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Ghost Story by Ruth Dugdall

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Ruth Dugdall is back with a short story.  I hope you enjoy it.  Don’t forget to help yourselves to food!

 

Victimes de la Route

It was the snow that did it. Beautiful, soft feathery flakes that fell and settled on the path around the lake, so perfect to the eye but such a problem for the two children, both wearing roller skates.

“We should have brought the sledge,” said the girl, wiping her hair free of the white icy dusting, and then pushing her hands into her pockets as the snow turned to ice on her fingers.

“Maybe,” said her mother, looking at the sky. “I don’t know why it wasn’t forecast. It looks like it’s going to last.”

It was the last day of half-term, the last chance to spend time as a family before school and work kicked back in to being, and this brief moment of calm was broken. The family walked, skated, and hunched their way back to the car. The boy, struggling on his skates, tried to grab a handful of snow from the top of a hedge and threw it as his sister so it melted and ran down her neck, she yelled at him, hit him on the arm, and the boy fell into a pile of snow, perfect white now marred by the dirt from his skates, the shape of his body.

They began the drive home. “It’s only three,” complained the mother, already regretting leaving the lake. They would be home in half an hour and then what? Television and i-pads and that would be the week over. She would start to put in the washing, potter around the kitchen. Her husband, in the passenger seat, was already talking on his phone to colleagues, as if to signify that the holiday was done.

The tyres ran dark routes through the icy gravel, and the car was a sanctuary of warmth while the outside world became all new, pristine with its speck-less blanket of fresh snow. It was as though they were travelling through a dream world, there were no people around, no other cars.

The mother sighed, taking the turn to the main road that led to their home, in the heart of Bastogne. They were sure to hit traffic then, this lull couldn’t last. Already the children were bickering in the back seat as they always did when they were minutes from home. One hit the other and they became louder, her husband raised his voice on his phone.

She saw the sign: Victimes de la Route.

She’d seen it before, every time they drove home from the lake, and didn’t think much about it. This was a part of Belgium where there had been a lot of fighting in the Second World War, the bulge had swollen and shrunk as towns had been won then lost then won again. Since the move to Belgium they had done the museums, seen monuments, and the kids moaned endlessly about it. Other families, they said, went to Aquariums. Or zoos.

So, because she always saw the sign after a trip to the lake, where they had picnicked and swam on warmer days, she had never taken the turn. But today, with the trip cut short and just a few hours left of their week holiday, she took it. Suddenly, without indication, so the kids slid together and her daughter called, “Mum! What are you doing?”

Though the tyres slipped, it was okay, there was no other traffic, and she took the hill steadily, pressing the snow button so the tread increased as the road rose and curved around the rise in the land, a small mountain, beautifully exposed to the weather that fell on the windscreen in white tears the size of hearts, winning despite the windscreen wipers, so the mother had to lower her window to see properly.

It couldn’t be far, though.

The father turned of his phone and gazed out of the window at the snow. He wiped his fist in circles on the mist on the window, as if to see a way through the blizzard.

The daughter asked, tension in her voice. “This isn’t the road home. Where are we going, Mum?”

“Just to see what it is. Victimes de la Route.”

A protest from the back seat, the boy this time, “I want to go home. I’m so tired.”

“You can rest soon. Just let’s have a look.”

“What is?”

“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “A war monument of some sort, probably.”

It loomed suddenly, she had to swerve so as to make the turn, and the car slid on the icy road, out of her control.

They took a moment before leaving the car. The kids still had their skates on and the monument was down the side of the mountain, a hundred yards through a white field. A square structure, pillars in grey stone. Large, structural, modern.

The mother felt disappointed, she had hoped for a statue of a soldier, or a small information area. But they were here now, so she led the way, opening the car door that was buffered back by wind, her face hit by snow which was no longer light and feathery but now a steel force.

“Come on!” she commanded, leading the way like a General with tired and weary troops. But for a moment it was just her, out there, with the elements. Swirling snow and wind, cutting into her. This mountain was the end of the world, a place untouched, and yet there was a house that she spied now, beautiful and ancient, turreted with a wooden wraparound porch. Windows were broken and the door was boarded up, but the beauty was still undeniable.

The car door opened, and she called, “Look at that house.”

Her husband glanced to where she pointed, but didn’t speak. It annoyed her, his silence. She knew what he would be thinking: that the house had been abandoned for a reason. That it would cost a lot to do it up.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, trying again to get her husband’s attention. “Look at the little tower at the top. It’s huge too, we could run a bed and breakfast.”

He was walking away from her, ignoring her.

Maybe he was right; she would hate being out here without him, and he was often away on business. She abandoned the fantasy, and turned back to the white-swaddled slope, swan-feather flakes stroked her cheeks, as she walked down to the monument. She saw now that there was some information just a few yards away, a simple plaque, but it would be in French so she didn’t stop. Her husband walked over, he would read it, but she would see the monument.

A movement behind, a scattering of snow. Her daughter, valiantly making the trip on her skates. “Careful,” the mother said, as the skates sunk deep into the snow. “You’re going to struggle on the way up. It will be impossible.”

The boy, not wanting to be left behind by his sister, was coming down the slope, his wheels halting then booling, so he arrived, both hands on his mother’s back.

Mother daughter and son approached the monument.

Inside the protection of the concrete structure, between the three grey pillars, was a place for flowers and, remarkably, three candles burned in red plastic votives.

“Wow, they must have just been lit. You’d think the snow would have burned them out.” The son, with a boy’s natural love of flames, knelt down, his hands round the glass.

“Don’t blow it out!” ordered his sister, and the boy protested, “I’m not,” though this looked unlikely. All three looked up, to where the pillars touched over them, and looked out onto the mountain, the valley below. The snow was fierce, a white blanket across the world, but within the pillars of the monument they felt warm and protected from such elements. The mother looked up, back to the abandoned house, and saw no longer the broken glass and boarded door, instead she saw the perfect symmetry of the beautiful home, and imagined lights in the rooms, a fire in the grate. No longer isolated and bereft, it looked cosy and inviting, a family home. She would tell her husband this, when he joined them. She looked back, up to where the car was parked, but couldn’t see him. She called his name, but the word was drowned by the snow and lost. He must be still reading that damned sign. Maybe he’d gone back to wait in the car. He was missing this, she would tell him later. He should have joined them, it was worth the journey. They had found a special place.

Up by his parked car the husband who was no longer a husband read the plaque that he had commissioned. He could no longer see the three candles he had lit in remembrance. He could hardly stand to look at the house, which would be auctioned in a sale next month.

He got back in the car, a new car, with four-wheeled drive, and drove back to an empty house in Bastogne.

Copyright © Ruth Dugdall, 2015

 

A Ghost Story by David John Griffin

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It’s time now for a short story.  Enjoy!

 

THE BENEFACTOR AND THE GHOST

By David John Griffin

Lightning appeared as jagged streaks above the charcoal sea. And a voice was heard inside of the Smugglers Arms, muffled and echoed as though spoken from a distance, ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’

Henry Sims was startled. It was difficult for him to locate the source of those words with their melancholic tone and strange reverberations. He looked about the small beamed room with its abundance of wooden panelling. First to the cast iron fireplace, then through the flickering flame of a candle on his barrel, to one of the room’s sides lined with chairs and more barrels. And when lightning lit the sash window panes once more, a grumbling of thunder came from across the bay and Henry said, ‘Who’s there? Show yourself at once.’

At the precise moment of his demand, he became fully aware of his surroundings as though he had awoken from a tiny place within the back of his skull.

A change in the ambience outside: a street lamp, casting puddles of light across the cobbled street, went out, and even distant hissing from the waves became silent. And there, in an unlit alcove of the snug, a distinct bluish glow could be seen.

Henry called out, ‘What the devil?’ as the glow pulsed, taking on a stronger outline, appearing to shift in an organic way like some phosphorescent sea creature. And when it formed into the distinct shape of a figure, a chill ran through him. Surely he was perceiving nothing less than a ghost in the snug of The Smugglers Arms.

To stand and run would seem an unmanly act but he was compelled to get away from that spectre. Yet it held some power over him, draining his strength and sapping any will to move.

By an unknown cue, he heard more echoed phrases spoken clearly and the ghostly apparition took on more substance. Distinct elements could be made out: features on the head, a shirt collar and jacket with sleeves, and hands even, those seeming to be resting on a luminous, open book.

Henry’s voice trembled as he asked, ‘What do you want of me?’

The words emanating from the ghost continued, now more insistent, ‘So you can hear? Can you hear me?’

‘I can hear you, yes. What have you done? I’m unable to move although I can think clearly but without memory. Are you a spectre sent to bring evil puzzles to warp my mind, to drive me insane? Already I feel…’

‘Unreal?’

‘Quite the opposite: too real. A waking dream of a high perception that I am certain is about to change into a terrible nightmare. I should flee from your alarming entity if only I could move but my limbs have turned to heavy metal.’

The spectre’s voice continued, tinged with excitement. ‘So you can see me as well?’ The glow gained strength, showing the ghostly form accentuated like a neon chalk painting.

With Henry’s brow creasing with perplexity, he asked, ‘I see your strange phantom presence more defined by the moment and wonder why you haunt this snug. Is this a personal visitation?’

The voice still echoed though now stronger and without sibilance or distortion. ‘You could say that.’

‘For what reason? I have done nothing wrong; never have I harmed a soul.’

‘This I know. In fact, the opposite would be true. Much right, helping many,’ the visitant replied. ‘What do you remember?’

‘I do believe I have been suffering from amnesia,’ Henry answered, his tone, previously edged with worry, suddenly transforming with elation. His mind was opening again like a blossoming flower, senses refreshing as though muffs to his ears were being taken away and blinkers lifting from his eyes. ‘Now recalling much – I’m here in the snug of The Smugglers Arms waiting for someone. Yes, I await … I will say no more.’

The spectre now stood in impressive detail as if a real person bathed in a full moon’s cold light. ‘But you must. For your own good. Although I know the identity of your visitor, as well as the reason for his visit. You have nothing to fear. I’m not here to judge, turn your mind or worry you. My mission is to help, nothing more. You are a respected benefactor to many; consider me your benefactor.’

The reaction to those words was swift and abrupt. While Henry nervously stroked his greying beard, he replied with annoyance, “Why do you call me a benefactor? I know of no such person.’

‘But you are known for your help with the poor houses as well as improving conditions in the mills and factories. Your reticence to take any praise is now well-known. Take that beard off.’

Henry’s cheeks reddened with anger. ‘It is one thing to be tormented by a ghost but another to be insulted. I have no shaving equipment and even if I had, why should I shave off my beard, for you or anyone else?’

‘You know as well as I do,’ the spectre continued, ‘Please, remove it, now. I wish to see your fine features.’

‘For what reason?’ said Henry but began to remove the false beard all the same. Once he had peeled the beard from his distinguished face, he laid it on the barrel next to his tankard of ale. ‘Are you satisfied? I have done as you asked. Now my request — it’s time for you to leave, to be swallowed back into the miasmic pit from whence you came. I have been haunted enough. Go back to the past and may you rest in peace rather than your insistent stubbornness to remain on this Earth.’ The volume of Henry’s words had risen to the height of a pulpit-like sermon and, as if his words had taken his strength, he leant forward with his head hanging low.

The blue-illuminated spectre’s reply was precise: ‘I will tell you this much. I’m not from the past, nor am I in your present. Listen and try to understand. I’m from a time ahead of you.’

Henry was unimpressed and merely snorted. ‘Just as I guessed, one of Dickens’ ghosts from a Christmas future. Then what are you called, if spirits can still have names.’

‘There’s no need for you to know. I visit here to tell you something of the utmost importance.’

‘How can I believe a word you say?’ Henry replied. ‘ This could be some demon trick. Already you are becoming bluer and light up even more strangely, there in the corner. Why should I trust you?’

’I know much about your situation. I repeat, I’m here to help. Let me start by asking about the money pouch that was hidden in a secret pocket of your waistcoat. It contained two hundred pounds and five guineas, am I correct?’

Henry stood, swaying, pushing back the captain’s chair so that it scraped across the floorboards, and he bellowed, ‘No thief will come near, no matter how ingenious their entrapments! I begin to understand; it’s becoming as clear as that lightning in the black sky: here we have a Pepper’s ghost trick albeit a sophisticated one. Come out of hiding, you smoke and mirror criminal!’ But clasping the place near his heart where the money pouch should have been, Henry’s previous confidence vanished. ‘You insult my intelligence by taunting, after you’ve stolen from me? What disgusting creature are you?’

The ghost spoke quickly: ‘I will endeavour further explanation to our unique situation. Please listen carefully. I am, to you, indeed an apparition – but from your future, 2025 to be precise. I’m able to communicate with the aid of highly sophisticated equipment. You have become temporarily aware again, finally broken from your repetitive behaviour over more than a century. Before our contact I learnt a lot about you, Henry Sims, respected politician and public speaker, who has a secret not many people are aware of; and those that do know, are sworn to secrecy. You are a benefactor of the highest generosity helping those less fortunate ones. You’re here in the snug bar of the Smugglers Arms tonight, having again rented the room from the landlord for your private use only, to pass on another magnanimous money gift to Sir Christopher Plumber. He was due to arrive in less than thirty minutes time.

‘The money meant for Sir Plumber, for the aid of orphans in London’s workhouses, was stolen by the landlord of The Smuggler’s Arms.’

Henry said, ‘You somehow take the money and then accuse the landlord of doing so? You stoop low, sir.’

‘Not so.’

‘This is preposterous,’ Henry continued, ‘He is in the saloon bar, serving customers. I am here talking to a villainous actor involved with an intricate ploy.’

‘Of course you wouldn’t believe me. You must prove it. Do you see anything in the room, other than myself, appearing to be supernatural or other-wordly?’

Henry glanced over to a rectangle of golden light seen to hover above the floorboards, to the left of the fireplace. ‘Now perhaps I do. Seemingly a magical door.’

The spectre spoke clearly and precisely: ‘Then you must walk through that door. Pass through to heaven, your paradise, to final rest and peace. But first, go to a window and look over your shoulder at the reflection. Then you will see the truth.

‘At nine thirty-five on a stormy September night in 1879, a man you trusted, and paid to rent a snug bar in this public house, walked in unexpectedly and after a particularly vicious act of violence, stole the money pouch from your person.’

Henry was inspecting his wavering reflection in the darkened panes of the bow window, seeing a large kitchen knife buried up to its hilt in his back. And as a blanket of confusion descended, he staggered towards the door of golden light while the shimmering ghost hunter spoke on: ‘The landlord killed you in a terrible act of cowardly, cold blood. You see, Henry Sims, I am not the ghost. You are.’

Copyright © David John Griffin, 2015

 

About David John Griffin

David John Griffin

David John Griffin is a writer, graphic designer and app designer, and lives in a small town by the Thames in Kent, UK with his wife Susan and two dogs called Bullseye and Jimbo. He is currently working on the first draft of a third novel as well as writing short stories for a novel-length collection.

His first novel – published by Urbane Publications in October 2015 – is called The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb. The second novel, due for publication by Urbane in spring 2016, is a literary/psychological novel, entitled Infinite Rooms. He has independently-published a magical realism/paranormal novella called Two Dogs At The One Dog Inn. One of his short stories was shortlisted for The HG Wells Short Story competition 2012 and published in an anthology.

 

 

Competition

David John Griffin - book cover

Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications is kindly giving away 5 copies of David John Griffin’s new book, ‘The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb’, out next month.  To enter just leave a comment telling me what you thought of David’s short story.

 

Terms and Conditions

​This competition is open worldwide.

The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 14th November 2015

The winners will be randomly chosen and notified within 7 days of the closing date. Their details will be passed on to Matthew Smith who will send out the prizes.

 

Good Luck! 🙂

 

‘The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb’ is available to pre-order on Amazon:-

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Unusual-Possession-Alastair-Stubb-Gothic/dp/1910692344/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1446292693&sr=1-3&keywords=david+john+griffin

 

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