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.
The air in the attic smelt musty, mould hung from the rafters, trailing green tendrils that touched her face. Nora brushed them aside and shone her torch around the room. The trunk she was looking for was in the farthest corner and she chose her step with care, picking her way across the joists. If she put one foot wrong it meant plunging through the ceiling. Placing the torch on a box, she fumbled with the ancient lock and nodded in satisfaction as the lid groaned open. The smell from the interior was more pungent than the one surrounding her and she wafted her hand in front of her face. She knelt down, the wood as rough as glass on her tender knees, but she had to find the things she needed. They were all there, just as she’d left them many years ago; the herbs and dried roots, the potions still safe in the bottles and most importantly the grimoire, the book of power that would show her what to do. She stuffed the small bottles and herbs in to the pockets of her cardigan and tucked the book under her arm.
Her eyes travelled to the old suitcase beside the trunk, but she willed herself not to look. It held the few baby clothes she kept and she couldn’t bear to view them, not now. Her daughter, like many of the women in her family, had died before her time.
“Six months,” Nora muttered. “That’s all the time we had together, child.”
No, she could not think about it. She tore her eyes away. There was work to be done.
She was panting as she navigated the joists and relieved when she reached the top of the wooden ladder.
“Move, Seth,” she called to the dog, who was standing sentry at the bottom.
He got out of the way just in time, as the huge book flew down and landed with a thump on the floor. Nora didn’t bother to close the attic door. She would put everything back when she was finished. Seth followed at her heels as she made her way down in to the kitchen. She sat at the table and started to leaf through the book’s yellow and brittle pages.
“Yes, this is the one,” she read aloud words written in an ancient language and the dog cocked his ear at the strange sounds.
Nora spent the next few hours grinding and cooking the things she needed for the spells. She had been a child when she last seen the book put to use and her husband had forbid her to practise any of her strange arts, as he referred to them. She was descended from women of power, a power that lay dormant within her until now.
Dusk was falling by the time she was finished. The few streetlights that still had unbroken bulbs came on and a cold mist descended. Nora picked up the animals feeding bowls and scraped food from a tin in to each one. Next she poured some of the potion and mixed it with the food. Before placing it on the floor, she filled a small glass with the same potion and swallowed the lot in one quick gulp. It ran like fire through her body until it reached her stomach where it lay for a moment before spreading its warmth until her senses swam. She gripped the cold sink until the room steadied itself once more.
“It’s all right,” she looked down at the worried faces of the cat and dog.
Placing their bowls on the floor, she urged them to eat.
“Finish it all, my pets,” she smiled as they tucked in.
She felt better than she had in years, empowered, she thought. The hand that stroked the dog’s head was no longer veined and spotted with age. She held it up to the light and wondered at this. There was only one mirror in the house and that hung in the dark hallway. Nora turned on the light and gazed at her reflection. She was seventy-four-years-old and up to a few minutes ago looked every one of her years. Now, she looked younger, not girl young, but the fire within her had knocked at least twenty years off her age. She brought a hand to her face and felt the smoothness of the skin. She had never been a beauty and no one would call her such now, but she looked better. Turning off all the lights, she picked her way through the dark shapes of the furniture in the sitting room and stood at the window. So far no one had called at her house looking for treats, which was just as well, as the yob had taken her meagre few. She dreaded to think what those who were refused would do if they did call. There were childish screams as a small vampire, witch and mummy ran past her gate. They looked like wraiths scampering through the white mist. She sighed and waited for the night to deepen. It was cold in the house, cold and damp. There was no central heating and other than a coal fire nothing to banish the icy fingers creeping along her skin. It was too early in the year to spend money on fuel, so she put on more layers and went to bed earlier when the nights were longer.
She sat on the threadbare couch and pulled a shawl around her shoulders. The cat came in and leapt up beside her and the dog huddled down at her feet.
“There’s nothing to do but wait for them to come,” she patted the cat. “And they will come. Why wouldn’t they? The street vermin need to have there blood-lust fed and picking on an old women is the easiest way they know.”
The curtains were left open so the blaze from the nearest oil barrel reflected off the glass. Dark shapes circled the flames and cars drew up from time to time, their occupants in need of the poisons that fed their cravings. The chimes on the mantle clocked counted out the hour. It was cold on the stroke of midnight when she heard them outside her door.
“Wait here, my pets,” she stood up straighter than she had in years and went to answer the fist that was beating on the wood.
“Yes,” she was looking straight in to the face of the yob who had scarred her.
He drew back a little, not sure for a moment if it was her. He was with his friend, his right hand man, as she’d heard him referred too and behind him stood his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, a tight top proudly displaying her swollen belly.
Mark Jones, the yob, could not lose face, so rolling his shoulders back; he started his usual tirade of filth. It began in the usual way.
“Your dog nearly bit my little brother,” he jabbed an accusing finger at her. “You better keep the fuckin thing under control, do you hear me, you old witch or I’ll cut its throat.”
I must say I’m surprised,” Nora caught the look between Mark’s girlfriend and his right hand man.
“I’ll give you surprised, you old cow,” he made his fist in to a ball.
Before he could strike, Nora words stopped him.
“I think you words belie your true natural, after all you are willing to raise another man’s child as your own.”
“What?” Spittle flew from his mouth as he struggled to speak.
“Am I the bearer of bad news?” Nora smiled. “So sorry, but the truth must out.”
“Forget her,” his girlfriend pulled at his jacket. “She’s mad, everyone says so.”
“Fuck off,” he shook her off. “What do you mean?” He asked Nora.
“Ask her,” Nora nodded to the girl, who was retreating down the path.
“Hey, come back here,” all thoughts of Nora were forgotten as he took off after her.
She watched as the girl placed both hands beneath her bump and tried to run.
“There’s going to be fuckin murder,” Mark’s right hand man muttered, as he took off after them.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Nora smiled.
Nora no longer recognised the housing estate that had been her home for over fifty years. The tidy gardens were now littered with an assortment of rubbish from empty drink cans and broken bottles to other unsavoury things she didn’t dare think about. Most of the surrounding houses were derelict and an attempt had been made at boarding them up. The barriers the council put up to keep the human scavengers out never lasted long. She shivered as she recalled the nights spent listening to the groans of the boards as they were wrenched from their housings. The wood was used to feed the huge oil barrels that blazed each night throughout the estate.
“Time to go out,” she picked up her cat, which was dozing on a chair and carried her in to the kitchen.
All Hallow’s Eve dawned dry and cold. Perfect weather for the children to do their trick or treating, Nora thought, as she placed the cat on the ground. It looked at her in disgust before turning its tail up and walking away. She smiled at its antics and watched as it made its way to the bottom of the garden. The trees in the little wood outside the wall looked sombre. It was no longer a playground for children, but a dark, sinister place. She ran her hands down the sleeves of her faded cardigan, trying to brush away the cold. The wood was deserted now, but she saw them at night; the dark shapes scurrying through the trees. The glass shards she cemented in to the wall, in the hope of keeping them out, glistened under the watery sunlight, but they did little to add to her sense of security. The little timber gate in the centre of the wall was kicked down countless times and her hands were too old and bent from arthritis to repair it. She walked back inside and turned the key in the lock. It was wishful thinking that the frail door would keep anyone out. Shrugging on her black coat, she tied a scarf under her chain and picked up her old wicker basket.
“Come on, old fellow,” she called to her dog, Seth. “Time to go shopping.”
He looked up at her bleary-eyed and groaned. Like his mistress he did not relish the daily trek to the shops. She warned him to keep his temper in check as the last time he showed his objection to the way the street vermin treated his mistress it had resulted in a visit from the police, with a warning to keep the dog in check or else. He knew she depended on him for company and he could do nothing more than walk by her side and behave in much the same way as the stupid cat. It made him feel worthless, but if he kept his mistress happy then so be it.
“Come along,” she held the door open for him. “You’ll have no dinner otherwise.”
Leaning heavily on her walking stick she started down the path. She didn’t really need the stick, but it would serve as a weapon if need be. It was still too early for the druggies and the dealers. All would be sleeping off the effects of last night. Nora nodded to one or two of the old neighbours, but kept her head down for the most part. It was best not to make eye contact with anyone and as the pavement was cracked it meant she could choose her footing with care. Seth growled, as a mongrel crept out from one of the abandoned houses, but the animal was too ill and staved to offer any threat. There were many such animals roaming the estate; dozens of feral dogs and cats abandoned in much the same way as the houses.
The only shop still open in the area was kitted out like a prison. Stout bars lined the windows and razor wire ran the length of the roof. Nora ordered the few items she needed and packed them in to her basket.
“I see the eye is healing up nicely,” Joe, the shopkeeper remarked on the cut above her eye.
A stone, thrown by one of the yobs had met it marks and the cut required four stitches.
“Yes, thank you,” Nora said. “It’s not too bad now.”
“It’s a bloody disgrace that decent people can’t go about their business in peace.”
Everyone had an idea of what should be done to better the estate, but no one was acting on it. After saying her goodbyes, she began the short walk home. Seth walked before her, sniffing the ground, searching for new scents. The skeleton of a burnt out car sat on one of the green areas and it became a playground of sorts for some of the children. They were three of them sitting in its ravaged innards now, so Nora crossed the road rather than pass them. They knew she was easy game and would lose no time in picking on her. Things could have been so different, Nora thought if her daughter had lived and her husband hadn’t run off, but that was long ago; too many decades for wishful thinking. She tried to banish such thought from her mind as the loneliness threatened to overwhelm her.
“Look at the witch.”
She picked up her pace and tried to ignore the taunting voice.
“Hey, witch,” the boy ran in front of her and was soon joined by his other two companions.
He was no more than ten or eleven years old and should be in school. Nora knew enough to keep such things to herself and she kept walking.
“Fuckin old witch,” one boy sneered. “Where’s your broom?”
They fell about laughing at this and Nora felt her heart race as they stood in a line blocking her way.
“Let me pass, please,” she hugged her basket closer.
“Let me pass,” the mimicked her soft tone.
Seth bared his teeth and his growls of warning rumbled like thunder in the silence.
“You better watch it,” one of the boys said. “My dad will have that mutt put down if it touches me.”
“Seth will not touch you if you let us pass.”
They eyed the dog warily and moved apart just enough to let her pass. One of them jostled her as she squeezed through and she lost her footing and fell against some railing. She managed to grab one of the rusted bars so she didn’t hit the ground, but she banged her side. Her basket fell from her hands and the contents went spilling out on to the dirty ground. The boys laughed as she staggered to her feet and one of them scooped up the packet of biscuits she’d bought as a rare treat and the bag of sweets for the few children who would call that night. Saliva dripped from Seth’s mouth as he gnashed his teeth and made small lunges at her attackers.
“Don’t,” Nora whispered and the dog drew back.
Tired with their game, the boys started to walk away.
“Thanks for the goodies, witch,” one called over his shoulder.
Nora concentrated on picking up the rest of her shopping. Her side ached and she could feel the bruise begging to form in her skin.
“Come on, Seth,” she was glad of the solidness of the walking stick as her knees shook from fright.
The boys had returned to the burnt out car and their laughter followed her all the way home. It took her a while to get the key in the lock of the front door as her trembling fingers refused to stay still. Placing her basket inside the door, she turned back and looked back to where the boys were sitting. Seth followed her gaze and looked up at her in question.
“Do you know what tonight is boy?” She looked down in to his big eyes. “It’s All Hallow’s. Do you remember, Seth?”
The gleam within his eyes flared until they burned like fire. Of course he remembered, but that was long ago and something his mistress ordered he forget.
“That’s right, boy. Tonight belongs to us and it’s time we showed those who torment us the full meaning of Halloween.”
Her cat, which was lurking in the bushes, ran forward and rubbed against her legs; purring her pleasure at her mistress’s words, because black cats remember too.
copyright © Gemma Mawdsley
Hello to all my friends on WordPress and sorry I haven’t posted for so long. I’m working on my new novel for young adults, Shadow Self and numerous other projects, so it’s been a very busy few months. Just popping in to say that I will be posting a new story for Halloween on Friday next. Well, I couldn’t let the occasions pass without a ghost story. I’m writing it at the moment and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I am enjoying writing it. Until Friday my friends, stay safe.
Purgatory Part 3
A thin mist hovered over the grass and the air was chill when Kitty opened her bedroom window. The sun was a hazy, orange ball against the backdrop of the surrounding trees and it struggled to dispel the last of the night’s lingering darkness. She could have stayed in bed for another hour, but her sleep had been restless of late and it was easier to get up and not lie about tossing and turning. The house was silent and other than the first calling of a songbird there was nothing to disturb her morning prayers. Kneeling down beside the bed she made the sign of the cross and laced the worn rosary beads between her fingers. She asked the usual things of God, protection for her family and those she loved and peace for those lying beneath the earth. Her last plea was one she had repeated over and over for the past three months, but she knew it would not be answered; not now, if the screams echoing across the fields were anything to go by.
Running to the window, she looked across the garden and the wraith-like figure staggering through the mist. The Mister would hear her for sure and then there would be hell to pay. She tip-toed down the stairs in her bare feet, cringing at each creak of the old boards. The cold, stone flags on the kitchen floor burned her warm flesh, but she ignored the discomfort in her need to get outside. The grass was wet with morning dew and sharp stones nipped at her feet, but she took no notice as she ran across to where Ruth had fallen.
“What happened?” Kitty tried to pull her up, but she refused to move.
Ruth’s sobs echoed in the still air and Kitty cast a furtive glance back at the house, praying the Mister wouldn’t hear.
“Stop,” Kitty shook the weeping girl. “Your brother will hear you and you know what will happen then.”
There was no need to ask again what was troubling the girl. It was as Kitty had suspected since the beginning.
“He’s left me,” Ruth beat her hands against her face.
“Stop that,” Kitty pulled her hands away and held them before she did herself harm.
Ruth’s cries had woken Joan and she came running across the grass, her expression a mixture of confusion and fear.
“What in the name of god is wrong with her?” She looked from Kitty to the weeping girl.
“The gypsies have gone,” Kitty hugged Ruth closer as she struggled to break free.
They half carried, half dragged Ruth towards the yawning mouth of the barn. The hay-filled building would be more soundproof and help to muffle her cries. They laid her down in a pile of hay and stood looking at one another, unsure of what to do.
“He said he would take me with him,” Ruth sobbed. “I was to meet him at dawn, but he had already left.”
“I knew this would happen,” Kitty whispered to Joan. “There was something not right about that man.”
She knelt down beside Ruth and took her hand.
“It’s going to be all right,” Kitty said.
“No, it’s never going to be all right again,” Ruth took a handkerchief from the sleeve of her dress and wiped her nose. “I loved him, I really loved him and he said he loved me.”
“Aye, they all say that,” Joan shook her head at the girl’s ignorance.
“I thought he meant it,” Ruth’s voice was hoarse from crying. “We were supposed to get married. I ran down the road trying to find him, but there was no sign of the caravans.”
For a while the two women sat beside her and offered what little comfort they could until Joan said.
“I’ll have to go back inside. The Mister will be up soon and expecting his breakfast.”
Kitty walked with her to the door of the barn.
“What am I going to do with her?” She looked back to where Ruth lay.
“Keep her here until he’s gone. I’ll come back once the coast is clear and we can get her to her room. At least the Mister doesn’t know about this and that’s one thing we can be thankful for.”
“He may find out,” Kitty’s eyes were wide with fear. “She’s been sick these last few mornings.”
“No,” Joan brought a hand to her mouth to still her cry. “You don’t think…?” She left the sentence unfinished.
“I do,” Kitty felt her own eyes fill up with tears.
From inside the barn Ruth sobbed and cried out.
“I don’t want to live any more. I want to die.”
“She should be careful what she wishes for,” Joan said. “When the Mister finds out there’s going to be murder.”
Ruth’s pregnancy became impossible to disguise and by her sixth month her brother was beginning to notice that something was wrong. He teased her about growing fat, but his eyes strayed from the few morsels of food on her plate to her ashen face. Joan and Kitty stood outside the dining room door and listened as he roared with rage. “How could she bring such shame on the family?” He bellowed.
Ruth sobbed and begged him to forgive her, but he would not be placated.
“You’ll name the culprit,” John said. “And by god he’ll marry you.”
The women edged closer to the door and tried to hear Ruth’s reply, but it was obvious from what happened next that she told him the truth. There was the sound of furniture being overthrown and the door crashed open.
“I suppose you knew about this?”
He didn’t wait to hear the women’s answer, but rushed by them and out in to the yard. He returned in seconds holding a bamboo cane.
“Please, Mister,” Kitty tried to catch his arm as he passed, but he shook her aside.
He went in to the dining room where Ruth still sat in shocked silence and slammed the door. Her screams mingled with the swishing of the cane as it fell again and again until the women could bear it no longer.
“Stop,” Kitty screamed, and grabbed on to the arm welding the cane.
He was so strong he lifted her off the floor, but she held on.
“You’ll kill her and the child,” Joan said, as she helped the injured girl to her feet.
“Good, I hope she dies,” John was crying with temper. “Her and her bastard.”
He was so overcome with rage and disgust that he made no attempt to stop the women as they led his sister from the room. They took her upstairs and pulled off the torn clothes to get a better view of the damage. Ruth’s back, legs and arms were criss-crossed with the marks of the cane. In many place the skin had split and was bleeding. Joan went to the kitchen to fetch the things she needed to tend to the injuries.
“What’s going to become of me?” Ruth looked up at Kitty.
“I don’t know pet,” Kitty reached out and brushed a lock of Ruth’s sweat-soaked hair from off her forehead. “We’ll have to wait until your brother calms down.”
“Look,” Ruth lifted the blanket that the women had covered her with. “He even hit the baby.”
An angry-looking welt was raised high on Ruth’s swollen belly.
“The baby will be all right,” Kitty assured her, but she was wrong in that assumption.
John did relent in the end. After much pleading from Kitty and Joan he decided that his sister could remain in the house, but she was never to step foot outside the property again. When the child was born it was to be sent away for adoption. Ruth had no other choice than to agree to these conditions at a time when there was no outside help for women in her position. From the moment John learned about his sister’s pregnancy, he never spoke another word to her unless absolutely necessary and this would remain so up until the day he died over forty years later. From then it became a house of whispers and long, dead silences. It was worse after the birth of Eve, Ruth’s daughter. Kitty and Joan looked down at the newborn and crossed themselves with fear. It was obvious from the child’s face that something serious was wrong. They went to the Mister and begged him to get a doctor, but he refused. Still, the child lived.
“Such a strange-looking baby,” Ruth stared down at her sleeping child. “Don’t you think she looks like a fairy?”
“If you say so,” Kitty did not want to voice her opinion.
The child would remain with her mother as John realised no one would want to adopted, what he considered, a monster. He spoke to Ruth just the once on the day after Eve’s birth.
“Your baby is cursed,” he told the distressed girl. “You will be reminded every day of your sin, when you look in to her face.”
As the time passed the child’s disabilities became more obvious. She was unable to sit up unaided until she was a year old. It was later still when she took her first tentative steps on legs not designed for walking. Ruth saw none of the child’s flaws and greeted each action as any new mother would, but soon even she had to admit that there was something very wrong with her daughter. Eve’s eyes were mere slits and a large forehead dominated her little face. Her mouth was twisted so her teeth grew crooked. She dribbled when she tried to form words that never made any sense. Despite her suffering Eve was a pleasant child who thrived on the love and support of her mother and the other women. She knew nothing but love as she played around the house and the small section of garden that John made available to her. There were never any callers at the farm now as John had erected No Trespassing notices. He had also sold all of his stock, so there was no need to take on any more seasonal staff. He planted crops where the sheep had once grazed and other than the few farm hands tied to the cottages on the estate; there was no one to witness what he called his shame. Eve had no idea who he was, and other than running from him whenever he appeared, she stayed out of his way. Something primeval warned that he was a bad man. Sadly, this was true. His sister’s shame had changed him and he was bitter and spiteful. The anger he felt came to a head one particularly bad winter when the trees hung heavy with snow and the crying of the bitter north wind heralded many to their graves. Eve’s coughing echoed through the house until he was forced to shout at his sister to “keep that bastard quiet.”
Ruth sat in bed holding the child and listening to the wheezing that accompanied each gasping breath. Kitty and Joan gave what little money they had and sent for a doctor who diagnosed pneumonia. The child would need medicine and certain foods if she was to recover. Despite the cold, John had forbidden the women to light the fire in his sister’s room so the air was freezing, the bedclothes damp to the touch. This was just one of the many tortures he liked to inflict on Ruth and her child. Worried to distraction, Ruth went to him one evening as he sat beside the blazing kitchen fire. She explained her need for money and begged him to help her. Without replying John stood and went in to the room he used as an office. He returned carrying an old shoe box and sat back down beside the fire. Ruth felt her heart swell with relief when he removed the lid to expose its contents. Layer upon layer of banknotes lay inside.
“I don’t need much,” Kitty and Joan heard her say. “A few pounds will make all the difference. Just enough to buy the medicine that Eve needs.”
“Let me show you exactly what I think of you and your bastard,” John said.
Ruth watched in open-mouthed horror as he picked handfuls of the notes out of the box and threw them on the fire. The green of the pound notes, the red of the ten shilling notes were scattered in to the fire where eager fingers of flame reached out for them. She ran sobbing from the room unable to watch such an evil act, sure that because of it her daughter would die. John did not get his wish and Eve, despite his worst efforts, recovered. She lived in to her fifteenth year and during that time the women never left her side. They surrounded her with love and guarded her like feral dogs. It was because of this care that she lived as long as she did. It was obvious from her disabilities that she was not meant to reach adulthood and her passing was a gentle one. She went to sleep with the feel of her mother’s kiss on her cheek, but she never awoke. Ruth was by now in her thirties and all signs of the beauty she once was had flown. The death of her daughter aged her still as she mourned her loss for the rest of her life. Kitty and Joan paid for the small plot in the graveyard and other than Ruth; they were the only ones there to mourn a child that few knew existed.
Decades passed, seasons came and went, but everything stayed the same within the house. Joan became too old to continue with her work and went to live with her sister in the next county. The loss of her going was hard on Ruth and Kitty and they moved like silent ghosts between the kitchen and the bedrooms, the centre of their world. What money they had came from the few geese and turkeys the Mister allowed Kitty to breed in one of the outbuildings. Any leftover milk was churned to make butter that she sold when she went to market each Saturday. John no longer cared where his sister went so Ruth had free rein within the yard, but she went no further. She was terrified of the neighbours prying eyes and pitying looks.
John became ill. It started off as a cold and then, like his poor, neglected niece it turned in to something much worse.
“It’s the consumption, I’m afraid,” the doctor informed the women.
Everyone knew about the disease called Tuberculosis and the way it ravaged the sufferer’s body.
“It’s bad,” the doctor continued. “I can’t see him lasting for much longer. The only thing you can do is keep him warm and try to get him to drink plenty of fluids.”
Kitty felt her blood turn cold when she saw the way Ruth’s eyes hardened at the news.
“We’ll see to him,” she assured the doctor.
That night the women, both by now in their early sixties, sat by the fire and listened to the barking coughing overhead.
“I’ll take him up a cup of tea,” Kitty eased her way out of the chair.
“Stay there,” Ruth waved her back in to her seat. “Remember what he did when I asked him for help?”
Over the next few days Kitty tried to smuggle the odd pitcher of water in to the sick man’s room, but more often than not Ruth stopped her.
“I’ll see to him,” she told the frightened woman.
John’s bed was awash with blood. It stained his pillows and sheets and had caked on to his slivery whiskers where it lay like fire on snow.
“Will you get me a drink for god’s sake,” he rasped up at his sister.
“You want some water?” she held out the pitcher.
“Yes, please, I’m dying of thirst,” his lined tongue licked parched lips in anticipation.
“Here’s your water,” Ruth tipped the pitcher and allowed the water to cascade on to the floor.
Her brother looked up at her in confusion.
“Remember the night I came to you asking for money for my child,” her body shook with anger. “Remember what you did with the money?”
She didn’t wait for a reply, but hobbled away as fast as her aching bones would allow. By morning he was dead.
As his only surviving relative Ruth inherited the estate. Those who still worked on the farm were paid off and given the deeds to the cottages they lived in. There were sufficient funds to keep Ruth and her faithful Kitty in comfort till the end of their days and at first they enjoyed the freedom this gave them. The luxuries they had so long been denied were ordered and the wine cellar restocked. The first few months after John’s death were not the happiest that Ruth had ever known, because she would never be truly happy again, but there was a sense of peace. Until the anniversary of his death. It was winter and a fire burned brightly in Ruth’s room. Outside an angry wind screamed around the house and the first patters of snow rapped on the window pane. She was sleepy after a good dinner and a few glasses of port, when the gentle rapping on her door roused her.
“I think there’s someone downstairs,” Kitty poked her head in.
Living in such an isolated area, the terror of intruders was never far from their mind. Slipping on her dressing gown, Ruth reached for the loaded shotgun she kept under her bed.
“Stay behind me,” she whispered, as they made their way down the creaking stairs.
The hallway was dark and freezing, much colder than seemed possible. Their breaths rose in white plumes before them as they inched their way towards the light that was coming from under the kitchen door.
“Did you leave a light on?” Ruth whispered.
“No, and the fire was low, so there must be someone in there,” Kitty’s said.
Placing herself in the centre of the closed door, Ruth raised the rifle.
“Open it now,” she whispered.
Kitty pushed hard on the wood until it swung open and bounced against the wall behind it. The sound of the crash hung in the air, but did nothing to distract the intruder.
“Sweet Mother of God,” Kitty brought a trembling hand to her heart.
Ruth lowered the gun and staggered against the wall, where she stayed leaning for support. Neither woman could believe what they were witnessing. The fire was blazing as it had in the past and seated before it was the ghost of John Nesbit. His face was as young as it had been on the dreadful night and his actions unchanged as he threw handfuls of banknotes in to the leaping flames. Once again the green and red fluttered in some unholy draught before being shrivelled to ash. Seemingly pleased with his work he turned to where the old women stood and his smile was a leer of pure evil.
How long the vision lasted Kitty doesn’t remember, but it faded within seconds she imagines. I shivered and tried not to look out at the darkening sky. The pattering of rain on the window seemed amplified in the quiet of the kitchen.
“How’s that for a story?” Tom asked.
I shook my head, too overcome to speak. Kitty sipped at her whiskey before wiping a tear from her eye.
“Not done with tormenting her in life, he wouldn’t leave her alone in death,” she sighed. “Every year after that, on the anniversary of his death he comes back to haunt her. Well, not any more,” she looked again at the empty chair beside the long-dead fire.
“Why didn’t she leave?” I asked.
“She was as stubborn as he was, and it was only the one night.”
I couldn’t believe what she was saying. Only the one night!
“I used to lock myself in my room, but Ruth, she went down and faced him every time,” Kitty said.
“It’s terrible,” I said. “And in a way they were both cruel.”
“Oh, I make no excuse for Ruth, but tell me something,” Kitty leaned closer to me. “What would you be capable of if someone harmed your child?”
I knew she was right. None of us knows what we are capable of in such circumstances, but still, I like to think I’d feel some compassion.
“It’s stopped raining,” Tom looked towards the sky and small ray of sunlight trying to part the dark clouds. “We better be off. Do you want to come with us, Kitty?”
“No, I have a few things to sort out here and Timmy Rush is coming to collect me and take me to the station.”
I shook her small hand, the flesh paper thin so I felt the bones beneath.
“I hope you’ll be happy,” I said.
“I will, child,” she assured me. “Ruth left me well provided for and the sale of the land will make sure I never want for nothing.”
“What are you going to do with all the furniture?”
There were some fine antique bits and pieces lying around and it seemed a shame to let them rot.
“I’m sending the bigger pieces to auction,” Kitty said. “You’re welcome to take something as a keepsake if you like.”
“No, thank you,” I said. “I didn’t know Ruth well enough for that.”
“You’ll see to that?” Kitty nodded at the chair in the corner.
“I will indeed,” Tom assured her.
With that we left her and walked out in to the welcoming coolness of the evening breeze. The world had that fresh washed feel that it does after the rain and it was glad to be free of the cloying confines of the kitchen.
“It’s a strange old place,” Tom said, sensing my unease.
We stopped for a moment and looked back at the house. I could have been taken by its beauty, had I not known its history. It is beginning to show signs of neglect and nettles grow along the walls. Once we walked out through the gate I was aware of the silent fields surrounding us and imagined the past ghosts of grazing sheep.
“I remember I saw Ruth once,” I linked my arm through Tom’s. “She was in the shop in the village. Tell me about her?”
“No one knew her really well other than Kitty,” he said. “She seemed old before her time. I can’t say I spoke to her more than a handful of times and only then to pass the time of day. She had a nice face. It showed little of her suffering, but she had a resigned look. I imagined her as kind, I don’t know why. She appeared to be one of those women who wouldn’t dream of putting anyone to trouble on her behalf, do you know what I mean?”
“Yes, I remember her as tiny and sort of bent,” I said. “She was dressed all in black when I saw her.”
“That was the way she always dressed,” Tom said. “She never stopped mourning the death of her daughter. In later years her shoulders were slumped under the weight of her grief. It was a sad, little life.”
“What does Kitty want you to do with the chair?” I asked.
“She wants me to burn it,” he smiled. “She’s afraid that if it goes to auction it will be haunted.”
“Don’t you think that’s possible?”
“No, he’s done with tormenting her now. Well, in life that is. None of us know what happens in the next world.”
Our voices startled the birds as we walked beneath the archway of trees. They rustled the leaves and squawked their annoyance at our intrusion. The canopy provided by the trees, that I once thought pleasing now seemed to be closing in on us. The darting shapes of the birds overhead provoked anxiety rather than pleasure, and I was glad when we reached the end of the lane and heard the normal, everyday sound of traffic.
Copyright©2012 Gemma Mawdsley
- Purgatory Part 2 (gemmamawdsley.wordpress.com)
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.