This is my latest profile photo for Locating the Gothic. I’ve told you about the wonderful events we have planned for the autumn and while I know it’s hard to think about this when the sun is shining, the winter is inevitable. So don’t leave it until the wind is howling in the chimney and ghostly fingers tap at your window panes to have a look at the site.
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.
It’s going to be a busy week as I set out to find a literary agent in the U.K and America. I’m hoping to find someone who shares my passion for the Gothic novel rather than the bloody gore one associates with horror. So, fingers crossed I find someone who gets my writing and with whom I can share my vision.
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.
Twilight seems the favorite time for ghosts. In those last few minutes, as day surrenders to night, they are allowed to roam. It’s understandable, when you think about it, as the sun sets and shadows deepen. They belong to this place, the land of shadow, caught between light and dark, in a world of endless night. We must pity these poor soul and leave them be. Nothing could be worse than their timeless wandering, and we must pray that our own fate never mirrors theirs.
It will soon be that magical time of year again, Halloween. The shops are filled with costumes, giant spider webs and broomsticks, though they have to vie with the early addition of Christmas goodies. Still, we welcome any reason to celebrate as the dark night come ever closer. The air has changed too. It now smells of wood smoke and at night, the first hint of frost makes its clean and fresh. The weathermen predict the onset of winter this weekend and the crying of its wind always brings to mind ghostly tales. Don’t worry about that tiny glimpse you catch from the corner of your eye. It’s nothing more than the scurrying of nocturnal creatures or the way the shadows fall. Or is it?
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.