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Rising BROOK TALES OF THE SUPERNATURAL WRITERS

Things That Go Bump In The Night...


RISING BROOK WRITERS

Disclaimer:To the best of our knowledge and belief all the material included in this publication is in the public domain or has been reproduced with permission and/or source acknowledgement. We have researched the rights on material where possible. Anyone feeling they have a copyright on any item included should contact Rising Brook Writers and if their claim seems valid we will remove the item in question in any reprint or gratefully acknowledge the copyright holder. RBW is a voluntary charitable trust. This community organisation, whose aims are purely educational, is entirely non-profit making. If using material from this anthology for educational purposes please be so kind as to acknowledge RBW as the source. Thank you. © Rising Brook Writers 2007 - Tales Of The Supernatural Contributors retain copyright for their material.

SPECIAL THANKS: Jane Wells, of Stafford Borough Council‟s CultureGen SCC‟s Your Library Team: All the Staff at Rising Brook Branch The Ancient High House Museum Staff for all their valued assistance, especially Jill Fox. The Museum is free of charge to enter Contact Tourist Information: Telephone: 01785 619619 Visit the Museum on the web at: http://www.staffordbc.gov.uk/static/page132.htm SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITY: Why not become an Official Sponsor of Rising Brook Writers? RBW are pleased to offer businesses and local organisations the opportunity to sponsor RBW community workshops programme. Anyone wishing to sponsor our dramatic and written arts projects please contact via website

www.risingbrookwriters.org.uk Rising Brook Writers Voluntary Charitable Trust: RCN 1117227


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Table of Contents: Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: Pages: 45, 48, 53, 88, 94, 124 Supernatural Spine-chillers From The Castle Hotel: Pages: 8, 16, 20, 28, 55, 62, 76, 81, 90, 96, 105, 108, 109, 114 Poems - To Make Your Blood Run Cold: Pages: 38, 73, 80 Haunted Staffordshire Buildings: Pages: 42, 61, 119, 122 Picture Parade: Pages: 118, 121, 128

If you are Over 50 and preparing for a creative retirement why not come along and sample our library workshops? All are warmly welcomed! 3


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DID YOU KNOW? More than half the British public believe in psychic powers such as telepathy and premonitions, a 2005 survey suggested. Of 1,006 randomly selected adults polled for a Readers Digest Magazine Survey, 43% reported reading others' thoughts or having their own minds read by someone else. More than 50% had had a dream or premonition of an event. 26% said they had sensed when a lovedone was ill or in trouble. 20% claimed they had actually seen a ghost and nearly 30% believed that reported near-death experiences were good evidence there was an afterlife. More than 66% said they could sense when someone was looking at them and the same number could tell who was ringing before answering the phone. Strangely, more than 10% thought they could influence machinery or electronic equipment using their minds. Even more scary, one in 10 believed something bad happened to another person after they had wished for it to happen. The survey poll showed women were more likely to believe in paranormal encounters than men. Though over 50% of men said they sometimes knew who was ringing before picking up the phone and 45% had experienced dream premonitions. Despite the high numbers who said they had experienced such strange phenomena, only 9% think they are psychic or in tune with the supernatural. 4


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About : Tales Of The Supernatural Tales Of The Supernatural themed anthology is a collection of stories with a common setting, common characters and common storyline but written by different authors attending a weekly workshop. For the novice writers this concept is scary and very hard to accomplish. They‘ve had to create their characters and write their part of the story then set those characters free for other writers to play with. This sharing of the creative process is enough to make seasoned authors cringe with dread never mind amateur students. Rising Brook Writers are in the main not seasoned authors. Several are mature students of Creative Writing, studying as part of Keele University‘s Professional and Continuing Education outreach programme, others are absolute beginners. Tales Of The Supernatural is Rising Brook Writers‘ Workshops second publication, which will be used as a resource tool for our Senior Citizens Creative Writing Touring Workshops programmes. RBW is sponsored by grant aid from Awards For All, Stafford Borough Council and The Co-operative Bank in 2007. Rising Brook Writers (Staffordshire‟s first creative writing library based group) was formed in 2005 at Rising Brook Branch Library, Stafford. Tales From The Gaiety, a themed anthology homage to Old Time Music Hall, received sponsorship and/or assistance from Age Concern, SCC‘s YOUR Library, Stafford Borough Council and CultureGen for which RBW are very grateful. 5


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CONTRIBUTORS: 

Audrey Rainbow

Michael Reilly

Stephanie Spiers

Clive Hewitt

Anne Picken

Doreen Baines

Angie Burns

Christine Butters

Barbara Barron

Ray Burslem

Clive Massey (Digital Images) GHOST WRITERS: Valued real life paranormal

contributions from those whose anonymity we respect:-

KJR — GS — CS — BS 6


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THE PLOT THICKENS:-

The Art Deco setting for these tales of the paranormal is the isolated semi-ruined Castle Hotel, situated in Glen Grimm on a remote promontory of the West Scottish coastline in the flamboyant 1930s. Settle back to suspend disbelief as we delve into the murky depths of the paranormal unfurling at the ‗Mystery Week-End‘ hosted by the strange MacTavish to mark the end of the current holiday season. Present are a motley assortment of upper crust flotsam and jetsam wandering through life between the wars and enjoying a pampered existence, their every whim waited on hand, foot and finger by below stairs. War-wounded hero, Major ‗Dusty‘ Miller is reunited with his former junior staff officer, ‗Bunny‘ Warren-Cooper, whose restless heart is lost to a stunning blonde over the top of a crystal ball, while tragedy lurks across the table top as the fey Clairvoyant reads the destiny of the thirteen at that Séance — not all presently seated under that starry, obsidian night will see another sunset — retribution and foul murder awaits. As the dark secrets unfold, pulling them all deeper and deeper into its time swirling past many wonder will tragedy repeat itself yet again? Will another young soul be swept away into the maelstrom of previous existence by imprinted echoes surfacing from the void of time? Will the loch‘s chilled black waters each out long misty fingers to reel in another soul to feed a primeval voracious lust for the innocent and unsuspecting. Welcome to The Castle Hotel… 7


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Barbara Barron - Marci Friday: A Journey to The Castle Hotel It was the rhythm of the wheels clacking over the tracks with the strongest beat coming on the part of the rail where the joins were. It was intoning the mantra, ―why am I here, what CAN I be thinking of?‖ Clickety clack. ―Why am I here, what CAN I be thinking of?‖ Clickety clack. Sleepy time Mary, lids getting heavy, eyes fixed on the window of the carriage, unfocussed, seeing yet seeing the changing colours of the English landscape as an Impressionistic fuzz, smeared by a mad artist with a penchant for wiping his thick brush across the canvas THIS way. Gradually as the scene morphs through time and space, the old familiar backdrop of meanness, poverty, respectability and imminent tragedy swim into her mind‘s eye. ―Mary come down for tea, now. How many times do I have to tell you?‖ ―Yes, Mum, just coming,‖ voice shrill with annoyance, but what thoughts; if they could hear those thoughts! ―I‘m Marcella, a beautiful Spanish dancer, clothed with a red frilly frock, rose, castanets, high heels, and lusty looks from the dark handsome men.‖ The magazine with the picture was open at the page. ―They all want me, to make love to me, yes I‘m Marcella.‖ She could see the camp fire, the high cheekbones and moustaches on the men, with their guitars, sashes and small bums. Whoa!! 8


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How exciting! Clickety Clack The pictures in the window move with Marci‘s thoughts. ―MARCI, Marci, do wake up dear.‖ Julia looked up from the book she‘d buried herself in since the journey began. Her large candid blue eyes looked straight into the brownish wavering orbs of her friend. ―What about a nice cup of tea? Are you thirsty? I know I am; Being as you‘re not doing much you might like to go along and buy us a cup each? Get something to eat as well will you dear? You‘re such a sport Marci, what would I do without you?‖ Marci flinched slightly at this barrage of demands, and as quick as you like countered with, ―Not just now Julia, I‘m resting.‖ Well no, she wanted to say that, but what actually came out was a pathetic, ―Of course I will, and yes, I am thirsty. I‘ll be back in a minute. Shall I pay?‖ ―Oh would you? That‘s rather jolly of you, dear, I‘ll pay next time.‖ It was even more humiliating for Marci knowing that both of them had subscribed to the unspoken arrangement that next time never happened, ever. Clickety Clack. The landscape was starting to lose its gentle, green and brown undulations, and was rising and plunging like some huge bucking and rearing stallion, all grey and craggy, under an ever more threateningly grey sky, ―It always rains in Scotland, they do say,‖ Dad had said, in his wheezy weak tones. ―Of course he never went himself, too poor 9


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really, but respectable and hard working,‖ Mum said, ―always paid his bills on time, honest as the day‘s long.‖ He was decorated with ―cleanliness next to Godliness‖ and other clichés the poor folk comforted themselves with, worn like medals on his thin sick body. Strange, how she‘d been thinking of the Spanish Gypsy horses when he died. It was a jumble of scenes she didn‘t really want to think about too much. The smell of his tobacco was all pervading, it invaded every other scene, even when all the blood gushed, and she was firmly ushered out of the room, to complete the picture in her imagination. She knew nothing of the funeral, children had to be protected from death, so aloneness, and dissociation, so easily dispelled with compassion and common sense, was to go on and on, day after day. Well, those high and mighty sayings didn‘t do much for you, did they Dad? Anger and frustration pulled at Marci‘s innards always, only vanishing temporarily with the faint mocking, ―We‘ll be back.‖ Clickety Clack. Come back, come back. Julia lit a cigarette, inhaling the smoke and letting it drift out of her nose. Her eyes closed with sheer pleasure, the cigarette enhancing her beauty. Just like on the films. What a bugger! Marci thought, as her mother‘s words immediately admonished with, “Watch your language young lady before I wash your mouth out with soap and water. We may be poor but we‟ve got honour.” I just choke and go red, my eyes 10


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water, and if I keep at it, I‘ll puke. The smell of the tobacco lingered long after Julia finished her smoke. Clickety clack. Rapid scenes shift, a kaleidoscope of clouds, desks and black typewriter ribbons. ―And how long have you been his secretary then?‖ asked Julia. And Marci replied, ―Oh, just a couple of years, I went to college to learn shorthand and typing, and seemed to do quite well at it.‖ ―Well, you‘ve certainly done that, to get a job working for Ian Blanchard,‖ Julia smiled a supercilious lop sided smile - reminiscent of a film star - which gave her a mocking air, very fashionable and chic. Marci fell for it hook, line and sinker. Fancy a beautiful obviously rich and well-connected lady showing such interest in me! The blush started at her toes and ascended like a sunrise, which peaked with a stuttered, ―I‘m sure I was just lucky‖ ―What‘s your name Miss Secretary?‖ To her eternal bewilderment and shame Mary answered, ―Marcella, my dad had Spanish blood, (you bloody liar) but everybody calls me Marci.‖ Clickety Clack. ―Any idea how long we‘ll be?‖ Julia was sounding petulant and bored. ―Can‘t be too long now Julia, have you finished your book?‖ ―No, I can‘t be bothered.‖ After a while she said, ―Why don‘t you ever complain, why are you so damned agreeable? Are you the really the strong silent 11


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type or are you a dunce pretending?‖ ―Why don‘t you go for a little walk along the corridor?‖ Oh you can bet your life I‟m a dunce pretending, ―if you stretch your legs you‘ll feel better.‖ Clickety Clack. The flashing pictures with rhythmic accompaniment are doing their job, at last. Hypnotic procedures led to sleep, of a sort. That‘s not always a good thing, thoughts and visions arise unbidden, released from their bonds of fear and guilt, they surface to a dulled consciousness unable to control them, and then all hell lets loose. ―Did I shout out loud?‖ Marci jumped to wakefulness, terrified her fears had been shared with Julia, who would have had been pleasingly entertained and certainly no longer bored. The shadows and very feel of the dream follow her into the train carriage; surely Julia must see its dark aura surrounding her. At least she‘s gone back to her book, the beastly cad! Marci returned to her reminiscences. ―You know, you‘re a very attractive girl.‖ ―Thank you, Mr Blanchard.‖ ―Would you honour me by accepting this gift?‖ ―Thank you Mr Blanchard.‖ ―Have you ever been to the Theatre, would you like to go?‖ ―Thank you Mr Blanchard.‖ ―I know a wonderful restaurant, shall we dine there?‖ ―Thank you Mr Blanchard.‖ 12


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The words left her to be replaced by the unwelcome pictures of the hot fumbling hurried scene of the seduction. Cheeks burned with shame as the thought flashed, Of course that‟s what he wanted, and did you honestly think he was in love with you? Oh how stupid can you get? ―Did you know there are numerous mistakes in this letter, Miss Chapman?‖ ―I‘m sorry Mr Blanchard, I‘ll correct them.‖ ―That will sully the page and spoil the print, you must use a new page, with no unwanted marks, but I bear in mind the wastage, Miss Chapman. You must realise that many young ladies would be grateful for a job like yours.‖ ―What about the sullied secretary, do you care about that wastage, Mr Blanchard?‖ Clickety Clack. The smell of tobacco wafts around the carriage still, suddenly stabbing Mary with a longing so strong that she could hardly bear. How I‘d love to see Dad, and have him talk about when him and Mum first came to the council house from the country. When the man from the council offices told Dad off for putting coals in the bath. But he was even then too ill to go up the garden to the coalhouse, and we weren‘t sure how healthy all these baths were anyway. Even Mum with cleanliness next to Godliness, wasn‘t sure, and she followed Dad soon enough anyway. If I look hard, I can see Dad right there. There‘s a dent in the seat, it‘s almost as if he‘s sitting there, and he would be smiling at me, not warning me. 13


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You‘re not warning me Dad, you‘re smiling at me aren‘t you? Yes he could almost be there, not warning me, smiling at me. Clickety Clack… Go back, go back. ―I‘m meeting some friends at an castle in Scotland, I don‘t want to go alone, it‘s a boring journey, do you want to tag along? You‘ll have to pay for your fare, and food, but we‘re being entertained as guests at the castle, and that‘s free. You should be able to do it even on your secretary‘s pay.‖ Julia had put on her earnest face, and just about avoided smirking. Marci thought, I‟m a former secretary with fast disappearing pay packets, but the break would be good, perhaps clear the head, show a road ahead. Said, ―Yes, I might enjoy that.‖ Then thinks, Oh God those awful friends of hers, double barrelled names, tally ho‟s, and noses big enough to look down and talk through at the same time. Of course the extra bone generally comes from the chin, which accounts for that organ being as diminutive as the nose is large. God save me from the aristocracy! How in hell‟s name “language!” am I going to cope? How can I not show myself up as an utter chump?” ― …..a séance or something like that,‖ Julia was continuing oblivious of Marci‘s brown study. ―Should be fun, Dusty Miller is a wag, he says ‗Bunny‘, you know Bunny Warren-Cooper, that gorgeously handsome man might be there. We‘ll raise spooks galore, and scare ourselves silly, there‘ll be vampires, werewolves and such like, some music hall clairvoyant act or something like that is going to pretend to contact the dead. I think they‘re all frauds, I bet she‘s a dreadful 14


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old fag!‖ Marci remained noncommittal. ―Come on Marci, don‘t be a spoil sport, you‘ll have a wonderful time, and you might meet a man!‖ This last phrase with a glint of mockery and barely concealed sarcasm, which Julia delivered confident in the knowledge she had aimed a barb to her friend which could be neither retaliated nor rebuffed, and therefore had to be chewed, swallowed, digested, and eventually absorbed, with or without resentment, it mattered not a whit to Julia. Clickety, clackety …..Clickety ….clackety …… With shrieking brakes, clouds of steam, puffing slower as the powerful crankshafts ground to a halt, the Flying Scotsman came home to Edinburgh with a sigh of relief. Already passengers were grabbing bulky cases and bags from the netting above the seats. Hats and coats were snatched, as folks made ready to disembark, glad the journey was over. There was a jostling mass of excited humanity waiting to open the doors as soon as the train was properly stopped. Yet it seemed to crawl along for an age! ―Now we‘re being picked up dear,‖ Julia turned her head to Marci as she hurried down the platform, ―so don‘t lose me, do try to keep up.‖ ―Easy for you Julia, with your long legs, and athletic form, but please spare a thought for those whose legs are not so long,‖ puffed Marci, struggling with a suitcase with too many clothes packed in. ―Oh come along no excuses now. Ah, look there‘s my brother, Tom I can see him waving! Yoo Hoo Tom, darling. . .‖ 15


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Ray Burslem: A Spiritual Encounter ‗You don‘t look like a ghost to me?‘ I told the solitary man sitting opposite me in the compartment of the LMS overnight express to Glasgow. I was going to meet my fiancée, who was visiting at her parents‘ home in Oban, before joining me to spend the weekend together at The Castle Hotel in Glen Grimm. The man spoke, ‗I knew you were a disbeliever, could tell just from the way you walked in. That dreadful suit and tie! Your accent is dreadful and you‘re eating a pie like a pig at the trough.‘ After giving me a baleful stare, he looked out of the window at the speeding darkness. Finishing the meat pie purchased from the Stoke station buffet, I contemplated his final remarks. Should I move to another compartment to cut the risk of further aggravation from the so-called ghost. No! I would stay here; having a first class ticket which I assumed was more than the ghost had; he looked a tramp from the old black cloak and deerstalker he wore over red and yellow check trousers, with pointed boots fastened by some sort of eyelet. And a face like? How should I describe it? Worn, like he had seen too many winters in a very cold windy place; maybe Scotland‘s far North or even Ben Nevis! Eyes like pee-holes in the snow glowered from beneath a bushy grey and red brow, green I think was the colour with a dash of jaundice 16


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thrown in for good effect. The mouth from which a foul odour emanated contained a few black and yellow objects. Teeth they may have been once, but were only used now to produce pain from their condition. A grey stained tongue resembled a slug after a meeting with salt. I decided to give him the benefit of doubt after my first remark to him brought forth such a diatribe. ‗Well if you are a ghost, would my hand go straight through you?‘ leaping across the space between us I put my hand onto his chest. ‗What do you think you‘re doing, assaulting me in a public place?‘ And he punched me in the face. It didn‘t half sting. ‗That proves it! A ghost isn‘t solid and you are.‘ I mumbled through my swelling face. ‗See young man. I am a ghost but haven‘t got the ability to dissipate my bodily shell. I missed the lesson, was sleeping in after a rough night at the phantom‘s club and they told me to go back to Earth whilst they arranged another one. And I walked out of the graveyard where I had been buried. Since then I hadn‘t been contacted. So I took up haunting. Not in the old way as I wasn‘t properly trained. Just try me best with what God gave me. Bad manners and bad breath are all I have to make some people a feared, It‘s hard work I can tell you, so when you came through that door all full of yourself and a chompin‘ of that pie. I let fly after answering your question truthfully. Does it hurt?‘ ‗Yes!‘ I barked back. ‗Do you have to eat?‘ 17


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‗Course I don‘t. I‘m dead, aren‘t I? No wasting away for me though, not until I finish my training then it will quickly decompose into a skeleton.‘ He looked back at the window again, not long to Preston now he thought with a wink at the reflection of himself. With all the facts he had told me I still had doubts. Was he an old git having me on? ‗Why do you travel on the railway? Mister--?‘ ‗Jenkins, young man. Arnold Jenkins seer and palmist.‘ He managed a smile of sorts. Telling me that he always stayed on railways and travelled the country for free! He showed me a lifetime metal pass issued by the old LNWR good for any track nationwide. Gold he said it was. I haven‘t seen that much gold in my life so I didn‘t know whether it was or not. ‗How old were you when you died Mr Jenkins and when was that?‘ ‗Sixty-five if my Ma told the truth, and October sixth eighteen ninety at the old marketplace Shoreditch. It had poured down all day and I was practising my calling in the taverns that abound in that area. Made a few bob, spent a few bob on a drop of mothers‘ comfort and seemed to have upset someone with one of my revelations. That‘s why I died! Someone slipped me a Mickey Finn in my last drink and I fell asleep under a tarpaulin and some blighter smothered me. Finito!‘ 18


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‗Surely that was murder!‘ ‗There were no proper detectives in those days. Maybe that Sherlock Holmes could have deduced it but the inquest decided it was my lewd and licentious lifestyle that had done for me. A pauper‘s grave was to be my final resting place.‘ ‗So you don‘t know when you will become a proper ghost Mr Jenkins?‘ He told me it was in the angels‘ hands and it wasn‘t too bad being a living corpse. If he could help someone occasionally, like tonight when he told me to leave the train at Preston it would be a good point. ―Oh I forgot to tell you,‖ he said. ―Leave the train at Preston and book in a hotel. The Railway is handy for the station. Goodbye young man. Remember to read the Manchester Guardian in the morning.‖ I left the carriage much bemused at my break in the journey then contacted my fiancée informing her of my change of plan. Spent a restful night in the hotel which Mr Jenkins had recommended. ‗Your newspaper sir.‘ As previously bidden, next day I took the proffered paper from the waiter and opened it out to scan the front-page.

Glasgow express crashes, one death A skeleton fully clothed was found in a compartment on its own. The only identification found was a death certificate dated October the sixth 1890 in the name of Arnold Jenkins. The Coroner has been informed. (See inside for details).

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Anne Picken - ARTHUR, THE UNNAMED TENNIS PLAYER When Arthur was five he went to the tenth birthday party of his cousin, who led her guests into the garden and proposed a game of kiss-chase. Arthur took a little time to get the gist of this, but the second he did so a beautiful girl with huge blue eyes and golden ringlets came tearing round the corner, giggling as she travelled. He rushed into her path and collided with her knees, which caused her to fall flat on her face. She screeched. He then jumped joyously upon her back at which her screeches intensified and brought the other guests running. For a while he became the centre of flailing arms and legs and thumps, and then they all led the sobbing girl away and left him on his own. During the next 20 years Arthur had as little as possible to do with girls. He never grew much. ‗Weedy,‘ was the term used by his prep school contemporaries until some wag hit on, ‗He‘s not all there! He‘s Arthur pound short!‘ Anyone socially competent or a good fighter could have soon sorted out that one, but in Arthur's case the chant was taken up. The pack circled, their song rising to quite frenzied heights; they pointed, and then they jabbed. When at last they let him go he slunk away and for the next 20 years had very little to do with boys either. Instead he took up chess. Arthur went to Cambridge and became champion of his college, his University and England, gained 20


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a first class degree and then went home. After a few months of his company his father asked, ―How d‘you feel about the Bar, old man? Or Medicine? Or the Church?‖ Arthur raised his eyebrows as if considering, and his parents held their breath. But the brows stayed hoisted so long they simply had to exhale. All sat in silence for several minutes until an inspiration struck his mother. ―What you need is a holiday my darling,‖ she cried as she leapt for the telephone apparatus. ―Time to think things out. Your Uncle Angus‘s hotel in Glen Grimm will be ideal. The season‘s finished and it should be empty.‖ So two days later Arthur, clad in new sports jacket and new trilby hat, climbed aboard the Flying Scotsman. He was transported to a region where winds frequently howl across barren bogs and rocks rear like teeth in the screaming mouths of tormented souls, but as it was September there was just a thunderstorm. A cart with ‗Castle Hotel‘ discernible along its side stood in the station yard. It was attached to a mournful horse and a driver swathed in some sort of hearthrug. He nodded to Arthur through sheets of rain, and then stared straight ahead. The lad waited for him to jump down and deal with the cases but nothing happened. ―I say…‖ Arthur ventured, but the drumming of the storm drowned his words. He stood there wondering what to do. Should he abandon the cases and climb into the cart? He peered through the maelstrom, searching for some step or 21


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toe-hold to help him up. There was none. What, oh what to do? He clutched his sodden jacket close and the rain flayed his fingers. He thrust them back into his pockets but they found no comfort. Nails of rain drove into his squeezed up eyes, into his cheeks, his ears, but gradually that agony eased off because his nerve endings had retreated to the deepest depths of his soul. His soul itself was on the point of retreating also, but suddenly it heard something. A new tone in the bombardment, a hum, a rumble, which fought its way through the hammering downpour to become the sweet sound of a motorcar. The rest of Arthur suddenly noticed it too, as it jolted to a halt beside him. ―Hello there!‖ cried a trilling voice, and Arthur looked up into the blue eyes of his erstwhile ringletted victim. On the journey to the hotel Arthur huddled in the back seat of the motorcar and soaked its upholstery. The victim, sitting beside the driver and apparently called Julia, had given short shrift to the cart driver who now trundled behind with the luggage. Arthur gazed gloomily at the backs of the two blonde heads, the one smoothed with Brylcreem and the other a winsome froth of curls. She‘d screeched just like that when he jumped on her in the long ago, he recalled. No need for it, no need at all. There‘d been the dickens of a row from the Pater when he got in and she‘d grinned all the way through it. Another girl, with dark hair, sat in the back of the motor but she was huddled even more than Arthur, and as far 22


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away from him as she could get. He glanced at her skirt, which was a sad greyish brown and covered her ankles. Neither spoke. Julia was prattling of tennis and the comparative merits of partners to be had at the Castle, so Arthur gathered that, far from being empty as his mother had supposed, his uncle‘s hotel was crammed with the heartiest of humankind. After a bath and a chunk of roast venison, Arthur felt a little better. He climbed back up the mighty staircase, braved the carved lion heads grinning eerily through the dusk, entered his gaunt little room and took up the chess set that had been his only friend since he was ten. A letter from Yargen, his opponent in Reykjavik, lay inside the box along with the record of their game. He settled himself on the bed, switched on the lamp, and studied Yargen‘s latest move. The blighter had nearly beaten him once, and in this game he‘d already taken his queen. Arthur bit his lip and frowned. He had a pawn striving to reach the last square and become another queen but Yargen was laying a very effective siege. How could she get through? There must be a way. Arthur stared at the board and saw none. Suddenly he heard a sniff. He jerked up, strained his ears. The air around him lay innocent and still. He turned back to his problem. Then it came again, louder and clearer this time. A definite sniff. And then a little sob. To Arthur‘s surprise he found himself standing up and striding forth into a dim corner where he found a stool upon which sat a troubled girl. She raised 23


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beseeching eyes, then vanished. Arthur was gobsmacked. Not frightened, which surprised him when he ruminated on the matter afterwards. Just gobsmacked. He walked slowly back to perch on the bed and wonder. He was sure he‘d seen that girl before. At breakfast the next morning Julia, in ridiculously short white skirt, proposed tennis. She jumped up and down with a pretty smile as she did so, showing youthful health and a lot of leg. ―You‘ll play, won‘t you Marci? And you too, er …. what was you name?‖ ―Arth…,‖ said Arthur, then cleared the frog from his throat and said, ―Arthur.‖ ―You can partner Marci!‖ A slight figure raised its dark head to protest, but then dropped it again. It was his fellow passenger from last night. ―Oh, I say old girl, is that fair?‖ A vision in a lemon cravat paused in charging his plate at the sideboard and Arthur recognised the slick crown he had gazed at during the sopping journey. Tom, Julia had called it. He was fascinated by the way Tom‘s lower lip sloped directly to his neck. ―You know how useless she was last time. I mean,‘ went on the chinless one, ‗what‘s his game like? He hardly looks a tiger!‖ This was followed by the startling noise of a hysterical donkey. ―Shouldn‘t we take a rabbit each? It‘ll be a bore if we don‘t.‖ And the donkey brayed again. Julia‘s pretty smile became a pout. ―If you 24


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must,‖ she said. Tom looked at Arthur and said, ―No offence old chap, but Julia and I were county champions. I mean, are you any good?‖ Arthur confirmed that his appearance was not deceptive. An excuse for flight almost left his lips but he caught sight of Marci and a wave of something extremely strange flicked through him. ―OK,‖ he heard himself say, ―I‘ll give it a go.‖ He was hopeless. The ball either socked him in the stomach, flew past his racquet like a demented rocket, or ignored him completely as it sailed off to foreign parts. He attempted to skip up and down the court like his graceful partner, but his legs were used to chess. Eventually he fell down exhausted. All then agreed to end the game and they returned to the drawing room in a variety of moods. The girl Marci whispered, ―Did you hurt yourself?‖ and laid her hand on his arm. Whereupon the strange flicker he had felt before became a shock that leapt up his body to set his face on fire. He shook his head mutely, returned to his bedroom, took up his chess and attempted to banish all thoughts of electricity. ‗Concentrate!‘ he told himself, ‗There must be a way of queening this pawn. Think, think, think!‘ But his brain refused. It soared off on its own to encircle an anxious face and a voice saying, ―Did you hurt yourself?‖ Arthur touched his arm where she had touched it and the shock thrilled up to flush his face once more. That night, on the verge of sleep, Arthur heard the sniff again. This time his body jumped out of bed 25


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immediately to address the girl on the stool. Surprising, yes, but Arthur was getting used to surprises. ―Who are you?‖ he asked. ―What do you want?‖ She raised her head as on the previous night and Arthur gasped. Now he knew where he had seen her before! ―You‘re the girl who touched my arm,‖ he said. She shook her head. ―I‘m her spirit,‖ she said. ―Please take me home.‖ Then she and the stool vanished. Arthur floated back to the bed. Bright bubbles seemed to be gushing up through his body and surfacing in laughter. This, on the one hand felt incredibly strange, and on the other more natural than anything he had ever known. ‗Take me home,‘ she‘d said. How? Where was home? He lay for a good while puzzling, not to mention bubbling, before he fell asleep, and then he dreamed. He saw a lone black pawn poised for coronation on a chessboard. One more river to cross, just one. But it was a deep one, with hidden currents and she was surrounded by the Icy army that had slain her guardian and now bore down upon herself. She had sought refuge in a well placed castle but it had run off to take a rival, so now she was alone, barred from safety by the treacherous river while the Queen of the Icy and her foppish brother, the pale Slick King, grinned their taunts. The pawn drooped and wilted. 26


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Would nobody help her? But yes! Suddenly a lance thrust itself skywards. It was in the grasp of a battered black knight, so battered in fact that he was half a pedestal short. Now, with a roar that broke all barriers, he levelled his weapon and charged. With one blow he slew the Icy Queen. ―Check!‖ he thundered swinging his ebony stallion round to face the pale King, who slicked off without ado. The knight housed his lance and bowed to the pawn. ―Take your rightful place, princess, and be happy ever after,‖ he beamed, and she, unable to believe this turn of events, somehow found the courage to plunge into the swirling depths and emerge unscathed on the last square. Then Arthur woke up. At breakfast he told Julia her bottom was too big for that silly tennis skirt, Tom that he talked like an ass with adenoids, and Marci that he would like her to go with him into the garden. So they went outside into the honey-heather morning, gazed at misty mountains, and as he explained how much he loved her he saw her spirit surge to regal heights and her lifted head become crowned with sunshine. Then he tripped over a stool.

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Steph Spiers: The Shaman of Mali-Mali Friday Evening: Two men waiting for dinner reminiscing in the Castle Hotel‟s empty lounge bar. ―Things that go bump in the night – stuff and nonsense – tales to frighten children and the feeble minded.‖ ―I thought you might say that, Miller,‖ the man sitting opposite said calmly, taking no offence at the rebuttal. ―I‘d have said the same until the spring of ‗25.‖ ―Go on then. I‘ll pay the shilling for a good yarn.‖ From his wheelchair, Desmond ‗Dusty‘ Miller raised his good arm to attract the waiter. At the bidding a callow youth in the full flush of teenage acne scurried forward at the double – the Major wasn‘t stingy when it came to tips. The younger man almost winced as Miller barked out instruction in that clipped military fashion of his at the unfortunate adolescent when the lad was still six feet away from their table. ―Another two Jameson‘s, young Alec, and put it on my slate.‖ Needing no further orders, Alec Bristow nodded as he hurried away towards the bar watched sullenly by Joseph, the hotel‘s turbaned porter. Miller turned his chair to face the story teller whose serious expression exaggerated the deep lines etched into a caramel tanned complexion – his former Lieutenant hadn‘t acquired a skin colouration like that in Eastbourne. Miller scratched his ear, thinking 28


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about it, he couldn‘t recall ever seeing ‗Bunny‘ smile, didn‘t seem like a chap with a pronounced sense of humour since his return. ―Long story is it? Best be over by dinner gong, I‘m ready for the chow wagon.‖ Francis Warren-Cooper, was no joker, so it came as a surprise when, with a lopsided grin, he toyed with the cigarette holder and worried out a Swan Vesta from an initialled silver match case. The ritual lighting up ceremony over, he began: ―As you know after the demob in 1919, I found myself kicking my heels with too much time on my hands.‖ ―You were in Belgium after I caught this packet . . . weren‘t you Bunny?‖ Miller banged down hard on the arm of the wheel chair. A cloud flickered across the other‘s calm exterior, the eyes dimmed as the clean shaven firm set jaw moved up and down in acquiescence. ―That‘s a story for another day.‖ Miller sighed as the old soldier realised he‘d touched a nerve. ―Fine. Of course, old boy . . . you carry on. I‘m listening.‖ With a faraway look in those quiet grey eyes the younger man deposited the Irish whiskey onto the side table tucked away between the club armchairs in the bay window of the Castle Hotel‘s residents‘ lounge. Both men waited until the waiter had departed - some stories were best Pas Devant Les Enfants. ―After a few months kicking over the traces in Bloomsbury, I grew tired of the wild crowd I was drifting along with and decided I needed something to get my teeth into.‖ 29


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Miller‘s handlebar moustache twitched at the corners as he recalled he‘d heard a few saucy tales circulating about the flapper crowd Warren–Cooper used to run with – not that he‘d hold that against anyone back from the front who‘d been mentioned in despatches for bravery under fire. He recalled the 1920s fondly. A whole generation glad to be alive were letting off steam after the horrors of the Great War. He‘d have let his own hair down and cut a few rugs with bobbed and fringed flappers but for the stray bullet which had led to him being invalided out of the Regiment, a shadow of his former self. Bunny Warren-Cooper was settling back into the story, ―On a whim, I called in on Julian Doonesbury at the Colonial Office.‖ ―Nephew of yours isn‘t he?‖ ―Cousin,‖ replied the storyteller in a tone which indicated interrupting questions weren‘t invited. ―Ah, yes. Go on.‖ ―Next thing I know I‘m on a tramp steamer on voyage for the South Seas.‖ ―Good lord. Hula-hula girls and whatnots eh? Balmy nights under the stars – native wenches and coconut rum,‖ Dusty Miller brightened. ―That‘s the ticket, wind in your hair, sand in your sandwiches. What-oh! You lucky beggar!‖ ―Well, it‘s a nice idea, but the reality wasn‘t quite like the brochure. It might have been like that for the plantation owners, but I was a lowly factotum on the Civil Service ladder – just a junior Colonial Officer in charge – if that‘s the right word – of five 30


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islands in the Pacific.‖ ―Factotum? In charge of five islands. Good gravy beef man — that‘s a kingdom.‖ ―Don‘t get the wrong idea Dusty. This wasn‘t an ambassador appointment. These were very small islands, not very close together. Put it like this, on a map of the Pacific they could have been mistaken for a scattering of fly dust.‖ Warren-Cooper toyed with the blond Irish nectar holding the cut glass up to the last of the evening sunlight streaming in through the bay window‘s stained-glass upper panels. Through the open top-lights sounds of the tennis match could just be heard faintly from across the lawn down by the loch, where the evening sun-light was bouncing off the mirrored surface in myriads of sparkles. Bunny didn‘t notice, he had a distant look in his eye, ―One of these islands was called Mali-Mali. It was on this outcrop of almost sheer rock in places that these events take place. In fact Mali-Mali was the volcanic island where I was stationed. We were a raggle-taggle crew. Just me, Father Patrick and an Aussie, by adoption, Joss ‗Jigger‘ Jones the only Europeans on the island, apart from the occasional visit from plantation managers from along the string and they were mostly Portuguese, only showed up when they wanted something – not exactly a social bunch.‖ Cooper hesitated as Miller‘s attention was caught by the noisy entrance of the tennis doubles. ―Who won?‖ he called out across the empty lounge to the leading player. Francis Warren-Cooper turned to see who had caused the unwelcome interruption, to 31


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be met with a pair of eyes the colour of cornflowers set in the glowing face of a woman in the full bloom of youth. She returned his appreciative gaze with confidence. He looked away embarrassed that she had noted his appraisal with a raised brow. He still hadn‘t quite come to terms with western custom since his return from the Far East where the women were far less overt. ―Need you ask?‖ replied the fresh faced young man making up the rear of the party. ―Julia and Co. wiped the floor with us lesser mortals.‖ ―Again Tom! Trashed ‗Again!‘‖ laughed the cornflower eyed blonde leading the way up the stairs. Miller waved his glass in a sweeping gesture to honour the pretty victors. The other girl, who paled by comparison to her dazzling blonde companion, waved her racket in reply as they were lost to view. ―Did you know the Farnsworths?‖ Miller asked. ―No. I‘m sure I‘d have remembered.‖ WarrenCooper‘s eyes were still riveted on the lion finials of the empty staircase. ―Stunner ain‘t she? Miss Julia.‖ ―Perhaps, you‘ll introduce me?‖ Miller, a long term resident, grinned to himself, another one bites the Farnsworth dust, this ‗Mysteries of the Paranormal‘ weekend was going to be more interesting than he‘d first anticipated. ―Jigger – why Jigger?‖ he asked with an eye on the Grandfather clock as the sun began to sink over the mountainous backdrop of the loch. ―Rum. Rum runner in his youth. Prohibition in 32


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the States made him a fortune before it got too hot and he had to hightail it. Jigger was lying low – taking it easy in the South Pacific when I first met him. In fact it was all down to Jigger that I first came across Roula.‖ ―Roula being the . . ?‖ ―The limping woman of Mali-Mali.‖ Miller‘s moustache jiggled again at the flowery language. Perhaps Warren-Cooper was a spinning this yarn a bit thick after all. But, before he could take Bunny to task the prodigal traveller was speaking again. ―Yes. Roula was old. Very old by tribal standards must have been in her eighties. A frail stick of a creature, legs bowed with childhood rickets, skin coconut brown and withered like a dried prune. But, her laugh would have melted butter and her cooking was to die for.‖ The voice lowered a tone, ―Now old Jigger had serious stomach trouble. I reckon he‘d had a mite too much rotgut booze and now he was paying for it.‖ ―Bathtub gin eh?‖ Cooper nodded. ―So anyway, he employed Roula to cook for him. And, that she did for all the time I was there, in fact many a Friday night he‘d invite the priest and myself over for a glass or two and a dish of whatever Roula had rustled up for him. Bit of a ritual it was. Sitting out on the veranda of his place listening to the sea lap against the shore, drinking coconut rum after a belly full of stewed pig and coconut sauce.‖ 33


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―Guess you needed to like coconuts then?‖ ―Oh yes.‖ ―Then things changed?‖ ―Yes. All of a sudden. One day Roula didn‘t show up to cook his lunch. Jigger wasn‘t much of a morning sort of chap – didn‘t like to fall out of his bunk until around noon. But, when she still didn‘t show at getting ready for dinner time hunger decided him to wander off down the track to her village to find out what was amiss.‖ ―She didn‘t live . . .?‖ ―With Jigger? Good Lord no . . . No, she was a queer old stick, some sort of Shaman – white witch sort of thing. Fairly harmless, Father Patrick was happy enough to let things ride. As far as he was concerned a few herbal remedies, casting a few stones together and a bit of stick waving wasn‘t much of a threat. Of far more interest to us all was how she brewed a lethal drop of illicit white rum in what was a contraption surprising like a homemade still.‖ ―This Father Patrick seems a bit of a card.‖ ―I‘ll say! Shrewd, for a man of the cloth. When he first arrived he‘d soon worked out that the success of his ministry was going to depend on incorporating local custom into the belief system.‖ ―What piggybacking Christianity off pagan ritual? Hardly cricket old boy.‖ ―Needs must when the Devil‘s driving. Anyway it worked. He had the Mission built on the island‘s most sacred spot. This was at the furthest point of the island at the top of a high cliff overlooking the vastness of the Pacific.‖ 34


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Eyes far away, Warren-Cooper drew breath and sipped from the cut crystal as if seeking courage before relating the crux of the events. ―This holy ground was smack where the villagers believed their ancestors greeted them when they passed over. They had this crazy notion that all they had to do when they died was for their spirit to walk to the top of the cliff face and jump off.‖ ―What? . . . Nose dive into the ocean?‖ Miller‘s brows rose in unison crinkling an undulating ridgeline across his broad forehead. ―No,‖ answered Bunny. ―They believed a portal would open for the rapidly descending spirit which would be snatched into ancestral paradise before it hit the waves.‖ ―Blimey,‖ gasped Miller. ―And the priest . . . Father Whosehisname was happy about this voodoo malarkey?‖ ―I didn‘t say that. All he did was say that lying in state funerals could be held in the Mission. If the congregation wanted to think about launching off into space that was up to them. In fact he encouraged those with dying relatives to move them up into a ‗last rites‘ hut tacked on to the rear of the Mission. All very tasteful, sort of doubled up as a clinic for the visiting Doc, when one did the rounds from Auckland, and as a chapel of rest for the departed. Of course, a small rum donation was encouraged.‖ ―Wily old devil!‖ ―You don‘t know the half. Still he had the biggest congregation in the region so he was laughing all 35


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the way to the still.‖ ―Sounds like that Jock Padre we had at Ypres. Remember? He had his own take on religion I once saw him . . . never mind I digress. Carry on.‖ ―Bear in mind I was blissfully unaware that Jigger‘s cook had gone a.w.o.l.. That afternoon I was doing my rounds checking on the rubber sap quotas along the northern coast. It was about half past three I was heading back on the battered official bicycle towards the Colonial Office, a journey of about two miles. I was taking the cliff path when I saw Roula walking towards me. She seemed in a great hurry. Head upright, even at a distance her limping gait was a dead giveaway. I didn‘t know of any of the other native women to have a pronounced limp, so as the figure approached I was sure it was Roula heading up the path which led to the Mission.‖ ―You don‘t mean? The hairs are standing up on the back of my neck – I‘m getting the impression. . .‖ Warren-Cooper swallowed the dregs of the glass as he stared out across the sloping lawn towards the shore of the glittering sea-water loch. His voice took on a different timbre, ―I called out to her, but she didn‘t acknowledge me at all. We must have passed within three feet of each other. So close I could see her face. Her eyes had a blank, cold, staring expression, I could hear the drag of her limp on the dusty path. I thought it odd that she didn‘t return my greeting but, I was late for afternoon tea so put the incident out of my mind as I rode off. The last I saw of her she was still limping along the coastal 36


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path within half a mile of the Mission.‖ ―And Jigger?‖ ―He was waiting for me on the veranda of the Colonial Office when I arrived - in a right state.‖ ―And Roula?‖ ―Yes. He‘d come to register her death. Another of my many administrative functions was the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Civil Marriages.‖ ―And, just when had she passed over?‖ ―She‘d been found by one of her daughters at ten thirty that morning although it looked likely she‘d died peacefully in her sleep during the night.‖ ―Suddenly then.‖ ―Too sudden for her to have been taken to the Mission to lie in state.‖ ―So she‘d decided to make her own way?‖ ―That‘s what me and Jigger agreed must have happened . . . of course, Father Patrick kept his own counsel. Jigger and I decided it was best to keep it quiet . . it wasn‘t as if I was going to put the incident in any official daily report now was it?‖ ―Many things this side of heaven we don‘t truly understand. I saw things in the trenches I wouldn‘t know how to report either.‖ With a shudder Miller replaced his glass on the side table, ―Must be about time for dinner. Ah look, I just caught sight of young Tom Farnsworth by the chow wagon, good grief, I think that‘s Sybil Cunningham-Smythe on his arm — a bit of a lass in her time. Just the ticket — lively company that‘s just what a couple of old soldiers need after a story like that.‖ 37


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Angie Burns

- The Séance

Around the old oak table In dappled candlelight They sit all anticipation Their collective breath held tight. The medium‘s a madam, All scarves and rings and bangles Her deep voice has a lowland burr But not enough to rankle One‘s a bereaved mother Newly expectant with hope With her, the sceptical father Who‘s wishing he could smoke There‘s a shapely, blonde girl Whose fiancé has passed on And her spectacled dark friend There just for the fun. And then a military chap All whiskers and whisky-breath He‘s here for the company And to win a bet on death Madam starts the process Her voice low as the light ‗Hold hands now‘ she tells them ‗Don‘t leave go, till I say it‘s alright‘. 38


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‗For if the circle is broken It could do us all much harm. Whatever we find happens Don‘t worry. Just stay calm.‘ Hands held around the table Madam begins her spiel Part Latin and part Gaelic It sounds very unreal. The tension‘s high already When the table is violently shaken The old castle walls shift loudly But the circle stays unbroken. They hardly dare to breathe at all And apart for their holding hands They might be alone and out at sea Far from any sure land Again the silence is broken By a strange unearthly voice Not Scottish, nor grown even But a child‘s, and a boy‘s. ‗Red Rum Red Rum‘ Over and over MURDER it reads There in the Mirror 39


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‗Hold on‘ says our madam. ‗Not likely‘ say the men ‗Oh No Please!‘ from the mother ‗I mustn‘t lose him again.‘ But too late, the circle‘s broken The candles all go out The blonde girl just keeps screaming And the men just shout and shout The dark girl sits quite calmly She can‘t believe her senses She knows they‘re all in danger And need to build defences She‘s pretty sure they all may die And tries to light a candle She crawls across towards the door And reaches for the handle The metal‘s cold, cold as the grave The door won‘t budge at all She tries again with all her strength Then slumps against the wall Beside her in the cloying dark She feels a sort of presence A gaseous thing, not flesh at all, Summoned by the séance 40


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‗Let me be the last girl The one who makes the sequel‘. All around a fetid smell Of sulphur, smoke and treacle. The door flies open with a bang There stands the host and hostess ‗What on earth is going on? You should see your faces.‘ A collective sigh, a collective groan They file out through the door No-one heard the dark girl moan They don‘t even think of her. All except the army man Who saw her fall, and yet, He can‘t stifle a shifty smile Because he‘s won his bet.

Angie Burns 2006

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The Ancient High House Haunted Stafford This impressive building has dominated Stafford‟s High Street for over 400 years. Built in 1595 it has stood the test of time and been used for many purposes including a residential home, a Civil War Officer‟s prison, a school and a Grocer‟s shop. In the 1970s it was saved restored and is now the home of a museum. Shadows of the building‟s past experiences have been well noted: In Summer 2006 the Most Haunted programme‟s team from Living TV held a 24 hour ghost watch vigil within these sturdy oak framed walls with remarkable results. Apparently, heavy oak doors on the top floor which open by themselves and then close with no visible hands on the latch are a regular occurrence. A disturbing sighting by a member of staff of a tall figure silhouette in a doorway, again on that top floor, even though she was totally alone on that level. The third floor has its ghostly „old woman in a rocking chair‟ who inhabits the Victorian Room. This apparition has been encountered on many occasions, as has the figure of a young girl who stands alone in the centre of that room — an area which is renowned for its permanent chill despite additional heaters. 42


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In August RBW members were treated to a behind the scenes tour of the Ancient High House to see for themselves where apparitions had been recorded. The saddest room was a „chill zone‟ in a corner garret where legend has it a young woman in the 1700s, disgraced by pregnancy was kept confined in that tiny space under the eaves until her child was stillborn, after which the girl committed suicide. An ancient well in the back yard was also supposed to have been the burial place of a young child. A mischievous child spirit is supposedly fond of locking ladies in the Ladies on the level where the „briskly marching Dentist‟ patrols the corridor. But by far the strangest recorded paranormal event was performed by Mr Marson‟s ghost. Old Mr Marson loved the Ancient High House; it was his home and business in the 1900s. Apparently the well-to-do grocer, Mr Marson took pride in showing his home to a group of American Tourists in the 1960s. They were dumbfounded however, when they returned next day to discover the property undergoing renovation and that the „tour guide‟ had died 50 years previously. This spooky event hit the national tabloid headlines. Over the centuries the High House has been drastically remodelled: for many generations it was two houses and joined on upper levels right across through the much older Shaw‟s House to the Swan Hotel. The „lady‟ who walks the upper corridors has been seen 43


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in all three buildings. Shaw‟s House sandwiched in between the Swan Hotel and the Ancient High House has seen its share of paranormal activity. According to the staff of the Savers Shop their own ghost — Mary — is a bit on the naughty side. She is known to up tip baskets and move items around. Mary is, seemingly, attracted to women with red hair. A staff member auburn haired — had an uncanny encounter in an empty upper store room where „something‟ was repeatedly touching and pulling at her hair. It was not the first time she had an encounter of the third kind in that empty room, on several previous instances she had seen movement in the peripherals of her vision. Other spirits encountered in the High House by various Mediums over the years have been a woman dressing and undressing in an upper storey front room. A woman leading a man by the hand in the room with the four poster bed with the embroidery hangings. A floating figure gave a visitor a surprise, on the roped off narrow back stairs to the attic, while a woman who walks the first floor landing and disappears through the wall of the Ladies loo, which at one time would have been a small bedroom, is frequently sighted. Strong smells are also often noticed —particularly tobacco or wood smoke outside the room which is now a mock up of dear old Mr Marson‟s Grocery Shop. RBW team all remarked on the smell of wood smoke. There is a recognised connection between peculiar smells and supernatural phenomena. Hokum? Truth or fiction? Why not trot along to the Museum and see for yourself — it‟s free to go in whether you‟re a believer in the paranormal or not. 44


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TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION: Barbara Barron: The Ghost or not. I do not believe in ghosts. I think they are a figment of an over tired mind, sensory projection, too much of the happy stuff, plain boredom, or attention seeking. When I was doing a night shift at a private hospital as a security officer many years ago, I saw my umpteenth ghost. This was the best of the lot, apart from the ghostly footsteps I heard whilst trying to sleep in a very ancient manorial establishment: that was a terrifying experience, and I try not to think of it too much, although for a few quid I may be able to refresh my memory, in fact I‘d probably do it for a pint. However back to my afore mentioned place of employment which we shall call The Hall Hospital for the want of a suitable name in which to set our tale. The Hall was a small detached mansion house, in the middle of a private residential estate, near to the centre of a central England market town. I‘m not sure how old it was, but it almost certainly saw most of the 19th century, and probably a good bit before that. This private hospital thrived, like most private hospitals, on general run of the mill medicine and surgery, and should an emergency occur, the patient was immediately transferred to an NHS general hospital. The death rate has not been nil of course, over the years there have been a few, so the believer in 45


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the ghost will have some grist for the mill, apart from the history of the place, which perforce must be coloured with all sorts of intrigue and peppered with emotions. Suffice it to say, that it‘s a creepy place at night with nobody there but the security officer and its otherworldly inhabitants. Whilst The Hall was being painted, the only person in that large house, at night, was the security officer, viz. me. All through the night I did my rounds as well as any security officer, and boldly as you like, marching out around the dark, shrubby tree-studded grounds, looking into and even shining the torch down the numerous cellar steps, dark cavernous holes, threatening and deeply black, and then into the house itself. The ground floor had no terrors for me as I strode along. I sauntered round confidently, knowing that if I met a trespassing ghost I‘d probably be OK, but if I met a trespassing human, I‘d probably be dead, but the former was more likely. However, I knew I had to face the stairs, and that‘s where it always happened, the goose pimples, hair on end, heart pumping ever faster, and an increasing unwillingness to move one foot in front of the other in the direction of the staff canteen, which was directly above the operating theatre. On those stairs where the feeling of unease reached a shaky kneed crescendo, especially as I came down the back steps and past the most grisly place in the hospital. (Operating Theatre, probably also the morgue.) The silence throbbed; the air was thick, like treacle. If I met a ghost here I‘d probably be dead! Give me a 46


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burglar any day. At last the faint grey of early autumn crept into the house, at much the same time as the cleaners, just as I was dropping off. Time for the last patrol, here I go. Say hello to the painters, they‘ve just arrived, goodbye to the cleaners, see you later. I won‘t bother with the grounds outside now, there‘s plenty of people about, take the stairs up to the top floor, whiz around and go home early, for some kip. No scaredy cat feelings now. Oh no! Skedaddling along at a rate of knots I go, down the back stairs, past the operating theatre, and there‘s Karen the cleaner leaning on her broom, faintly illuminated in the grey light, standing in the prep room, looking at me. There‘s cleaners for you. Step… step. ―Hang on IS it Karen?‖ STOP…. ―It‘s not you know! So who the hell is it then?‖ Retrace two steps. Nobody,……..pelt round the OT, ―Hello…..Hello……..Hello ………anybody there?‖ Why was I not surprised when the answering silence was resounding almost mocking, and the space of the operating theatre full of nothing but the suggestion of something gone? And a swirl of particles! ―Wow, I‘ve just seen a ghost.‖ ―Yeah, there‘s loads of poltergeist activity there,‖ said Karen, ―taps turn on by themselves, and spray water everywhere and the lights turn on and off. Many people, the night nursing staff and cleaners, have seen many different ghostly people. Weren‘t you scared?‖ ―Naah.‖ 47


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TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION SUPERNATURAL SPINE CHILLERS AS TOLD BY LOCAL PEOPLE CANNOCK - The Haunted Brick Yard Cottage - a true reminiscence as told to Steph Spiers by a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous. Edmund and Sophie, for want of another name, consider themselves to be a normal ordinary sort of couple. One of four siblings, Edmund came from a level headed mining family in the Cannock area. A quiet, hardworking bloke not given to outward displays or undue fuss about nowt. Sophie, his childhood sweetheart, also was born into a large extended family, or rather what she would term as, down to earth working folks. At the time this tale relates Edmund and Sophie had been married for several years and had produced four boys under the age of ten. Times in the 1980s were fairly tough for young families in Midlands mining communities, so Edmund thought them lucky to have been offered the rental on a furnished place to call their own. The property was the last in a row of five cottages at the rear of a disused Brick Yard – the row had been built to house brick-makers‘ families over a hundred years previously and was now in a state of some disrepair. Undeterred by the lack of amenities – no double glazing – no central heating – rising damp etc the 48


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young family moved in. Things seemed to be going well at first as Edmund did what he could to smarten the place up a bit. It was during some of this refurbishment that Edmund and Sophie first began to notice one to two odd happenings. Lights that would flicker on - there was always a chill on the landing creaking of the floorboards upstairs and a strange cloying dampness in the cellar - a large space which ran under the entire property. However, Edmund shook off these unexplained events as quirks in the fabric of the building. ‗All old houses groan a bit – it‘s expansion and contraction. Nowt to worry about.‘ However, it was Sophie and the lads who spent more time in the place than Edmund, and it was the boys who first alerted Edmund and Sophie that all was not as it should be. Danny, the youngest was a good little soul for his mom, who would gurgle away for hours in his rocking cot watching the mobile twisting and spinning in the still air. It didn‘t really occur to Sophie what was making the brightly coloured shapes move apparently on their own? Or why the cradle was rocking and rocking. Until one tea-time when Charlie, then aged about seven, said, through a mouthful of fish-fingers: ‗It‘s the old lady.‘ ‗What is son?‘ asked his mother. ‗The old lady who lives upstairs. She always plays with Danny.‘ Sophie looked at Edmund across the kitchen table. Edmund looked at Philip the eldest boy. ‗What‘s he going on about?‘ 49


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‗We‘ve all seen her dad,‘ answered the eldest, colouring under his father‘s gaze. ‗Seen what?‘ ‗The old lady who lives upstairs,‘ ‗She comes to see us when we‘re in bed,‘ added Charlie trying to be helpful. Sophie and Edmund dismissed the conversation as childhood fantasy. But the very fact that boys all agreed about something was unusual and the term ‗the old lady who lives upstairs‘ stuck in Sophie‘s mind. Some weeks later as Edmund was working late, Sophie was ironing in the kitchen it would be about nine o‘clock of a winter‘s evening. She heard a terrific thump above her head. That crash had come from Danny‘s and Charlie‘s room. It sounded as if one of the boys had fallen out of bed. She ran up the stairs two at a time and threw open the door in time to see . . . Well, she has never been entirely sure what it was she saw bending over Charlie‘s bed, but whatever it was . . . it wasn‟t human. The shape had a long dark skirt and its upper body was wrapped in a shawl, Sophie clearly recalls the fringes and the apron strings highlighted by the beam of light shooting into the dark room from the landing. ‗It‘s all right mum. I‘m back in now,‘ the youngster said as his trembling mother snapped on the over head light. ‗The old lady picked me up and tucked me back in.‘ That was enough for Sophie. She had the four 50


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lads up and out and in a taxi to her mother‘s within the hour vowing never to go back into that house. Edmund was more philosophical – whatever his missus wanted she got – she decided household matters entirely – she left him all the big decisions like their considered opinion on world peace and nuclear disarmament and which football team to support but owt to do with their kids and their home was her territory. It did rankle after he‘d done all that ruddy decorating though. Still, to keep the peace, he arranged with big Alf, his brother-in-law, to give him a hand with moving out their goods and chattels. Alf, also a pitman, was a decent sort, ‗steady,‘ everybody said so and at 6‘ 3‖ was handy in more ways than one, especially as he had a sizable van which he used for shifting boxes of pigeons. All went well as the two men emptied out the kitchen and the downstairs room with no problems. After they‘d stopped for a well deserved cuppa, the two men had just started clearing the three upper rooms when the strange event occurred. The aforesaid Steady Alf had something of a nasty turn in the boys‘ back bedroom. The first Edmund knew of any trouble was the sight of Alf tumbling down the narrow stairs making a gurgling sound out of his throat. ‗Alf, what‘s up mate?‘ he called after the rapidly retreating figure. Alf made no reply. He‘d already snatched the front door half off its hinges in his rush to vacate the premises. As he stood in the doorway all Edmund could make out was the 51


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back of his pal getting smaller and smaller as the scared witless miner hightailed it through the brickyard towards the main street running as fast as hamlike thighs could carry him. To this very day Edmund and Sophie still don‘t know what spooked Steady Alf in Danny and Charlie‘s back bedroom. And Alf: he still isn‘t saying. He just shakes his head when asked and throws out his bottom lip. The property stood empty for many years until the whole row of five cottages was condemned. It was finally demolished to make way for a development of new starter homes some ten years ago now. Sophie has often wondered to herself if the lights come on by themselves in the semi-detached which now stands on the site of Number Five Brickyard Lane and if babies are still being rocked to sleep by long dead hands.

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TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION A Ghost of a Christmas Past It was Christmas night, early Boxing Day at about 1am. I was in bed when ―thud!‖ – a sound like a sack of potatoes being dropped ceiling to floor in the next room. I shot up in bed – not a sound for a couple of minutes – then ―thud!‖ again. I was living in a flat in the main street of Stony Stratford, the old Watling Street. It is full of very old buildings, including the house where the young Princes were kept overnight on their way to the Tower. I got out of bed and checked all the rooms. Nothing. I looked out on the street. Deserted and silent. What could it be? Perhaps a safe was being blown in one of the many business premises on the High Street. Maybe Christmas night, possibly the quietest night of the year, had been chosen for a raid. So I called the police. They came, checked inside and out, and found nothing. I went back to bed and nothing further happened. The flat is above a shop, so immediately after the holidays I telephoned the manager. I told her what had happened – perhaps she had found something amiss when she re-opened after the break. She chuckled! I said, ―you‘re going to say ghost, aren‘t you?‖ She said, ―yes, we call him Fred!‖ Apparently ―Fred‖ had a tendency to move things about in the shop overnight, particularly small 53


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hand brushes. ―Fred‖ also enjoyed turning dials for fridge and heating controls etc. It subsequently transpired that a previous occupant of the flat had seen a young girl, dressed in period costume, get up from the end of the bed in which he was sleeping, and walk out of the room. My only other experience whilst living there was to experience extreme cold and the hairs on the back of my neck standing up on end on the odd occasion. Tried for Murder (and commended!) In the chancel of the church at Tingewick in Buckinghamshire are tablets commemorating the Risley family. One of the family, the Revd. John Risley was Rector of Tingewick for almost sixty years from 1759 until 1818 AD. When he had been in Tingewick seven years, there happened an incident which resulted in him being tried for murder. The Reverend gentleman was in Stony Stratford one day when a certain Captain rode in and reported that he had been waylaid by a highwayman. Immediately a posse was formed to go out after the robber and bring him to justice. In the ensuing chase the clergyman, who had joined the posse shot the highwayman dead. John Risley, Rector of Tingewick, was tried for murder but was honourably acquitted and commended for having done his duty. CS 4 May 2006 54


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Christine Butters: Was it a dream? Saturday morning ‗There you are Gloria - we were so worried when you didn‘t turn up yesterday evening,‘ Julia Farnsworth says in that light, affected drawl of hers. ‗What ever happened? - do tell.‘ The sun kissed face is alive with curiosity and the blue eyes stare into mine. I feel I have to tell someone and so I begin haltingly to relate just what has occurred. It‘s getting dark. Shadows are lengthening and bushes, half hidden by a wall, assume weird shapes that to a fanciful mind could be almost human. I quicken my step. At last The Castle Hotel looms up before me. Thankfully I ring the bell. As I wait I take stock of my surroundings. The building before me is dingy and badly in need of repair, the windows dirty and even cracked whilst ivy scrambling unchecked up crumbling walls tap, tap, taps against the panes. What has all this decayed grandeur got to do with Julia‘s friends is the question uppermost in my mind. I think seriously about retreating to look for a room elsewhere but the young man at the station had assured me that there would be none to have this night save at The Castle Hotel. He had obligingly pointed out the shortest route. It‘s only for two nights I console myself as I pull the bell again. Footsteps can be heard shuffling along the hallway and after a while the door opens a crack and an eye peers out at me. ‗Mr MacTavish?‘ I say. ‗Aye.‘ 55


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‗You are expecting me - Miss Gloria Jewel.‘ ‗Aye - well you‘d best come in.‘ The gap widens and I struggle through the half open door. In the gloomy hall the carpet is threadbare and the mirror fly spotted. An old man stands watching me out of rheumy eyes - waiting. The door closes behind me. ‗Who is it?‘ a querulous old voice demands from the nether regions. ‗Miss Gloria Jewel, says as how we‘re expecting her,‘ replies the old man regarding me still with those pale, watery eyes. ‗Has she come to about my corns?‘ queries the disembodied voice. Taken aback I say, ‗I have a room booked Mr MacTavish.‘ ‗What does she say - has she come about my corns?‘ ‗Says as how she has a room booked. I don‘t think she can have come about your corns.‘ ‗A room booked. What does she mean? We have not got a room have we?‘ the voice is old and uncertain. ‗No we haven‘t got a room ―Mother‖ I‘ll get rid of her,‘ and turning to me he says, ‗We haven‘t got a room.‘ ‗But this is ―The Castle Hotel‖ isn‘t it?‘ I am beginning to panic a little. The old man is regarding me with a strange expression on his face. ‗Who sent you here?‘ ‗The young man at the station.‘ I know that I am 56


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getting hysterical and I take a deep breath trying to control myself. ‗He said that his name was Hugh MacTavish, I thought that perhaps you were related?‘ At the mention of the name the man appears to shrink and definitely grows pale. His hands pluck at his old cardigan and it seems as if he has difficulty in speaking. He moistens his lips but still no sound comes and then he gathers himself and turning away he says, ‗You‘d best come with me then.‘ And he leads the way up two flights of stairs. Picking up my suitcase I start to follow. ‗Has she gone?‘ the voice quavers from down the hall. ‗No. She‘s staying. Hugh sent her,‘ the old man replies. ‗A friend of Hugh‘s is she?‘ The voice is noticeably less old and to my mind somehow sinister. ‗Well that‘s all right then. We don‘t see too many friends of Hugh‘s. You‘d best take her up to his room, she‘ll be all right in there.‘ ‗Aye that‘s what I thought. She‘ll be all right in his room ―Mother‖. Hugh would like her to have his room.‘ By now I am thoroughly alarmed, ‗Mr MacTavish,‘ I say, ‗there‘s been some mistake - I don‘t know your son Hugh - I have only spoken to him at the station. I‘m not a friend of his.‘ ‗Oh I think you are - Hugh only sends his friends to stay. Here‘s the room, you‘ll be cosy in here.‘ Unwillingly I step over the threshold and enter the room - it is furnished simply in the style befitting a servant some 20 or 30 years ago and obviously 57


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belonging to a young man. It is reasonably clean and insensibly I start to relax - it is only for two nights after all. ‗Thank you Mr MacTavish this will be fine.‘ Putting down my case I turn to look at him and I notice that the eyes are no longer watery and rheumy - they are bright and intent. ‗A friend of Hugh‘s,‘ he says, ‗you‘ll like this room,‘ and he is gone the door closing behind him. The feeling of unease returns. Where is the man I had spoken to on the phone? He had appeared to be quite personable and seemingly to have nothing in common with this man who had opened the door to me. I determine to leave and to this end I go to the door and turn the handle. The door will not budge! Thoroughly frightened I start to bang upon the door. ‗Mr MacTavish,‘ I shout, ‗let me out of here - please let me out! I don‘t know your son and I don‘t want to stay here - please let me out!‘ The silence is unbroken. Then I catch the first whiff of smoke. Something is burning. The smoke is getting thicker - I start to cough. Goodness the house is on fire. I bang again and again on the door. ‗Please Mr MacTavish let me out.‘ Behind me a window breaks and the young man from the station is there, in the room, pushing me towards it - urging me to jump. I cannot move. I am rooted to the spot. The flames are getting nearer and the heat is intense - the smoke is choking me and I can feel myself failing. The young man pushes me savagely towards the window and out into the night. My despairing cry is lost in a fresh roar and crash as 58


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the roof caves in trapping my rescuer. I land safely in the blanket held taunt below by firemen and willing volunteers. An all pervading blackness enfolds me and I know no more. ‗But now I am lying in a comfortable bed in a well furnished room with you sitting beside me Julia. It must have been a bad dream.‘ ‗More like a nightmare sweetie. All the same I would like to know what made you so late?‘ Seeing that I have no answer she continues, ‗must run, I‘m playing tennis at eleven and I simply have to do my face.‘ A mew as she kisses the air and she is gone. There is a knock at the door and a pleasant woman enters at my bidding bearing a tray. ‗Good morning. Did you sleep well? I thought that you would appreciate a late call, you were so tired when you arrived last night.‘ ‗Where am I?‘ ‗The Castle Hotel - you remember - you booked a room with us for our ―Mystery Weekend‖. You spoke to my husband, Mr MacTavish on the telephone.‘ She is looking at me strangely. ‗In fact we were very worried. It was so late when you did arrive and you seemed so upset.‘ The pleasing Scottish voice goes on, ‗we hoped that things would seem better in the light of day.‘ ‗Thank you. I believe they do. Tell me was there ever another Castle Hotel?‘ ‗No there has only ever been the one. Originally a castle, parts date back to the 16th century but it has been altered over the years since it became an hotel in Victorian Times. The old servant wing was destroyed in 59


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a fire some twenty years ago. We have never rebuilt it and the ivy has staked its claim to the shell. In fact it was where you were found. What could have taken you there I wonder. Did you miss the path?‘ I don‘t answer her. I can‘t answer her. I don‘t know why I went to that building. All I know is that it was almost a compulsion. ‗Well you were lucky,‘ continues the woman. Two young women have died mysteriously within it‘s shell.‘ I don‘t ask her what she means. There is no need. They were lured there just like me but they were the unlucky ones, they had not survived. Instead I ask, ‗did anyone die in the fire?‘ ‗Unfortunately two of the servants. A waiter was entertaining his young lady, one of the maids, in his room. Quite against the rules of course. When the fire broke out he tried to save her but he couldn‘t persuade her to jump and they both perished when the roof fell in. His parents had a room on the first floor and they escaped. To no avail, shock had killed them both within six months. Their name was MacTavish, she added as an after thought.‘ She had no need. I already knew that. I shudder and noticing this she says, ‗but I‘ll leave you to have your breakfast. You‘ll be needing it no doubt.‘ Thanking her I lie back against the pillows. I am alone. But no, I am not alone. Turning my head I see the old man sitting there staring at me from out of those same pale, watery eyes.

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The Swan Hotel - Haunted Stafford Situated right next door to Shaw‟s House and the Ancient High House on Stafford‟s main street is the 400 yr old Swan Hotel. Legend has it, this former coaching inn at one time had tunnels linking it with the cellarage of nearby St Mary‟s Church. One legend relates to the grounds of the Hotel once having a pool in which suspected witches were tested by trial by water - a drowning pool - in which the guilty floated and the innocent drowned. Its ancient walls also contain a Priest Hole, which when found and opened contained bones and bottles indicating it had contained at least one secreted occupant fleeing persecution who had eaten a last meal while being literally „holed up‟. Local tales have it that in the oldest parts of the much altered building the „White Lady‟ regularly patrols the staff quarters. Her ghostly nocturnal visits - pacing the corridors and appearing to stand silently watching in bedrooms - have been the cause of some discomfort for unsuspecting live-in catering staff within living memory. Many spooky encounters have been recounted in whispers of unexpected nocturnal visits from The Swan‟s silent Lady-in-White. Source: Stafford Haunts, Stafford Borough Council 61


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Angie Burns: The Grand Staircase As I was going up the stair I met a man who wasn‟t there … I came here for a mystery weekend but hadn‘t expected all the guests to be into ghosts and ghoulies rather than other mysteries. I think it‘s because of this place. It has a very peculiar ambience. I‘m sensitive to atmospheres and things that don‘t feel right. And what feels most wrong to me is the grand staircase. I know I have a sixth sense, but why does it always have to be to do with death and the un-dead? I was telling you about the staircase. It is very grand indeed, with a wide lower landing (I suppose you would call it a mezzanine) and a grand top landing which goes all of the way round to meet itself again. The lower flight of stairs is wide, extremely wide at the foot. I think three or four people could walk up it abreast. At the lower landing it splits into a left and right curved section. The banister rails are a beautiful burnished oak but you can‘t slide all the way down them from the upper landing because there are finials at the mezzanine level as well in addition to the top and bottom of the banisters. I looked at the finials at the bottom and they are like lion‘s heads, a lion‘s features squashed into a globe shape. The other day, people were busy making arrangements for the séance. We were sitting around the dining table and I asked, quite loudly but not impolitely, ‗Have any of you sensed anything odd on the 62


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grand staircase?‘ It was bizarre because they just ignored me and carried on with their plans. Then, later on, Gloria approached me and said she wondered why I‘d asked my question. I said I‘d felt something weird. She told me that she‘d sensed a presence near the top of the lower staircase. She couldn‘t really say any more, she said. She‘d asked the MacTavishes but they were not very forthcoming. She said they were decidedly cool about it. ‗Was it about two or three steps from the lower landing?‘ I asked. ‗Yes. You‘ve felt it there too?‘ We decided to go up the stairs together and realised we‘d never been up the stairs except on our own before (unless you counted the unknown presence!) We found ourselves whispering as we climbed the stairs, side by side. When we reached the step three below the lower landing I felt both cold and hot, my body shivering but my cheeks flushed. We were side by side, as I said, and then, just like that, she disappeared. It was only for a fraction of a second and then she was back before we arrived together on the next stair. It all happened so quickly I wondered if I‘d just imagined it or blinked too long. Then Gloria asked me, ‗Where did you go?‘ ‗What do you mean? I didn‘t go anywhere.‘ ‗Yes. Just for a moment you were gone.‘ ‗I thought it was you who went.‘ We‘d stopped ascending and were standing by the 63


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left-hand finial. ‗Look!‘ I said. There in the lion‘s head finial was a face – a human face! It was rather faint but definitely there. It was fading away like The Cheshire Cat though it wasn‘t grinning. We stared at it until it was gone. I was the first to speak. ‗Who is it? Do you know?‘ ‗You don‘t?‘ Gloria looked puzzled. ‗No.‘ ‗It‘s you,‘ she said. We rushed down the stairs and ran straight into the MacTavishes. We stammered out what had just happened, up to the face in the finial. ‗And whose face was it?‘ Mr MacTavish asked. ‗This one,‘ said Gloria. ‗Well my dear,‘ he said. ‗You are very honoured. The spirit of the stairs must have liked you, and your face.‘ ‗The spirit of the stairs?‘ Gloria and I spoke in unison. ‗What do you mean?‘ ‗We don‘t see her often. She usually keeps her distance but she‘s been there for many years. She lived here long ago. She threw herself from the top balcony when her young man deserted her. She was probably just making a dramatic gesture. It‘s not that big a drop. Killed outright though, she was. Her head crushed by the finial as she fell.‘ ‗So how do you see her?‘ I wanted to know. ‗We see her face in the finial, just for a second or two. Maybe feel that she‘s there looking at us.‘ 64


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‗Yes that makes sense,‘ says Gloria. ‗It doesn‘t make sense to me. Why would my face appear? How could she do that?‘ I had a thousand and one questions. But then I started to feel very strange as if the world and Gloria and the MacTavishes were retreating from me. Just shock I guess. I felt giddy and sick and my legs felt funny, like they didn‘t belong to me anymore. I thought I might fall and my eyes closed involuntarily When I opened them I realised I was having an out of body experience. This had happened to me before, so I relaxed a little. I could see Gloria and the MacTavishes at the foot of the stairs talking to me. I tried to will myself back into my body but it wasn‘t working. Instead of going down I felt myself drawn further away. Then all was still. I couldn‘t move. I still saw myself and the others below. I was staring at them from the lion‘s eyes.

As I was going up the stair I met a girl who wasn’t there … I know I should be shouting and screaming ‗LET ME OUT!!‘ but I feel quite calm. It‘s as if my present state, that is the lack of a corporeal element, has taken away the need for an emotional response. No adrenaline I suppose. No flight 65


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or fight response. Intellectually I know I‘m in a fix but while my spirit, for lack of a better word, is here, inside the wooden lion‘s head, I feel just that – wooden. I‘m not sure why I can see. That‘s surely a physical activity, but I‘m glad I can. I‘ll be able to keep track of all that is going on in the Castle Hotel all that‘s going on around the grand staircase anyway. And I can plan. I need to work out how to get back into my body. Calm as I am, I know that I do not want to stay here indefinitely. I don‘t need sleep so I can keep watch at all times. Whenever I see myself, I seem to be behaving normally, normally for me, that is. I contemplate whether the others detect anything different. The problem is that because we‘ve only just met each other, they won‘t know what is normal for me. I do hope my body snatcher behaves well, or she could be ejected from the castle before I work out how to get my life back. My best hope is Gloria. She detected something on the stairs before I was switched into my wooden straitjacket. I search for anything from her that may mean that she knows that‘s something has changed. But I daren‘t wait for too long before I try to get back. I can feel my hold on the reality of my situation failing, as if I‘m in a dream and I‘m about to wake up. But awaking could mean losing myself forever and then the consciousness of the spirit of the stairs will be me and I‘ll be nothing. I can make out people and faces when they are close but I can‘t seem to be able to tell if it‘s day or 66


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night. I assume it‘s night when there are long passages of no activity. But because I have to keep everything in my mind and have no means to keep a record to indicate the passing of days, well, imagine it - it‘s just very difficult. I‘m a prisoner but I can‘t use a sharp stone to make marks on the wall. Not long ago I heard the MacTavishes and Gloria speaking below. Gloria was asking about the spirit of the stairs. ‗Mr MacTavish? It was fascinating what you said. Can you tell me more about the young woman who died? And how you detect her presence? I did too, you know, but it was just such a vague feeling I didn‘t know what it was.‘ ‗Of course my dear. But not here. Walls have ears.‘ They move off down the hall and I would have stamped my foot if I had one to stamp. I can still hear them talking but I can‘t make out anything they are saying. Then I hear another voice. It is mine. ‗What are you doing, looking all conspiratorial?‘ I say. Perhaps because it is me I can hear it clearly. There are mumbles in response and the sound of people moving off. Then I speak again. ‗So you‘re interested in the spirit of the stairs Gloria? Shall we go and investigate further?‘ They move towards the stairs. Gloria responds. ‗I‘m not sure I want to get too close. It was very disturbing what happened when we went up together 67


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before. I thought you‘d be even more reluctant than me.‘ ‗No! Not at all. It is fascinating, as I‘m sure I heard you say.‘ ‗It‘s probably very mundane. A jilted lover. Not really very interesting.‘ ‗Oh I don‘t know.‘ I recognise the tone I use when I‘m annoyed but trying not to show it and wonder whether Gloria was trying to provoke on purpose. Perhaps she thinks it a good strategy to find out what was going on. So she does know something is wrong. I see Gloria, with me, starting to ascend the stairs. She is hanging back a little and watching me intently. Their steps are silent on the treads and I would hold my breath but of course I have no breath to hold. It seems an age before they reach the fateful stair. Then just for a blink they both disappear, and I am on the move again. Thank goodness! Thank Gloria! All is going to be well. When the stairs, my head, the world stop spinning I can feel my body again. But, oh no! I look down and I see legs that are not mine but Gloria‘s. I look back up and see my own face smiling nastily at me. ‗Well that should stop your nosy friend. Now what are we going to do about you?‘ she says.

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I scream. Or Gloria screams. Or we both scream and everyone comes running. I‘m still just below the top of the wide lower flight of stairs, not far from the lion finial from which I assume non-corporeal Gloria is surveying the scene. We see all of them, Julia, Bunny and the other guests rushing up the stairs with the MacTavishes, behind them, looking at the crush with what looks like undisguised disdain. The Major looks frustrated, stuck at the foot of the stairs in his wheelchair. ‗Gloria, are you okay? What happened?‘ Julia is the first to reach me. No! I‘m totally fed up! Everything bad that happens here, happens to me. I‘ve had enough. I‘m leaving, right now!‘ A convincing performance I think. Julia is not so sure. ‗This isn‘t like you Gloria. I know it‘s been difficult. The séance was really creepy. But you can‘t go. You don‘t run away from things. ‘ ‗You just don‘t get it. Does she Mr MacTavish? I catch his eye and he pushes through the guests. ‗Yes my dear. This business with the spirit of the stairs. You seem to attract all the resident unstable phantoms to you.‘ ‗Unstable?‘ ‗The unsettled, unhappy ones. The ones who don‘t know what they want. They would find your confidence and strength reassuring.‘ So he hasn‘t noticed I‘m not really Gloria. I fume a little at being overlooked. The spirit of the 69


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stairs picked me first. There is really quite a scrum on the stairs. With the exception of the Major, we‘re now all crowded onto the two steps below the finial. I start to feel a little faint. Too many people taking up the oxygen. I‘d turned away from my body with its unstable spirit, feeling temporarily safe with so many witnesses. But in this crush anything might happen. I look anxiously around but I can‘t see me. After a momentary panic, I start to wonder if I could be happy trapped in Gloria‘s body. It‘s not too bad. Rather more to it than mine, but okay. And I do feel her calm and self-reliance. But then what would happen to poor Gloria in the wooden prison I so recently vacated? Everyone is talking at once. ‗What‘s happened exactly? Do you know?‘ ‗Isn‘t it time for more refreshments?‘ ‗Why are we all here?‘ ‗Poor Major. He does look bored. I‘ll go down.‘ ‗What‘s all this about a Spirit on the stairs?‘ I turn again to Mr MacTavish ‗Do you see her?‘ ‗Who?‘ he asks. ‗The guest I was with when I screamed and everyone rushed here. You know the very quiet, thin woman. That‘s odd! I don‘t know her name.‘ He looks perplexed. ‗I have no idea who you‘re talking about. You were alone on the stairs when I arrived. Miss Farnsworth, did you see anyone else with Miss Jewel when you arrived?‘ Julia replies. ‗Not a soul.‘ 70


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Craaaack! Crraaaack! I grab the banister as the world starts to tilt. ‗Everyone down as fast as you can.‘ Mr MacTavish takes charge. There is a stampede on the stairs and dust pothers up from the carpet. I stay put. Finally I get it. It‘s that sixth sense moment. There are dead people who don‘t know they‘re dead. And Gloria sees them. She saw me. And she heard me when no-one else did. I am the Spirit of the Stairs. I just forgot it for a while. And in that moment of realisation I know I can‘t desert Gloria. She was the one who tried to help me. She saw me as I was. With all the strength I can manage, I pull myself up along the rail until I reach the finial. I cling on tightly. ‗Hold on Gloria. You‘ll be yourself again very soon.‘ I whisper. We switch. Crraackkkk! The finial is dislodged as the rail breaks off and crashes below. I hear shouts. ‗Look out!‘ The stair beneath Gloria is splitting. I remember all those years ago when I leapt from the top balcony. I should have jumped in the loch. They say drowning is very peaceful. I knew Gloria would know what to do. She‘s running, down the stairs, along the hall, out the door, down to the loch. Julia is running behind. And Bunny too. He looks very much like my faithless fiancé. At the water‘s edge, Gloria prepares to hurl the 71


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finial. ‗Let me,‘ says Bunny. He takes me gently in his hands, judging the weight as he would a bowling ball. Then I‘m flying. Whoa! The world is spinning. Three figures make a silent prayer as the finial sinks to the bottom and I am released into the cold, cleansing current. As I was going up the stair I met a girl who wasn‟t there … She wasn‟t there again today I wish that she would go away.

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Christine Butters TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION A Victorian Court Room What was it ‗bout that flash of white from corner of my eye espied, which caused that quick intake of breath sharpened as in fright; its presence un-denied? Calm the breath and quiet the heart stiffen up unruly knees, climb down from perch there in the gloom the onset of the winter‘s dark; and to my soul bring ease. Forget that this was once the dock, my bench where hardy gaolers sat, watching o‘re the melancholy the thief with knees a knock; held there as in a trap. With clammy hand reach out for dimly seen lying there on carpeted floor, so innocuous, so pale and white and somehow so unclean; as to tighten up my jaw.

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It‘s in my hand now, that white card with letters large in black ink wrote. A notice, that is all it is accounts for the lump so hard; lodged there in back of throat. Blu Tac losing its securing grip allowed the card to fall. Of course that‘s it, it must be so what else would cause the card to slip; and thud against opposite wall? Suddenly it seems that it grows cold a chill is in the air, I lick my lips - glance around feeling much less bold. Is there anybody there? No answer in the gathering gloom save that of steps upon the stair, a crash as something falls and a chill once more engulfs the room; has it broken from its lair? Oh! He‘s never done that before Thoughts jostle in my frightened brain‘ descending with tremendous crack plaster from the ceiling, nothing more; and dust failing like rain. 74


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Thus do I convince myself but signs of damage are none to see, peering upwards towards the sound and with thumping heart I cannot help but think - It must be he. The spirit of that man long since gone to meet his maker on scaffold bold, who knew naught of crime of which condemned at days done; and had no chance to grow but old. Now wanders in this ghostly place this hollow cheat of rule that once held sway, these empty benches where judges sat and men who would not look him in the face; yet took his life away. Be still spirit and to your rest do go this court is nothing now, its powers stripped — no one is here Just papier-mâché figures row on row; and me a craven coward.

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Audrey Rainbow : Feathers Mother and daughter leaving the hotel after the wedding. Both work in hotel, mother as Housekeeper and daughter as trainee Receptionist.

Hannah and her daughter Morag ran quickly from the staff entrance of the hotel, the biting north wind and rain whipping across the loch until it reached their faces, so spiteful if felt like shards of glass. Safely inside the car the two started to laugh with relief. ‗That wind must have come straight from the arctic circle it‘s got a sting sharper than old widow MacCraw‘s tongue,‘ giggled the teenage Morag. ‗Na Na lass, you know she‘s got a heart of gold, she‘s been good to us, when we needed a friend.‘ ‗Aye I ken mother, it‘s just I‘ve never felt a wind like that before, I was only joking. You know I love widow MacCaw, it‘s just what some say of her.‘ ‗As you should, as you should, without her I don‘t know how we‘d have survived.‘ Hannah slipped into silent thought of the old woman and of another night like this. She was back when she was a young girl on her first day working as a chambermaid at the newly revamped Castle Hotel. Mrs MacCraw was the housekeeper, with a no-nonsense regime for all the staff under her. Hannah, like all the other staff lived in awe of the wrath of Mrs MacCraw should she forget to turn back a bed or leave fresh towels for the guests. Thinking of the fear she felt she 76


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now smiled and wondered if the girls now in her charge found her as formidable a housekeeper as she had once felt about her now very best friend and saviour. After five years as chambermaid Mrs MacCraw had made her Under Housekeeper and with her new young husband she was yet to realise that this stern lady with the acerbic tongue would be her salvation. Alex her husband was a gentle man, a fisherman from necessity but a country lad at heart. Never happier than home from sea free to roam around the loch side where they had both grown up. He loved having only animals as neighbours, watching them scampering round the glade. He would take injured creatures back to the small cottage they had shared since marrying and the menagerie grew along with the addition of their own helpless little bundle, Morag. Breaking into her mother‘s thoughts as if reading her mind Morag gently reproached, ‗keep your eyes on the road and not back twenty years mother.‘ ‗Sorry my love I was just thinking of your father‘ ‗Well think out loud. I want to know all about him.‘ Laughing Hannah replied, ‗Oh lass you‘ve heard the tales a thousand times, do you never tire of them?‘ ‗Never, tell me about the owls.‘ ‗Well since he was a wee laddie your daddy had a special bond with owls. He would rear sickly chicks he found on his wanderings, mending broken wings or feeding up half starved young ones who had fallen 77


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from the nest. ‗When we started courting and I was still a Chambermaid working long hours and he was away at sea, meetings were difficult. So what he would do if he came back from sea early was go to the back of the hotel where I kept my bike and put an owl‘s feather in the spokes. Tired out after a long shift the sight of that feather would lift my spirits and l could pedal as if I‘d just got up from a good rest. Sometimes the visit could only be for a fleeting moment but it was enough.‘ Morag sighed, ‗Oh mother it‘s lovely, tell me about when I was a little girl.‘ ‗Patience lassie, you know it word for word anyway. When we married and lived in our little cottage we had three years of happy and contented days. When he was away at sea I would look after your father‘s animals and I always knew when he would be coming home, a tawny owl would return and perch on the fence as if waiting for your dad‘s return.‘ Taking a deep breath as if the pain of what she was about to say had happened only yesterday, she continued. ‗You were just a baby and your daddy hated to leave you when he went to sea. One night which was just like this one, a howling gale and driving rain, the owl came and sat on the fence. He stayed there all night and all the next day and he did not fly away until the police came to tell me your daddy was lost at sea. The owl went leaving one feather, which had stuck in the door latch. ‗The owl appeared again on the day of the 78


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funeral and throughout your life when you were ill or had any troubles you would say it was your daddy watching over you. When you were better he would return to the woods always leaving a feather on the doorstep.‘ Morag interrupted, ‗I know it sounds silly but I did believe it and I think I still do. Startled by a bird swooping in front of the car, Hannah slowed the car even further, peering through the rain soaked windscreen. Again the bird swooped and Morag screamed to her mother to stop. Sounding like the excitable little girl of all those years ago Morag shouted, ‗It‘s daddy, I know it is, he‘s warning us about something. Stop, stop.‘ When the car halted, Hannah and Morag peered through the window and there in front of them blocking the road a tree had been blown down by the winds. Getting out from the car to see if they could get around it, Morag spotted the owl flying backwards and forwards along the side of the fallen tree. As if that small believing child once more, Morag jumped up and down clapping her hands, ‗Look Mummy, daddy‘s showing us the way to go.‘ Hannah had secretly taken comfort from her daughter‘s stories throughout Morag‘s childhood and now she turned her face to the wind and shouted, ‗thank you my love, thank you.‘ Walking back to the car they both saw in the same instant the single owl feather tucked into the windscreen wiper.

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GARGOYLES

Gargoyles are reflections of the soul, Mirrored images leaping out to take control. Teetering on the edge of insanity, Waiting to be pushed into infinity. Voids to the left and to the right, Normality hidden from your sight. Deep chasms yawning so inviting Come to me, now your senses fighting, Sinking deeper into the Devil‘s lair, Flames stripping your bones quite bare. This then is your final destination, Another drug induced hallucination. There‘s a price to pay For this ultimate sin, Then the healing can begin Madness stares at the abomination A mind now closed in isolation. B S 2006

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Steph Spiers : Prelude to a Séance Saturday Evening: At 9.00 pm a group of guests gather round a table in the Castle Hotel‟s conservatory over looking the loch. They await the entrance of the Clairvoyant. ‗Are you sure about joining in this jiggery-pokery Bunny? It don‘t seem quite the ticket. Billiard Room‘s empty this time of evening.‘ ‗Are you kidding Dusty? What a perfect excuse for a hand holding session in a perfectly innocent setting. I‘m not passing up this opportunity for all the tea in China, my old chum.‘ ‗See your point. Very well.‘ Sniffing Miller cast a resigned glance round the fern filled interior of the candle lit conservatory. It was true, Bunny WarrenCooper had got a point, it was certainly a perfect setting for a romantic encounter. Lucky Dog. Still he could hardly blame the young cove, she was a cracker all right. If he‘d been ten years younger he‘d have thrown his hat and his own heart after Julia Farnsworth. As if on cue, the beaded and bobbed, Julia twinkled into their midst dragging her minions behind her like so many of Little Bo-Peep‘s sheep or so it seemed to the wheel-chair ridden Major, who had taken up pole position next to where the famed Clairvoyant would be seated. ‗Oh well, if you put it like that . . . I supposed it‘s all right. Just as long as you‘re not taking it all that seriously. Spot of fun? Eh what?‘ 81


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‗Don‘t be daft. I‘m hardly likely to be swayed from the straight and narrow by some Crone‘s bells and whistles in the dark now am I?‘ ‗Bells and whistles. Good grief.‘ Miller drew heavily on his cigar, wondering for the umpteenth time what he had let himself in for with this Séance malarkey– if truth were told he‘d far rather be starting on a single malt in the resident‘s lounge as was his usual tipple before bedtime. Still, the company was diverting – didn‘t often get many It-Girls in this backwater, where even an unmarried woman smoking a cigarette in public caused raised eyebrows. ‗Smoke and mirrors more like,‘ a soft voice whispered behind him. Bunny Warren-Cooper eased round in the tight space as more guests squeezed into the palm decked interior. The lithe and leggy Julia Farnsworth at his elbow was almost as tall as himself. He breathed in a waft of seduction given off by perfumed hair, the scent intensified by the increasing humidity as more bodies crowded inside. Bunny was suddenly aware of the closeness of the glass walls and the ceiling lit by starlight, he clutched at the chair back to steady himself as the woman swayed closer against his side. ‗Are you sitting next to me Mr Warren-Cooper? Fancy that – that will be nice.‘ The smouldering eyes egged him on from under a veil of kohl rubbed lashes even though the words were innocuous enough for a Sunday school outing. ‗Bunny. Please call me Bunny – everyone does.‘ Now why had he said that? Under his tan Bunny found 82


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himself flushing like a schoolboy. ‗A rose between two thorns my dear,‘ gushed Miller tucking the arms of the wheel chair under the crushed velvet tabletop. Julia sank down onto the high backed chair next to the Major as Bunny WarrenCooper flashed a distress warning over the top of her head at Dusty Miller, who was grinning broadly at his discomfort. Aware of the performance, Marci Williams of the Wellington Williams‘s – nouveau riche rubber Barons according to young Alec Bristow who made it his business to find out these things, a matter of importance to those whose income relied on good tippers - squatted on the edge of her seat on the other side of the beau Julia clearly had in her sights. The dark haired young woman with the bovine features took the opportunity to scrutinise the other guests milling round the oval table which had been so ominously covered. Her gaze was transfixed by the object in the centre. It was a glass orb concealed from prying eyes by a square of plain muslin. ‗I say what fun. What?‘ Marci Williams turned to the attractive man at her elbow who was drawing a chair under the table on her left. A ruddy faced specimen of prime fed manhood was beaming a glow of good health as was his taller companion a similarly wide-eyed woman in her twenties whose accent denoted she wasn‘t local. Farming stock, Marci hazarded at a guess. ‗Have you met my wife, Miss Williams?‘ Realization hit home, these were the two wedding guests who had caused such a commotion earlier 83


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by arriving in that noisy motorbike and sidecar. Marci‘s smile became ever so slightly more fixed. Wonderful! Julia‘s new conquest on one side and a recently married couple on the other. Another totally wasted evening. Just then the last of the diners entered and all of the chairs became taken except for a throne like seat with a high carved back in the gothic style which usually lurked in a corner of the entrance hall next to the brolly stand. As if on cue, and somewhat theatrically, hotel owner, Mrs MacTavish appeared carrying a three pronged candelabra from the dining room sideboard followed in procession by a round squat woman of indeterminate age whose legs were hidden by a midnight blue floor length gown which gave the impression that she was floating towards the table. The hubbub of chatter faded into silence as the said, Madam Zara took her place. All eyes focused on the bright-blue eyes which suddenly flashed obsidian as they flickered from face to face in turn from under a thick lace of lashes. Under that penetrating gaze all pretence was stripped away as the Medium scrutinised the players one by one. Mesmerized Bunny followed her gaze round the table: Miller seemed to grow in stature as the years fell away, Julia lost that worldliness of expression and shone, whereas Marci‘s plain features displayed an urgent desperation turning to despair around her pleading eyes. The young man directly opposite seemed to fade, while the glow of his expectant new bride changed as she grew old and seemed to wither on the vine, whereas Julia‘s young84


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est brother Tom matured into manhood as he fixed his attention on Gloria, the older woman at his elbow who seemed to lose some of the anxiety she had carried to the table. The eyes of the bejewelled Honourable Sybil enflamed with red while the emerald at her throat seemed to emit a glow in the enfolding darkness. ‗Strewth,‘ muttered Bunny Warren-Cooper, as ice-water trickled down between his shoulder blades: could everyone else see what he was seeing? Whatever had he let himself in for? And what secrets did his own face portray? He felt a smooth touch on his hand as Julia slipped her fingers into his below the table. Yet he didn‘t think she was being forward. She was trembling. It was disconcerting when his other hand was similarly grabbed by the wallflower, Miss Williams, in a powerful demanding grip. Weaving her influence upon them the Medium had somehow changed the dimension of the participants from a group entertainment to something of a far more serious and sinister nature. All conversation stopped. All waited for the woman in the ostrich plumed headband to speak. Although many felt she had done so already, such was the power of suggestion the woman held over them all. Bunny Warren-Cooper swallowed, he knew what everyone was thinking - this arrival really was the real McCoy – the clairvoyant was fey – a spinner of witchery. Here in their midst was a spell binder, a reader of destiny – if this funny looking woman was a cheating charlatan – she was a darn good one. 85


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In the pervading silence, Marci glanced across the table to where the young couple, who had been married that afternoon in the Castle‘s Chapel, were seated next to Julia‘s pal Gloria Jewel. Gloria‘s face was ashen, Marci noted how she had taken a tight grip on young Tom. Lord, Gloria was baby snatching now! The boy was hardly out of his pram. Things were getting better and better. Not! ‗Now let‘s see what the future holds,‘ the woman appeared to say. At the prompt Mrs MacTavish departed taking the three candles with her so that the only light came from the moonlight filtering in through the glass panelled ceiling, the soft glow of an oil lamp burning on a side table by the outer exit door to the garden and a dim glimmer from the open doorway to the lounge. As the owner left her guests in the hands of the Medium, Bunny Warren-Cooper was disconcerted to realise his knees had turned to water, as he glanced around the waiting faces another thought struck home – there were thirteen places. As his gaze fixed on the table a long bony hand slid off the muslin square revealing the crystal ball. The pagan ritual was about to begin. ‗Look into the fire,‘ the woman breathed passing the flat of her hand over the crystal sphere. Hardly had the words been uttered than the interior of the crystal glowed with a strange smoky incandescence. ‗You. You will be first.‘ The hand snaked out and pointed accusingly into the face of the young fresh faced bridegroom. By way 86


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of emphasis a red enamelled nail stretched out over the top of the ball directing all eyes in his direction. Oblivious, the young couple grinned their secrets into each other‘s dilated pupils. The groom made to speak but was bidden to silence by a pass of the hand in a half circular motion. Bunny froze. He‘d seen that done before. Roula, the Shaman had quieted her flock in similar fey fashion with a pass of her hand through the still night air of the tropics. In fact something else was reminding him of her white witchery. In the cloying darkness a heavy scent was pervading the room, an odour given off by night scented lilies and orange blossom: intoxicating, heady, his body stirred in response to the closeness of Julia‘s thighs, the flimsy satin of her gown pressing against him, the softness of her hand, the heat and humidity of the confined space and the intensity of the moment. The young man beckoned to hear his destiny sat forward. As if bidden all thirteen in the circle joined hands. The figure in the high backed chair placed her elbows on the cloth clutching her two joined hands on to the table top – all participants did likewise so that all their forearms lay visible with their hands forming a circle of human bondage around that glowing crystal orb. There was no backing out of the enchantment now. Bunny‘s energy was draining away like water running from a tap, whatever power she was focusing was being dragged out of the participants joined around that table, whatever would happen next they were powerless to stop. 87


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TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION

The tea-cozy hat A Rising Brook resident‟s true life encounter with an echo of the spirit world as related to Steph Spiers. As we all know Merrivale Road, Rising Brook contains a number of sheltered housing blocks suitable for retired and disabled residents. Many of these are designed so that a long hallway runs from the front door to the rear lounge, the kitchen and bathroom doors also open onto this central corridor. The following true life encounter comes from a current tenant of just such a ground floor apartment. This is what he has to say: „I was on my knees cleaning in the bathroom. It was mid morning in broad daylight. I don‟t know what made me look up towards the open doorway, but, as I did I saw this figure walking very fast towards the living room. I was gob-smacked. I couldn‟t believe my eyes. I thought I must have left the front door open and somebody had just walked in off the street.‟ „I struggled up onto my feet and rushed into the living room, but, it was empty. I checked the front door - it was still locked with the latch down. It winded me I can tell you. I thought I must have imagined it.‟ „What‟s so peculiar is what this person looked like. So real. How could I have imagined a tiny, little old lady wearing a woolly hat?‟ 88


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„Yes. I know it sounds daft — but this figure was wearing a striped knitted hat — for all the world it looked like she‟d got a tea-cozy on her head. One like everybody had, y‟know to keep the tea-pot warm in the days before tea-bags.‟ „I reckoned I was losing the plot so it took me ages before I mentioned what I‟d seen to one of my neighbours. It turned out only four tenants had ever lived in my flat. Apparently, one of the first tenants was a very, very old lady called Adie or Agnes or something similar. My neighbour recalled she was a small person not much bigger than a child of about twelve. Under five feet tall and, well, the old dear had lost most of her hair and was a bit eccentric she used to wear a knitted tea-cozy on her head in the winter round the flat. A striped one.‟ „So, if I am going daft how come I imagined something as specific as using a tea-cozy for a hat? I mean what are the odds of that?‟

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Christine Butters: A message from Hugh Saturday evening Billed as ―An Evening with Madam Zara‖, that well known medium, it both attracted and repelled the guests gathered for the ‗Mystery Weekend‘ at the Castle Hotel that Saturday evening. Those of a credulous nature looked forward to it with a tingle of anticipation. To others it was seen as just so much hoo-hah. Major ‗Dusty‘ Miller was determined that he would not get involved but was overborne by his younger compatriot ‗Bunny‘ Warren - Cooper. Promptly at nine o‘clock the guests were summoned to the conservatory which was in darkness lit only by candles at the extreme edge thus plunging the large, covered table into Stygian gloom. Julia and Marci were inclined to treat it as a very good joke and were whispering and giggling together as they took their places. Gloria, with her recent experience so fresh in her mind was unsure and had almost cried off but Julia had pooh-poohed her fears and so she had come along. Now she found herself seated by an empty chair that was obviously destined for the famed ―Madam Zara‖. The guests waited, some fidgeting nervously, and then she was there. A round woman of uncertain age had drifted in on a cloud of floating scarves and had taken her seat placing white, heavily be-ringed, fingers upon the table. Glancing at Madam Zara Gloria discovered that she was being observed by a pair of 90


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blue and singularly knowing eyes. She felt her flesh creep and could hardly suppress the shudder that ran through her slim frame. ‗Close the circle.‘ Madam Zara‘s throaty voice commanded them and each one lent forward to engage the little fingers of their neighbour with their own trembling digits. ‗There must be no noise,‘ that cigarette damaged voice exhorted. Silence reigned broken only by the sound of ever deepening breathing. Madam Zara went into a profound trance, her body slumped into her chair - her head unnaturally arched back. ‗Is there anybody there?‘ her voice dropped into the silence. The candles sputtered as in a sudden draught and then steadied. ‗Is there anybody there?‘ The question hung between them. ‗Answer now. Is there anybody there?‘ A sudden crack, crack almost made Gloria scream - it was so close. ‗Do you wish to make contact with someone? Answer two cracks for Yes and one for No.‘ Two cracks came almost immediately again from very close at hand. ‗You have a message? Answer two cracks for Yes and one for No.‘ Gloria was not surprised when the two cracks sounded almost before the medium had ceased speaking. ‗Is it someone in this room?‘ - Two cracks. ‗Man?‘ - one crack. ‗Woman?‘ as the two cracks came it was all Gloria could do to stop herself from calling out so 91


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sure was she that Madam Zara was a hoax - she had felt her leg flexing with every crack. Madam Zara was silent as if the effort required to summon up the spirits was all too much for her. And then in a voice almost devoid of volume, ‗what is the name - does it start with an A?‘ One crack sounded immediately to followed swiftly with denial of the intervening letters leading up to G. Then, as Gloria knew that there would be, there came two very loud, sharp cracks. She wanted to snatch her hand away from the pressure exerted by that one white finger pushed suddenly so hard against her own and to leap to her feet and flee the scene. But she sat still. The pantomime went on - for this is how she now thought of it. G- L- O- R- I- A was soon spelt out and a current of suppressed excitement quivered through those assembled around the table. ‗You have a message for Gloria?‘ the voice was stronger now. Two cracks came. The pressure on her finger was almost painful and Gloria looking up sharply at Madam Zara found that she was looking into the face of the old man. Those pale, rheumy eyes were watching her carefully. Licking her lips she whispered, ‗What is it?‘ The medium let out a moan and her hand closed like a vice around Gloria‘s. ‗Be quiet,‘ Madam Zara hissed and obediently Gloria fell silent. The ritual would continue there were to be no short cuts - she understood that now. The pre-ordained questions would be asked and eventually she would know just what it was that Mr MacTavish had to say. 92


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The tension around the table rose with each correct answer established - it hardly seemed that the spirit waited for the question before it answered - one crack for No and two cracks for Yes. Slowly the message was spelt out letter by letter and when it finally became clear Gloria almost fainted. H—U—G—H S—A—Y—S T—H—A—N—K Y—O—U. Madam Zara‘s head dropped onto her chest and Marci‘s puzzled voice was heard saying over and over, ‗but what does it mean?‘ Gloria did not answer. She merely returned the pressure of Madam Zara‘s fingers on hers and looked without surprise into the briefly raised eyes of Mrs MacTavish, the owner of The Castle Hotel.

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Doreen Baines: Is Truth Stranger Than Fiction? My first encounter with the above was when I was quite young. It was the ship sails that started it. I immediately told my Dad what I was seeing but he did not take any notice as to what I was saying . I always enjoyed going to the river I learned to swim there. At that age I was not allowed to go alone even though all I had to do was escape over the fence into what we called Cuckoos‘ Entry and I was there. At the age of eight I decided I was not going to mention any thing about the sails again. Four years later and the war was still ongoing. Since my younger days there had been pill boxes built on various parts of the river. Around then was the next time I thought I would try and tell Dad about what I was seeing from the river bank. I was amazed! He started asking me questions about the sails. I had no problem answering them. He asked: ‗Do you always see them in the same spot?‘ ‗Oh Yes!‘ I replied. ‗But only from the right hand side and the bow faces down river to the sea. It is very old and the sails are creamy, yellowy beige, very faded to look like cobwebs. There are three masts and the wood is so faded they almost look white.‘ Dad kept staring at me. Suddenly he said: ‗Are you making this up?‘ ‗No,‘ I said, quite indignantly. On our way up Cuckoos‘ Entry there was Mum 94


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coming down the path. Dad took hold of her hand turned to me and said: ‗Tell Mum what you have told me.‘ I did so. She was not the least bit surprised, I think she had heard rumours before. When, as they thought, I was out of hearing distance Mum started to tell Dad the history of the area. Many years ago, before the river started to silt up, there had been a ship building yard on the spot where I was seeing these sails. Mum went on and on saying there were still signs of the docks deep down in the water even though the silt had taken over. I got a little scared as I suddenly realised what was happening. So did they. So Yes! I Do Believe Truth is Stranger Than Fiction.

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Doreen Baines:

Coffee and Carrots

(This story woven seamlessly into our tale is based on fact.) Oh! That smell of coffee I always think it smells better than it tastes. We have now been in the hotel business for two years and I still find myself saying: ‗what on earth have we done?‘ We soon learned the Inn business appears more romantic than it actually is. But, the smell of coffee when there was no coffee around intrigued me; I told my husband about the aroma and to my surprise he agreed. The aroma was only in this one room which was an upstairs bathroom at the time. We need a break, so we‘ve decided to book into the Castle Hotel in Scotland. It will be too much for us to cycle up there from the Welsh borders and I certainly don‘t want to go by train, I have asked our Ted to lend us his motorbike and sidecar. That will be exciting and we will be in the open air, besides there‘s a deadline for booking in. So the next thing was to arrange the train journey with the bike that was the easy part, my uncle sorted that out including it going into the guards van. Always a nice bonus to have family on the railway. Philip said: ‗I think this is going to be quite a change for us this week-end, a bit of a home from home but on a grander scale. Don‘t worry Becky the staff will manage all right. They are good friends and well experienced as long as we leave everything okay 96


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for them.‘ Only another couple of days and we will be off. I will clean the lines tomorrow, and we have no more guests booked until the Autumn, besides the season is almost at the end now anyway. Vernon, our builder, should not have any problems with that last bit of construction, he has done a wonderful job of refurbishment on the whole place. Phil‘s right. We do need this break to get away and decide what we are going to do: stay or sell, hopefully on our return we will have decided. We planned to stay at my Aunt‘s overnight. On our arrival they had a lovely meal ready for us. My Aunt‘s a lovely cook, and we talked until quite late, then just as we were about to retire Aunty Ada said, ‗Have you decided if you are going to sell that Inn?‘ Before we could answer, she added quite sharply, ‗I certainly would. It‘s too creepy that place. As lovely as it is, it would play on my mind. Anyway I won‘t be going there any more, enough is enough? Any of your guests mentioned it?‘ Aunt Ada had felt this way before she had ever stayed at the Inn. A bit like my Mum, she was a bit of a psychic, Uncle Tom shut her up, for my sake I expect. ‗Come on Ada let them young folks go to bed they have a long journey ahead of them tomorrow.‘ Six am and up we got. Aunt Ada and Uncle Tom were already downstairs, a lovely smell of bacon greeted us on the way down. They had never had any children and seeing as I was the eldest grandchild they were like second parents to me. 97


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Nine a.m. and on the road. ‗You know Phil, it is strange how Aunty Ada feels about our Inn. We have all had some strange experiences there haven‘t we?‘ I called into the wind from the sidecar as we hurried along the twisting lanes. ‗Shall we sell it? I think we should.‘ He did not reply. ‗Take last week when I was weeding in the back garden. I looked up and there was the window back the way it was before we altered it and suddenly there were those two little hands that I had seen before placed against the window pane.‘ According to that old artist, years ago the rumour was that the people who owned the building when it was a Drover‘s Inn had a son but, no-one ever saw him and that the boy was badly deformed. Well we arrived all in one piece – our decision still not made. We received a very nice welcome at the reception desk and were escorted to our room, which we found strange. It seemed to be placed in the exact position as the child‘s room in our Inn facing due north. We both had a creepy feeling about this but Philip soon put pay to this with his joking and insisted we explore the grounds. They had a vegetable garden almost laid out the same as ours at the Inn, I kept looking up and sure enough there was the window to our room But, I could have sworn from the outside it was shaped like the one in our own Inn, but, even more strangely it was not like it on the inside. I put such thoughts aside and so we carried on and had a lovely walk around the gardens. Philip said: ‗I think we had better go back now 98


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as we will have to get ready for dinner, shall we go back a different way?‘ So off we went. All of a sudden I noticed we were heading back the way we came: there was the vegetable garden. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. As I looked down on the path, there was a large amount of carrots piled up in front of us and as I looked up I said, ‗Philip look at the window.‘ There were the tiny hands we had seen so many times and then we remembered what the local had said how the deformed boy in the Inn ate raw carrots and drank coffee and that was about all the nourishment that he required. Philip changed the subject and pulled me onwards. ‗Becky when we were checking in did you notice that gentleman along side of us in the wheelchair? I have seen him before?‘ ‗Yes Phil,‘ I replied. ‗I felt the same way I wonder where? It will come to us eventually. It will be very relaxing for us here and we need this. We will have some lovely walks.‘ I paused, realising I was just talking for the sake of it, trying to put those tiny hands out of my mind. ‗I wonder if you can arrange boat trips? How nice it is on the Gulf stream so it will be quite warm, I wonder who the original owners were, they must have been quite wealthy having their own private Chapel.‘ Phil squeezed my hand, he wasn‘t going to mention the child at window either. ‗The Huguenots settled here at one time I believe, no doubt we will find out about them.‘ 99


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I played along. ‗That burnt out wing should be interesting I only hope no one lost their lives there. I wonder when that happened. You know Phil, it was our curiosity being the reason that we own the Inn today, so don‘t get any wild ideas, and if we sell, that is it, the end of all Inn keeping for us including Castles.‘ He smiled and the experience slipped away from us for the time being. Well this week-end is going very quick. The séance is tonight. I have just realised who that gentleman is. Major Miller! He came to stay at our Inn just before we altered it and sat with this other man in the inglenook. Miller‘s companion was an artist, his name was John Casparen. I reminded Philip, ‗Do you remember I joined them at their invitation. You must remember they‘d also had the experience with the hands at the window.‘ I pressed Philip, ‗Casparen the painter said apparently the only time the boy left that room was on his death which was a very strange occurrence. Supposedly he choked on a carrot.‘ ‗Of course, I remember. Who wouldn‘t? When that artist fellow said he‘d painted a picture of a winter scene and when he came to complete it the next morning at the top on the left and right hand corners were tiny hands. He had no explanation for it.‘ Philip turned away towards the Conservatory as if closing the conversation. ‗I say Becky, Madam Zara is quite flamboyant isn‘t she?‘ ‗Well here we go I must say I am not to keen on this sort of thing and I am only doing it for you, you 100


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know!‘ I whispered in his ear as we sat down. Everyone was soon seated, we had not had much time to get to speak to most of the people except the Major and we enjoyed our reminiscing before dinner. I did not realise that he had at one time, or rather his family, owned a cottage outside the village and that John Casparen, the artist, used to stay there. I extended an invitation and now we have completed almost all of our accommodation refurbishment, Major Miller accepted. He said he‘d be delighted to come and stay with us again it appears that our Inn holds some fascination for him. Hardly had I uttered the words when something caught my eye, ‗Phil look at the window.‘ I whispered. ‗There at the back of Madam Zara‘s head — look the hands are there on the glass pane. I don‘t think anyone else has noticed them.‘ Phil gripped my hand tighter. ‗Let‘s keep quiet about it.‘ Well most of the guests got something out of this experience. When it ended, people were shaking their heads in amazement. It had apparently impressed all those that attended. I was too shocked to say anything. Sunday morning came all too soon. There was a message left for us at the desk to call home. So we asked if we could use their telephone and reception advised us the cheapest time to make this call was in the evening. This we did, fortunately Vernon our builder was at the Inn with his brother having a drink, tea, of course, with it being a Sunday no alcohol could 101


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be served on Sunday, but with the Inn having a restaurant we could serve tea. Our staff put Vernon the builder onto the telephone immediately. He reported he was completing the last project and was turning what were the outside toilets into an entrance into a little snug. We knew this – it was very straight forward as we thought. But why had Vernon interrupted our holiday? He had hit a snag and thought he should not go any further until he had spoken to us. The walls in these toilets had been covered up with what looked like railway sleepers, but the rest of the building was made of dressed stone. Such craftsmen in those days, the quality never ceased to amaze Philip. What Vernon was about to tell us was beyond belief. On removing the sleepers from the toilet block wall underneath the walls were wattle and daub and all level. Apparently such construction was very unusual for this type of building, and on these walls were the most beautiful paintings he had ever seen, which appeared to be very old. As he said, how, in outside toilets in all the damp that had they survived was a miracle. Sure there were roofs on them but no doors What should he do? We told Vernon as he had been right to stop work on these buildings until we arrived home. In that moment to us the holiday was over. We told him we would make our way home immediately, we settled our bill and bid our farewells. I did think on and made a special effort to tell the Major that we were looking forward to having him and his artist 102


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friend as our guests in the near future. He said he was looking forward to seeing the changes we had made, we did not think there was reason to tell him why we were departing so quickly and thankfully noone asked. With that we headed straight home. In hindsight I always felt that we flew. On the way home we called my Aunt to tell them the change of plans. Philip said. ‗I bet she will be over tomorrow despite what she said about never coming to the Inn again.‘ On our arrival home, what met us was beyond belief. Vernon had not exaggerated all the newly exposed walls were covered in the most beautiful paintings bright with colours as if they had been painted yesterday and all so calming. All these pictures contained children with beautiful faces. What I would call angelic. They were sitting as if listening to someone telling a story but, that someone was not visible on any of the pictures. But what was visible on each picture was a deformed child with carrots at his feet and lambs all around but no other animals. ‗Well, we had better lock up and get ourselves to bed and see to Vernon tomorrow,‘ said Philip who was as amazed as myself at the discovery. We awoke about 6.00am and went straight down stairs I immediately noticed no smell of coffee as I passed room Number 4 as we called it. Phil noticed this change as well. So through the main bar, function room, and the restaurant to what we had decided to call the snug. Phil opened the door and the strongest smell of coffee hit us head on. That stopped us dead in our tracks. 103


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On walking into the room what greeted us was certainly beyond belief. All the painted children were still sitting there and the deformed ones all had their hands raised. This bothers me but does not frighten me because every child seems to be so happy and contented. Philip kept his own counsel. When Vernon arrived we told him we were going to keep this quiet he agreed with us. Suddenly, as Phil predicted, my Aunt and Uncle appeared. They were worried about us. My Aunt went straight to see the paintings, I followed her. After a few minutes the old lady turned to me her eyes full of tears. She said, ‗I will never be afraid here again. Is the coffee ready I can smell it?‘ Phil and I looked at each other. An hour later we did put some coffee on and sat in the snug the four of us coming to terms with our discovery while Vernon was going about his business. From that point on we never saw the hands again, the only hands were on the pictures in the snug. Call us sentimental but we only allowed the local Chapels and the Church to hold their synod meetings in that room or used it for charity fund raising meetings. Also we never allowed alcohol to be served in there, we had the pictures protected so no damage could be done to them, word soon got around and the locals were very proud to show the visitors what they called their village treasures. The following spring we had a booking from the Major and the Artist. On seeing the paintings and him knowing the rumour about the little boy the Artist said, ‗I think you have set someone free.‘ 104


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Audrey Rainbow: Duncan and Annie Burns A visitor arrives after the séance to the amazement of Madam Zara

Madam Zara sat all alone in the deserted Conservatory. Alone at the round table that had a few moments before held the assembled group transfixed as the spirit of the old Mr McTavish spoke through Madam Zara to a terrified yet excited Gloria with a message from Hugh thanking her. The message seemed to please Gloria but left the others around the table selfishly hoping that they could have been the chosen one. As she was about to rise Madam Zara felt someone brush her arm and sit down beside her. Turning to see who it was and surprised she had not heard him enter Madam Zara suddenly felt a chill run through her whole body. The handsome young man was strangely dressed for the early 1930s. Most of the young men she saw around the hotel were either dressed for tennis, golf or hiking during the day and lounge suits in the evening, even those in kilts would have stout shoes and Aran sweaters. This young man however was attired in full ceremonial highland dress complete with sporran and dirk in the top of his stocking. Speaking at last in a broad highland brogue he turned to Madam Zara. ‗Well Madam why have you summoned me here so abruptly? It better be important to drag me away from my new bride and 100 guests at our wedding breakfast.‘ 105


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‗I think I understand young man, let me explain. I am Madam Zara a medium of great renown and I have always had the gift to pass on messages from the other side but I have never had a visitation.‘ ‗Don‘t talk such a load of tripe I‘ve told you I‘ve not got the time to waste I have to get back to my Annie.‘ ‗Please believe me I may be of help to you or someone, there must be a reason for you to visit me. Can you at least tell me your name?‘ said a now very excited Madam Zara. Her agitated voice and manner of speaking took him aback and he answered as politely as he could. ‗Why I‘m Duncan Burns and I‘m celebrating my marriage to the most wonderful girl in the world. You may know her, she is Annie the daughter of the hotel owner and I am the luckiest man in the whole world.‘ Hearing his name Madam Zara clasped her wizened hands; nails painted the most scarlet of reds, over her mouth to stifle her surprise. What had she done? She knew the story of the young couple so in love and so tragically parted. Thoughts raced through her brain. This was the first time she had summoned a physical presence. Could she, she wondered, do something to help this young man? Fate was playing strange tricks. True there was a wedding party in the hotel but this was not the groom. Could she, she wondered, change what had befallen the young couple? Turning to look into the intense brown eyes of the young man she spoke clearly. 106


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‗You do not seem to realise that it is many years since you and Annie married in this hotel. You are from the spirit world and I have somehow summoned you here. Perhaps it is so that I can change your fate.‘ Speechless as in a trance the young man continued listening. ‗You should go back to your bride and leave the hotel tonight, tomorrow will be too late.‘ At last the troubled young man spoke and getting to his feet, turned on Madam Zara. ‗What is this cruel trick you are playing Madam? Of course were shall stay in the hotel, this is Annie‘s home and where we shall live a long and happy life. Nothing can harm my Annie while I am around and I must now get back to her. As it is the happiest day of my life I will forgive you your ramblings and hope you do not have too bad a head in the morning. Now I must find my Annie. With this statement a look sudden realisation came over his face and he stood quickly saying ‗I‘m coming Annie, I‘m coming‘. Watching him fade from view as he neared the door Madam Zara sat back in her chair hoping that she would again be able to summon the spirits. Much more exciting than just asking, ‗Is there anybody there?‘ Within twenty-four hours her euphoria had been overtaken by the enormity of what she had done in summoning this troubled young man but for the moment her joy was unbounded. 107


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Christine Butters: Gloria makes good her escape

Sunday morning ‗Well good bye Miss Jewel. I hope you have had an agreeable stay?‘ The soft Scottish voice is as pleasant as ever but are those blue eyes just a bit too knowing I wonder as I pick up my case and prepare to depart. To leave behind the Castle Hotel, the scene of - and here my imagination boggles. In the clear light of day what exactly was it that happened here? ‗Oh, yes thank you Mrs MacTavish,‘ I say with a smile pinned firmly to my lips. ‗Then noo doubt ye will come again?‘ ‗Oh yes, I‘m sure I will.‘ Then as I look up into the other‘s face I see once more the pale, rheumy eyes of the old man and I know that I will never, ever come again. -o0o-

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Audrey Rainbow: Honeymoon Amy and Stuart Cameron successful young couple who marry at the hotel and plan to spend their honeymoon exploring the beautiful and mysterious surrounding countryside.

Arms clasped around each other Amy and Stuart bounded into the dining room laughing at a private joke. This was their first breakfast together as husband and wife. All the other guests in the dining room stopped mid conversation and turned to look at the happy pair. Oblivious to the smiles greeting them Stuart turned to his new wife. ‗Well what would Mrs Cameron like for breakfast?‘ Putting a napkin over his arm as he held out the chair for her, he continued in a mock subservient voice ‗Can we tempt madam with the best Scottish kippers, Scottish porridge oats, Scottish cured bacon, Scottish free range organic eggs or, if madam can‘t make up her mind we can offer‘ he said whilst slightly clearing his throat and whispering, ‗continental breakfast.‘ Laughing and pulling his arm to make him sit beside her she said in her most business like voice, ‗Thank you my good man and much as you have spoilt me with such Scottish choices, I think I will settle for scrambled eggs on toast and coffee if you would be so kind.‘ Rising from his chair Stuart replied ‗Your wish is my command and would madam like her eggs on our delicious Scottish oatcakes?‘ 109


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Quickly moving away from her playful smack he weaved between the tables towards the breakfast sideboard. On the other side of the room Hannah Macdonald the long serving housekeeper bent to whisper in the ear of Major Miller, a resident at the hotel since a time when the tall trees now forming a dappled avenue from the gates were no more than mere saplings. ‗Major, does that wee lassie who married yesterday remind you of anyone?‘ Raising his head from the newspaper, which sheltered him from any unwanted early morning banter, the major focused on the young couple, his myopic squinting eyes suddenly widening in surprise. ‗I ken who you mean right enough Mrs Macdonald she‘s the dead spit of poor Annie Burns‘ he answered with a shake of his head. ‗Aye, that‘s what I thought‘ sighed Hannah as she walked away adding in an almost inaudible whisper ‗hope she has a better stay here than poor Annie, God rest her soul.‘ Finishing their breakfast the young couple parted at the foot of the wide staircase. ‗After that terrible storm last night the air is beautifully fresh so you go and get yourself changed and put our swimmies in a bag,‘ said Stuart, ‗and I‘ll go and see the housekeeper to organise a picnic. Then I‘ll find us a nice safe and very private spot,‘ he added with an exaggerated wink. With a quick kiss they parted. 110


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Half an hour later an animated Amy bounded down the stairs two at a time racing across the hall to the reception desk. ‗Please, please get some help. Stuart just ‗phoned…. There‘s a girl in trouble in the loch…….. I have to go, he said I must come…… he said he has to save her.‘ With that she was out of the door followed by several of the hotel staff. Drawn by the commotion from the dining room a worried looking Madam Zara, the colour drained from her face, stared after the fleeing girl. Reaching the brow of the hill Amy looked down to the loch just in time to see her husband wading into the still, murky water by the reed beds. ‗Stuart wait, Stuart wait,‘ she shouted at the top of her voice but he only continued deeper into the reeds. In horror she watched as he slowly walked deeper and deeper into the maze of reeds and underwater weeds, finally with a last backward glance to Amy he was gone from view. Without hesitation an hysterical Amy plunged into the now cruel and sinister waters. Just as she too was about to be enveloped by the arms of the murderous weed, Joseph, the hotel‘s porter and lift attendant grabbed her hair and, holding onto the human chain formed behind him, managed to release a spluttering but alive Amy. They had to hold the screaming young wife back from the edge as she tried to return to the water. The locals knew only too well that to venture into the water would be futile. The deep weeds at the bottom 111


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of the loch were totally unforgiving. Hours later the fire service brought the lifeless body of Stuart to the surface before descending yet again into the blackness at the bottom to search for the girl Amy said was there. Back at the hotel the kindly Hannah helped a distraught Amy up to her room. Hannah put on the light and heard Amy gasp as she stared transfixed, ‗but this is not our room, it was more old fashioned than this and where is the telephone?‘ she said pointing to the table ‗Stuart ‗phoned me on it and now it‘s gone.‘ Gently putting an arm around the sobbing girl slumped on the bed, Hannah said ‗I was not going to mention this to you yet but now I think I must. This room has never had a telephone and the reception staff took no call for you this morning and were puzzled by your statement to them that your husband had telephoned you.‘ ‗This must be the wrong room,‘ said Amy looking around her ‗I spoke to him this morning, he told me to go to the loch that a girl was in trouble.‘ Patting Amy‘s hand Hannah continued. ‗There are even more strange happenings I feel I have to tell you. You my dear look just like a girl who used to live here many years ago. Her father bought the castle to turn it into an hotel and little Annie was his pride and 112


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joy as his wife had died some years earlier. When eventually Annie met Duncan they had a whirlwind romance and her father gave her a fairytale wedding here in the hotel just like you had.‘ Amy‘s sobs were now subsiding as Hannah continued. ‗The day after their wedding Duncan found a note from Annie asking him to meet her at the loch. When he reached their secret place on the loch side there was no sign of Annie so after twenty minutes or so he returned to the hotel. While Duncan was trying to find Annie someone came running up saying a girl was lying trapped in the reeds. Duncan raced from the hotel shouting he had to save his Annie and by the time the following group reached the loch he was wading out, brushing the reeds aside saying quietly: ‗It‘s OK Annie I‘m here to save you. I thought I had lost you but I will save you. I‘m coming Annie, I‘m coming.‘ With that the water covered his head and he was gone.‘ A stunned Amy buried her head in Hannah‘s chest. ‗Just before Stuart disappeared he turned, saw me and I thought he said:‗I‘ve saved you Amy‘ but it sounded more like, ‗I‘ve saved you Annie, I‘ve saved you.‘ Though they searched the loch for a further three days no other body was found.

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M.R. The Tale of The Colonel’s Daughter The tale of the colonel‟s daughter: sequel and tribute to the “Green eye of the little yellow god,” by J. Milton Hayes Sunday Night:The bell rings, summoning me from my prayers to tend to the guests at dinner, so I wrap the sightless little yellow god in its secret place and hurry down. My name is Pradesh Serringapatam, but they call me Joseph: drawn to this fortress of evil as servant by my desecrated Lord to retrieve his green eye, stolen so long ago in India by the devil half-caste, Mad Carew. I am waiting on these sahibs with their, ―Come here boy!‖ and less kindly talk of my skin, when I see the green eye imprisoned in a necklace round the throat of that woman. That temptress flaunts my lord‘s eye. She is the one I was destined to entrap. She is the thief. Older now she is, but startlingly beautiful and just as she was then, a treacherous hypnotist. She knows me not. From the talk in the mess it was her teasing jest that sent Carew sahib to his quest for the jewel, that I am sworn to recover, and the theft of which, I am to avenge. They are curious as to the origins of so precious a stone. ―It must be worth a fortune!‖, ―Oh, do tell how you came to have it.‖ 114


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I am straining to hear, now that I can stand at the back with the cigars and drinks and chocolates so beloved by these desecrators. She hesitates to tell the truth. ―It was in India. Father was colonel. I had a childish crush on one of the ‗non coms,‘ when I was but a girl of twenty. He was of mixed race, but well loved and shared the mess. Mad Carew they called him. He asked me what I would like for my twenty first and to my eternal shame I taunted him. And the long and the short of it was I ended up with this embarrassing gift.‖ The gathered guests want more. ―How?‖ ―What happened to Mad Carew?‖ Though she slipped in his blood on that hot night, that waltz recording warbling across the square, she will not say. I stabbed Carew through the heart: the vengeance of the little yellow god. But the jewel had not been in his pocket and I slipped out of the window into the moonlight as the memsahib trips into his room. She is screaming, and the camp in chaos: Drum Major sahib shouting and soldiers dropping their guns. She was broken hearted, but I am not concerned with her or her taunting childish hypnotism. The guests question the Lady CunninghamSmythe. ―He gave you the necklace?‖ ―No just the jewel.‖ ―Just the jewel!‖ ―A fine jewel.‖ Her cow eyes are drawn to its 115


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deep, melancholy green. ―Couldn‘t you marry him my dear?‖ ―Of course she couldn‘t marry him,‖ snapped the Major. ―He had chanced his life for this jewel that I was too embarrassed to accept. Father had forbidden me to accept. Talk was that I had sent him to his doom for some mythical stone, and that I had had no right to dabble in things I did not, could not, comprehend.‖ ―But if you did not accept the thing, how come you have it, hey?‖ Yes, temptress, answer that: before I wrap the silk around your throat you will tell. ―I found it on my return from India. It had been secreted amongst my things. He must have pressed it on me.‖ Liar! You lay with him. You tended his grave. ―And it would have been such a crime not to display it, dear heart.‖ ―Dearie, we will help you in your search for lost loved ones at a palm reading. Just a bit of fun.‖ ―I‘d rather not if you don‘t mind.‖ I tingle in my spine and in my loins and my throat burns dry. I must retire or I will burst. I signal Bristow to cover for me and stumble out from the cigar smoke to the cool of the billiard room to collect myself. She enters the billiard room as I desire. She watches the billiard balls rolling across the green baize. She is pale. She has loosened her dress. The 116


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deep green holy stone weeps at the silver clasp that binds it so close to her wrinkled breast. She still has the white forehead and ruddy cheeks of those that wear the cork sun hats. She approaches me as my eyebrows raise and the balls click by themselves. ―Mad Carew could do that.‖ ―Memsahib?‖ ―With the billiard balls: make them roll all by themselves.‖ ―You sent him to his death.‖ ―I did not know. What is it you want?‖ ―The jewel, Memsahib.‖ She places her forehead on mine and I have her. The balls are softly clicking and dropping. ―I say, any one fancy a few frames?... Sorry, later perhaps.‖ He is gone. Embarrassed meddler: foul mouthed officer. The sacred green jewel drops into my hand as the silk slips from her lifeless neck. She sits on the edge of the table wedged up by my hip, the weight of her head on my shoulder. The balls are still and the little yellow god is avenged.

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FIELD TRIP : RBW INTREPID RESEARCH TEAM IN ACTION December 2006 THE JUNCTION NORBURY

a. A ar are en the b e h t t wh r of corne te at nigh is h t la in ys e and essed : alwa séanc a n witn right here e e h e t b t a nt d by en ften prese s confirme d who has o as been se s y a it w iv t wa who off. nt an ic ac ure h Psych loaked fig een turned nction Inn . This claim also prese th . . . . g c u s b J p k a in e t e c tow a bla vita hav f th ho w lights arl Evans o d a table le Taylor , w ings on the in a n m nesse appen : Mr C r Glen Right to have wit tion Inn, M xplained h e c s claim of the Jun ve seen un r a regula imed to h la c o ls a

The presence of a bar by a parano child’s spirit was perceived in the cellarage rm night vigil in Oc al research team who inve stigated the In area behind the tober 2006 as n by holding an part of a fundra Photographs of all ising event for an unexplaine a d floating ‘orb which is built ’ over a very old of light were ta local charity. part of the orig ke cellars, where inal building. Th n in the Carvery, legend has it a is area once he drayman was hundred years crushed by a ro ld ago. lling barrel ov er two

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Clive Hewitt - Norbury Junction Background: The Norbury canal junction was built around 1800 terminating the Newport link canal with what is now known as the Shropshire Union canal. Anecdotal evidence suggests the house across the cut from the Inn was originally a stable building, with the current boatyard being built as stabling, initially possibly as a wooden construction; the Inn may have had some integral stabling. Several rumours current about the Inn (probably built around 1803): that at the beginning of the 19th century a man was crushed by a rolling barrel and that the body of a boy was buried in a cellar — no evidence was adduced. But, there have been other more recent occurrences: A cold hand on the shoulder; a barmaid seeing taps turn on by themselves in the Ladies Room; the figure of an old lady in a corner of the bar area by the games machine; the burglar alarm being triggered when the premises were empty; a manifestation of a ball of light in the Carvery and table levitation. Glenn Taylor, a man living on a barge nearby and frequenter of the Inn, once watched a „puff of smoke‟ going across a field some 50 yards away from his barge. According to this eye-witness, he illuminated the shape with a powerful lamp (2M candlepower) until „it‟ floated out of sight behind a bank. 119


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Steph Spiers: The Junction Inn: Spook Central? The gleaming line of optics behind the counter are not the only place where spirits can be found in the back bar room of the Junction Inn, Norbury. Intrigued by a press report of an all night vigil by paranormal researchers in aid of a local charity, RBW own intrepid team of spook hunters did a spot of psychic investigation themselves early in December 2006. They were not disappointed by what they found at the popular canal side hostelry. Local houseboat dweller, Glenn Taylor was on hand to confirm the ‗absolute gospel‘ account of recent unexplained events by Bar Keeper that lunchtime, Carl Evans, aged 22 the son of a former landlord and who grew up at the pub – who claimed forcefully: ‗there was nobody more sceptical than me.‘ And exactly what spooky encounters had the ‗all night paranormal vigil‘ recorded two months earlier? Apparently strange goings-on were perceived in all the downstairs public rooms – a floating ‗orb‘ of light was filmed and visitations by a variety of spirits were noted; including those of a child and a dark shaped figure, who according to staff has oft times been encountered in the corner of the bar late at night once all the main lighting has been extinguished. But as Glenn Taylor and Carl Evans both stated the most extraordinary event of the séance was when a table not only levitated but bucked and tipped as it tried to rise even further off the ground even though many fingers on the table-top endeavoured to assist gravity and root it back down to earth. 120


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ation arch Investig Psychic Rese er 2006 Decemb Inn The Junction y the itted b Norbury perm sion of kind permis on Frizzell Landlady Alis 121


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Barbara Baron: Existence I work on the new canal junction. It‘s going to be a grand place. I‘m good at my job, I lay the bricks lining the canal. I‘m so used to the moves of laying them I could do it in my sleep. I lay brick after brick, and see how the job‘s coming on, one brick at a time, the walls of the canal rising higher. On and on the job never stops, I just keep on laying bricks, could do it in my sleep. One day the barges will come, pulled by the great Shire horses, I will enjoy seeing that, knowing the part of the job I did was good. I can almost see and hear it, the cries of the bargemen, leading their great horses over the bridge to the stabling on the other side of the canal, bedding their great beasts down, before they come they come over the bridge again to their own reward at the inn. I don‘t remember when I last went to the inn, I suppose I must stop sometime but it‘s not time yet, there‘s a lot of bricks to lay. So I go on and on laying these bricks, could almost do it in my sleep. Put down the bed of mortar, put the mortar on one end of the brick and lay it just so, then scrape off the excess mortar and put the bubble on it to make sure it‘s level, tap a little adjustment on it, there that‘s it, and on to the next brick, and the next. Sometimes I catch glimpses of other things. I almost see strange carriages with wheels that propel themselves, shining and metallic, but not like the great ironworks I‘m familiar with. These are alien things almost like an elongated bubble. I think I can 122


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see two now, from which a group of people are getting out. They are mostly women, laughing and optimistic, asking about and looking for ghosts. It‘s a lost cause because they are the only ghosts here, we have no others, then they come into focus and fade like smoke, this is only my imagination, and there are still plenty of bricks to lay. So I go on laying bricks at this canal junction, pleased to play my part in such a fine structure. I know my work so well, I could do it in my sleep.

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TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION Clive Hewitt : THE ROCKING HORSE [Factually based; although some of the facts have been changed to protect the guilty; and spare the author‟s blushes.]

The shop was just out of the middle of the town in a run down area, not quite a slum but not too far above the mark. The houses were a mixture of early to mid Victorian cottages and ‗working men‘s housing‘ – many of which had been condemned as ‗unfit for human habitation‘ in the 1920s - and some 1930s style council properties intended to replace them. Paint was in short supply; ‗Don‘t you know there‘s a war on?‘, so what there was may have been patchy, however, irrespective of the nature of the area all the houses shone with pride and cleanliness, well scrubbed, whitened or ‗red raddled‘ front steps and window sills, front doors washed and brass work set to gleaming. That didn‘t cost anything and only took a few minutes each day so it didn‘t interfere with the women‘s ‗War Efforts‘. It wasn‘t a big shop, just one of those old fashioned, back street, general stores. They sold Tea, Sugar, Butter, Firewood, Polish, Bacon, Tinned goods, Bread, Lard, Biscuits, Margarine, Sweets, Sago, Potatoes, Rice, Salt, Pepper, Dried Peas, Mustard, Vinegar, Paraffin, Cheese, Custard powder and just about everything else that they could without getting special licenses. The shop had once been the local bakers and was, less the machinery, still fitted out for 124


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that role. Entry was gained up two, well scrubbed, stone steps, through the door on the left; the door on the right went into the living quarters. The counter ran, midway along it, from the large display window at the front to a cross counter at the back of the long thin room. Behind the cross counter was a door into the old bake-house. This was a large room that ran the full width of the building extending back, about twice as far, to the obsolete ovens; which were still in place. They used this as a stock room and it was frequently piled with boxes of this and that ready to go on the shelves when space or customers required. The lady of the house, usually known as Lizzy, was also a dress maker of some local repute and this was her cutting out and workroom – fitting was done in the front parlour which was warmer. In a corner was the ‗office‘; a roll top desk holding the books and paper work. It was a bit cluttered but Lizzy and Arthur, her husband, knew where things were so they didn‘t bother about getting everything ‗Shipshape and Bristol fashion‘. Amongst the clutter and looking decidedly out of place in a childless household was a brightly painted rocking horse. When new it must have been a top quality model. It was a piebald with real leather tack that could be taken off; by small hands that knew how to, a blond mane and tail and real stirrups instead of the iron steps commonly used. Just like real horse it would rear up and throw you to the floor if you didn‘t get on properly, but it went like the wind, although it didn‘t leave the room of course. 125


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The proud ‗owner‘ of this beautiful beast was the young son of a good friend of Arthur and Lizzy who was allowed, under supervision after it had reared up and thrown him a couple of times, to come into the store room and play when the shop was shut or anytime on Sunday. His honorary Auntie and Uncle tended to spoil him a bit when he did and he did get to touch Uncle Arthur‘s Home Guard rifle as well. Arthur was sitting at the desk doing the paperwork when a slight movement caught his eye. The rocking horse had started to move, just slightly but definitely moving, and to his ear came the threnody of a song, a song being sung by a young girl. He was on his own; Lizzy had gone across the road to see her mother and sister, so there was no reason why it moved. Arthur was a railwayman by trade and knew that things didn‘t happen without any reason, so he basically ignored it, just putting it down to wind or something. It wasn‘t until some days afterwards when, in the course of conversation he mentioned it to Lizzy, he really got a surprise, because Lizzy told him that she had seen and heard much the same thing several times. After some further discussion they decided that they needed to get to the bottom of the mystery. The horse was moved from pride of place in the room centre to a distant corner and surrounded by boxed stock; thus making it effectively inaccessible. When time permitted, you didn‘t interfere with trade, they went back to the house that they had bought it from and asked about it. They had a quite a shock when they were offered their money back. 126


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After some further questioning the story emerged that the horse had been the favourite play thing for the daughter of the house who had died some years earlier from some, unspecified, childhood illness. The horse had been kept until the sight of it was too much for the bereaved parents to bear. Then it was sold. It had been sold three times and each time it was returned as it was haunted. Arthur and Lizzy decided that they would keep it, after all a child‘s ghost who just played with a toy wasn‘t going to be a problem. The horse got returned to it proper place and was ridden furiously, chasing after all the baddies a young mind could imagine; and many an outlaw was brought to justice, or, more usually, a quick end under the barrel of trusty, if rather battered, six shooter. I don‘t know what happened to the horse but it may have ended up in Leicestershire, so if you have a brightly painted piebald rocking horse with a blond mane and tail and real leather tack that can be taken off, by small hands that know how to. A horse that sometime rocks and sings softly to itself, please, don‘t be scared; it‘s just a little girl who is taking her turn to have a ride when you aren‘t using it. How do I know all this? Well you see the boy, the lively, grubby, noisy, demanding one was told about it some years afterwards. In fact it was some while after the shop, together with half the houses in the street, had been demolished that my Aunty Lizzy told me.

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2006

That’s it! - RBW hope you’ve enjoyed reading this our second anthology as much as we’ve enjoyed writing it. We hope you will feel inspired to have a go at creative writing for yourself - it’s great fun and you’re never too old to begin. What have you got to lose? If you don’t tell your stories - who will? 129


RISING BROOK WRITERS

That’s All Folks. The end of our madcap adventures for another year. Want to read more? Please check out our website: www.risingbrookwriters.org.uk and Facebook

They contain stories/poems/pictures/ writing assignments/exercises & all manner of projects in which RBW are currently engaged. CALLING SENIOR CITIZENS GROUPS: To book a visit by Rising Brook Writers Community Workshop Team to participate in our exciting new programme for 2007/08 Please contact via website ****************** Rising Brook Writers gained charity status in 2006 Rising Brook Writers: A Charitable Trust: RCN: 1117227 130


TALES OF THE SUPERNATURAL

Published by Rising Brook Writers 2007 Printed by : John Leigh Printers Astonfields, Stafford

DTP design by RBW‘s own in-house team (Any mistakes are also all our own work.) The design incorporates good-practice for publications designed for inclusive access by both dyslexics and an older readership. It is published in a user friendly font - Trebuchet MS - and in large type: 14pt. The font has adequate line spacing with long ascenders and descenders. A ragged right edge allows the eye to stay on the line more easily. Dyslexia is no barrier to creative writing at RBW. Some of RBW design team are dyslexic. The paper used is free of chlorine bleach.


RISING BROOK WRITERS

Remember as a child sitting terrified in the dark with nothing but a torch under the covers reading stories of haunted houses which held secrets of terrible blood stained murders where ghosts haunted empty, silent rooms? You were so scared of those imaginary places your mouth dried and your palms became clammy, but even so terrified you couldn't stop your wild imagination leading to a sleepless night lying awake scared and fretful until daylight. Have you had an encounter with the paranormal? Ever seen a ghostly figure on the landing? Ever walked into a room and felt your blood run cold? Now you‟re all grown up and those were, after all, just stories, but, would you stay at a Castle said to be HAUNTED? There‟s no truth in „Ghost Stories‟. OR IS THERE?? Welcome to real life spooky tales recounted by local Stafford residents. Join us taking an in depth look at some of the weird and wonderful haunted buildings of Stafford, including a behind the scenes visit to the Ancient High House and a haunted Inn. Turn back the years with us as we go back in time to the 1930s for a newly-penned collection of short stories of mysterious doings at . . . The Castle Hotel . . .

Rising Brook Writers: A Voluntary Charitable Trust RCN 1117227

Tales of the Supernatural 2007  

Collection of stories and memories of supernatural events - 2007 RBW second fiction book

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