ruth up in to his arms.
Her squeals of laughter echoed as he lifted her over and placed her down beside him.
“There’s a gate further down,” Kitty said, when he turned to her.
She turned and ran down the length of the orchard and by the time she got to the campfire Ruth was sitting beside the dark gypsy and gazing up in to his eyes. The family were friendly enough and at any other time Kitty would have thought the whole thing a wonderful adventure, but not now. Not when she saw the look on Ruth’s face as she stared in adoration at Rory, the man who would destroy her life. No one could have predicted the meeting would lead to a chain of events so horrifying in their cruelty that they would linger on for decades and reach with searching fingers from the silence of the grave.
“I’m seven-years-old and I’m tired of the taste of my own blood.”
The child’s eyes were bright with tears, and the fingers he used to stop them overflowing, looked red and sore.
“They come for me at night,” he sobbed. “I’m hurt and I can’t sit down. Won’t you help me?”
He glanced over his shoulder then turned back wild-eyed.
“They’re here, don’t let them take me. Oh, help me.” His tiny hands reached out in supplication for mercy, and receiving none, he turned away and was slowly enveloped by the darkness, until only his pleas echoed from out of the abyss. “Jesus help me, Holy Mary help me.”
It was then the screaming started.
Sarah fought her way back to consciousness and bolted up in the bed. Her nightdress was bunched around her waist and she tugged at the sweat-soaked material, but it was useless. In her weakened condition this small task left her breathless, and she knew she would have to get up to untangle herself. The room glowed white in the pre-dawn light, and the cold air pricked at her fevered skin. Brushing the perspiration from her forehead, she swung her legs on to the bare floor and struggled up. The uneven, wooden boards caused her to lurch, and she grabbed at the headboard for support. The only sounds within the room were those of her laboured breathing, and the wake-up call of the birds in the trees outside. But she had heard someone screaming.
Her legs shook as she walked towards the window. The thin curtains were almost transparent in the harsh light, and their rose pattern became crimson bloodstains. Unsure of what she would find waiting, she closed her eyes and with trembling fingers grasped the material and drew it back.
The early evening mist had overnight turned to a fog that swirled and twisted, causing small shapes to move within it. Just above the skyline, she could see the tall spires of the old school, gothic, dark and forbidding. The latch on the window was rusted and stiff with age and she hit it with the palm of her hand, until it gave way. Freezing fog crept in to the room and wrapped itself around her like a wreath, she gasped at its touch. Outside nothing moved, the silence deepened and even the birds had stopped singing. The sheer loneliness overwhelmed her, a feeling so extreme and absolute she almost cried out in pain.
It was then, in that quiet time, when the world struggles between sleep and wakefulness, when the air lies heavy with dreams and the wind whispers its promise of tomorrow, that Sarah was reminded of her own unbearable loss. The memory sent her staggering back to bed and she lay shivering beneath the heavy duvet and tried to forget the nightmare image that woke her, but it was useless. Every time she closed her eyes it was there. The figure of a small, naked, bloodstained boy, his hands outstretched, pleading and surrounded by a dark malevolent evil. She reached out to him and for a moment felt his fingers brush against hers before he was snatched from her grasp. Lecherous hands moved across his pale flesh and sinister, mocking laughter mingled with his cries. The bed shook with the force of her sobs, as she recalled his face as it was swallowed by the darkness, blue eyes wide in terror. His voice calling her name over and over until it faded into nothingness, and only then did she realised the screams she had heard, had been her own.