The postman just delivered my hardback copy of Whispers. As I read the first page I had to pause and think about how honoured I am that so many of you are doing the same thing and reading my words. Looking forward to your reviews and do check out the competition that Steven is running on Facebook, so you can win your own signed copy of the book.
My latest novel Whispers is doing very well in America. Have a look at the link below.
The voices of the island called to her and the rapping of long-dead fingers on the window pane drew her out from the warmth of her bed. Pushing the quilt aside, she stood and walked across the room. Her coat lay when she had carelessly discarded it, across the back of a chair and she was unaware when the surface beneath her bare feet changed from the soft wool of carpet to the cold floorboards. The storm, which was threatening all day, tonight flew in on blackened wings that darkened the water and carried within its roars the voices of a thousand souls in torment. Power lines were flung aside in its fury and trees bereft of spring foliage, bent gnarled claws towards the earth. Bymidnightall was quiet within the small hotel. The only sound came from the padding of her bare feet as she tip-toed down the stairs, aware of those around her whose sleep remained calm and dreams undisturbed. The wind tried to tear the front door from her grasp and she had to battle with its strength, sure that at any moment the knob would be wrenched from her hands and the sound of splintering wood and glass against the wall would be enough to wake the dead; the irony of this was lost on her. A force stronger than the wind had called her to the island. It promised an end to her quest for fulfilment and a release from the pills and alcohol that marred her life, she was powerless to resist.
The island lay enveloped in night. The moon hid behind leaden clouds and not a single light showed the way, but she knew that somewhere within that blanket of darkness a figure beckoned. A gust caught at her coat and powerful, invisible hands tried to pull her back, but she broke free and ran as fast as the wind allowed. She gathered the wool tighter around her hoping to find some warmth within its folds, but the very cold seemed to emanate from within her.
The gates of the Nunnery slammed shut as she passed and the well-worn latch clicked into place as she was once again denied sanctuary. She had lived this rejection before, not once, but a thousand times. Cowled figures, blacker than the night, stood watching from within, their eyes dark hallows in ashen faces. She no longer feared them, for she had known them in another time. Still, she felt in her heart their sorrow and loneliness, as raw as the earth under which their earthly bodies now lay. She could have turned back, but chose instead to follow the path of so many of her Sisters before her. Twice she slipped on the wet earth as she climbed the hill leading to the Abbey and she was breathless and shivering from cold and fear as she began the ascent to the Tor. When she reached the top, a single flame from a candle shone through the window of the writing room and she knew at once what was about to pass. She had heard such things whispered about late at night and thought the tales of missing Sisters, nothing more than pranks to frighten the other novices. As she walked, she relived their cries and gasps of horror until Mother Abbess’s stern words sent them running to their beds. She licked at the salty sweat on her upper lip and moved towards the door. The wound in the earth lay open and bleeding and she tried not to look into its black chasm. A leaf flew against her face, its touch on her cheek the slap of a cold, dead hand and she hurried inside. Her entrance was greeted by a scowl from the figure hunched over the writing desk as he cupped his hand around the candle flame to protect if from the wind.
“You’re late, Sister,” he said, pointing to a bench beside him.
She slipped down on to the hard oak and watched in silence as he went about his work, tracing delicate scrolls onto a sheet of vellum. Small, earthenware pots littered the work surface and their contents of, reds, blues, greens and gold, dripped down their sides and stained the wood beneath them.
“The colour is still not right,” he threw down the feathered nib and rubbed his forehead in irritation. “It has to be precise and such work demands sacrifice.”
He turned to her as though just remembering her presence.
“Hold out your arm, little Sister.”
She did as he asked, but her heart beat painfully against her chest as he picked up the dagger. Its cruel blade caught the candle light and its sting was sharp and deep when he brought it down on her wrist. The metal of the great goblet he used to harvest her life’s blood, felt cold against her fevered skin. When he was finished, she watched through dying eyes as powders were mixed with her blood. She saw his smile of satisfaction as he retook his seat, dipped the nib into the unholy brew and traced the red onto the serpent’s tongue.
Busy working on my new novel for teenagers. There’s no vampires or werewolves, but it promises to be dark, very dark.
A Ghost Story for Christmas
“He’s evil, there’s no other word to describe him.”
Mike Wallace smiled, as his recalled his friend’s words. He found consolation in the fact the Frank O Connor, his best friend, had always been one for overstatement and while his flair for the dramatic bode well for him in his chosen field of law, it tended to grate on the nerves of those who preferred plain speaking. The bus jolted again and he was forced to grab on to the seatback in front of him. When he bought the ticket, the company boasted that its buses were fitted with all the mod cons and that was the case, but there wasn’t a vehicle built yet that could cope with the rough terrain they travelled over. The place he was heading for drew thousands of tourists each year that came in search of peace in its scarred wilderness, but somehow, the council’s budget was spent on something they considered much more pressing than the roads. Perhaps, they imagined the potholed and uneven surfaces added to the sense of timelessness and those who flocked in search of sanctuary found their condition quaint. The bus swayed from side to side as the driver tried to navigate around the bumps. Mike’s stomach lurched and he realised he was feeling seasick on dry land. The rain battering against the windows made it impossible to see anything outside, other than the odd flash of white from fields where sheep grazed and the grey multi-toned shadows of stone built walls. The heater on the bus vied with that of the air conditioning so the interior was humid. This increased the stench as those with stouter stomachs than his bit into an assortment of sandwiches. The scent of assorted meats rose making his stomach revolt and he tried to concentrate on a raindrop, following its progress down the glass. The bus slowed and lumbered to a stop at the side of the road.
“Maam’s Cross,” the drive called, as he stood up to stretch his aching bones.
Two sets of doors hissed open and the cold air that rushed in was a welcome relief. Not far to go now, Mike thought, as he watched his fellow passengers reach for the luggage rack above their heads. Some smiled and said goodbye as they passed by him and he returned their farewell with a nod. All wore the smug expression of the weary traveller who knew his journey was at an end.
“If anyone wants to stretch their legs,” the driver said. “We’ll be stopping here for ten minutes.”
Some took advantage of this and ran with head bent against the rains onslaught, to the building across the road. Nothing would stop the determined smoker getting a fix before continuing on their way. It was cold now, as the driver had left the doors open, so Mike pulled his coat from beneath the holdall on the seat beside him. It would serve as a blanket for now and he was glad of the familiar scent of the wool. It was quiet within the bus as those who chose to remain were weary and without realising Mike drifted off to sleep. As he slept, he brought a hand up trying to brush away Frank’s words, but their echo remained.
Mike sat in the modern, plush reception area of O Connor and Co Solicitors, waiting for his friend to appear. The smiling receptionist assured him that Mr O Connor was just finishing up with a client and would be with him shortly. Mike thanked her and accepted her offer of a coffee while he waited. Frank could take as long as he liked, as far as Mike was concerned. The radiator behind his chair was going full blast and its heat was comforting after the cold and damp of his bedsit. The clothes he wore still gave a hint of prosperity, but he doubted if the young woman behind the desk would have been as gushing if she knew his real circumstances.
It was hard to believe how far he had fallen in the past two years. His once thriving company was no more as the Celtic Tiger’s roar was reduced to a whimper. At the first sign of trouble his wife decided that their happy marriage wasn’t so happy after all and took off, but not before stripping him of his few remaining assets. He was now like thousands of men in the forties with a wealth of experience behind him and no job prospects. This was the reason he was waiting to speak to Frank. His friend phoned that morning hinting about a job that might suit. Mike was glad of anything that took him out of the squalor of his surrounding and gave him something to do. December arrived and brought with it the threat of snow. During his lower moments Mike envisioned himself being found frozen to death like those he’d read about in the past, the loners, the unwanted, he could never have imagined empathising with until now. The pills his doctor prescribe helped take the edge off, but his nerves were at breaking point.
“Hey buddy,” Frank came breezing out from his inner sanctum.
Mike stood up and the men touched shoulders, their idea of a manly hug.
“Come on in,” Frank held the door open for him. “I ordered lunch in, so we’ll have a chance to talk.”
Mike knew, as he followed his friend down the thickly carpeted hallway, that Frank was doing this to be kind. He was well aware at how badly off Mike was, almost starving at times, but knew better than to offer any kind of monetary help as this would have ended their friendship faster than any insult could.
“How about a drink?” Frank pulled open the bottom drawer of his desk.
“Not for me, thanks,” Mike shook his head and sat in the seat opposite the desk; dismissing his refusal with a white lie. “I’m on antibiotics.”
“Of course, stupid of me,” Frank slammed the drawer shut. “I ordered some soft drinks with the food.”
As if on cue, the young woman from reception phoned to say the delivery boy was there. Excusing himself, Frank hurried from the room and came back laded down with paper bags.
“Spicy king prawn, right?” He asked, tearing through the paper in his haste to feed his friend.
“You’ve enough there to feed an army,” Mike laughed, as tray after tray was placed before him.
“You’re my excuse to pig out,” Frank handed him a plastic fork and knife. “Sheila says I’m getting a bit of a paunch,” he patted his stomach. “I am too.”
Mike bit down on an aromatic, pink prawn and for a moment his senses were overwhelmed. It was ages since he’d tasted anything so good. His usual fare consisted of bread, beans and tea. He realised Frank was watching him and the concern in his face made Mike throat grow tight. To lighten the atmosphere, he asked.
“What’s this about a job?”
“Ah, yes,” Frank twirled some noodles round his fork. “You might think it a bit beneath you, but I thought it was worth running by you.”
He searched through the papers on the desk as he chewed.
“Here it is,” he handed Mike a map.
“And?” Mike waited for him to go on.
“Well, it’s like this. We have a client, he’s been with the firm since my father’s time and he needs some help in getting his papers in order. It’s more secretarial work really, but there’s no typing or any of that sort of stuff. The money is good and there’s free accommodation.”
“It’s in the middle of nowhere,” Mike studied the map.
“That’s why I thought of you and he said he didn’t want some young filly,” Frank took another mouthful of food.
“I don’t have much experience.” Mike said.
“Nonsense, you know all about paperwork,” Frank waved away his worry. “It will have to be done by hand though. Our Mr Price is not one for computers.”
“It would get me away from the city,” Mike thought out loud.
The Christmas lights and music were a constant reminder at how much he had lost.
“He’s willing to pay all expenses,” Frank continued. “Though there’s only the bus fare and maybe a taxi to get you from the bus stop to the house, once you arrive.”
“Tell me a bit about your Mr Price,” Mike said.
“There’s not that much to tell,” Frank avoided his eyes. “He’s old money, lives in one of the few manor houses that are still occupied in this day and age. My father knew him better than I, but he’s stinking rich, that’s one thing I do know.”
“There’s something else,” Mike said. “Something you’re not telling me.”
“It’s probably just me,” Frank gave a nervous laugh. “You know what my imaginations like.”
“I’ve only met the man twice,” Frank dabbed his lips with a paper napkin. “But I didn’t like him.”
“For what reason?” Mike asked.
“There’s something about him, something unwholesome.”
“Tell me the truth,” Mike inched forward in his seat. “We’ve never lied to one another before, so be straight with me now.”
“He’s evil,” Frank shrugged his shoulder and had the grace to blush. “I know you think the word a bit over the top, but that’s how I feel about him.”
“Why, what had he done?”
“Nothing that I know of,” again the nervous laugh. “He’s got no criminal record and I’ve heard no stories about him. It’s just an impression.”
“Fine,” Mike sat back in his chair. “I’ll no doubt find out for myself.”
“So you’ll take the job?”
“I’ve nothing better to do. How long will it last?”
“No more than a week, but as I said, the money is excellent and you’ll have a change of scene and the sea air will do you good,” Frank opened the drawer in front of him and took out an envelope. “There’s two hundred there,” he pushed the envelope across to Mike.
“I don’t need charity,” Mike felt his face grow hot with indignation.
“I wouldn’t dare,” Frank said. “I’m giving you this on Mr Price’s orders. It’s some up front money so you can buy your ticket and whatever else you need.”
“Very well,” Mike tucked the envelope into the pocket of his coat. “When do I leave?”
“As soon as possible; Mr Price is anxious for you to start and I’ve told him all about you.”
“Oh yeah,” Mike gave a weak smile. “That couldn’t have taken very long. Does he live alone?”
“No, there’s a maiden aunt, as far as I know, but no other relations.”
The conversation changed as they finished their meal and they spoke of childhood days and the mischief they usually managed to get into. The past few years were a taboo subject that was best left alone.
The sound of the engine shuddering into life brought Mike back to consciousness with a start. He sat up straight and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. The rain had stopped and as the windows dried he saw how narrow the roads had become. At times he was sure the bus would hit the wall that ran the length of the road, but the skill and experience of the driver was amazing. At times they stopped to let an oncoming vehicle pass and he was able to view the land. On his left the shadow of the 12 Bens mountain range cast its shadow over the fields. On his right and in the distance, a blue line showed him the first promise of theAtlantic Ocean. There were three more stops until he reached his destination and he felt a strange sense of loss as the last passenger alighted and he was alone with the driver.
“Not long now sir,” the driver called down the aisle.
“I’ll come up and keep you company, if you don’t mind?” Mike stood and put on his coat.
Picking up his holdall he walked to the front of the bus and sat down. Mike felt like a child again, sitting in the front seat with almost a bird’s eye view of the road ahead.
“You visiting family?” The driver asked.
“No, I’m here to work.” Mike said.
“And what sort of work would that be?” The driver seemed amazed.
Mike told him the name of his new employer.
“Do you know him?” Mike asked.
“Aye, I know him well enough,” the man seemed unwilling to elaborate further and they travelled the next few miles in silence.
Mike was surprised to see a taxi waiting when the bus finally arrived at his destination.
“I’m in luck,” he smiled at the driver.
“That’s Bob Ross. He’s got the only taxi around these parts. There’s not a lot of call for it, but he must have known you were coming.”
Mike picked up his holdall and climbed down the steps.
“Thanks a lot,” he said to the bus driver.
“God protect you from all harm,” the man’s face was grey in the descending twilight.
Christ, Mike thought, as he walked towards the waiting taxi. I’m Jonathan Harker about to meet my own Dracula. Once settled in the back seat, he patted the pouch in the front of the holdall and heard the soothing rattle of the pill bottle. His antidepressants would have there work cut out for them if everything he heard about the elusive Mr Price was true. His hands shook a little as he patted the course material beneath his fingers. The effect of his last dose was wearing off and the memory of Frank’s words and the bus driver’s superstitious nonsense hadn’t helped. This was the 21st century and there was nothing that science could not explain. There were no vampires, no monsters or hideous creatures of the night.
He had a lot to learn.
Copyright © Gemma Mawdsley
It’s been a very busy few months and I haven’t had much time to write my blog, but fear not. I will be posting Part One of my latest ghost story, on Thursday morning 22nd. I hope you enjoy reading it and may I take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very happy Christmas and let’s hope 2012 is kinder to all.
Tainted Ground Part 2
Life was good for Sean and his family back in 1988. His skill as an architect was being recognised, and he had commissions to last him for the next three years. If he had any business worries at the time, he can no longer recall them, but his private life took a battering four years before, when his wife Lorna, suffered postnatal depression after the birth of their second daughter, Alison. Her recovery was slower than her doctors expected, and it was only now, after Alison’s fourth birthday, that she started to rally. They agreed that a change would be of benefit, and as they both dreamed of moving to the country, this seemed as good a time as ever. They viewed many houses before deciding on the newly built dormer, which was to become the stuff of nightmares.
“I remember the first time we viewed the house,” Sean said. “Lorna shivered, and remarked on how cold it was, but I put that down to the months it had stood vacant or her nerves. I feel guilty when I think back to how many times I blamed her nerves over the next few months, and how angry I became at her at times.”
They moved in two months later, and the first few weeks were taken up with decorating and landscaping. The only thing odd about the place was the actions of Lady, their Golden Labrador. She refused to go into the house, and they were forced to buy her a kennel. As this is a farming community, she could not be allowed to roam around, so they had to chain her up all the time. Sean put it down to the new surroundings, and told the children that she would come round in time.
“I’m not sure if we were too exhausted at night to notice what was going on,” Sean said. “I only know that those first few weeks were among the happiest we had known in years.”
Once the general upheaval of the house move was over, and the children settled into their new school, Lorna was left with more time on her hands than was good for her. Unlike the town, she could not just pop to the shops or jump on a bus. In the country she became a prisoner, and once Sean’s car disappeared each morning and she waved the girls off on the school bus, the day stretched out before her. The cleaning took a little of her time and daytime TV bored her. Sean wanted to purchase a second car, but she was against the idea. Since her illness, she no longer felt she could cope with driving, even if the roads round there were deserted most of the time. Sean finds it hard to recall exactly how it first started. He remembers Lorna complaining of scratching in the walls and doors opening and closing by themselves, but he put the scratching down to the field mice that could be seen scampering through the grass outside, and the doors nothing more than the wind. Then small objects started to disappear, and there were constant battles between his wife and daughters over this. They began to suspect Shelly, their eldest child, who at the age of eight, had protested against leaving the town and all her friends. At first, the noises in the night and the sound of doors slamming were blamed on her, and they saw it her way of payback.
“Then one night, there was this terrible crash from the kitchen,” Sean said. “It sounded like an explosion. I got up, angry at having been disturbed, and ready to give Shelly a piece of my mind. I looked in to her bedroom to find her pretending to sleep, but when I shook her, it was obvious that she had been sleeping. Of course, my first thought after that was burglars, so I went back into my room and took a golf club from the closet. Lorna was awake by then, and despite my warning for her to stay in bed; she followed me down to the kitchen. I’ll never forget the scene when I switched on the light,” he paused and took another gulp of the whiskey. “Every cupboard and drawer was open, and the contents scattered on the floor. The fridge door hung on one hinge, and it had suffered the same fate as the cupboards, but that wasn’t the worst,” he gave a nervous laugh. “I know its sounds comical now, but if you’d been there to witness it, it was terrifying. The cutlery drawer in the Welsh dresser was open, and we watched as an assortment of knives, forks and spoons, started to walk up and down the length of the wood. You know the way a child might stand them on the handle and pretend to make them walk? Well, that’s what the cutlery was doing, and it continued for about a minute before collapsing in a heap. Lorna was hysterical by this time, and her sobbing roused me out of my trance. The pills she had managed without for months came back into use, but it took me some time to console her. I still thought there was a rational explanation, if not rational, something like a poltergeist. I’d read about such things being associated with children, and poor Shelly was once again believed to be the culprit. Lorna refused to stay in the house the next day, so I dropped her at a friend’s on my way to work. The only thing I could think of doing was calling our new parish priest, and he agreed to come and bless the house. Whatever it was that haunted us, took offence and we didn’t have a minute’s peace after that.”
Other than pictures falling off the walls, and the children complaining that theirs beds were shaking at night, there was nothing more disturbing, until the next sickening act.
“We were invited to a wedding,” Sean said. “It was one of my clients, and we had no choice, but to go. Lorna wasn’t up to it, so I explained this to the clients, and agreed that we would go for the meal and come home after that. Since we would be gone for hours, and it was a miserable, wet day, I dragged Lady inside and locked her in the utility room. I thought I was doing the right thing. A least she’d be dry, and there was enough food and water to keep her going until we got back. I can still hear her howls echoing down the hallway, as I closed the front door. We arrived back about six hours later. We had left the hall light on, but to our dismay, every light in the house was on. I had that feeling; you know the one you get in the pit of your stomach?” He asked.
Bill and I nodded; we both knew the feeling well.
“I knew something was wrong the minute I opened the front door,” Sean continued. “I made Lorna and the girls stay in the car, while I checked the rooms, and I’m thankful to God that I did. The smell hit me as I walked towards the kitchen. It’s hard to describe, but it was a combination of that raw, butcher shop smell mixed with something more foul. I called out to Lady as I approached the utility room, and I’m not ashamed to say that my hand shook as I pressed down on the handle. My stomach turned at the overwhelming stench rushed out at me, and grabbing a towel I put it over my nose before going inside. Lady lay in a heap behind the door, and I had to push her lifeless body back so I could get inside. The wood on the back of the door was splintered from where she had used her nails trying to escape, and the fur on her paws was caked black from the blood. It was her eyes I will never forget, they were open wide, and I wouldn’t have believed an animal could show such fear. I called the local vet, because I wanted the children to think Lady was sick. The shock of her death would affect them badly, and I was too weary to deal with it at that time. I also wanted to know what happened to her. He was at a loss to know what she’d died from, but he bundled her body up and took it away to examine it further. The girls were upset, but I said the vet was taking care of her, and they could see her next day. I know it was wrong of me, but I needed time to get my story straight. I even lied to my wife, so she wouldn’t be worried, and the episode with the lights was forgotten as everyone was more concerned about the dog. It was hard to tell my family the next morning that the vet rang to say Lady was dead. What I didn’t tell Lorna was that the vet found nothing to explain her death, and said with a nervous laugh, that you would swear from the look in the dog’s eyes that she had died of fright. Things got much worse after that.”
Sean went on to describe the endless nights, as Lorna lay asleep beside him. Her doctor had prescribed more pills for her anxiety, and still more to help her sleep. Sean didn’t have the luxury of oblivion, so he lay there listening to the footsteps overhead. Remember the house was a dormer and built so there was no attic, so unless the footsteps were on the roof, he couldn’t imagine where they were coming from. There were too many incidents to record here, but as the days passed, the disturbances increased. Then it started to affect the children. One night, exhaustion took over and he managed to drop off, only to be woken by the sounds of Shelly’s screams. Springing from the bed, he rushed out into the hall, to find the little girl running towards him.
“It’s after me, Daddy,” she ran into his arms.
“Who’s after you?” Sean brushed her sweat-soaked hair from off her face.
“The monster,” she sobbed, and buried her head against his shoulder.
“There’s no monster,” he patted her back. “You just had a bad dream.”
“”There is, look,” Shelly turned, and pointed down the hall.
Sean said he’d heard the expression about the hair standing up on your head, but he’s never experienced it until that night. Something was crouched at the end of the hall; a massive, black shadow that seemed to pulsate with hatred. As he watched, it blended back into the wall. He put Shelly in the bed beside her mother and went to get Alison. Once the child was safely in the bed with his wife, he decided to dress. His pyjama top was stuck to him, so he went to the ensuite and turned on the taps in the sink. He didn’t dare use the shower, as he was afraid to leave his family alone even for a few minutes. He didn’t even close the door, but started to splash water onto his face. He would dress and wait for the morning to come, he decided, though he had no idea what he would do after that. There was no point in calling the priest back in, and this was in the days before psychic investigators. To say he was at his wits end was not an exaggeration. Once dressed, he lay down on the bed beside his sleeping family and watched the curtains, praying for the first light of dawn to creep through them. Despite his terror, he fell asleep and woke to a searing pain.
“I felt a sting on my forehead,” he said. “Like a bad paper cut, and this woke me. I brought my hand up to feel the skin and found I was bleeding. I became aware of the same sensation on my stomach, and to my horror; my shirt was stained with blood. When it opened the buttons, there were deep scratches running across my skin, but the material on my shirt was untouched. I was shaking as I went back into the bathroom, and I had to bite my lip to stop myself from crying out, as I started to wipe the blood away. The more I wiped, the faster the blood flowed and I saw that the cuts were deep, deep enough to require stitching. I tied a towel around my waist and rubbed the blood from my forehead. The cut here wasn’t too bad, and as I rubbed at the skin, I felt the familiar feeling of dread that I’d felt in the hallway return. The mirror on the medicine cabinet above the sink seemed to mist over, and I couldn’t move as I watched it swirl and take shape. There were things, I couldn’t call them people, more like rotten, zombie-like horrors, and they were coming out of the wall behind me, Jesus,” he stopped, almost panting, as he relived that night. “They reached out to me; I felt their nails on my back and remember nothing after that, until I felt another sting on my arm. The paramedics were placing a line under the skin at the back of my hand. They thought I fell and hit the sink, but there was no sign of a head injury, other than the scratch on my forehead. Lorna and the girls came with me in the ambulance. I was feverish for three days after, and it was only when I recovered consciousness, that I realised how badly I was hurt. My back was torn into ribbons and the criss-cross of black stitches ran like railway lines across the skin. Lorna and the children stayed with friends, but the experience had touched all three in a terrible way, Shelly most of all. Lorna told me the child had witnessed the attack and was a nervous wreck.
“She keeps saying that you took their names,” Lorna said. “Shelly says that over and over again. Daddy took the monsters names.”
There was silence for a moment, and Bill used this opportunity to heap more turf onto the fire.
“We never went back there,” Sean said. “Afterwards, when I was fully recovered, physically I mean, I don’t think I’ll ever recover from it mentally, I started to ask questions about the house. The builder laughed at me and dismissed me as a nutcase. Then someone said I should talk to Bill here, and he told me the truth about the foundations.”
“I knew from the minute they dumped the headstones that it would be a place of deep unrest,” Bill said.
“Couldn’t you have sued the builder?” I asked.
“I thought about it,” Sean said. “But where was my proof? He closed one company after another, and there were no assets in his name. My solicitor checked all that out for me, and it would have taken years and money I couldn’t afford, to fight him in the courts, and I’d probably be laughed at in the end.”
“What happened with your family?” I asked.
“Lorna never recovered. Her nerves were already bad and that house was the final straw,” Sean said. “She’s been in hospital for over two months this time, and there’s no hope of a full recovery. Alison was very young, and she seems to have forgotten all about it, but poor Shelly…,” his voice trailed off.
“Shelly died two years ago,” Bill finished the sentence for him.
“She didn’t die two years ago,” Sean’s eyes blazed with anger, and when he turned to look at me, I saw the tears gathering. “She committed suicide” he said. “She took an overdose of pills.”
“I’m so sorry,” I reached out and touched his hand.
“I know, thank you,” he held on to my fingers as though they were a lifeline. “It was the house that killed her. She never recovered from the fright, and the things she saw there. You can’t imagine what her death did to her mother, to all of us.”
Bill refilled Sean’s glass, after persuading him to stay the night. Sean stood up as I was saying my goodbyes. He staggered a little, and it was obvious that the whiskey was taking effect.
“If anyone ever tells you that a ghost can’t hurt you,” he said, as he pulled his shirt free from his trousers. “Tell them about this,”
He pulled the shirt up under his chin and I saw the raised, white lines of the scars on his stomach. He turned so I could see his back, and I promise you, it was every bit as bad as he said it was.
Bill walked me to my car.
“That poor man,” I said.
“Now you know the story, do you believe it?” He asked.
“Of course, I do, why do you ask?”
“Because nobody else will,” he said, holding the car door open for me.
“You’ll be surprised how many will believe it,” I said, and after a moments thought, added. “I think I’ll go back by the bog road.”
“You do that,” He said.
After promising to come back in the week for another slice of horror, I drove out of the yard. The bog road is narrow and in bad condition, but it meant I didn’t have to pass that accursed house. I pushed up the rear view mirror so I didn’t have to look in it. I was nervous after listening to Sean’s story, and afraid of what I might see looking back at me. The three miles drive down the lonesome road seemed to take forever, and I didn’t look left or right, aware of the barren landscape and the ghost lights that are seen there. For the first time I was glad when the lights of the main road came into view, and I was done with the darkness for another while.
That’s it for another week, dear reader. Bill has supplied me with a wealth of ghost stories to keep you entertained well up until the witching season, Halloween. Sleep well.
Copyright © 2011 Gemma Mawdsley
Just wanted to let you know that I am starting work on Monday, writing the investigations of Soul Searchers, the wonderful Irish Paranormal group. They investigate haunting all over the country and I will be adding my own brand of magic, to bring you their real ghost stories. Go on and have a look at their site. it’s here on Facebook and you can also find them on my web and blog sites. You are about to get a whole new take on paranormal investigations, not just creepy surroundings and bleeping machines, but we will bring you into our world and lift the veil, so you get a peek into the unknown. I know you will love reading the book. Should be in the shops early next year and I will keep you up to date on our progress. Don’t worry, I will still be posting my blog every Friday.
I’m heading off tomorrow morning in search of another ghost story. Believe it or not, I’ll be meeting with a man who describes himself as a gravedigger. I’ve known him since I was a child and he’s now in his eighties and still working in the graveyard. My uncle rang to say Old Tom had a story for me and I was ordered to be there tomorrow morning. There’s a secret concerning the graveyard, my uncle hinted, but refused to say more on the subject and I can’t figure out what it could be. I spent most of my childhood holidays here and have never noticed anything odd about the place, other than like all graveyards, it’s gloomy. I’ve been tormented since I got the phone call, because there are countless generations of my family buried there and I would hate to think their rest is being disturbed by some menace or other. Either way, I’ll find out tomorrow and let you know all about it on Friday. God, I hope the sun is shining, because there’s nothing worse than standing among graves when the sky is overcast and the trees send darting shadows along the walls. Sleep tight, I know I won’t.
The world has never been kind to lovers. Those who have fallen in love unwisely have often met with the most horrifying acts of cruelty, even death. From the middle ages and right up to the present day, we read of those who have suffered at the hands of disapproving parents, whose anger has spurred them to terrible acts of violence and murder. My story this week concerns two such lovers, but it is not the classic boy meets girl tale. I first heard the story many years ago from a school friend who swore she had an encounter with one of the ghosts. It was only when I met her last week, that the memory of it came flooding back and I asked her to tell me about it again. She was slow to do so, because when she told it to us, a group of silly teenagers all those years ago, we laughed at it. Still. I managed with some gentle persuasion to get the story out, and I promise you, not one word has changed in the telling. I’ve noticed that stories such as this get added to over the passage of time, and it is only the truthful ones that remain the same. The stories I bring to you every week are those I believe in and are not something I write to fill a page. To start I will give you a brief outline of her tale and the rest I have managed to fill in by going to this most haunted place and walking it grounds.
It is one of the oldest remaining convents inIrelandand it was here that my friend Jane was sent for a year as a boarder, while her father took a job abroad. It is situated on the edge of the sea in the most remote spot imaginable and over a hundred miles from the nearest town. Jane’s face grew pale as she recalled her first glimpse of the place, with it medieval spires and dark, forbidding façade. The nuns were kindness itself, she says, and she soon settled in, despite her fears. It had become the custom of the other girls, to tell ghost stories after lights out, and Jane was introduced to these almost from the beginning. Being a young and enlightened young woman, she laughed them off and no matter how frightening the tale, she refused to believe a word she heard, imagining the stories were planted by the nuns to keep them in their beds at night. The only other buildings near the convent were a small group of cottages about a mile away and a pub. It was here that the girls liked to sneak off to at the weekend. They pooled their pocket money to buy cider, and cigarettes for those who smoked. A hunting party of sorts set out every Friday night, while the girls who stayed behind covered for them and waited impatiently for them to return with the goods. Jane was there over ten months when it came to her turn to go to the pub. Six of them set out that night, but Jane forgot her money and had to go back to the dorm. The others were already outside as she crept down the back stairs and tip-toed along the dark corridor to the back door.
“It was then that I saw her,” Jane said. “The figure of the nun was standing by the door and there was no way I could get past her without being seen. Neither could I turn around, so I decided to face the music and take what punishment was coming to me. I remember wondering, as I walked towards her, why the habit she wore was white. There were no novices in the convent. My legs felt like lead as I moved closer and goose pimples rose on my arms as the air seemed colder the nearer I got. She was looking around her, as though searching for something and it wasn’t until I stood in front of her that she became aware of my presence. I cursed my bad luck for not realising how distracted she seemed. If I’d kept my head I could have made it safely back to the dorm.”
“She looked up at me,” Jane said.
I waited for her to continue.
“I have never seen such sadness in a face,” Jane’s eyes filled with tears and she was forced to clear her throat. “I know it’s silly,” she brushed away a tear. “But even after all this time, I can see her as plainly as I see you. She was about my age, but very pale. The few strands of hair that peeped from beneath her wimple were blond, but it was her eyes I will remember forever. It’s hard to describe the pain I saw there. It was a look of hopelessness; of a loss so great it could never be imagined. Tears sprang to my eyes, as they have now,” Jane smiled. “Even I, a gawky, teenager felt her pain and I forgot my worry about being caught, in my need to help her. I put out my hand to touch her arm and she vanished. Just like that, can you believe it? I must have screamed, as the next thing I remember was being led back to bed by the nuns who tutted about sleepwalking and my overactive imagination. I had two months left at the convent, but I was sent home earlier to stay with my aunt. My nerves were very bad after the encounter and the nuns thought it best that I leave. It took me a while to recover, remember I was late starting the autumn term?”
I nodded; I did remember Jane coming to school well after the term started.
“I was very ill for a while and even now, no matter where I travel, I make sure the hotel is not a former convent or monastery. I’m afraid of seeing something like that again. I don’t think my nerves could take it and I wouldn’t ever want to see the vision of hopelessness I once saw. I switch off the TV when those adverts come on about famine, because I know I will see reflected in those starving children’s eyes the same look.”
This, my friends is her story and one I believe. So last Monday I set off for the convent to try and find out the full story of the ghostly nun and the reason for her endless quest. The journey would take me over a hundred and sixty mile from my home and through some of the most ravaged land inIreland. I had to stay overnight at a hotel a few miles from the convent, as I couldn’t possibly make it there and back in one day, not if I wanted to find out the truth. The first part of the drive was pleasant, with wide roads and very little traffic. I stopped at a bustling seaside town and took a short stroll along the beach to stretch my legs. I knew once I left this place that the roads would become narrower, and I would have to be on my guard for stray sheep and chugging tractors. I also knew the landscape I would encounter as the miles spread by and was not looking forward to it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the countryside, especially in summer when the grass is lush and springy underfoot, but there is something depressing about the land in this place. Like most parts ofIrelandit was once ravaged by famine, but here, in this dark place, it has never recovered. I turned the car radio up and tried to ignore the endless fields of giant rocks marred with green lichen.
Once I had checked into the hotel I set out for the convent. I found it strange that it wasn’t mentioned on any of the leaflets available to tourists, but thought it was down to the fact that it isn’t open to the public. It was late afternoon when I reached the small village Jane told me about. It is, as she said, no more than a cluster of cottages that huddle together in a small hollow to avoid the harsh breeze from the sea. It’s the smell that hits you as you step out of the car; the salty, briny scent of seaweed drying on the rocks that sticks to the back of your throat. I went in to the pub. It was empty and the barman polishing glasses seemed glad to see me. We made the usual small talk and I told him why I was there. I found that it’s easier to tell the truth and appearing furtive tends to make people wary.
“Ah, poor sister Theresa,” he said. “Sure everyone round here knows about her.”
“Really, I thought it was supposed to be a secret?” I was surprised by his answer.
“Oh, yes, it is, the worst kept secret ever,” he laughed, took my offer of a drink and I sat down on a bar stool.
“It’s a well-known story,” he continued. “I don’t know the full thing, something about her falling in love. The person you want to talk to is old Ma Cusack. She lives in one of the cottages across the way. Today’s the day she goes to town to visit the doctor, but she’ll be back this evening. I’ll show you her cottage on your way out. Call back about eight. I’ll tell her you’re calling and she’ll be glad of the company. She knows all the old ghost stories from hereabout, and she likes the odd glass of stout.”
“Great,” I asked for six of the half pint bottles from behind the bar.
They would serve as a peace offering, if it turned out she didn’t like strangers calling. John, the barman walked me to the door and pointed out her cottage. Since it was still late afternoon, I decided to drive up to the convent and have a look. I can now understand Jane’s sense of foreboding the first time she saw it. It is perched on a large rock formation and stand shadowing the land like some huge beast of prey, ready to pounce. As I stood looking up at it, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if it lurched forward and tried to devour me. The building itself is 17th century. I know this because I read what little information is available on the place, but there is evidence of other styles. Stout buttresses have been added to strengthen the walls and the windows are of the usual Gothic arch one comes to expect of churches and the like. There is a balcony that runs the length of the first floor and beneath it a large wooden door. A small mesh grill at eye level is covered now, but it can be drawn back to view the visitor, and a large old-fashioned bell with a rope pulley. I was tempted to pull on it, but decided against it.
As I walked back to the car, I was aware of eyes watching me from inside and turned round. The setting sun made it difficult to make out anything other than shadowy forms. I had noticed a small graveyard to the side of the building and pretending to drive away, I moved the car until it was hidden by the trees lining the road and got out. The silence made me catch my breath. Once I stepped inside the rusting railing, it seemed that all sound ceased. I’m sure the birds were still singing somewhere and I think it is the overall landscape that I find depressing and so imagined the loss of sound. It is obvious that the graveyard is still in use, as the new headstones gleamed among the older, grey, forgotten ones. There are three tombs, the lettering faded and unreadable, but they stand out as a reminded of richer times. Large oak trees dot the grounds and cast gloomy shadows over the graves. The silence still seemed eerie and I felt removed from ordinary life. On my return to the hotel, I appreciated the sound of car doors slamming and the excited chatter of children’s voices.
I had enough of the dead for one day.
After a nice dinner, I set off for the village. A lamp shone through a gap in the curtains of Ma Cusack’s cottage and I saw her small figure hunched in a chair by the fire. It took her a few moments to answer my knock and I waited with growing trepidation, unsure of my welcome. I needn’t have worried as she turned out to be the sweetest old lady you can imagine and she invited me in as though I were a long lost cousin. Soon I was seated by the fire and my gift of six bottles of stout accepted graciously. After I refused a drink, she poured one for herself and sat opposite me.
“John told me all about your work,” she said. “I think it must be fascinating. I didn’t think young people were interested in ghost stories any more.”
After assuring her that they were, I asked about the convent and its ghosts.
“There are two ghosts,” she explained. “One is Sister Theresa and the other Johnny, her eighteen-year-old boyfriend.”
I told her Jane’s story and how she had seen the nun, but I had not heard about the boy before.
“Ah, it was a long time ago,” she said. “And the nuns would prefer it forgotten.”
This is how the story begins.
Over a hundred and fifty years ago, a young girl called Doris Wilson was left orphaned at the age of twelve. Her only living relative was an aunt, her mother’s sister andDoriswas left in her care.Doris’s father was a very rich man and on coming of age at eighteen, she would be a very wealthy young woman. Her aunt hated the child, as her husband had once been in love with her sister,Doris’s mother, and she didn’t want the girl to be a constant reminder to him as to what might have been. It was decided thatDoriswould be put into the care of the nuns at the convent, who accepted her gladly, when the aunt whispered about her wealth. IfDorisremained with them, they would be entitled to all of her money. So Doris, a sad and lonely child was packed off. One can only wonder at the terror she felt been driven miles away from home to this desolate place. The nuns were kind to her and she fit in well with her unassuming manner and quiet grace. She was fascinated by the young novices, who floating around the dark corridors in their white habits, like pretty little ghosts. The girls were set different tasks and asDorisseemed to have green fingers, she was sent to work in the gardens, planting the vegetables and tending the flowers for the altar. The next four years passed uneventfully and at sixteen she became a novice, taking the name of Sister Theresa. By this time her aunt’s husband had died and there was no one who cared what she did. It was a lonely life for a young woman and as the months passed, she became aware of her blossoming womanhood and started to question her calling to the church.
Towards the end of summer that year, the sisters decided to expand the gardens and hired a young man to assist the aging gardener. Johnny was eighteen-years-old and the moment he and the little novice met; it was love at first sight. Like Theresa, he was an orphan and his life had been a hard one. He made the shy sixteen-year-old girl laugh, and as they worked side by side every day, the bond between them strengthened. For the first time Sister Theresa knew what it was to be love and be loved. Their meeting had to be kept private and the only place safe and out of prying eyes was in the graveyard. One of the tombs has steps that lead down to the door and it was here they met each evening at twilight. It was here also that consumed by passion, they made the mistake that was to be the death of them.
When her stomach started to swell, Theresa, at first, had no idea what was wrong with her. The sickness that sent her rushing for the toilet every morning made the older nuns suspicious and they had her examined. One can only imagine their outrage when they learned that the novice was pregnant, and it didn’t take much detective work to figure out who the father was. Theresa was confined to her room, but managed to get word to Johnny about her condition. There was a small rock outside the church door that they used to conceal their love notes to one another. Having bribed one of the boarders, Theresa kept him updated on events within the convent and her fears for their unborn child. Since the discovery of her pregnancy, the nuns’ attitude had changed towards her. Her inheritance was due in two years time and already they felt the gold slipping through their fingers. They became cruel, starving the young woman and beating her. When Johnny heard this he vowed they would run away together, and told her to be waiting outside by the tomb in the graveyard that night. His note was intercepted by the watching nuns’ and Theresa had no idea that as she read what was her ticket to freedom and happiness, dark deeds were being plotted against them and her happiness would be short lived.
Copyright © 2011 Gemma Mawdsley
That’s it for this week, my friends. The story will conclude next Friday.