The Ghost Story

Twenty people gathered in the library of Cavill House. They sat on hard wooden chairs arranged near the fireplace, checking their watches and muttering amongst themselves. A tall wing-backed chair sat in front of the hearth, the small table beside it holding a candlestick and a glass of port. Books sat in the usually empty shelves, draped with fake cobwebs and interspersed with plastic skulls. Jackie and Sandra stood beside the main door, whispering in urgent tones.

“He’s late! I’ll have to phone Christine.”

“What’s she going to do about it? You know what she’s like, Jackie. She’ll just tell us to sort it.” Sandra pried the door open a crack and peered into the entrance hall. She hoped to see their actor striding in through the front door. All she saw was a flurry of snowflakes swirl past the window.

“How? Sandra, it’s her event, she should bloody be here. What’s she expecting us to do, read the stories ourselves?”

A door near the back of the room opened and the attendants sighed in relief. Jackie leaned forward and dimmed the lights, leaving only the warm glow of the fire, and the pale illumination of the candles. The murmurs of the audience quietened down, and they watched a tall man walk towards the fireplace. Dark brown curls surrounded his face, and blue eyes shone above a neat goatee. Dressed in the Cavalier garb of the seventeenth century, his boots knocked hollow on the wooden floor. He sat in the chair and peeled off his brown leather gloves. Moments passed, and he opened his mouth.

“Halloa! Below there!”

The audience gasped at the sudden intrusion of a rich baritone voice into silence. The actor cast his eyes across the gathered people and leaned forwards.

“When he heard a voice thus calling to him, he was standing at the door of his box, with a flag in his hand, furled round its short pole. One would have thought, considering the nature of the ground, that he could not have doubted from what quarter the voice came; but instead of looking up to where I stood on the top of the steep cutting nearly over his head, he turned himself about, and looked down the Line.”

The audience watched, spell bound, as the actor told Dickens’ story of The Signal Man. Even the attendants came closer, ignoring their posts at the main door to kneel on the floor beside the audience. Gasps and even Sandra’s mild shriek punctuated the calculated pauses of the recital. The actor reached the closing words of the story, and left them hanging in the air. The audience leaned forward, seeking more. The actor fixed the gathering with a meaningful stare which each member felt was intended for them, and them alone.

“Samhain Greetings…and good evening.”

The actor faded into thin air, leaving only the ghost of his words in the quiet room. The audience leapt to their feet to begin a five minute standing ovation. Even Jackie and Sandra joined the applause.

The enthusiastic clapping died away. Jackie clambered to her feet and turned on the harsh overhead lights. Sandra skirted the wooden chairs and opened the little side door through which the actor had entered. She led the way toward the small cafe, stocked with interval refreshments for the audience. Twenty people formed a queue, paying for coffee or hot chocolate.

Two minutes later, a man with wild hair and snow-encrusted trousers hurried into the cafe. He grabbed Jackie’s shoulder. Her eyes grew wide when she turned to see his harried appearance.

“Simon! What happened to you?”

“I got stuck out on the back road with a flat tyre. Took me ages to get it changed. I tried phoning to say I’d be late but there’s no bloody signal out here.”

“That’s okay, your replacement came on. The audience loved him! Where did you find him?”


“The other actor. He came on a little late but he did The Signal Man. Got a standing ovation. You’ll have your work cut out for you topping that one!”

Simon stared at her.

“But I didn’t send a replacement…”

Somewhere in the house, Fowlis Westerby chuckled.

* * *

Happy Halloween from Fowlis and I! If that’s gotten you in the mood for a good ghost story, then you can do no better than No. 1 Branch Line: The Signal Man itself, one of Dickens’ finest. You can read it online here

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Friday Flash – A Different New Year’s Eve

The clink of glasses and low hubbub of voices filled the drawing room. Roddy darted to and fro, proferring the bottle of champagne to the assembled guests. He turned to laugh at the tail end of a joke and saw Gloria by the sideboard, her mouth turned down in a frown. She held an empty glass and glowered at their friends. Roddy sidled across the room towards her.

“Why are they all here?” she asked.

“It’s New Year’s Eve! After that splendid party at the Glennister’s for Christmas, I simply had to have New Year’s here,” replied Roddy. He smiled and nodded to two passing blondes. He couldn’t remember their names but he knew they’d arrived with Doug. Roddy made a mental note to press for an introduction later.

“Why? Father wouldn’t be at all impressed.”

“Well Father isn’t here, is he? Besides, I thought it’d be nice to show the place off a bit.”

“It’s tasteless, and it’s insensitive. All that loss of life, and we’re swanning around drinking flat champagne!” Gloria glared at him.

“Oh do try not to be so dull, Gloria! The war has been over for over a year now. 1948 shall be simply marvellous!”

Roddy turned away from his sister and disappeared into the throng of guests. One of the blondes was waxing lyrical about the marble fireplace and he felt compelled to give her a tour of the whole house.

He and the blonde reached the door when he felt a hand on his arm. He turned to see Madeline gripping his sleeve, a gaggle of her fan club clustered behind her.

“Roddy, darling, I’ve told all of the girls about your lovely house, and they want to know if we’ll be able to see the ghost?” Her dazzling smile almost blinded him, and the simpering giggles of the fan club made his skin crawl.

“Oh but of course! She’s our star attraction. Look, Gloria here will tell you more about it!” Roddy tried to snag his sister’s arm as she stalked past.

“But it’s almost midnight.” Madeline held out her pale hand, gesturing to the diamond-studded watch hanging from her wrist. The fan club cooed their appreciation, and even the anonymous blonde at Roddy’s side gasped at the sight of such expense.

“Ah yes, Roddy, I do recall hearing your father talking about a ghost or some such nonsense. Care to enlighten us?” Doug appeared behind the fan club, his champagne glass in one hand, and the second blonde in the other.

“The house has a ghost?” The exclamation rippled through the guests as an approving murmur, and all eyes turned towards Roddy. He groaned, and threw open the door.

“Yes, it does, but to truly appreciate the story, we need to gather in the hall. Come along, this shan’t take long.” Roddy ushered the blonde into the entrance hall. Gloria slid past and directed guests to gather by the front door, better placed to gaze up at the magnificent staircase.

“Is everyone here? Can everyone see the stairs?” Roddy stood in the centre of the grand hall. The guests nodded.

“The story is simple, yet tragic. This house was built in 1812, and saw many a happy family reside within its walls. Yet in 1860, the house was home to the Redwing family. The patriarch had a beautiful daughter, named Elspeth. Unfortunately the patriarch also had a fondness for gambling, and he ran up extensive debts. One New Year’s Eve, some of those he owed decided to break in while the family were out at a party, and take what they pleased to cover the debts. Elspeth had stayed behind with a headache, and she heard them break in. She ran to the staircase, determined to rouse the servants, but tripped over her own nightgown and fell headlong down the stairs.”

“That’s awful!” Madeline’s eyes traced the legendary fall down the staircase.

“She broke her neck and died instantly, or so they say. It is said that every New Year’s Eve, on the stroke of midnight, she can be seen descending the stairs, and anyone to whom she speaks will be dead within the year.”

The prophecy prompted an outbreak of speculation among the guests, and feet shifted on the marble floor. Roddy laughed and shook his head. He tried to catch Gloria’s eye, expecting to see a reflection of his own merriment. Instead, she stood transfixed, staring at something on the first floor balcony. Was that whispering he could hear upstairs?

The guests quietened with the first strike of the clock. Roddy turned to face the staircase. The dark figure appeared on the second strike of the clock. It descended another stair with every chime, its head bowed beneath a heavy mantle, its face in shadow.

The figure stopped at the bottom of the stairs as the clock struck midnight. The guests stared, but Roddy glanced upward, convinced he’d seen a flash of white disappear around a corner. The house ghost wore a white nightgown, not a black cloak.

He looked back up at the figure. It threw back the hood and tossed the cloak backward in one fluid movement. A translucent Cavalier stood in the entrance hall, plumed hat held aloft in a gloved hand, the other hand extended in greeting. A collective gasp drew a breath of cold air into the hall.

“Happy New Year, one and all! May your 1948 be full of surprises!”

The Cavalier vanished from sight before the echo of his booming voice finished reverberating inside the hall. Five minutes passed before any of the guests could raise a glass to the New Year.

* * *

Fowlis Westerby giggled in an upstairs bedroom with Elspeth Redwing.

“That’s the best New Year I’ve had in over eighty years!” Elspeth held her aching sides. Fowlis doffed his hat, and bowed.

“My pleasure, Elspeth. Hopefully I will see you soon, but for now, Happy New Year!”

Happy New Year from myself and Fowlis Westerby!
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Friday Flash – A New Recruit

Mary perched on the step at the back of the room. She hugged her knees to her chest and shivered. Down below, a volunteer historian delivered a talk about 19th century surgery to gawping tourists. The woman paced around the low operating table, her plastic bangles clattering together with every movement. She held up a red block of carbolic soap to make the point that the operating theatre was in use well before an awareness of germ theory.
Mary watched the tourists. They sat on the high wooden steps where students would have once stood in this miniature amphitheatre of surgical education. Mary wondered at the ghoulish delight humans took in the suffering of others. The tourists gasped when the historian told them of the rivalry which led the surgeons to cut the operating time for a lithotomy to just forty five seconds.
The historian called for a volunteer from the audience, preferably a woman. Only women were operated on in this theatre, the men being confined to the other end of the hospital. A young man in a Ramones T-shirt and flip flops ignored the request and put himself forward. He walked down the steps and into the operating area. The historian bade him lie down, and “get comfortable” on the table. Mary grimaced. The operating table was far from comfortable.
The historian brought out an amputation case. She held up each of the knives for the audience’s inspection. The afternoon sunlight reflected on the blade of the Listen knife, sending a spike of light into Mary’s eyes. She hissed, and scuttled backwards to press her back against the wall.
The historian described the amputation procedure, drawing shudders and murmurs from the audience as she used her sleeve to demonstrate the folding back of skin. Mary’s hand explored her left knee, prodding her shin. She remembered the way the bone looked, thrusting out of her skin in an eruption of pus and blood. The doctor gave her the choice of gangrene, followed by death, or amputation, in all likelihood followed by death. She chose the latter, and death returned the lower leg removed in life.
Movement to her right caught Mary’s eye. She turned to see a Cavalier making himself comfortable beside her. He flashed a charming smile. Panic fluttered in her chest and she looked around for an escape route. Tourists blocked her way at every turn. The Cavalier laid a gloved hand on her arm and calm settled in her jittering stomach.
“Wh-wh-who are you?” she asked.
“Fowlis Westerby. At your service, ma’am,” replied the Cavalier.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was assigned a haunting at a pub along the street but I have concluded my business there. I thought I would drop by on my way back to HQ.”
“Assignment? HQ? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Mary. She decided the Cavalier had kind eyes, but she didn’t understand him.
“You have been on our list for some time, Mary. You have a fierce attachment to this place but, well there is no easy way to say this, but you need to let go.”
Mary looked away. She pointed to the back wall behind the operating table.
“The ward used to be through there. I died there, you know. I can’t go. These people…they need to know what it was like. I need to make sure that they know.”
“I know you do, Mary, but there is so much more that you could be doing! You must be ever so miserable, wandering around in the attic or listening to that woman droning on about a procedure you know all too well,” said Fowlis.
“Where else would I go?”
“Mary, try to remember the night you died. Did you see a woman you had never seen before? Long black hair, eyes full of stars?”
Mary thought of the hallucinations brought on by the ward fever. She’d seen lots of strange people around her bed that night. She grimaced to think of the red man with horns.
“She wanted to take you away from all the suffering, but you wouldn’t go. It was the middle of the cholera epidemic, and she had a lot of people to take that night so she could not stay. She was ever so distraught about having to leave you behind,” said the Cavalier.
“I think I remember her,” said Mary. “Her voice…it sounded like scraping metal.”
“Yes, it does take some getting used to, but she is a charming conversationalist all the same. I think you will like her,” said the Cavalier. “Come on, let’s go and meet her.”
The Cavalier held out his hand. Mary looked down at the tourists, now applauding the historian for the conclusion of the talk. She turned back to the smiling Cavalier. She placed her pale hand in his. The operating theatre dissolved from view, replaced by a small drawing room. Bookcases lined the wood-panelled walls, and a fire blazed in the hearth.
A woman with tousled black hair sat behind a desk. She smiled, revealing grey teeth and black gums. Mary suppressed the urge to shudder. The woman stood up and stretched out a white hand.
“Hello there, Mary,” she said. Her voice echoed with the silence of a ruined castle. “Welcome home.”
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Friday Flash – A Gentle Nudge

The writer sat at the small table she used as a desk. She hunched over her laptop, conscious of the dull ache in her lower back. The Word file was open, calling to her every few minutes or so. She tried to ignore it – she had missions to complete on Frontierville, and blog posts to write, not to mention knitting patterns to track down. Besides, she couldn’t possibly write now – she was listening to Skid Row and she could never write while listening to glam. No, she would get to her work in progress when she was done. The stuffed dog on her table seemed to adopt a look of reproach.

“Oh great, even Aston is a critic. Look, I said I’d write 2000 words this week and I’ve already done half of that!” said the writer.

Aston said nothing.

“I’m going to the loo. I promise I’ll do some actual writing when I come back.”

The writer left the room.

* * *

The writer pushed open the door, one hand curled into a ready fist. She’d left her laptop playing Youth Gone Wild and now it was midway through Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D. She looked around the studio flat but saw no intruder.

“Don’t be daft, who is going to let themselves into your flat just to change the music?” she asked aloud. Aston held his own counsel.

She realised she’d left Facebook open, but now the screen displayed her work in progress. Only it wasn’t quite her work in progress. A line of text interrupted the sixth chapter of the supernatural YA novel.

“My dear, you know that I admire your eccentricities, but would you kindly cease procrastinating and GET SOME WORK DONE?”

The writer gasped, before bellowing a single name.


* * *

I’m in the process of rewriting my Fowlis Westerby novel and I get the impression that one day, he will actually do this to me. I’ve already written the story of my editor, Aston, which you can find here.

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Friday Flash – Lone Vigil

Original image by dragoroth-stock. Edit by me.

The paranormal investigators clustered in the corridor. The writer and her team leader stood in the doorway.

“Now you sure you’re okay to do a lone vigil?” asked Brian.

The writer looked around the room again, and nodded. Brian couldn’t decide if her shivers were down to the cold, or nerves. Still, she’d volunteered to do the lone vigil in the nursery. It was her decision.

The writer plumped for a spot on the floor opposite the door. She sat cross-legged, her back straight against the peeling wallpaper. Her eyes flicked between the empty cot in the corner, and the abandoned toy box on the floor. Neither of them came with the decrepit manor, but the trust bought them at an antiques fair three years ago to furnish the room.

“You know how to use the EMF meter, don’t you? Just hold that button down on the side…yes, that’s it,” said Brian. The meter crackled into life, whining at the electric light overhead. “Obviously, that light will be off, and there’s nothing going on downstairs so if that goes off…you’ve got a visitor. You’ve switched your phone off, haven’t you?”

The writer nodded.

“Will this set it off?”  She held up the digital Dictaphone.

“Only if you hold the meter right next to it. If you get a background click, it’s probably the dictaphone, so you can ignore that. Anything stronger and…well, you know the deal,” replied Brian.

“OK. I’m only in here for ten minutes, right?”

“Yep. We’ll come and get you when the time’s up, but feel free to leave the room if you get uncomfortable, and shout if you need me. I’m just down the hall in the master bedroom.”

The writer offered a weak smile, and looked over the list of suggested questions. She handed it back to Brian without a word. He felt guilty about leaving her alone, but it’s what she’d asked to do.

“OK. Well, relax, have fun, and remember, they can’t hurt you.”

Brian snapped off the light and closed the door.

* * *

The writer blinked hard as Brian opened the door, flooding the nursery with harsh electric light. She clutched the EMF meter in her right hand, still ticking over its steady metronome click. Brian brought the other six group members into the room, and they sat on the floor with the writer.

“So how was that?” asked Brian.

“Well, I didn’t see or hear anything, but the temperature dropped at one point and it felt like I was back outside, but when I said it was too cold, the temperature went back up again. The EMF meter went crazy then, and again later on,” replied the writer.

“Let’s have a listen to the recording then.”

Brian picked up the Dictaphone and pressed stop on the recording. He selected the beginning of the track and pressed play. The writer’s hoarse voice filled the room.

“OK, so this is Electronic Voice Phenomenon test 1. Icy Sedgwick in the nursery. I…um…well I can’t see a sodding thing at the moment, so spirits, if you’re in here with me, you’re probably better off doing something I can hear instead of see, unless you fancy flicking the lights on for me.”

The group sat forward, straining to listen for a reply.

“Right, well, I don’t half feel stupid talking to myself so if there’s something in here with me, do you want to say hello?”

A faint metallic ping cut through the slow EMF meter click. Two of the women gasped at each other.

“If that was just the metal in the mattress springs contracting because it’s getting colder now the heating has gone off, then fine. If that was a spirit, can you do it again?”


“That’s good, you’ve tried to think of a rational explanation too. If you can debunk the rational, then what you’re left with is the truth,” said Brian. The writer nodded and the two gasping women looked disappointed.

“Are there any children in the nursery? If there are, there’s a box of toys by the cot. Do you want to play with them? Would you like to play a game with me?” The voice on the recording cracked slightly.

Nothing. The group listened to the silence between questions, pausing at six minutes in. The EMF meter screamed on the recording. The writer’s voice cut across the insistent whine.

“Flaming heck, it’s sodding cold in here. Spirit, if you’re there, do you fancy warming things up a bit? It’s like pissing January now,” said the writer’s voice, followed by “Aw, cheers very much. That’s a lot better.”

Brian raised one eyebrow but the writer refused to meet his gaze. Two more minutes of the writer’s questions and silent replies followed, until the meter screamed again.

“OK, spirit, I know you’re there, and this might sound like a daft question, the type you don’t usually get asked but…Fowlis Westerby, is that you?” asked the writer’s voice.

“Yes, Icy. It’s me.”

* * *

If this is your first taste of my dashing Cavalier ghost, then you can also read his previous adventures, First Impressions, The Priest Hole and The Duel. Happy Haunting!

Now you can also listen to this story as an audio version, by clicking below. Apologies in advance for how strong my accent is when I’m doing dialogue!


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