“Isobel, who are you talking to?”
Isobel hesitated. “Um. No one mum. Just thinking aloud. You know?”
The face of her chattering friend frowned in front of her.
‘I’m sorry.’ She whispered. ‘There’s no way I can let her know. You understand?’
Isobel was sat on the second step from the top of the stairs, her new spot during the day at the weekends. She had found that if she sat there, she could see all the other inhabitants of the house that her parents seemed not to notice.
There was a throng of people today, all stood at the entrance to the kitchen. The person that she had been talking to was called Aethelbert, but he preferred just Aethel. He had been telling her about his life, in the house that stood here many years before the succession of grand houses that had been built on the site since. Although this one was over a hundred years old, it was fairly young by comparison.
Aethel was looking up at her still. His face pinched with emotion.
‘Why do you neglect us so. We are your friends surely?’ His voice was smooth and
unfaltering. His old eyes watery but seemingly true in their soft skinned sockets.
‘Because she wouldn’t know what to think. She can’t see you. She’ll think I’ve gone nuts!’ Her voice rose at the end.
‘Are you sure there’s no one there?’ Her mum was now stood in the kitchen doorway, looking a bit cross but also with a tinge of sadness.
‘I mean. Yes mum. I’m sure there’s no one here. Just me. And now you…” She paused; she
was being facetious now. ”Honestly. I can honestly say…” But she was interrupted.
‘Okay. Okay. I believe you. It’s just odd you know. You’re always sat there, as if it’s… Oh well. Never mind.” And she turned and went back through the kitchen door.
A couple of minutes minutes later and Isobel heard the backdoor latch click as her mum went outside.
Aethel turned away. The throng moved as if agitated and they bristled as words were spoken that Isobel couldn’t hear. A lady stepped forward. She was quietly pretty, in an old fashioned sense. Elegantly dressed in a swathe of dark green silk that floated down past her hips and crumpled as it reached past the floor. At her wrists, the garment was loose and fell into large triangles. She wore a simple gold choker at her neck, and her fingers were decked in gold rings mounted with small fresh water pearls. She gazed up at Isobel, her face lit by some other light that Isobel could not see. The light made her red curls appear to bounce around her peachy face, although she wasn’t moving. She
was holding herself straight upright with her hands gently clasping the material of her dress at her sides.
“We know, dear child”. We know your fear. We know that to admit to seeing anything other than what everyone sees can be dealt with in the wrong way. You may be punished, or ostracized, or at worst be thought to be mentally unstable.’ She paused to take a look at the others who appeared to have stepped back to give her a little space. The lady returned her cool gaze to Isobel, where upon she noticed a slight in Isobel’s carefree persona, a marked uneasiness that distorted her fine young skin.
She took it in, but continued with her talk.
“We mean your family no harm, we would never do such a thing, and we just want you to recognise us, as you did when you first saw us, but we want you to tell your family. She stopped then, not for a pause but for an answer, but before she could, Isobel heard the back door swing back into action and the sound of her mum’s footsteps returning to the kitchen. Isobel gave a half smile and nodded as if giving a kind of apology to the throng.
Isobel didn’t want to hang around. Not now. The throng was beginning to move and they were heading through the kitchen door. The lady who had spoken to her turned back to face Aethel. He held his hand out and laid it on her shoulder, and muttered something to her. Isobel could just make out what he was saying. Something to do with not being too pushy with the child, although, he agreed with her that it would be better if they were known to the whole family, it was not right to give an ultimatum as it may put her off.
Isobel turned, walked back up the few stairs to the landing and walked to her Bedroom.
Back in her bedroom Isobel could still hear them muttering away in the hallway, although their voices were getting quieter.
Isobel’s mind was flitting back and forth through all the information that Aethel had been telling her. Of his work as a Doctor, treating people with herbs and potions made from the garden.
Yet the part that Isobel really relished was about the house today, although it was apparent that some of the throng knew differently. It had been fascinating. Isobel had asked Aethel if there was once a set of stairs going from the far kitchen door up into the ceiling above the dining room. He had asked her why she had asked this, which she thought was a bit secretive of him. She had said that it was illogical to have two doors into the same room including the back door. There was a door from the hall, into a dining room, that also had a door to the kitchen, which could also be accessed by the hall, in a kind of circle. He had fluttered his mouth for a while as if trying not to but Aethel had stopped abruptly as Isobel’s mum called out to her.
Aethel’s words swirled around her head for a while. They were frightening words. She
wondered for a long time. If Aethel was frightened, and he was a ghost, a ghost that had walked this area of land since before this house was built, then what about her? And the fact that the other ghosts wouldn’t dare use that passage anymore. What had scared them, was it the same child, or was there something or someone else there too? Isobel had never heard anything else, she had only heard the throng that marched about the house, and sometimes there would only be two or three of them at any one time, but they all seemed friendly enough.
Isobel scanned her room, trying not to think of what Aethel had said. The room was large, about fifteen foot square. It had a high ceiling that was beaded around the top where it met the walls. Just below that there was a picture rail that skirted the beading about a foot beneath. This stopped at the door, and continued to the book case, where it stopped once more only to reappear for a short distance between the wardrobe and the three sash windows. It then ran across the other side of the windows before being joined to the start; which was where she was looking above her bed. She caught her reflection in the old mirror on her chest of drawers. The quick glance showed her pale features framed by her long brown hair, now tousled and unruly, unwashed for a few days.
She looked back to the picture rail above her bed. She had just moved her bed, about a week before, it had been under the windows up against the radiator, but she had decided she needed a change because the weather was getting warmer and she was getting too hot in the morning. So, she had moved it to a more central position, opposite the huge wide pillar of the chimney. The fireplace in the room no longer existed, it had been bricked up, but she could still feel the heat from the fire in the lounge directly below her. To the right of the chimney was a built in wardrobe, it had two doors, each with two decorated panels, and the floor inside had no carpet, but badly fitting black painted floorboards. To the left of the chimney was a diagonal bit of wall, which lasted a matter of inches before diving into a small shaft that ran from the floor to the ceiling. Someone had thought it a good idea to slot in painted slats of wood on little stumps at each side, making a bookcase.
The bedroom door was positioned to the left of the bookcase and was tall and wide, and made from a substantial wood that was over two inches thick. It had four panels, each overly adorned with heavy beading. The door handle was made from a solid piece of wood which was sculpted into a rounded bulb. The lock was attached crudely to each side of the door and was a deep iron block, which must have had one hundred years worth of paint on it, yet the rust still ventured through on its corners. There was a keyhole too, but there was no key.
As Isobel looked around, her nostrils filled with a slight mustiness, like the first day she had moved in, and the same eeriness that had made her feel as if she wasn’t alone. She had found this to be very unnerving to start with and the fear had stopped her from sleeping properly at night, and she would wait until she could nearly see dawn before finally letting her eyes close into a deep sleep.
But then she had met the throng. She had been unable to sleep, and it was still quite early in the evening, and she had felt so alone and scared, that she had ventured from her bed, putting on her soft downy dressing gown and slippers, and tiptoed out onto the landing. She could hear her parents in the lounge below. They were watching television. She could hear their stifled laughs through the shut door. She had thought at the time that this was strange, because surely, she had wanted company, but she was quite alright just sat on the second step from the top, knowing that they were there, and she could hear them and that in itself was comforting.
But she was cold, even in her thick pyjama’s and her snuggly dressing gown with her equally snuggly, fluffy slippers, she had began to rock ever so gently, holding her knees up to her chest and burying her face into the soft folds of fabric around her neck. Just as she was getting comfortable and into a gentle rhythm that she saw something move near the kitchen door, but there wasn’t anything there. The door was shut to keep the warmth from dispersing through the rest of the house. But she looked again, trying to focus on the handle to see if that was moving. But, no, it wasn’t the handle. It was the centre of the door, and the door surrounds. They appeared to be shimmering, as if in soft focus light, a rippling movement, followed by a hand and then a foot, then a robe, followed swiftly by another hand and a foot until there were about six pairs of hands and feet, with some upper limbs, half a face, and bits of clothing draping on the carpet. Isobel was rigid, and had stopped rocking as she was now burning with fear and her eyes darted from one face to another in fright as they moved forward as if all tied together and stopped by the slant of the wall. She gazed at them, completely transfixed, that slant in the wall. The hallway had straight walls, except for this one that after the doorframe of the lounge, took a deep slant towards the kitchen door, making the opening much grander, but the wall on the other side of it, in the lounge was flat, and there was no cupboard or anything in the kitchen, so somewhere between those walls was an enclosed triangle between the kitchen, the hall and the lounge.
Isobel watched. Her thoughts racing as she desperately didn’t want them to see her. But they knew she was there and a few moments later, after they appeared to be settling themselves, the young man standing nearest to the staircase had looked straight up at her. He turned his head to one side, his young flesh wrinkling at the edge of his pompous collar, and a wide smile formed on his plump boyish lips. He was dressed like a Tudor, a frilling ruff giving way to huge amounts of material, ballooning out at his shoulders, and neatly sewn to the top of his arms, and as she looked further down his body, she felt a giggle well in her chest. His costume was so outlandish.
His trousers were striped yellow and dark brown, with neat cuffs just below his knees, and his calves were hosed up in a very wrinkly pair of thick knit tights, in the a shade of damson. While she was looking at him in a very detailed fashion, he had started to speak.
‘You are scared are you not?’ Which seemed a daft question to her. Of course she was scared, despite the smile forming on her lips. There she was, sitting totally alone at the top of the stairs, wanting to scream, but a strange curiosity had dampened her voice. He continued ‘And we have all been aware of this since you moved in. For you have not had a proper night’s sleep since you arrived, have you?’ He slung a glance at the others behind him, who all nodded and sighed. ”So, if you’re lonely, which we expect you are, sitting all alone on the stairs when you ought to be asleep, we thought at least you could have us.”
”But…But how can I hear you?’ A pathetic question she knew, but she really couldn’t think of anything else to say. She had never seen a ghost before. They were meant to be frightening, spooking people out unawares, teaching them lessons about who belonged to a house and who didn’t. The last thing Isobel expected was to find not one but a group of them, and talking to her! But he answered her question duly.
”You, my child, can hear us because you want to hear us, you asked to hear us, and we came.’
This answer puzzled Isobel. Had she asked for them; when exactly? But her thoughts were interrupted for the Tudor ghost at the bottom step was moving swiftly up the stairs and had just made himself comfortable on the step directly below her. She sat back and still clasping her knees, the strangest of feelings overcame her. She had always had the notion that ghosts were firstly meant to make you feel scared, and then if they were close to you, weren’t you meant to shiver all over, and be really cold. Yet as soon as this young man had headed her way a tremendous warmth had spread through her, starting at her feet and coursing up through her slim legs and across her chest. Her hands had started to shake though and it was apparent that no matter what she was thinking that she was scared out her mind. Isobel tried to control her shaking, she first concentrated on his face, but that seemed to make her worse. So she looked at him as if she didn’t know him at a party; through him. He started to speak again his voice was soft and focused. He seemed to have an air of supremeness about him, easiness; quietly controlled.
‘You asked for us in your sleep last night. You were thrashing around at four in the morning, asking for friends. You voiced that you were lonely and then after we went to your room, you turned over one final time and curled up, going into a deep sleep instantly.’ He paused for a moment to look directly at her, she returned his gaze, and relaxed. There was sincerity in his eyes. ‘You only slept for three hours last night did you not and then you were called at seven by your mum. You got dressed and went downstairs for your breakfast, which was cornflakes and toast, and you drank four cups of tea to keep yourself awake, and then your mum drove you to school. Am I right?’
Isobel was stunned. She didn’t remember thrashing about, but she knew that she had only had three hours sleep because she had been so utterly exhausted when she had awoken.
There was movement from the lounge. The young man looked around at his friends, she presumed, were standing quite still in the slant of the wall.
‘Are you our friend?’
She wasn’t expecting this. She had only just met him and them, and more importantly she was about to be found out of bed by her parents, so she had hastily said ”Yes.” Rather than be caught out. As she accepted their friendship she had nodded in the direction of the lounge.
He smiled a reassuring smile and waved to the group below. They turned and waved in response, like a unanimous agreement had been made. They stayed and watched as Isobel quickly tiptoed as silently but as quickly as she could in the direction of her room. Just in time too. As she reached her door she heard the lounge door swing open and her parents footsteps into the kitchen.
It was cold that night. The kind of night that made Isobel wish that she had left her bed by the radiator so that she could stretch her legs out and rest her socked feet against the warmed ridges. She had already been given two hot water bottles, one which was by her feet, but too hot to really snuggle down with and the other wrapped in an old cot blanket that she now held fast to her chest. She knew that her Mum would be coming in soon to take the one from her feet, so she too could have some warmth. That was the trouble with this house. When it was cold outside it was even colder inside, and sometimes it was so cold inside that ice formed on the insides of the windows. And if it was windy outside the wind would roar through the sash windows and around the furniture as if they were trees.
Isobel had decided that after hearing what Aethel had told her earlier that she wasn’t going to sleep tonight, no matter what. She had a stash of Sunday magazines from the recycling box by her bedside and she was determined that she would read them all until dawn. After all she needed time to think properly about what Aethel had said, to mull over whether he was trying to scare her into making proper friends with them so that she would have no choice but to tell her parents, or whether he was telling the truth. May be he thought that she could handle that sort of story, but the more Isobel thought about it the more alarming it became. A child, a little older than herself, trapped, or just stood at the top of the stairs that were not there anymore, crying and crying. It just didn’t rest well and as Isobel tried to shut the story out of her mind the words on the page she was reading started to swirl, and the patterns between the text began to grow.
Isobel was blinking hard now trying to focus on what she was reading. Snippets of the text loomed larger than the rest ‘There are times in our lives when we feel it necessary to go to see an holistic therapist’ and ‘our minds are stronger than we will ever be able to understand’ and ‘some people can use the parts of their brains that other people can only imagine, they have instincts…. like animals…feelings that they know to act upon without truly knowing why….take those who can feel earthquakes before they arrive…elephants feet feel tremors hundreds of miles away’. The text swished about before her eyes. Was she actually reading them or was she now asleep, making up the words and reading them behind her closed eyelids, making them appear, making them take over the thoughts in her head. She couldn’t tell, and she couldn’t move either. It was as if she was being held in a vice, her arms were rigid, maybe she thought that she couldn’t move them, but no, her legs were locked too.
And it was then, when Isobel had started to panic, with her body thick with sweat that she saw a child. The child was a she and she was standing at the top of a deep staircase with shallow steps that led down a cascade that switched direction half way. They were elegant, regal stairs, carpeted in a once luxurious deep red, but shabby and dusty, with mounds of sawdust and filings stuffed into the corners of each step, gently buffeted to their resting places by hundreds of years of foot traffic.
The girl, dressed in a long skirt, with a collarless blouse was clinging to the side of a door post. The harder she cried, the whiter her fingers in pain as she squeezed harder and harder on to the wood. Isobel moved her eyes around. Her view of the girl was as if she was seeing her from above, and as the girl cried harder, Isobel realised that she was moving up the stairs, although she couldn’t feel herself moving, and when she stopped, she was standing at the halfway stage. The girl looked right at Isobel and stopped crying. Desperately, Isobel tried to stop the vision, but she couldn’t release the fear swelling behind her chest, and she still couldn’t move although she could feel the sweat on her back trickling down into a pool above her pyjama bottoms. It was horrible. The worst fear she had ever felt and she didn’t even know if it was real, but it felt real and the girl kept staring until she spoke in a very faint lilting voice.
”You’ve got to help me.’ Then a moment later ‘You’ve really got to help me.’ Then as if every last drop of energy had been used up to speak to Isobel, the girl crumpled and slid down the side of the door post and started sobbing into the carpet; her thick black hair flailing over her reddened face.
Isobel was aware that her back was still soaked in sweat. She desperately wanted to move, but something was pinning her down. The vice lock on her legs was there still, but this was something new, like someone pushing hard on her shoulders. It was so strong, pushing and pushing, like someone wanting to frog march her up the stairs, but just holding her still and static.
Isobel felt a rise from her voice box; an unknown surge as if something was going to fly from her mouth, but nothing came. She felt as if she was going to be sick, but she didn’t feel sick, so she just focused on the girl and kept watching her. And as Isobel watched, the threat of a vocal attack came to her again and this time a name in her head ran to her voice and she desperately wanted to call her mum, but no words came. She could feel herself thrashing, but the words were suppressed in her throat and no matter how hard she tried the thrashing got her nowhere. She was still stood at the halfway stage of the stairs, unmoving, not speaking, just looking. But the pressure had gone from her back, as suddenly as it had arrived, but she was still wreathed in sweat and something was holding her secure, not allowing her to move. The girl at the top of the stairs had begun to move, she was crawling, holding her stomach as she slowly disappeared around the door post and behind the wall.
”Mum! Mum!! MUM!!!” Isobel could hear it in her head, and in her throat. Her whole body was in spasm. The thrashing had subsided and she could feel her breath hard on her top lip, as the image of the stairs and the girl had started to fade.
Isobel threw the bed clothes aside and got up marching around the room. One two, one two, Calm down, calm down. The magazine that she had been reading lay splayed out by the side of her pillow, it was wet and warm. She reached down to touch her bedclothes. They too were wet, sodden from her sweating. She desperately didn’t want to sleep now, and the images of the girl and her voice were starting to reappear in her mind again. Isobel thought for a moment, perhaps if she read, turned on the main light instead of the lamp she would have more chance of staying awake.
But it was no use. As soon as she started to read again the same feeling of being locked in a vice accompanied by the feeling that she was floating about occurred and on opening her eyes she was in a different room. She was in a kitchen. There were two people standing in front of her, side by side as if discussing something private or confidential. They appeared not to have seen her. About four steps away in front of Isobel was a large round woman with a high-waisted apron that clung to her bosom and around her waist that folded over several stomachs had just started to talk. But there was nothing private in this conversation, as her voice rang out, coarse and loud.
”She was there whens I came in to bake the breads this morning Mr. Charles. Never in all my life have I seen anything so pathetic. She must haves been theres most the night, can tell see, cos whens I touches her Sirs, she was as cold as ice.’’ The woman was looking straight at the man while talking to him.
The man spoke. ‘Well, lady. We’ll have to question the whole house you know. You might have not seen her before, but she’s come from the top of the building looking at the way she’s hurt. There must be someone who knows who she is.’’
The woman then nodded as if to agree but not wanting to put it into to so many words, and then moved away from the man, just enough for Isobel to see what they had been looking at. It was the young girl from the top of the stairs. She was covered in blood from head to toe, and there was something next to her, laid out in front, also covered in blood. No. she couldn’t look. Again, Isobel felt the rise in her throat, another chance to scream for her mum, but it didn’t come, as her eyes fixed on the child and, her child. It was a baby, thrown aside from its mother, destroyed instantly by the fall, both truly and utterly dead.
It was at this moment that Isobel dearly wanted to scream, yet no matter how the voice curdled in her throat, it wasn’t there, and she just ended up staring, staring hopefully into nothingness, for what she saw before her blinded her so deeply that it made her see the sense of it all, made her see the cruelty. The story of this child welled up in front of her like the story had been waiting to be told. That the child was a servant, part of a huge made-up family of servants that served the estate that this house once stood on, a family that kept things quiet, and overrode those of others. A family, where if there was foul play, or affections were for another of a different kind then you were banished forever, and you had to live with your own torture, or do what you thought was right. And this girl, she had been banished by her family, and was just a servant to the estate and did not belong to anyone anymore so she had taken hers and her child’s life.
Isobel’s head was swimming, she was still stood straight upright, the fear curdling slowly through her like vomit waiting to rise, but none came. Her eyes were fixed on the girl lying quietly content in death on the red-bricked floor, sooty and dusty, with a couple of pan stands on their sides, thrown from their positions by the strength of her fall. The large woman walked slowly towards Isobel, unseeing, and seemed to walk straight through her. The woman didn’t flinch and nor did Isobel. The man who was dressed from top to toe in a dark yet scruffy suit was trying to avert his eyes, but it was obviously his duty to take notes as he was now crouching down on his knees, a matter of inches from the girls face, a note pad scruffily hanging from his left palm. Isobel tried to move forward, just a couple of steps and she would be able to see what he was writing, but no, she was locked there, frozen to the spot. Then something shook her, she felt as though someone was trying to turn her head to the left. She had no control, and her head lazily swung round oown accord. There, stood close by, was another man, he was in his forties, tall and elegant, lean and pristinely dressed, stooping slightly so that he could talk to the woman in her apron, who was now sat at a long wooden table. Isobel gasped. His face turned to look at her. He must be able to see me thought Isobel, his gaze shifted as if he felt hesitant and then he turned back to the woman.
Fighting hard against the motionlessness of her body, Isobel began to feel her breath once more, hard on her top lip, warm air, caught and then dispelled. Struggling, her body began to sway, it was uncontrollable still, and she moved, first one step, then two, as she managed to walk towards the fire grate, where the girl lay. The man with the notebook swung round, but again, he didn’t see her. Isobel could see the face of the girl, reddened by tears and blood, her long black hair wildly splayed across her delicate features, her upturned nose pink and raw, her lips slightly parted and a deep crimson red. Her clothes, grubby and worn, with the simple flaxen full skirt, brown and textured like hessian, and the white collarless blouse, now splattered and crusted with her dying blood.
Isobel shook herself, with the growing surge in her chest and throat still, the breath on her lip and then she was not there, not anywhere, just utter blackness and a feeling of floating. She felt no pain and no rigidity but slowly came the feeling of the sweat at the base of her spine, of her arms and legs resting on her mattress and her head softly laid on her pillow. Once more as soon as she realised she was in her room she as up and pacing about, main light on, bed clothes wringing wet, and an urgency in her mind. Who was that man in the kitchen who saw her, he was so familiar, but she couldn’t place him.
‘Who’s that child?’
‘The one in the grate Sir?’ Said the woman leaning sideways to look directly at the girls’ body lying in the fire grate.
‘No. No, the one standing behind you.’
‘I’m sorry sir, but I don’ts see anyone’s in this room ‘cept for Mr. Charles the officer and you an …’ But she trailed off.
‘I beg your pardon cook.’ Said the gentleman. ‘But I’m sure I just saw a girl, stood a matter of paces from you, must be a trick of my shock.’ But the gentleman was certain he had seen someone, and he was sure that he knew her too.
The rest of the night was horrid. Isobel lay on the top of her bedclothes retching, dying to cry out aloud, but fearful that she would be heard, either by her parents or by the throng. Isobel was gulping rapidly to try to stifle the tears in her eyes and her throat from the thought of that poor young girl, lying there, urchin-like, and what for? Because she had been cast aside by her family and by the people she had worked for, by everyone, she knew. So alone. Oh! The torment. The anguish. The cruelty. These feelings started to tear into Isobel, to rent at her heart, charging her with fear and hatred and malice, the very feelings that she would learn to suppress and agonise over, but to hold on to and to add to in the coming years. Isobel got up, throwing the curtains aside to let in what little light there was. The curtains hung loosely, swaying out into the room as new gusts of wind fetched through the sash windows. It was raining and as the wind threw the drops hard against the window, it created little rivulets of water that Isobel kept tracing and retracing with her index finger to keep her awake, so that she couldn’t go back to there, to where it hurt, to see the child, for that’s all that she was, being dealt with after her death in such a matter of fact way, as a duty to be considered in a notebook, to be…The wind lashed again, Isobel felt the strength of that wind against her tear ridden face, as if it was reciprocating her silent crying.
And in her mind, what had she seen? Was she the girl that Aethel had been talking about, and if it was, how did she, how did she, Isobel see it all? And who were those people, and when did it happen, and how long ago? She repeated these questions over and over remembering them clearly, so she could ask Aethel the next time she saw him.
The light was beginning to speckle now, dotted on the back wall of her room, showing up the lurid hues of pinks and browns of the distasteful wallpaper left by the previous owners. Her eyes lingered on a patch of the wallpaper. The room must have had younger children in it, for they had coloured in large areas of the wallpaper with bright green felt tips and yellow crayons. She watched as their waxy iridescence shone clearly in the new day, and she stayed awake until dawn.
‘You’ve got to remember to be careful with her; she will become scared of us if you push her to hard.’ Aethel was holding Fenella’s right shoulder with his left hand.
She brushed him aside, her hair still radiantly red from some other light.
‘Well, she’s known us for a few weeks now, and I have heard you; you of all people,’ She shone her large green eyes at him. ‘Telling her about the time that you come from, do you not think you should be a little more careful. She is bright you know, and very sensitive.’ Fenella’s eyes reached down from his eyes and stared into the carpet.
‘She will find her time. She will know when it is right to let her parents know, but it is not really that is it Fenella?’ He hesitated before continuing, ‘You do not really want her to tell them do you?’
‘How canny of you Aethel. How did you guess?’ But Aethel interrupted.
‘Working on my behalf; thank you.’ He waited again before adding, ‘And, besides. What is wrong with a little history lesson. She was intrigued, and I only told her a smidgen of information.’ His hand was back on her shoulder again, but once again, Fenella shrugged it away.
‘What exactly did you tell her, Aethel?’ Her eyes darted upwards as she said his name, like the tease that she was, to a man she hardly knew.
‘Oh. Fenella! You should know me better than that.’ Aethel exclaimed with a mock laughter, although he was definitely anguished about letting on about the old stairs. But he was damned if he was going to mention this to Fenella. ‘I just said that I was a doctor, you know the doctor who treats his patients from the plants in the garden!’
Standing face to face, they both grabbed each other’s arms at the elbows and gave an almighty laugh. The throng behind them turned startled, and Ferdy stepped forward.
‘What are you two talking about, and what’s with the laughter, she will probably hear you!’ His face softened as he spoke of Isobel. He liked her more than the rest and felt overly protective of the child, although he wasn’t quite sure why.
‘Oh. Ferdy!’ Said Fenella. Trying to give him a firm yet warm and steady look, but her face still had a hint of that iciness that sent a chill through Ferdy’s warm Tudor heart. ‘You know we only laugh because it was such a long time ago. You know, compared to the life of the living. Aethel was born some two hundred and sixty five years ago, and he still talks as if he were a young man. She checked the response from Ferdy. It wasn’t a particularly good reaction as he just stood with a semi scowl across his plump lips. But she carried on trying to stay up beat and cheery. ‘You know, talking about his works in medicine as if it were only yesterday, that he had a surgery full of ailing patients and, well. A as I said.’
Ferdy’s scowl had become much harder. His eyes had become slits, and his nose was wrinkled high on its bridge and his face was reddening. His whole physique seemed to emulate his scowl, for his arms were folded tightly across his waist and his feet rooted to the floor. The three of them stared at each other for a few minutes. No words exchanged; just looks. Aethel broke the silence.
‘Please Ferdy.’ Was all that he said. To which, Ferdy turned still hot faced and joined his friends in the slant of the wall. They were beginning to re-mingle, when Aethel and Fenella drew up behind them all and squeezed past, through the closed kitchen door.
Ferdy turned to his friends.
‘I am going to say this quietly, and I want no repercussions, but I think those two are up to something, and I do not like it.’ Ferdy was pointing to the now dispersed backs of Aethel and Fenella.
‘What do you suppose they’re up to?’ The young boy standing nearest to the slant in the wall said, speaking up to Ferdy. The boys face was innocent and wide, his greying eyes hardly seen in his pale skin.
Ferdy was used to this, Ty was the youngest of the group, and was very outspoken yet polite despite his young years. He had joined the ghost community about sixty years ago, sometime during a great war. He must have been all but six when he passed on, dying of a poverty and hunger. Ty’s clothes reflected this. They were poor and drab. He wore a simple pair of grey flannelette trousers and an off-white collarless shirt with an equally grubby ill-fitting blazer over the top. Yet it was his bare feet that Ferdy found the most heart breaking. It was apparent that his life had been cruel and over far too soon and where he had lived since his departure from his state of being, nobody knew. Ferdy looked down at Ty, releasing a warm smile from his now relaxed face.
‘I think it is something to do with Isobel. You saw how they were being earlier, laughing mockingly with each other? Well, I have a horrible feeling that there is something sinister beneath the surface, but I am not sure what it is. Hence,’ And Ferdy repeated his cautiousness. ‘Please no repercussions. Not at all, Ever. Not even when I find out whether I am right, or whether I am wrong.’ His smile continued to linger faintly on his lips after he had spoken to his friends, and they all looked back at him, all eight faces, in awe at their brave and formidable friend.
Turning softly round, Ferdy beckoned to his friends to follow him through the hall, in the opposite direction to that of Aethel and Fenella. He did not want to see them again that day or not perhaps for a few weeks, as there was definitely something wrong. It churned around his head. Why had Fenella asked Isobel to tell her parents about them. What was that all about? There was no positive reason to that statement. If her parents wanted to see them then they would show, they were a friendly bunch, not a bunch to go round fearing and ghouling like some of the other ghosts did.
They kept walking as if one, through the hall with its high ceiling and towards the front door. A solid and beautifully decorated door with a mosaic of coloured glass, that let the light from the outside create a patch work effect on shadowed carpet. Once outside, they turned to the left and walked beneath the veranda that led them to the side garden; a short strip of lawn hemmed in by a path way. To their right was a large shrubbery that extended round the front of the house, bordering onto a road. In Ferdy’s time, there was no house here or roads, but fields as far as the eye could see from his Father’s house now in ruins across the road. It now stood crumbling behind two high wooden gates that were never opened. Hiding the magnificence of the manor, with its stone fronted walls and deep mullion windows and the once tempered timber structure, and steep rafted roofs. The roofs where now as bare as sunken boat ribs exposed to the elements, drying and rotting in the rain and the snow, waiting for the day when they would not hold up any longer and they would sink into the rooms below, and eventually into the ground.
Ferdy had sometimes seen movement beyond those high gates. A movement of matter not of life, but he wasn’t sure enough to go and look. There was something not right about it and he had decided to leave whatever it was well alone.
To the bottom of the strip of lawn, opposite to the shrubbery the garden extended out down a soft roll of lawn into a flat landscape of grass, surrounded by borders of flowers and trees, the perfect setting to just sit and stare out. Ferdy and his friends found a comfortable spot just above the main grassed area and sat recumbent in the early evening haze.
The kitchen was warm. Overly warm. And Isobel’s mum had opened the middle sash window to let in what breeze there was. The window looked out onto the veranda that skirted most of the house, and further to the back lawn, where she could see Isobel’s swing rocking back and forth in the light air. Isobel’s Mum was sat at the large white laminated kitchen table. She was busily stringing beans from the green grocers and packing them into freezer bags. While doing this her mind was wandering. What was happening to her daughter? The sweet Isobel, sat there for hours at a time on the second step from top of the stairs. Perhaps she was musing, as she had said, but something wasn’t right. Ever since they had moved here, about six months ago, Isobel had been very quiet and had spent most of her time either skulking around the garden or sitting quietly in her room. Most parents would have loved that! She chuckled to herself. Ha Ha. To think she was complaining about a quiet thirteen, nearly fourteen year old! Anyway, she thought, no matter, there’s school in the morning; that should keep her mind away from whatever she’s pondering about.
Aethel and Fenella chose to sit on the ridge at the base of the window, about three feet from Isobel’s mum.
‘She’s a quiet woman isn’t she?’ Remarked Fenella as she wriggled her bottom to make a more comfortable perch to sit on.
‘Yes.’ Aethel replied slowly. He had been thinking exactly the same, and then said it out loud, ‘Much like Isobel in fact.’ And he carried on talking, since Fenella seemed to be more relaxed now. ‘You know. I would like to talk to you while we are alone. Just. Sat. Here.’ Aethel’s last words were clipped.
Fenella winced ever so slightly inside, but showed no such expression on her face.
‘I don’t blame you for what you did, letting Ferdy and his gang into the house. It’s been quite nice having more than just the two of us; makes for a bit of banter. But how did you do it? That’s what intrigues me?’ His question hung in the air between them for a long while before Fenella arranged her response accordingly.
‘I’m glad you asked Aethel. I was not ready to just come forward and announce it. I felt too ashamed. But if you’re sure that you would like to know then I’m glad to tell you, that I have no idea. It was a mistake. A mistake that I shall never know how to reverse or repeat should I want to.’ The answer was true, although it didn’t sound as if it was and a faint guiltiness rose in her throat.
‘Oh. Is that so.’ Aethel’s suspicion showed in his sarcastic reply, although he never meant it to be quite so obvious. ‘So tell me. When was it that they actually followed you and where from?’
‘Well you know where from!’ Fenella’s reaction was short and sharp. Her green eyes darting to throw the words at him, but she then softened and explained in a nicer tone, with her trademark coolness. ‘I was in my old house.’
Her mind wandered for a little while longer. It had been about six at night, a few weeks back now and the light of the day was still bright enough for her to go to the town undetected. She had been sitting beneath the rhododendrons at the front of the house, keeping herself to herself and feeling lost. So she had decided to walk away from the house and across the drive to the road, and along the pavement. She had questioned herself at the time, why do what live people do? But she had wanted to feel normal, or as normal as she could, along a road that was now far wider than it used to be, and with all these vehicles rushing along it, nearly sweeping her off the pathway and into the hedges.
Aethel was trying to be patient. So he said nothing, and just stared into the middle distance across the landscaped lawn and through the bushes to the back garden of another residence.
‘My house,’ Fenella started again. ‘A few streets away as it is now. My lovely house, it is still standing, but the locals have added onto it on either side making it more like a terrace than an individual residence. And it is always full of people too. They refer to it as a bed and breakfast or something. All the lovely old rooms now decorated in off white with drab little pictures hanging from nails, not from the picture rails, quite absurd.’ She stopped momentarily. The feeling that other people were ruining her gorgeous house, the one that she had lived in all her life, with all her comforts just as she liked it, all to herself, horrified her.
Aethel turned his head from his blurred view and stared at her. If she thought she could back out of this by recounting her memories, he would have to stop her soon, but she seemed to have settled her feathers again and started to talk once more.
‘You see Aethel, there were people staying and I was distracted. I felt very exposed, so I went to the basement room that looks out over the garden, and there was no one there or at least I did not think there was. That was where I used to go when I felt tired and I needed somewhere calm. I would play music and dance with myself around the room.’ Looking up, she saw the start of a sneer appearing on Aethel’s drawn face, and hastily carried on. ‘So, I went there, and there was this man outside standing in front of the large garden windows and he was holding a small child’s hand. He seemed to be able to see me, and, and well, I let my barrier down and let him, I, I…’ But she broke off. She was remembering exactly what she had done, and she knew that Aethel had already guessed how she had done it.
‘You asked him in. Didn’t you?’ Aethel’s head swung heavily on his neck and his greying eyes, now black as coal stared intensely at Fenella. Her eyes weakened as if she was about to cry, but instead she got up, and turned to face away from him. He was right. She had asked the man and the child in. She had weakened, and now they could go wherever they wanted to, to her house, to this house, to the gardens, the old lanes and the village, and she had broken that promise, the promise to keep other ghosts out, out of their places, safe from wagging tongues and questions, and to make matters worse; she had done it before.
‘Why, Fenella. Why do you do this?’ Aethel’s voice was pleading with her, although he was well aware of the answer.
‘Oh Aethel. You know why! Because I am a lost spinster. A young, lonely, dead spinster and I have never been loved!’ Fenella was tugging at the skirts of her dress with each horrible pitiful word that she made herself say. She was still stood facing the other way, gazing ahead not focusing on anything and all because she couldn’t bear to look at Aethel. Not now. Not having had to admit once more for her foolish actions. She shrugged herself to let go of the raw feelings that were starting to permeate her being. Those hard locked-in feelings that used to choke her at night as she cried deeply into her pillows. She stood there for some time, shivering to herself, telling herself that she was being stupid, that she had had a wonderful life, an uncomplicated time of partying and music and dancing.
‘Well.’ Aethel said eventually. ‘You know what I had to do the last time that you did this, do you remember?’
There was a muted silence.
Fenella’s hands hung freely by her sides while she gripped them into fists producing white lumps of pained fear. Of course she remembered. It was worse than the pain she was trying desperately to control now. It was a pitiful crime and the punishment was way over board for such a pathetic mistake, but she knew she would have to endure something similar again. She turned to face Aethel, her face hardened with grief, the light that usually filled her hair was dulling, but she nodded slowly, to accept her terms.
Aethel thought for a moment. What could he do to make sure that Fenella never broke their rule again of not letting anyone near the house or the gardens? The last time she had fallen foul he had committed her to the task of terrorizing children in their dreams. A devilish and difficult thing to be able to do, which had taken up most of her strength for the fortnight that she had managed to endure it for. It was a brave effort. He had had to teach her first, the way of slipping into a trance to read the tiniest of signals in the child’s mind to turn them into gruesome thoughts and fears, so that they fell unknowingly into a tightly gripping nightmare that they couldn’t undo. The trick of the whole idea was to make sure that once the child was awake and therefore feeling safe to return to sleep the next night with a clear mind, was to make sure that they then dreamt the nightmare all over again, as if they were reading a book and picking up where they had left off.
Fenella had hated every minute of it. Despite her spinster status as a live woman, she doted on children, hence the slip up with Ferdy and Ty. On seeing such a young child and a ghost too, holding Ferdy’s hand in complete trust she had instantly forgotten her oath to Aethel and let her old feelings return. But being Fenella, astute and willing to please, particularly Aethel, she had done the task to the highest of her ability.
Now Aethel had to think of something even more difficult. Something that would strip her of some of her powers and perhaps that would give her a shock. Hmm. Aethel was pondering to himself. And he sat musing for quite some time, while Fenella stood just a few feet away under the ever increasing shadow of a lone honeysuckle tree.
Ty had just returned from a walk around the grounds. He had been very careful because just as he had rounded the corner of the house he had caught a glimpse of Fenella, standing as if staring straight through him, and he had frozen to the spot, not daring to show any sudden movement. But after a few moments of agitated stillness he had realised that she was in one of her control stares. He had seen her do them a lot, particularly recently, and always when she was with Aethel. So he waited a couple more moments and then turned slowly round and went round the house in an anti clockwise direction, retracing the group’s steps past the shrubbery and the front door.
There was a large tree in the middle of the drive way. It had been there as a sapling when he was alive, but was now so big that even Ferdy would not have been able to put his arms around the bottom half of the trunk. It was in full blossom, and the flower centres were trying to get as much of the remaining daylight as possible. Ty had no idea what kind of tree it was, but he preferred it in summer, because in winter it just seemed so bare and dead, a cool reminder of the endless nothingness of his own life.
He walked around to the back of the tree where the dustbins were kept for the main house. Opposite these, a door led to a maze of outhouses, a large garage and the disused coal stores. Ty hadn’t been this way before, yet he remembered urgently the last few words that Aethel had told to him on the day of his arrival. He had said quite plainly. ‘‘That there was no reason to go this way, when there were other perfectly good paths.’
Ty was hesitating at the door on the recollection of this warning; for that is what he took it to be. The door was an old barn door that had been bolted together and was painted white. Oh well, thought Ty. There’s only one way to find out if Aethel was truthful or not so he marched straight ahead through the door. There was a difference in the atmosphere in that immediate corridor, but Ty did not notice it. There was also someone peering at him with one half-opened eye through the chink in the third door down on his left, but he didn’t notice that either. So he carried on, past the second corridor to his left to the other end. He was now directly adjacent to where he and Ferdy and the others had been sitting, but with the house between them. He looked around, but there wasn’t much to see, except an old oil tank and a stair case that led to the upper floors. A small path lay straight in front of him, beaten into the grass by the family who lived here. He took this course and failed to notice the other pathway beyond the outer stairs that would have taken him round the back of the garage and down to the bottom of the garden.
There wasn’t much to see again, just another way out onto the lawn at the back of the house. He turned his head to the left, he could hear Aethel’s deep voice way off up the bank of grass; perhaps he was talking to Ferdy. So as the darkness was starting to settle into the trees at the end of the lawn he turned about and followed his footsteps back to the outhouse exit and through the corridors, still without any idea that he was being watched and around the driveway, past the front door, back to the spot they had all been sitting. Ferdy was still there. There was no sign of Aethel and the rest of the group had departed.
‘Where have you been?’ Ferdy’s voice was warm as he looked up from his kneeling position on the ridge of the lawn.
‘Surprised you didn’t see me. Just been round the outside of the house; having a nosey.’
‘Oh. Of course. I saw you hovering by the honeysuckle; you turned around?’
‘Yeh. Saw Fenella doing her control thing, but I didn’t know at first so just stood there for a bit.’ Ty smiled.
‘Really?’ Ferdy was intrigued. Thoughts raced through his mind. What was she doing that for? He knew that she was a fierce woman with the ability to show complete malice, he had felt that this afternoon, but she also had a gentle side, or else she would not have let Ty and himself, and the rest of the group into her house.
Ty was standing next to Ferdy rocking gently backwards and forwards on his bare heels, wishing that he could feel the grass between his toes.
‘Where are they now, did you see them again?’ Ferdy said, sounding impatient.
‘Well no. But I heard Aethel.’ Ty bent down so as not to be heard in the quiet coolness of the evening ‘Thought he was talking to you. That’s why I came back.’ Ty looked over his shoulder feeling suddenly very exposed.
Ferdy got up and placed his left hand on Ty’s right shoulder for support. His mind wasn’t as still as he would have liked and certainly not now he knew that Aethel and Fenella were up to something. But what was it? He turned to Ty.
‘You have done the right thing; you are a good boy.’
Isobel had been slumbering quite happily, at last unaware of the time, but her mum had just hollered to her once more that she had ten minutes to eat something if she wanted and then it would be too late.
Isobel’s room was a mess and last night’s disturbances had really taken their toll on Isobel too. She was so exhausted and tired and still really scared as her mind kept flitting from scene to scene as if remembering a play. She would have to try hard to block these thoughts out as she had school today and the last thing she needed was another report saying ‘could do better, if she didn’t spend so much time looking out of the window.’
Hurriedly she grabbed her school bag and unearthed last week’s books. She hadn’t done any homework this weekend but this didn’t bother her, it had been social science but it was easy enough to make it up during the week. Scrabbling with her fingers into the blackness of the bottom of her black rucksack she found her scrunched up timetable. It had been changed for a few weeks while they all decided what subjects to take for the next two years, which meant that all the subjects had been lumped together. Monday: if you’re choosing English you’ve got it all day, language in the morning with Mrs. Peters and literature in the afternoon with Mr. Booth; drama to be arranged. Well that was easy enough. She found her English books from the pile on her chest of drawers and roughly slung them into her bag, finding her shoes tucked under her bed, she picked them up and walked out of her room, down the stairs and into the kitchen.
‘You’ve not done your hair!’ Isobel’s mum exclaimed with mock horror on seeing her daughter’s scruffy appearance. It wasn’t unusual. Isobel didn’t take for appearances much and spent most of the time looking as if she’d been camping out without a bath for weeks at a time. Isobel’s mum just hoped that this was a phase and she would become proud of being a young lady, at least one day.
‘Yeh. Well mum. You know, overslept again. Just wanted some food.’ She was trying too hard to be normal and her Mum noticed.
‘You alright dear? You don’t sound yourself.’ Concern swept through her mum. Isobel didn’t usually talk like this. But there was no reply, as Isobel tucked into her second slice of toast. She just looked up and smiled a semi smile past the surface of the jam.
‘Thanks mum.’ Isobel placed her plate and knife in the sink and bid farewell.
The walk to school had always seemed a bit of a chore, but today Isobel realised that it was a necessary evil. As she passed the hedges that hid their house from the road, she felt a sense of ease flowing through her. With each step the fear from last night’s visions slowly crept away and she let the freshness of the morning air rid her of the tiredness that had haunted her waking night. She turned right onto Church Grove, a long, wide road that led eventually into the old part of town that had once been the main village. There had been no more than a few neat cottages, a church and a high green, which was still there, perched above the roads that surrounded its square form. But since the seventies the planners had got in and decided to expand on the close community, making it a sprawling mass, connecting the old farms and detached houses on the outskirts, so that houses carpeted every corner and inch of the parish.
As Isobel walked she felt her mind wander, letting her mind fall into day dream about what it would have been like to live in the old village. But this didn’t last long as she had just noticed another new development of red brick town houses, with neat little drives, a patch of grass to the right or left, and a grotesque mock Tudor style design slapped on to the gable ends. She turned her head and carried on walking. The road began to slope down towards the green. She took great care when she reached the crossroads, looking left and right before making a quick dash across the busy road. The road she was now on was called Church Road, and as she walked peacefully on she passed the small Norman Church to her left, half covered in flint and pebble-dashing up to its window ledges. The Church was set some way back, behind a long pathway with a grave yard to either side. On the raised green opposite there were the usual crowds of sixth formers, using their study time to not be in class until later on in the morning. Some were sat on the wooden seats that had been made to surround the girths of the trees that stood every few meters along the edge of the green. Others were listening to music, or using their bags as goal posts for five-a-side football. They were mostly lads; the girls seemed to have more sense.
Up ahead of her, Isobel saw a small group of teenagers, they were heading for the tuck shop. It was a small newsagent at the edge of the school but all the kids used it to buy sweets and crisps. She ignored them. She wasn’t much one for joining in and she didn’t feel like being part of anything much today. Isobel looked right up the road that she had come down, and crossed over to the top of the green to the row of cottages called Water Street cottages. They were very old yet very neat houses that had probably been thatched originally, with the roofs coming down to meet with the stone mullioned windows that peered out from under their eaves, like eyes with large bushy eyebrows. She was just imagining how the cottages would have looked with their fine thatches and still-white bumpy plaster walls that she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. What was that? She stopped in her tracks, grasping at her bag on her back with both hands to take the weight. Her eyes darted to the left where she thought she had seen something moving very quickly like a dark cloud skimming the green where it met with the road. There was nothing there. No. There was definitely nothing there. It was probably a trick of the light, but Isobel stood there for a few moments, taking in the exact place where she thought she had seen it and she turned to locate which cottage she was opposite too. The cottage didn’t have a number but was called something with such swirly letters that she couldn’t read it. The cottage was in quite a bad state of repair. The windows were worn down to the greying wood beneath the peeling white paint and the roof had some of the tiles missing, but the garden at the front was very well tended. This wasn’t that unusual, it just probably belonged to an old couple. Isobel looked back at the green, and then carried on up the road. She began to march, it must be nearly nine o’clock and she didn’t want to be late; not again.
She stopped in her tracks, grasping at her bag on her back with both hands to take the weight. Her eyes darted to the left where she thought she had seen something moving very quickly like a dark cloud skimming the green where it met with the road. There was nothing there. No. There was definitely nothing there. It was probably a trick of the light, but Isobel stood there for a few moments, taking in the exact place where she thought she had seen it and she turned to locate which cottage she was opposite too. The cottage didn’t have a number but was called something with such swirly letters that she couldn’t read it. The cottage was in quite a bad state of repair. The windows were worn down to the greying wood beneath the peeling white paint and the roof had some of the tiles missing, but the garden at the front was very well tended. This wasn’t that unusual, it just probably belonged to an old couple. Isobel looked back at the green, and then carried on up the road. She began to march, it must be nearly nine o’clock and she didn’t want to be late; not again.
She was late. As she passed the main building the bell rang. It was the first of three reminders but there was no way that she would get to her form class on time from here. Her mind struggled; perhaps she should just turn up for English and register there. No. She would get told off for that. Holding her bag again with both hands behind her back she charged through the main gates through a bustle of first years, past the assembly hall and headmasters office, through the juniors playground when the second bell rang, and across the hopscotch painted on the tarmac, past the second years rebuilt portacabins, through the science block double doors and after the third bell had rung, Isobel found herself flustered facing a notice on her form room door saying ‘This room is temporarily out of action, please make your way to room three in the Arts building.’
What? Isobel was a mixture of burning cheeks and trembling legs. The form room was out of use? It was a science laboratory used in lesson time for chemistry and biology. Huh! Thought Isobel. Some idiot has contaminated it, or tried to blow it up. The Arts block was a good walk from the science block; it was much further away beyond ‘The Lake’ as it was humourously called, because it was more of a duck pond.
Isobel had always supposed that the Arts block was placed here because it was the tranquil part of the school grounds, hidden behind a large weeping willow that rustled in the breeze that gave way to a few small mowed patches of lawn on gentle slopes looking out over the pond. She walked past these and up to the double doors that had been left open to let in the early morning sunshine. Plodding heavily down the corridor she could hear all the tutors trying to keep the classes quiet and starting to call out the registers. On turning the corner to face room three she heard her tutor Mr. Booth, shouting at the top of his voice and as she approached the door to take a closer look through the reinforced wired window, the door was thrown open and Stuart and Ant were lunged head first into the corridor. They were both grinning broadly.
Don’t you ever disrupt my class again!’ Mr. Booths face was puce with rage, but on seeing Isobel his face softened.
‘Ah. Morning Isobel, so you found my notice?’
‘Morning, Mr. Booth.’ Isobel said gently, her heart pounding after the shock of the door flying open. ‘Yes, what happened?’ She noticed Mr. Booth looking at Stuart and Ant. ‘No. I mean with the science lab; not those two.’ She said, giving a flippant look over her right shoulder at the two young men, if you could call them that, smirking to themselves as they stood leant against one of the chunky old cast iron radiators, awaiting a passing teacher to haul them to the headmaster’s office.
‘Ah,’ Said Mr. Booth again. ‘That’s what I was trying to tell everyone when these two, these two…’ He hesitated and then carried on. ‘Well, never mind. Let’s get you signed in and I can tell the rest of the class too.’
Isobel followed Mr. Booth into Art Room three. It was a huge room with windows all along one side, and the light that came in was amazing, crystal clear yet with the sharpness taken out by the leaves from the willow and the other trees, making everything inside, including the beaten up wooden tables look serene and gentle, as if bathed in a gentle liquid. The rest of the form had chosen to sit near the door, but Isobel noticed a few chairs that had been discarded by them next to the windows. Walking over Isobel took the nearest chair and sat down. Nobody blinked an eye as she walked past, but she heard several chairs move as if in disgust at her.
On the freestanding shelves next to her, were a procession of figures, some wooden showing the bones and joints of the human form, and others in clay trying to show the same structure, but enlarged, depicting just the foot or ankle joints. These figures were for drawing and sculpture, and understanding the movement of the body. Isobel was really looking forward to her art classes over the next two years of her schooling, their tutor Ms. Roberts had said that they could do drawing from life rather than just from these figures and pictures.
‘Ahem.’ It was Mr. Booth again, looking directly at Isobel. ‘I was just saying that there is no cause for alarm, that it is possible to go into the form room if you have left anything in your lockers that you may require for today’s lessons, but please let a tutor know first and only enter one at a time.’
Isobel of course hadn’t heard why this was so, and she didn’t need to either, she had everything with her in her bag, or it was at home. She didn’t trust the lockers, not after what Stuart had done to Amin’s, filling a brown paper bag with rotten smashed eggs and flour. It had exploded over Amin and about three other students on a particularly hot Friday afternoon. The smell had taken at least a week before it had begun to waft out of the building. Then there was the aftermath of older students thinking it was a good idea and tricking first years into looking into brown paper bags full of flour and eggs, then deliberately tipping it over their victim’s heads.
Isobel remembered the surge of mixed pain and disgust as she had found poor Amin sat next to the bursar’s office in a mixture of football kit and too short trousers from the lost property. His head was hung as low as it would go in the attempt to stop anyone from recognising him. Isobel hadn’t said anything but she had smiled a little as he looked up to see who it was that was just standing there gazing at him. She hadn’t been sure if he had taken the smile in the right way either, she had meant no harm by it and she certainly wasn’t laughing at him, quite the opposite, she wanted him to know that she understood the embarrassment and the loneliness that the other children sometimes subjected their fellow students to. But it was too late now. Amin had never spoken to her or anyone else after that, and he was now sitting on his own at the back of the class so that he couldn’t be looked at or talked about without the others having first to turn around.
Mr. Booth had stopped talking. There was a brief pause and then all the students near the door scraped back their chairs and bustled out of the room. Amin followed slowly behind them followed rather later by Isobel. Her English class was just on the other side of the pond and she was dreading it. Mrs. Peters was a force to be reckoned with.
On the way across the foot bridge that cut the corner on walking around the pond, Isobel spotted a group of girls, all from her class nattering in a small and huddled circle. She
could hear them loud and clear, but Isobel didn’t think that they were aware of this, and she slowed her walk to a slow stroll.
‘She’s just so odd, isn’t she? I mean look. She makes no effort.’ The girls shuffled and looked at each other as if each where facing a mirror, ‘We all make an effort.’
‘Yeh.’ Piped in one of the girls in her sickly treacle voice, whose hair was so long that she could have sat on it. ‘I mean. My hair’s always brushed and clean.’ She flicked her head round so her hair trickled over her right shoulder and rippled down her back in a hazelnut cascade. ‘And my nails are always painted, neutral of course, and…’ But she stopped. One of the others had spotted Isobel, and started the malice in an even louder more devious tone, which Isobel didn’t like at all, as the words stung at her family and their home.
‘A bet she’s not looked after properly either, she’s so skinny and short. Those parents of hers, you know they live in that grand house, must be rolling in it…’ She looked up and stung a look at Isobel, before continuing ‘Just goes to show that money can’t buy you everything.’
Isobel was blushing furiously, how dare they attack her parents, and how dare they cast their opinions without knowing anything about them or her for that matter. She stood rock still on the bridge, looking at them with open eyes, trying not to show her discomfort and inner torment. These girls, thought Isobel. Self-righteous in their little group of friends, or so they called them, were back biting, falling out with one another on such a regular basis, she never knew who was speaking to who from one week to the next. A little laugh gathered itself behind Isobel’s chest and before she knew it, it had fallen from her mouth in a loud torrent. Isobel was surprised, but not half as surprised as the group stood in the circle. They all stepped back from one another, searching to see who had shown her a look, or a slight smile back. They shook their heads and stared at the girl who had been making comments about Isobel’s family. This girl looked shocked, truly shocked that the others where now seeing it as her fault that Isobel was finding what she had been saying to be so funny.
The tormentors face was a picture. She glanced around the group of girls who were stepping away, one by one pulling their bags back onto their shoulders, shuffling their feet and making their separate ways to their lessons until at last there was just Isobel standing on the foot bridge and this other girl.
The girl meekly looked up and spoke, but this time it was not in the loud venomous voice as before, but so quiet that Isobel had to shout back.
‘What did you say?’ And to Isobel’s amazement her voice was clear and shrill, yet calm.
Isobel walked calmly over to where the now quiet girl stood. She took her in as she made her way towards her. She was slim, with short bobbed brown hair, and she was wearing her skirt rolled up over her knees. Her shirt was undone at the collar, showing a ring on a gold chain. Her hands were shaking, and her face was flushed a creamy peachy colour under a thick layer of foundation. Her eyes flicked up as she saw Isobel approach, they were surrounded in dark kohl pencil and her eyelashes were so thickly layered with mascara that it looked like she had spiders in her eyes.
‘I asked. What did you say?’ Isobel was now standing directly in front of her.
They stood facing each other. Isobel was strong and determined, but the other girl was still shaking.
‘Faced with me now, without your little friends…’ Isobel began, but trailed off. What was the point, this girl was useless. She looked at her one last time and brushed past her and headed for her English class.
Mrs. Peters was waiting at the door. As usual she was wearing a highly coloured suit, today in bright pink, complete with her trademark colour-matched tights. Isobel thought she looked like a lollipop.
‘Last one in again Isobel. You really should be getting here on time, particularly because you have chosen to do extended English for the next two years.’ Mrs. Peters was peering at her as if she were much younger, and there was a scorn that showed in her eyes.
‘Sorry, Mrs. Peters. We had a swap on our form room.’ Isobel spoke with clarity, yet Mrs. Peters knew this much already.
‘Yes, this makes you much closer to this lesson. Does it not?’
Damn. Thought Isobel, she knew. Reluctantly and in defeat Isobel followed her tutor into the class and took a seat at the back looking out over the playing fields.
‘Right class,’ Began Mrs. Peters. Her tone and look unchanged from Isobel’s encounter a few moments earlier. ‘Today I want to learn from you, which may seem a bit strange at first, but I can assure you that it is not. We teachers do this all the time, to grasp how effectively we have taught you, to see how much you have absorbed, or not as in some cases.’ She paused and cast a glance over the room, although her eyes did not settle on anyone particular student. Her hands started sorting some papers that were on her desk in front of her, and she continued ‘I would like to start by doing a test, a test to show me how well your spelling, and…’ she looked up, a couple of boys on the other side of the class from Isobel were muttering, something about spelling tests for kids.
‘Well, yes.’ Said Mrs. Peters. Her stare intent on the two who had disturbed her class. ‘Spelling tests are for kids, and you are kids, so perhaps that’s why?’ A small tell-tale sneer formed on Mrs. Peter’s upper lip. The boys were looking up, their mouths had dropped slightly open, as if they were catching flies, and in that moment realised just what a hard cookie Mrs. Peters was.
‘Nathan. Can you start handing these out please!’ Nathan shuffled reluctantly from his chair. He was in Mrs. Peter’s form group and felt uneasy at his mild acquaintance with the battle axe.
The paper was easy. It was a spelling test, just as Mrs. Peter’s had said, but it was also a grammar test. Isobel flew through it in about ten minutes, including checking it twice.
Isobel spent the rest of the lesson trying to read a book that had been handed out after the tests were completed. Mrs. Peters was grunting whilst marking their tests there and then, ‘Nothing like the present.’ Was what she had said. The book was a test too, they had to read the first three chapters and then write their thoughts on how they thought the story would continue, or how they would like it to continue, and to give their reasons for their thoughts and ideas. The book had made a few of the children laugh. It was called ‘Too Wild to Mention’ by a Ruth Meddleson, but the title was very misleading, or at least it was at the moment. The story was set in the 1920’s and was about a young male journalist, and so far Isobel was beginning to find it rather boring.
At lunchtime, Isobel tried to find Nathan. She had met him on her first day at the school. They had both been in the Library trying to find a particular book for their Biology lesson with only moments to spare and they had quite literally bumped into one another, colliding on the corner stand of ‘Applied Mathematics’ and ‘Physics Made Easy’. They had both been extremely flustered, but after stepping back from one another and managing to look without blushing, they had both smiled and agreed to meet up after Biology on the playing fields to ‘just chat’. There had been an instant recognition making Isobel feel relaxed and she later discovered that he was very gentle and his views on the world seemed to stem from the same reasoning as hers. He was fun, yet serious and was a bit of a loner, just like Isobel, and this suited them both very well.
Yet she couldn’t find him today. He had hurried out at break time and disappeared, only to be the first one back in time for their second stint of reading with Mrs. Peters. Isobel had wanted to talk to him as soon as she had noticed that he had chosen English as a study rather than a compulsory subject, It had meant that you could study drama too, which had persuaded quite a few of the more unusual characters from their year.
Isobel was sat on the ridge overlooking the playing fields, just outside the English room, when Nathan had reappeared. He stood staring at her for a bit and then wandered up, speaking out as he did so.
‘Saw you earlier… having problems with Suzie?’ He smiled, but Isobel didn’t see. She turned round instantly to his voice though, recognising it immediately. She smiled an unusually sweet smile and patted the grass beside her, beckoning him to sit with her.
‘So… What were you talking to her about?’ He was fascinated. No one in their right mind would get embroiled with that nasty piece of work, all made up, face and everything. He found her quite repulsive.
‘Oh. Nothing.’ Isobel replied, looking off over the football pitch and beyond to the woods.
‘Didn’t look like nothing to me. You looked angry and you were laughing at her!’ He chuckled to himself on recounting his glimpse of them as he had dashed back from the toilet before lesson commenced.
‘Well. She was saying horrible things, you know what they’re like, but it’s over now. I think she got the message.’ Isobel was infuriated. She had just managed to suppress her feelings from that incident and now she had to relive them.
‘Okay. If you’re sure, just I noticed recently…’ Nathan paused for a moment. It wasn’t going to be easy to say this, but he took his chance. ‘I noticed recently that you’ve been even more of a loner than usual. Anything wrong?’
‘No. Why do you say that?’ Isobel was looking at him with a sideways gaze. She wasn’t really listening to him, more going along with his thoughts. He was looking good today, better than ever really, if that were possible. His arms were bare from where he had rolled his shirt sleeves up, and his collar was loosened against the heat of the midday sun, making him seem more relaxed than usual, and his face was slightly red as if he had been running. But his good looks still bore through. She surveyed his features, trying to forget the girl from this morning. She had never really taken much notice just how good looking he actually was. He was taller than average, with an athlete’s body, lithe yet strong and his hair was crumpled in a shot of blonde that showed off his high cheekbones and randomly freckled cheeks.
‘You’ve been even more in your own world than usual, particularly this morning.’ Why was she looking at him like that; her eyes soft-focused intent on his face?
Isobel quickly looked away embarrassed, as Nathan moved himself away edgily, lifting himself off the ground onto his hands and shifting to his left.
He continued talking ‘I saw you on the way to school. I was with my brother playing football on the green, and I had just picked up my bag and I saw you…’ He paused again, for Isobel was again gazing at him ‘are you listening to me?’
‘Oh!’ Isobel gave for a start. ‘Of course I’m listening to you! Just thinking at the same time – it is possible you know!’ She added hastily. ‘Where were you again? Oh yes, on the green.’ Isobel said thinking aloud. She had been listening but in a dreamy kind of way. Nathan had never had this effect on her before; they were just friends weren’t they? Erratic friends; but just friends.
‘Yes. I was on the green, or rather, just coming down from it, and you suddenly stopped, clutched your bag and looked around. What was that all about?’
He turned back to look at Isobel to see if she was still gazing at him in that peculiar way but found that she was clutching her knees tightly, pulling them up to her chest and looking pained. She had forgotten all about that instant, but it was now filtering back, along with the vision from last night, all in one horrible lump, flooding through her. She had been quite happy listening and looking at him and now she was scared again, in one fell swoop.
‘Are you alright?’ Was all he could manage to say, as he watched her loosely yet closely. It was obvious that she wasn’t, for she had started to rock ever so gently forwards and back, while the grip of her hands tightened on her knees.
There was a long silence. Isobel was trying desperately to dilute her feelings, yet the more she tried the more the image of that young girl dead in the grate of the fireplace loomed before her eyes. She tried to say something, but no words parted her lips. She turned instead to face Nathan, her eyes were frozen, no longer lucid and warm, and the vision went, like someone taking a slide from out of a projector.
‘I can’t tell you. I just can’t; not yet anyway.’ Her voice stammered as the words fell awkwardly from her surprised mouth.
She didn’t see Nathan for the whole of the next week, or the following and it wasn’t because she didn’t want to see him. Although she admitted to herself that she wasn’t ready to tell him about her vision. For a start she was fearful that he would not believe her but also because the vision and feelings were still far too raw for her to properly explain. She had tried to establish exactly what the pain felt like, and the nearest she got to it was a burning sensation, like an infected stab wound might feel, that she carried round with her. It moved around her body, from behind her ribs, to her arms and legs too.
To make matters worse the incident with Suzie hadn’t really gone away as she had wished either. All that week she had had taunts from various allies of Suzie’s, not the girls that were with her on the Monday, but others, her original posse of minions who swept around her like bot flies, glued to her every word, idea or command. Isobel felt hardened with self defense, like an invisible barrier was shielding her from their petty remarks. One of the worst incidents happened as she had walked past clumsily and one of them had pushed her, making Isobel stumble sideways, nearly falling onto the concrete walkway around the school. But there was the general malice too. Other girls being put through various degrees of torture, being made fun of at others expense, being pretended to be liked in games, chosen for a team and then spat on when their side lost, and jibing accusations of being crap at everything they went near or took part in. Isobel couldn’t help but watch, but the pain didn’t subside for these children either, and on each occasion Isobel felt an alarming amount of fear growing within her that never seemed to shift, as is every bone was filled with angst.
It was on her way home from school on a Friday that she felt the pain stabbing at her behind her ribs more fiercely than ever before. It had been one of the longest, loneliest weeks she had ever known. The visions at night had subsided and at last, on Wednesday evening she had actually slept straight through the night, from eight when she had felt so exhausted and had collapsed onto her bed still in her school clothes, right the way through until seven the next day.
Yet today walking back she felt different.
She was just nearing the edge of the row of cottages on Water Street, when something reminded her of the black cloud-like wisp she had seen a few weeks back on the Monday morning. It was slower this time, and as Isobel turned her head she could nearly make out what shape it was. It was just to her right on the verge of the grass where it met the road, a black shape, hanging in mid air, it was about the size of her, but rounded at the edges. She blinked hard trying to focus more clearly on the shape, but on opening her eyes it had moved. It was now moving quickly across the road, no more than fifteen feet in front of her and then it vanished down a driveway that was hidden from the road. A lump rose in Isobel’s throat. What was it, and should she follow it?
After a couple of minutes contemplation, Isobel decided that she would be brave. After all she had ghosts as friends so what could be so frightening about this? So she casually walked along the road until she got to the strange gateway. The gate was wide open, leaning against and squashing the trees and shrubs through the crossed bars where it was pushed back into them.
There was an old plaque on the top rung, but the wording was illegible. Isobel looked more closely at the entrance. There was a long steep driveway, which after a matter of a few feet dropped deeply into blackness. She walked forwards, she could feel her legs starting to quake, but she was determined not to be scared, yet she couldn’t see anything. Despite it being broad daylight, this place was darker than dark. The trees were so dense that no light or sound penetrated the space as it led her further away from the road. Something moved. Isobel stopped. Just ahead of her there was a glint of light, it was like a shard, breaking the blackness surrounding it. Whatever it was it was attached to the ground at an angle, and stopped about two feet up. After a beat, it was still there, silent and unmoving, just as Isobel was, and then it moved, quite suddenly in a flicking motion as if it was having pressure applied to it from the top and it disappeared. Isobel stepped back in utter surprise. What could that have been? Was the shard of light the black cloud, or was that something different? She turned on her heels and walked quickly back up the drive, not daring to look in any direction but ahead and to the safety of the daylight. She looked round feverously, there was no sign of anything unusual now, quite the opposite> It was now heading towards rush hour and there were people everywhere.
Isobel had got up bright and early and she was practising her cartwheels and handstands into crabs and then into another handstand into a somersault. She hadn’t been to gymnastics for quite a few months now partly because of the move from their old village a few miles west of this new place, which until now she had not bothered to remember the name. Weyledge. That was it. She was going to look it up in the library and find out about the house and its history and the surrounding area.
Isobel hadn’t been to the gym for ages and she didn’t want to seize up. Her mum had found a new place to go to but there was some excuse from the teacher saying that the hall that the group had used was under refurbishment and therefore they had nowhere to go until he had located a new place. Isobel’s hand wobbled as she went from her crab back to a handstand. That’s no use. She thought. Somewhere new and I can’t even show off that I’ve been doing this for two years. Perhaps I need a break. So Isobel stopped her practice and sat down for a bit looking out to the back garden.
Isobel was sat at the side of the house, on a short tarmac path that ran from the front of the house and petered out a short distance from the top of the lawn. Her legs were gathered to her side as if she had been kneeling but she had slumped to one side, and the dress that she had been determined to wear for a change was covered in grass stains and rucked up over her knees. Isobel looked around. To her left was a large monkey puzzle tree that engrossed most of the side lawn in a dark green sludge of shadow, and behind her were the beginnings of the shrubbery. She looked beyond the first shrub and was intrigued to see how the early sun and breeze were highlighting the glossiness of the leaves making them appear silver and flashing that light into a dance onto the grass below. To her right was the large bay window of the lounge, looking out as if casting a protective eye on Isobel and her play, and above that her own bedroom window staring blankly out into the trees that lined the edge of the garden. There was an essence of cool in the air, yet it was a calm cool not a pressured cool, but as Isobel became aware of it, the air quickened and alerted a deep set fear in Isobel that made her get up and start walking around the house to the back garden. She turned the corner where the honeysuckle grew, clinging wildly to one of the simple uprights of the veranda. The path ran out and lead directly to the upper lawn, and she walked purposefully across the top of the sloping grass to the small patch of border beneath the utility room window. She glanced both ways as if expecting to see something, and noticed that there was a large amount of damp rising from the flower border up to the windows edge. Her eyes travelled down the wall following the tendrils of a climbing plant that was growing in the moistness and there, nestling in the London Pride ground cover was what looked like the beginnings of some foundations. Kneeling, Isobel started to rummage through the undergrowth and soon she was uncovering bricks, her nails rasping against these and the potted cement. She had not noticed this before, but something had made her find it. Her mind was not thinking, it was as if she was in a trance and as her hands were working without her. She blinked to look at what she had found. The ridge of bricks were only a few inches high, and seemed to be curved to either side. Her knees dug into the edge of the grass and she felt herself slip forwards into the muddy edge of the border as she leant forwards to have a closer look.
Her hands were working freely removing twigs and dried soil from the top of this round lump, something caught her, she felt a pang of fear flow from her hands to her head, but why? She looked forwards. There was a grill at the top of a very deep shaft. It could only have been two foot in diameter, not large enough for an adult to get down but small enough for a young child. Her mind was wandering now, and why was she asking herself these question Yet they loomed in her mind, evoking fear as they did so. It was a well, but it had no signs of ever having a winch or a pulley of any kind as there were no rusted bolts or holes where they would have been attached. She had heard of rain water wells so perhaps this was one, but how did you get the water out, but perhaps it wasn’t that deep? She grabbed at the soil with her left hand and found a small stone, and let it drop between the wire mesh covering the shaft. She waited. Nothing happened as she held her ear close to the top, and then, finally a shallow plip as the stone hit the surface of water. She looked around again in the soil and found a much larger stone, more rounded than the first and wedged it through the mesh. Again, Isobel waited. Surely because the stone was larger it would not take so long to fall. But again she heard a faint plip as it hit the water. Surely, thought Isobel, it would have made a bigger sound. Isobel tried again and again with different sorts of weights of stones, sometimes several pebbles at a time, but again and again only a faint plip, plip, plip.
After about half an hour Isobel gave up. She couldn’t think for a moment what had led her to this, but she didn’t like it. The cool air that had grown the fear in her was starting to act again but this time it felt like icy fingers around her neck. Isobel took flight in an instant, scrabbling up onto her feet, not stopping to rub the dirt from her knees and turned, running for the back fence of the garden, were she stopped to catch her breath. She was standing next to her swing, the one she had had since she was six, which her parents had obviously thought she would still like to use. It stood there motionless awaiting a carefree rider. She looked at it, perhaps this is what she needed, a long swing to banish her fear. She climbed onto the slatted seat and waited for the blue and red poles to settle into their new resting places. Holding loosely to the chains she stepped off the ground and let her legs carry her high. It seemed to be working, the more she pushed with her legs and bent back her knees the clearer her mind became, and the events of the last few weeks seemed to fade into the ever growing sunshine of the morning. Isobel felt exhilarated, free and young not bound by anything. There was no cool air harnessing her into strange pursuits around the garden and no pangs behind her chest; this was her; in control.
An old man’s voice broke the silence.
‘You ‘ere agin?’ He croaked before his crooked face leant through the doorway of the old coal shed in the outhouses.
Aethel ignored him for a moment, and then answered.
‘Is that the only line that you know?’ Aethel’s voice was wavering as if trying to suppress laughter.
‘No.’ Said the old man, followed with. ‘Do you know who locked me in ‘ere?’
‘Oh. Yes of course! You know that line too, don’t you? For the nine hundredth and fifty fourth time, no. I don’t. And would you kindly be quiet whilst I think?’
The old man shuffled as if turning around and he disappeared back into the confines of his pitch grave.
Aethel had been following Isobel around the house for the last few weeks. There was not much going on of course because she had been at school most of the time studying in her room, or alseep. But now that nothing had happened last weekend Aethel was beginning to suspect that Isobel was keeping something from him. He had been in her room for the past four consecutive nights and she hadn’t seen him. She had looked up once from her study but had seemingly looked straight through him, even on muttering something under his breath she hadn’t noticed. But what had really bothered Aethel, more than the snubbing of his presence was when she had stirred a couple of nights ago. She had murmured something in her sleep but it was too incoherent to say exactly what it was, but she had repeated it several times. He had desperately wanted to streamline into her thoughts using his powers in extra sensory perception, but Fenella had urged him not to, saying ‘It’s too early for all that; you don’t even know whether she’s actually thinking anything!’
They had been discussing what Isobel had been asking about the other week. Fenella had been intrigued by Aethel’s hushed discussion with Isobel in the hall a few weeks earlier and had been bursting with anticipation as to how Aethel would answer her questioning on this matter. It had taken a rare moment when Aethel had looked serene as though he wasn’t too much bothered about anything, and besides he hadn’t come up with anything to deal with her yet, by way of her punishment, so she felt at ease to talk with him.
Fenella had met Aethel in the slant of the wall. The meeting of three walls between the hallway, the lounge and the kitchen. Ferdy and the others hadn’t discovered this part of the house yet, so Aethel and Fenella knew they wouldn’t be disturbed. It was a strange space, or so Fenella had thought when she had first been introduced to it by Aethel. She knew too, that Isobel was curious enough to have had it pass through her head why it was there. Although it was not very big on the outside anymore, the walls had once been part of a huge room and as ghosts they wandered into it as part of the old house, as it had been when Aethel’s family had lived there. It was nothing grand, but the room afforded a huge fireplace that covered the now point of the walls, with large wrought iron candlesticks on either side. Fenella could tell immediately that the house was ruled mostly by Aethel’s father. The room was sparse, devoid of anything remotely interesting to a passing visitor. No embroidery or coloured cushions, or fancies as Fenella called them. Instead, there were old paintings, obscured by the years of grime and soot from the fires. The paintings depicted Aethel’s father’s predecessors, all men of course, no pandering to the females of the family. Opposite the fire place was a huge array of books, mostly leather bound and dust free as if they were consulted on a regular basis, and next to the end of the largest bookcase there was an enormous globe. The globe had a strange map of the heavens and the
The old man shuffled as if turning around and he disappeared back into the confines of his pitch grave.
Aethel had been following Isobel around the house for the last few weeks. There was not much going on of course because she had been at school most of the time studying in her room, or alseep. But now that nothing had happened last weekend Aethel was beginning to suspect that Isobel was keeping something from him. He had been in her room for the past four consecutive nights and she hadn’t seen him. She had looked up once from her study but had seemingly looked straight through him, even on muttering something under his breath she hadn’t noticed. But what had really bothered Aethel, more than the snubbing of his presence was when she had stirred a couple of nights ago. She had murmured something in her sleep but it was too incoherent to say exactly what it was, but she had repeated it several times. He had desperately wanted to streamline into her thoughts using his powers in extra sensory perception, but Fenella had urged him not to, saying ‘It’s too early for all that; you don’t even know whether she’s actually thinking anything!’
They had been discussing what Isobel had been asking about the other week. Fenella had been intrigued by Aethel’s hushed discussion with Isobel in the hall a few weeks earlier and had been bursting with anticipation as to how Aethel would answer her questioning on this matter. It had taken a rare moment when Aethel had looked serene as though he wasn’t too much bothered about anything, and besides he hadn’t come up with anything to deal with her yet, by way of her punishment, so she felt at ease to talk with him.
Fenella had met Aethel in the slant of the wall. The meeting of three walls between the hallway, the lounge and the kitchen. Ferdy and the others hadn’t discovered this part of the house yet, so Aethel and Fenella knew they wouldn’t be disturbed. It was a strange space, or so Fenella had thought when she had first been introduced to it by Aethel. She knew too, that Isobel was curious enough to have had it pass through her head why it was there. Although it was not very big on the outside anymore, the walls had once been part of a huge room and as ghosts they wandered into it as part of the old house, as it had been when Aethel’s family had lived there. It was nothing grand, but the room afforded a huge fireplace that covered the now point of the walls, with large wrought iron candlesticks on either side. Fenella could tell immediately that the house was ruled mostly by Aethel’s father. The room was sparse, devoid of anything remotely interesting to a passing visitor. No embroidery or coloured cushions, or fancies as Fenella called them. Instead, there were old paintings, obscured by the years of grime and soot from the fires. The paintings depicted Aethel’s father’s predecessors, all men of course, no pandering to the females of the family. Opposite the fire place was a huge array of books, mostly leather bound and dust free as if they were consulted on a regular basis, and next to the end of the largest bookcase there was an enormous globe. The globe had a strange map of the heavens and the astral planes of the stars and their moons and the planets, it didn’t make any sense to Fenella, but she instantly knew that Aethel was from a very important, educated back ground, the sort that she would have loved to have married into when she was a young girl, but she had never married anyone. Fenella’s parents, the Lorcan’s were well to do, but had earned their way of life the hard way, from possessing absolutely nothing, to making a small fortune in property back in their homeland of Ireland before fleeing here in about 1850. Fenella was born much later and as an only child in 1860. Her parent’s were very strong minded and wanted someone more robust than genteel for Fenella, and of course this had never happened.
The room had a distinct air about it, one of calm study and relaxation and this is why Aethel had shown it to her, or that is what he had said, and Fenella was inclined to agree with him.
They had met up on the Wednesday night, not long after Aethel had heard Isobel muttering in her sleep. He had told Fenella of his worry for the girl. Fenella had taken the opportunity then and there.
‘Has this anything to do with what you two were discussing in the hallway?’ Fenella awaited a reaction, but Aethel just cast a warm look so she continued. ‘When you turned and lowered your voice further, you were talking about the back stairs were you not?’ Fenella’s heart sank for a second. Aethel’s face shifted warm to cool, then back again, his thin lips wavering a little, as if he were stifling something, and then he reached out a long thickly robed arm and brushed Fenella’s left shoulder with his hand.
‘Yes. She trapped me. Well -’ He paused briefly as he caught the shimmer in Fenella’s eyes. ‘Not so much trapped me, but she somehow, and I have no idea how, she knew that there is something odd about that doorway through the kitchen to the dining room. So, I told her that…’ His hand had left Fenella’s shoulder at this point and he lay it back softly with his right hand on top of his robes.
Fenella was too eager and nearly blurted out ‘what did you say, what did you say?’ but she felt a mild tap on her left temple, and Aethel continued.
‘So, I told her that there once was a stairway there and that we no longer use that part of the old house anymore, because of the screams from a young girl, that disturbs us, and for some reason when they removed the stairs they left the door at the bottom.’ Aethel’s voice was very matter of fact, and he could sense that Fenella was chuffed to hear him tell her the truth.
‘Oh. Is that all you told her. May I ask then what has that got to do with her ignoring us?’
Aethel moved away and stood next to the fireplace. His mind was a riot of thoughts. He had only told Fenella the partial truth of the girl on the stairs and was not about to tell her the real reason now. Plus he had also added a white lie, and he had not told her about his life yet. Of course, a little about him being a doctor, but not in so much detail, because he wasn’t sure that he had much of a hold on her yet to announce all the misgivings that he had to hide. He had told her some other half truths too, like the coal sheds were a place to not wander through at any time, and that there were odd beings in some parts of the gardens that she might not like to meet, amongst other things and places, but he hadn’t told her why.
‘What’s wrong Aethel?’ Fenella slid across the rug to where Aethel was now half propped against the mantel, rubbing his forehead slightly and staring into the embers of the old fire. He seemed miles away, but Fenella had got to know him much more quickly than the others, partly because they spent so much of their time together and she had learnt that talking him through a situation often helped.
‘You told me on my arrival here that those stairs were inhabited by a child who lost her mother, whose whole family were working here when you were younger. We discussed it at length because I felt uneasy then in your company and was not sure what to believe, but I trust you now.’ She held her hands warmly by her sides to show no threat, and gently continued. ‘I believed you then and still do. I can see now how if Isobel’s imagination as far as we know it is of the questioning kind then she could have come up with all sorts of wild thoughts about the girl and her mother, but we don’t know that do we.’ She smiled a bit too sweetly for Aethel’s liking and placed herself a few paces from him to await his reaction.
Aethel had not really been listening. He had heard the latter part, that she trusted him, and then about Isobel’s imagination. In his sensitive yet no nonsense manner, Aethel looked up from the fire and said.
‘Yes. Of course you are right. But I would like to be sure. If I could check her mind, just for a second, to see if there’s anything worrying her that shouldn’t be, do you see?’
Which was when Fenella had said ‘It’s too early for all that, you don’t even know whether she’s actually thinking anything!’
Which was what Aethel had been pondering now, if she didn’t know anything then why was she ignoring him? He had spotted her this morning doing her somersaults and cartwheels and he couldn’t understand why she had suddenly stopped. He had followed her to the well, smiling to himself as she threw small pebbles down it like all children do when they see a well. Yet something had stopped her from doing that too, and Aethel was unaware of what it was. He had looked about sharply when she had torn off to the bottom of the garden, but he could see no one, spirit or otherwise except for himself. He also knew that there was no history in that well. It was a rain water well that was used to water the gardens when they were much larger. It had been connected underground, and because of its position at the top of the slopes it served itself as a pump. All that the family needed to do was to turn the tap at the other end and there was the water.
But Aethel had soon discovered what it was that was coaxing Isobel to the bottom of the garden. Firstly, by getting her to the well, to get her fear rattling in her chest and then to guide her towards the bottom of the garden. It was the ghost of the child from the top of the stairs and Aethel kept himself well hidden, out of sight in the outhouses were the other ghost could not see him. He waited patiently until he caught sight of Isobel. She had gone in for her lunch and soon enough she would go back to where she had left off before. Sure enough, Isobel emerged from the house and Aethel walked slowly and carefully down the left hand path, past the oil tank and the top vegetable patch, and waited beside a large brush bush.
Isobel had been swinging merrily, free from fears and hurt when her mum had called her in for lunch. There hadn’t been much conversation, because her dad was away on business and her mum had just looked her up and down and asked her to wash her hands before she ate. As they sat down to eat her mum handed her the salad bowl and stared at her daughter.
‘However are we going keep you looking presentable?’
‘I tried mum’. Was all Isobel had to say, which was sort of true she had put on a dress instead of her old dungarees that had seen better days. But they were far more suitable for her character.
The strangeness of the morning seemed like an age ago and Isobel tucked happily into the salad, picking carefully at the berries and orange pieces that her mum had put in it to make it more interesting. On finishing her food, she smiled at her mum, and walked back through the back door. The lack of conversation wasn’t unusual between Isobel and her mum. Isobel’s mum was a quiet woman who kept the house running whilst her dad was away, and because of the size of this house it took up most of her time. Isobel was practically free to do whatever she wanted, so long as she told her mum where she was going. But since they had just moved in, and there was so much to find out around the house and gardens there didn’t seem much point in wandering further afield.
Isobel walked down to the swing. It was still rocking gently from when she had got down earlier. She looked around. Since they had moved here, Isobel hadn’t taken the time to look around. Although a naturally curious girl, she was beginning to find that the gardens said a lot about the previous owners. The couple that had lived here before them had had an enormous extended family. Three of their own children and at least three who they had adopted and there was also a young baby who they had just fostered. It was quite obvious that they had not much time to do anything, which was why most of the garden was laid to lawn with easy to handle bushes and shrubs rather than flower beds.
The view of the house from where she was now standing was amazing. She could see the full extent of the house, it was huge. The side garden that she had been in this morning was half in shadow as the sun had moved round, and the shrubbery was in total darkness. Moving her eyes round she saw how the veranda was such a good idea, keeping the rooms inside in semi darkness and therefore cool against the bright sunlight. The large kitchen windows kept surveillance on most of the back lawn, and next to these were the dining room windows, darkened by the jutting out of the utility room wall. The veranda stopped there too. Her heart leapt a little as she scanned across the window above the well, but she felt no more. She then let her gaze shift to the other back door. There was the oil tank that she remembered seeing when they had first looked round the house, and the start of a vegetable patch, behind which was a high wall, which Isobel guessed was the back of the garage and the way through to the outhouses. She hadn’t been there yet, not on her own, but her mum used the outhouses for storage. As she looked at the high wall she realised that the outside had a strange feeling too, like the mustiness inside the house on her arrival and as she stared at the brilliance of the building it instilled a faint sadness in Isobel. She darted her eyes up to the next floor. The outside was decorated beautifully just as the front of the house was, with red terracotta tiles hanging between the windows. Yet despite the beautiful decoration of the outside and the grandness of all the rooms within, it did seem sad, like the house was sighing.
Of course Isobel had discovered the ghosts and that seemed to make some sense, the fact that the house was standing on a very old site, could amount to its mustiness at least, but the sadness was still there. With her eyes still looking at the second floor windows she noticed that the third floor windows couldn’t be seen from the back of the house. She scanned the roofs, but no, there were only the dips where the roof had been gabled. At their joints, there were massive chimney stacks, some as high and as wide as a small room. Isobel walked slowly along the back fence, past a high fir that had split in the wind and was showing its straggling dying brown insides, but she kept her eyes on the chimneys.
Still walking and looking Isobel felt a nudge to the memories she was burying in her mind. With her mind fully open from the freedom she had felt whilst swinging, these fears filtered freely reminding her again of the vision she thought she had got rid of. But it was too late it took seconds and then it reappeared behind her ribs in a short, sharp agonising grip.
Momentarily, Isobel stood still, her eyes fixing on the black wisp some fifteen feet in front of her. Isobel was standing on another pathway that ran along the far edge of the garden, beyond the main lawn where there were several cleared vegetable patches. Her Dad must have had a week off work, because when they had first moved in, these patches were a mass of overgrown brambles, with nine foot high nettles. She was stood alongside the patch that was right at the bottom, next to an immense compost heap that towered over her, with broken egg shells, skins of tomatoes and potato peelings strewn down its sides. She felt a jolt. This time it was not from the direction of the black wisp that was now taking shape in front of her; but from behind. A rift first struck her on her left shoulder and then ripped its way through her back diagonally making her whole body twist in pain. But she didn’t feel herself move, all she felt was a darkness growing in her from the root of the initial grip behind her ribs which now seemed to be flooding her. She opened her eyes, not knowing why they had shut, and now saw that she was running, running away from the compost heap and up the path to the back of the garage and then down, down a spinning tunnel that had thrown her wildly, so that she was now lying star shaped in thin air, revolving past large centipedes and worms, broken china and tree roots, lumps of soil and broken stones, blurring past her eyes at a terrifying speed. It was endless, until the same sharp shock pulled her up on to her feet, which left her breathless. Isobel crumpled on to the path, her hands crunched onto the grit and debris from the trees. She looked up.
‘Aethel? Her voice was hoarse and barely made the sound of his name.
He was looking down at her with a faint smile. ‘Got her.’ He thought to himself, but he did not utter a word. He gave her a few moments as she got to her feet and looked down at her ragged dress, hanging tattered at her knees, which were bleeding furiously. She looked from her knees to him and then started to turn, desperate to see what had put her through such an ordeal. But something made her head turn back again, the same feeling, that same feeling? She shook herself, she had had that feeling before, where was it, but she didn’t have time to think.
‘Are you not to thank me?’ Aethel’s hands were reaching out into the still air that hung around the back of the garage. He said nothing more. He was awaiting her response.
But Isobel just stood there. Her feet stuck to the ground. Again she looked down at her knees and then back to Aethel, he was still holding his hands out as if he wanted her to take hold of them. Weakly, she drew her hands from her sides and reached out, clasping at the nothingness that made his hands. The gesture seemed to work. Aethel moved a little closer to her and slipped his right hand from her clasp, and in doing so put his arm around her side, still allowing her to hold his left hand, which now placed her left arm against her midriff. Isobel felt a tingling sensation, not to her skin, but deeper than that, a spreading iciness that started at her insides, where you would expect the pit of your stomach to be. She retched suddenly and violently, bending her body double but nothing came up. What was going on and how was this happening? A whirl of nausea caused her not to think and she fell once more to her knees.
Aethel seemed pleased for a moment and then spoke.
‘Are you ready now?’ Aethel was now standing a few feet from Isobel as she raised her head to his voice. Her head was still spinning yet she felt a calm surging through her and she felt her strength returning. Her face was gaunt and hollowed at the cheeks, as if she hadn’t eaten for a couple of days, and her pale skin reflected what little light there was in this damp and dusky part of the garden. Her eyes began to focus. She was kneeling again, next to a large brush bush, its red berries still hanging there as they would have done in mid winter, perfectly formed and clustered, dripping from the ends of the spiky leaves. The ground beneath was straw like, hidden from the sun, dusty and an amber brown.She turned her head, it moved freely now and with ease.
‘What was… What was…’ Yet no matter how much she tried her words were not free.
She tried again.
‘How come I’m here?’ These words seemed far easier, and her voice was rounded and her tone soft.
‘Well, that’s a very deep question, but no time for games!’ Aethel’s voice boomed louder than ever before, and Isobel started to worry that they might be heard. No, she told herself, they will not hear, unless they chose to. She focused her mind once more.
‘Aethel?’ He was nodding at her. His long lean body seemed even tauter than before and his face more pinched and aged, if that were possible, for he must be over three hundred years old. His hair was lapping gently round his strong chin and he spoke once more.
‘I saved you my dear.’ He did not wait a reaction, ‘From that child. That cruel tortured child, she was about to entice you into her wicked ways, but I came round the corner just in time. She was about to swallow you up whole and reach into your mind and take what she wanted, but I saved you.’
Isobel’s throat swelled for a moment like she had got a pip stuck, but then the feeling subsided. She glugged hard, feeling the tears from her eyes seep wilfully down the back of her nose.
‘What child?’ Isobel stammered barely audibly.
‘Well.’ Aethel was deciding whether Isobel had any idea or not, and decided that may be she didn’t. Perhaps Fenella was right.
‘Well, there’s a child that haunts these gardens, and she is pure evil, truly twisted and frail, and she needs young children like you to survive.’
Isobel was terrified, and Aethel knew it. He was smiling at her still. A preoccupied smile; one that had a hundred thoughts behind it. Thoughts that now involved how easy it was going to be to trap this young imaginative girl. How easy it would be to lure her into his way of thinking, and for him to keep her from knowing anything about him. But there must have been something that had troubled Isobel, so whilst she was in this state, this vulnerable, scared state, Aethel decided to ask her if anything was disturbing her sleep. He drew his breath, trying hard to sound weary instead of calculating and progressed with an ease of a doctor asking a patient about their troubles and woes.
‘You must be terrified Isobel.’ Again, he paused but continued. ’The child that haunts these gardens is one of utmost misery, she cares little of anyone, if anyone at all, and thinks only of herself, quite self centred and pitiful really.’
Isobel was looking at him squarely, directing her hard stare into his deep set watery grey eyes. Isobel had felt a deep rush of clarity fill her from behind her ribs, instead of the burdening rasp of pain, and in that instant she had started to distrust Aethel. She was watching him as he spoke of the child that haunts the garden and noticed a faint glimmer of insincerity move from his mouth to his eyes, as if he was relishing something. Not, thought Isobel, something to be relishing about. As he continued, she realised that she would have to be very careful about what she told him, but to remain as she had always done in his company, quite a hard act to pull off, but she knew she had to do it.
‘You see Isobel, not all ghosts are as pleasant as the ones you have met so far. Some are jealous of those who remain alive and can breathe the fresh air, feel the warmth of the sun, or the dew ridden grass between their toes. This child is like that, yet she wants to improve her diminishing claim on the life that merely holds her in the air, and she preys on people for strength.’ Aethel stopped himself he was getting quite carried away, so he changed his point. ‘Anyway Isobel. I’m glad that I managed to save you of this horrible fate. I have been wondering, is there anything that has been bothering you? Because if there is you only have to seek one of us, and we can help you, help banish any worries or ideas you may have.’
It was this jolt in his sermon, for that is how Isobel had interpreted it, that made her look at him all the more coolly, yet he didn’t seem to notice. For the first time in three weeks, Isobel felt sure that Aethel knew even more than he had let on. Of course she had no proof, but it was the way in which he was talking to her. Of course he wanted to be protective of her after he had helped her this afternoon, and although he sounded fairly convincing, Isobel wasn’t so sure, and for this reason alone all she said when she spoke was.
‘It isn’t much of an explanation is it? What’s my mum going to say when she sees my dress?’
Aethel had retracted on hearing this. It was not the answer that he had been hoping for. All that energy taken to draw her away from that child and that’s all the thanks he got for it. He was furious, and shaking, limp from his exertions. But he simply nodded and stooped a low bow at Isobel, before floating off down the side path that led around the side of the garage.
‘How did it go then, your thoughts on Isobel?’
It was Fenella. She had just emerged from under one of the larger of the rhododendrons and had found Aethel hovering in the last bit of sunshine that skimmed the driveway. She noticed that he was gripping his robes with both hands, his knuckles whitening with the force by which he clung to them. She thought quickly, perhaps this was not the best time to ask so she scurried away back to the undergrowth from where she had come.
But Aethel had heard her and he followed her to the little hollow beneath the low arbours of a group of the old trees. There was little light here and both of them were quite visible to the naked eye.
Fenella had sat herself down on a drooping bough and was facing away from the house, and was looking through the ragged hedge that separated the boundary of the house with the road. There were people walking past, two adults and two children, smiling happily as if they were on their way back home from a fun-filled day. The children were young, about six and eight, clutching with their spare hands coloured bags, no doubt with sweets and games in for when they got home. Fenella could not help but to smile with them, they looked so content. The parents or she assumed them to be, were each holding a child by the hand and swinging them gently as they strode down the road. She knew that they couldn’t see her and she thought that even if they could, they would think her to be a slight mist echoing under the dampness of the sunless trees. She contented herself with this image but turned suddenly, startled by Aethel’s presence.
‘You asked me a question, and then disappeared. What’s the matter with you Fenella?’ Aethel was sitting on an opposite low bough, flattening his hands out and smoothing his robes as he did so. He was still disgruntled.
Fenella fidgeted. She had just disappeared, but felt it right to leave him be, but now, on him asking, it did seem a bit odd, that she had become quite so timid in his company.
Honestly she answered.
‘You seemed a little out of sorts, so I decided that may be you were not in a chatty mood.’ Fenella’s lips pursed a little as if she felt quite within her means to say such a thing.
‘Ah. Well, yes. You may be right there.’ Aethel said, in an automated fashion. He was holding his head at right angles to his body, and as he finished his sentence his sucked his cheeks in firmly.
Fenella noticed his tension straight away and decided not to ask anything else, unless he brought the subject up, which after a moment’s pause while he appeared to be readjusting his thoughts he did so.
‘I saved her from that brat, and all she could say was that she thought her mother wouldn’t think it a very good excuse for her dress being so tattered!’ His voice was stern, but didn’t lack emotion.
Fenella was fidgeting with her dress, scrunching her fingers and allowing the green raw silk fabric feed its way through her hands, a consequence of which made the hem of her dress creep slowly up her legs and above her knees, she was unaware of this. But Aethel noticed straight away.
‘Are you taunting me!’ His voice boomed angrily. Which made Fenella jump.
‘Why! Oh my, for heavens no! I’m –‘ Fenella quickly let her dress fall down again past her shimmering white skin. But she had been thinking, what had he meant by saving her from that brat. What brat was that. Fenella was dying to ask him but she didn’t dare, not when he was being so tempestuous.
The fury in Aethel was getting too much for his thoughts to just drift about his head and he started speaking as is questioning Fenella, but really he was just going through his previous thoughts but this time out loud.
‘So Fenella, do you think that I should tap her for information? I mean she behaved in such a cold manner with me it wasn’t like her at all, as if something isn’t quite right. And the other night, I kept trying to decipher what she was saying, it sounded like nathauzie, which means nothing to me. And then today, I watched her from this morning, she was doing some sort of somersault, and then she stopped suddenly, sitting for a while, and then she got up, went to the well, and left there just as abruptly, which I eventually put down to that brat trying to find her, and then she throws it at me, as if she doesn’t care.’
Fenella was listening now, her hands firmly held in her lap. She sucked it all in, trying to visualise the parts of the garden that Aethel was describing in his thoughts. It was no use; she would have to ask him.
‘Who is this brat you keep mentioning Aethel?’ Her eyes widening in anticipation.
He looked at her. A cool hard stare that still held the concentration that it had taken to try and bind Isobel’s mind to his way of thinking. He was pondering on using it on Fenella, or may be just a fraction of it, to pull her out of this over questioning habit. Reaching his arms out, Aethel focused on his own mind and reached a little upwards with his eyes so that his minds’ eye was clear, summoning a blankness that would act as a shield to his own thoughts. He placed his hands on Fenella’s hands, allowing a clear path from his being into hers, tracing down his arms and through her hands until it swarmed between the two of them in a figure of eight, down his left arm and up her right, across her shoulders and down her left. She lurched a little as the cold rush numbed her extremities, but that was all she felt.
‘That brat.‘ Aethel started, sighing deeply. ‘Is none other than the one from the top of the stairs.’ He paused, curiously gazing into Fenella’s eyes; it had worked. There was no interest there, no questioning, yet he kept his hands firmly on hers. ‘She, and I will call her by her name, Alida, has broken her promise with me, and has found her way back into my domain, this house and these gardens, that belong to me and my family. She was punished many years ago and somehow, which I will have to find out, she has found her way back, and no doubt as she has tried before will start, if not stopped, to tell untrue stories of me and my family. That is why she is a brat.’
This, again, was a partial truth, but Fenella was unaware of it. She would remember being told this statement, but she would not recall who had told her, or whether she had dreamt the whole thing up, and once Aethel released her, she would be in agreement with whatever he said in relation to it. Annoyingly, it hadn’t worked on Isobel, and he wanted to find out the reason for that too. He released his grip, and Fenella relaxed. She was miles away, and when she spoke she was completely disconnected with what had just happened.
‘It’s lovely under here, isn’t it? So cool and away from that bright sun, that makes me feel so diminished and small.’ She smiled her confectionary smile, once again a little too sweetly for Aethel. But he was happy it had worked, and so he just hummed his response to her.
But it wasn’t all good news. Sitting not ten feet from Aethel and Fenella was Ty. He had been finding his way around the garden too, and had had a sudden pang of reason to sit somewhere very quiet and still. Despite his young years he was a thoughtful boy who found his own company very useful in difficult times. He had discovered that just beyond the first large shrub at the top of the side garden there was a clearing. A slightly bumpy, lumpy clearing were no weeds or anything grew, but it seemed calm enough and he had sat himself down on a small stack of red bricks that were partly covered in shadow and as a result of this, moss.
He had been sitting quietly minding his own business when he had first heard Aethel talking in a very hard sinister voice about Isobel, which no matter how much Ty tried, he couldn’t help but overhear. It was made much more intriguing because he had spent most of the day trying to figure out if Ferdy was barking up the wrong tree or not, but here right in front of him was the proof that he was not. He couldn’t believe his ears for a moment, but as he leant forwards he caught a glimpse of Aethel reaching his hands to Fenella’s and then sending himself into a trance like state, for his eyes, which were usually greyish and watery had turned to a coal black and they had rolled back into his head and he appeared to be muttering something. Ty had then leant back again, thinking hard about whether to hang around, or to find Ferdy straight away, but he had decided to stay put, for he needed all the information if he was to report back.
He waited until Aethel had stopped telling Fenella about this child. Her name. Ty pondered for a while. Alida. That was it. He then decided that he would go back the way he had come in, no matter how dangerous, for the light had almost gone and the side lawn was a mass of shadows.
Ty gently left his red brick seat and looped back under the low branches of the large tree. He waited for a moment, to check that neither of them had seen or heard him, but there was no sound. There was a distinct sound that ghosts made, no one was the same, but it was only as a ghost that you could hear them. Aethel’s sound was a low roar, which in thinking about made good sense, yet Fenella’s was hardly audible, it was more like a dried leaf being blown haphazardly over a hard surface in the wind. But no such noises were made. Ty’s noise, so Ferdy had said was another quiet sound, not unlike the tempered crackle of a young shoot in a hot fire. Yet Ferdy’s was something quite different, his was matched with a resounding glow, one that made his whole form bear a faint reddish tinge to his otherwise normal greying white form. And his sound was more of an echo, like the cheer from the back of a huge hall. Ty had put this down to the fact that Ferdy was much older than any of the ghosts. However the ghosts that had come with them from Fenella’s back gate, they were really old, as if from another time and so faint, that their bodies were hardly there, and it was only on a night like tonight that you could trace the features of their faces. They were more like memories. Ty had heard Aethel describing them as pencil drawings that had been rubbed out, but you could still see the lines in the paper. Ty had not known that they had been following Ferdy and himself for days, because they made no audible sound, and because they were barely visible, but they were nice enough, they seemed to understand them, but they never said anything, nodding was their only response.
Ty crept out from under the tree and darted, skimming the ground as he did so, across the grassed area at the top of the garden, flitted past the lit up kitchen and nervously slipped into the undergrowth, just under the utility room window. Here he waited, until the darkness was so black that he could not even make out the bats that flitted from the trees at the gardens edge across to the main house.
Isobel had waited until she had seen Aethel’s back disappearing around the side of the garage. She had then taken a few steps onto this path, but it had felt unusual, like stepping onto an invisible conveyor belt so she had stepped off it and turned past the brush bush to a path that led directly past the top of the vegetable patch and past the oil tank. Here, she had stopped. This was the part of the garden that she knew little about. To her right was a deep set of stone steps that led up over the garage and turned midway so she couldn’t see where they led to, but she could feel and smell the difference in the air around them, it was dank, like an overly moist greenhouse with the heavy smell of earth; quite different to the rest of the garden. Also to her right, was the entrance to the outhouses, the latch door was open and wedged with a large stone, showing the deep red of the tiled floor. Isobel’s heart was racing, perhaps this was the shock finally escaping her from her encounter with Aethel, or perhaps it was this part of the house. In front of her, loomed the other back door a matter of three steps from where she was standing but her legs wouldn’t move. This is daft, thought Isobel, I’ve survived a soil tunnel and now I can’t walk into my own house. She waited a while, and then determinedly she shook the fear from her throat and the racing of her heart and braced herself, willing her legs to walk; they did and she pushed herself through the door and slammed it shut behind her, bolting it at the floor and at the top.
The room was sparse and the floor was the same as the outhouse corridor, although the tiles had paled from years of soap and scrubbing. Overhead there was a clothes maid, winched tight to the ceiling and dangling its quarry of shirts and handkerchiefs way above Isobel’s head. Directly opposite the door was a range of shelving and cupboards with slatted doors, she peeked inside, the vacuum cleaner stood with a long extendable duster propped up at the back. She looked round, to her left against the outside wall was a sink, a huge ceramic sink, with an extra rinsing drainer. Grabbing at the soap on the side and the nail brush just to its left, Isobel rolled up her dress to her thighs, and turned on the cold tap.
Isobel scrubbed harshly at her wounds on her knees, until the blood began to run cleanly without the bits of gravel and loose tarmac pieces from the path. She ignored the pain, yet let her tears run freely down her cheeks and past her lips onto her chin, where they formed into huge droplets before descending onto the top of her dress. Her dress was ruined, once a floaty blue cotton dress with an empire line, was now ragged and torn. The hem resembled that of a witch’s cloak, feathered by the wind. She would have to think, and think fast, her mum would be horribly upset, but she knew all too well that this wouldn’t show. Oh no! Isobel’s mum could get quite angry when necessary, but Isobel’s greatest fear was that this time it would be disappointment, which was so much more unbearable. Isobel decided that she would say that she had been climbing a tree to chase a cat, and that she had fallen. It was perfectly plausible; at their old house Isobel did this sort of thing a lot and her mum would have to believe her. Isobel liked cats and had always wanted one, but her parents had told her that she would have to look after it and not them, and if Isobel was honest, she could see that they meant well.
Having dried her knees with a clean cloth that she found in the drawer next to the sink, Isobel wandered through the utility room and into the dining room. It was full of furniture, piled up against the walls, covered in the old drapes from the lounge. To her left was the window, and straight past that was the unusual door, the one that Isobel had asked Aethel about. She hadn’t thought of Aethel since he had left her on that path, but he now came back into her mind vividly. That look on his face, the relishing look as he described a child who haunted the gardens, and on how he had saved her, what exactly had he saved her from. One minute she was fine, walking along the gardens edge, the next she was been hurled through the air and down an ever speeding pit, what had caused that? Her mind hurried back to when she was looking up at the house and the chimneys, no, nothing, except the pang behind her ribs and, oh yes! That black wisp again, and yes the pang was the same as when she was on the green, near the cottages and before that in her sleep, when she saw the girl at the bottom of the fire place. That must be it, or she must be it, was that what Aethel was on about, she paused a moment. Yet hadn’t Aethel said that he was scared of her, that the child at the top of the stairs was frightening to him and the other ghosts and they didn’t dare pass that way anymore? And if the ghost of the child was there supposedly trapped, how could she be in the garden, or in the village, or anywhere else? Isobel’s mind was a blur. Hadn’t Aethel said something else? No. She couldn’t think, she thought there was more to what he had said, but she couldn’t remember it. Something to do with that child, something he, no, no! Isobel was stamping her feet against the floor in the dining room as if in desperation to remember, but perhaps it wasn’t something he had said, was it something he had felt?
The thought of this made Isobel waver, she felt herself swooning as if about to faint, but then it came back, quite quickly as if this was the state to remember, she felt it now, an iciness rushing through her veins and up to her neck, freezing her from her chin upwards, and there it was, a feeling of power, of cold harsh power, yet burning at her insides and making her twist as if in agony, the feeling was hatred. She stopped herself, and felt the coldness subsiding. What could it mean? That Aethel hated her, or that child?
She glanced back quickly at the door that led from the dining room to the kitchen and decided not to use it. It was shut and in her mind she wanted it to remain that way. Instead she walked across to the other door that led into the hallway, and continued to the lounge. The door was ajar, so she gently pushed it open and checked that there was no one there. It was empty, and dark. Her hand felt for the light switch which instantly illuminated two of the floor lamps, casting thin shadows from their upright bases. Isobel walked to the settee and laid herself down; it was the comfiest in the room, a long green-covered three-seater with cushions at both ends. She would stay for a while; let her mind settle and then see if her mum was about, or perhaps she would wait until her mum found her that might be best.
The front door banged open, waking Isobel with a start, the sound was followed by some shuffling noises, and Isobel relaxed, it must be her mum with the shopping. There was then a series of shuffles and drags as she unloaded the car, a clang as the car boot slammed shut and a rattle as she lay the keys down on the table in the hall, followed by the door banging shut. She didn’t call out, but Isobel heard her moving the bags into the kitchen, and then a second trip. Isobel could then hear her mum opening cupboard doors and putting the food away, and then after a few minutes she heard her coming through to the lounge.
It was foolish really. If Isobel had had more time to think she would have changed, putting the dress away into the back of her wardrobe, and putting some trousers on to save her knees, but she knew that sooner or later the dress would be mentioned and then she would be stuck. She had decided in her snooze that the best way to lie was to be honest about it and admit to the dress’s ravaged look being all her fault.
The door slid open and Isobel’s mum appeared wearing a pair of wide legged linen trousers and a floaty matching shirt, immaculate of course as if they were freshly ironed and she hadn’t moved or sat down. Isobel craned her neck round and looked up at her from the settee. It didn’t take long, there was a stony silence for a moment’s breath and then:
‘Oh Isobel!’ The disappointment was apparent even in her mum’s soft tone, ‘What have you been up to now?’ She moved over and sat herself down on the arm rest of the settee. ‘I go out for a few hours, to get some nice food for your dad – he’s home tomorrow, and‘. But she broke off. Her eyes were scanning the blood on her daughter’s knees and the ragged edges of her dress. For some reason her mum didn’t seem too bothered, there was a calmness to her face as she stood up again and then sat down next to Isobel in the space in front of her shins. She looked at her daughters face and then back to her knees, her hands reaching out to slowly smooth the edge of her dress.
Isobel couldn’t believe it, it was if her mum was touching something that was dear to her, something that reminded her of another time, like she did with the material that her Great Aunt had left behind. Isobel stirred and pushed herself up onto her elbows, which dug themselves deeply into the mound of cushions.
‘Oh, love, it’s no matter. This dress, you’ve outgrown it anyway, remember when it was too long, but it is so beautiful.’ Isobel’s mum was wistful, and continued, ‘but everything has its day, doesn’t it. I’ll make you a new one, but.’ And she hesitated looking directly into her daughters eyes and changing her tone as she did so, ‘But this time, you will wear it for special occasions only, okay?’
There was tenderness in her mum’s eyes, and Isobel couldn’t believe that she hadn’t had a good telling off. She had half expected to be bundled off to bed straight away, no questions asked. Guilt rose in Isobel’s throat. Why was she guilty she hadn’t told her the half lie? But her mum’s thoughts were elsewhere.
‘You know. I bumped into the man who runs the gymnastics class when I was out, he says there’s an inset day at school tomorrow and that if you like, you can go to the gym club in the morning instead of the evening, except I can’t take you there or collect you. I’m picking up your dad from the station. Would you be okay with that?’ Fran was smiling down at her, apparently blind to the state of her daughter.
Isobel was still perched on her elbows but on her mum’s words she rose to sit upright.
‘That’s great mum. Thanks, and yes, that’s no problem. Where do I have to go?’ Isobel was so relieved her words came tumbling out in an over excitable way.
‘Well. I’m glad you’re pleased. He – Mr. Hicks, says it is part of a private school down in the old part of the village at the end of a long drive. Apparently it’s just before the row of cottages on, what are they called?’ Isobel’s mum looked vague for a moment. ‘Oh, Water Street Cottages, just before those, you turn right, says it’s a nice place, the pupils there are off, different holidays to us lot.’ Fran had been looking at her daughters face the whole time and there seemed to be an impression of anxiousness in her eyes. ‘What’s wrong love?’
Isobel paused before she answered.
‘Nothing mum. I was just thinking what it’d be like, you know, lots of new people, the surroundings, things like that.’ This wasn’t entirely true. The main concern for Isobel on hearing of the location was the fact that this was the drive that she had followed the black wisp down. The long steep drive that even in broad daylight was as black as pitch tar. But surely, there would be other people around, all going the same way, and anyway, hadn’t she seen the black wisp in the garden earlier, if it was the same one. Her mum interrupted her thoughts.
‘If you’re sure love, it’s just you seem distant, you will be alright, won’t you?’
‘Oh, yes mum. I’ll be fine. Looking forward to it already!’ Perhaps this was a little over zealous, but it seemed to work. Isobel’s mum placed her hands on Isobel’s and squeezed them a little, perhaps by way of thanks for being such a dependable independent girl.
Isobel’s mum left the room and said that she would be having an early night, due to there being ‘so much to do’, but Isobel just nodded and stayed on the settee. She was looking around the room, particularly the inner wall that divided the lounge from the hallway. That was where the ghosts sometimes mingled, just in front of the wall on the other side. But she let this thought drift off in her mind and she surveyed the rest of the room instead. It was a large room. And behind the settee there was a small window, with its deep ledge low down near the skirting board, and Isobel could just make out the start of the wood pile in the growing darkness outside, and the start of the shrubbery. Then there was a jut in the wall before it swept out in a plastered curve to the large bay windows that looked out over the side garden. The curtains were not drawn and Isobel could see a faint movement in the trees that bordered their garden. To the other side of the window was a serving hatch that linked with the kitchen, a strange miniature set of doors like the front of a child’s puppet theatre. It was in the recess before the huge bricked fireplace that stepped out into the room. The hearth was of bare grey slate, virtually flat with the carpeted floor, and to either side of the grate were ledges also in the slate. Isobel’s mind skipped back to when they were shown around the property and remembered that the estate agent had said something about the fireplace once being double sided with the kitchen. Perhaps these ledges were where they used to place the kettles and pans. Isobel got up from her comfortable cushions and winced slightly at the tightening of her healing knees. Her curiosity was in the fireplace. If it had been connected to the kitchen wouldn’t there be chains and a network of pulleys and such like in the chimney?
Carefully crouching on the cool slate of the hearth, Isobel craned her neck and peered up the chimney. Sure enough, just as she had thought, there was a bundle of chains, looped up over a couple of iron bars a few feet up from the edge of the brick work. There was a large hook at the end of one of the chains, which although old and heavily browned with powdering rust, still bore a tapered sharpened spike at its end. At the other end of this chain was a series of smaller chains each with different sized hooks, these were not sharpened. As Isobel moved a little closer, she could just see that there were other chains and shaped iron bars further up the chimney, but as she gripped the sides of the brickwork to steady herself a faint whimper wafted down from her left, followed by a heavy smell of soot. It made her freeze to the spot for a while, but on not hearing the sound or smell again, Isobel decided to be brave, and put the sound down to a gust of wind from the top of the chimney stack, what else could it have been?
Isobel stepped back from the hearth and looked round to the clock that was hanging purposefully on the inner wall behind the door. It was a large wooden affair that her parents had bought in an auction; with the excuse that it would suit this house. She was amazed at the time, it was getting close to ten thirty, and although there was no school tomorrow, she still had to read two more chapters of ‘Too Wild to Mention’ by a Ruth Meddleson. No school tomorrow, she repeated this thought in her head, but it was Sunday tomorrow anyway, surely, not Monday. Thinking back she heard her mum’s words in her head ‘There’s an inset day at school tomorrow.’ Panic started to rise in her throat, it couldn’t be Monday, what happened to Sunday, had she been in the garden for two days? Had she slept for a whole day after her meeting with Aethel, no, no! Her mind racing, she started for the door, flicking the light switches hastily as she swept past, and grabbed out for the bottom of the banister and hurled herself up the stairs and into her room.
She dashed straight over to the windows grasping the ledge to steady herself and looked out over the side garden. What was she looking for, and why was she looking out into nothingness? Isobel leant back in tense angst, there was nothing for it, she had lost a whole day, but her mum hadn’t said or noticed anything, so what had really happened to her? She pulled at the curtains and drew them messily across the windows, and went to her bed, putting on the side light so she could read her book. Still dressed, Isobel slipped between the top blanket and the sheet below and propped herself up with her pillow, reluctantly trying to sink into the different world of Marlow Croydon, the young journalist from the 1920’s whose life was being battered by a rival whose stories were out-selling his.
It was just as Isobel was getting into the gritty part of the story, about the time when Marlow had decided to gas himself in his studio flat oven that she looked up over the top of the book and found herself focusing instead on the left hand side of the bricked up fireplace. She hadn’t heard anything, so what had made her look? There was nothing to see, just the chest of drawers standing solidly in front of the chimney breast and to either side the cream painted walls. She let herself stare for a few minutes and then snuggled herself back down to the doomed Marlow.
Alida was furious, although she was also pleasantly relieved. She had managed to deflect the worst of Aethel’s mind control on Isobel but she wasn’t entirely sure how successful she had actually been, for Isobel had lurched into semi awareness for some time afterwards and Alida didn’t know quite how this would ultimately affect her.
She had been trying to go unnoticed for the last few weeks, ever since she had managed to finally escape the hold that Aethel had put on her to keep her trapped in the old ruins across the road. It had not been easy. It wasn’t that it was a particularly bad place to be trapped because the house had a romance about it that allowed her to dream about what it would have been like its former glory. But there were other ghosts there that she did not like, ones that had been banished for one reason or another, or whose souls had been wiped clean and then magically restored. One of them was a young girl, who at sixteen was not much older than Alida. She was convinced that her replaced soul actually belonged to someone else and she was having a terrible time trying to piece herself back together. She had complained to Alida that her reactions to things that had happened to her were not the same as her memories and that she felt torn, trying to work out which was right, the memory or the reaction. Alida had found her sitting under one of the many oak trees that lined the whole of the area, and was disturbed by the way in which the girl appeared to be arguing with herself. But she was one of the less scarred beings there. There was an old woman who stayed permanently in the upstairs window above the main door, dressed in her own funeral clothes waiting for her ride to the church, constantly muttering that ‘They will be here any minute now.’ Then there was the man who had had half his head blown off in one of the wars and before dying had a horrendous surgical operation to replace it. This operation had killed him, leaving him visually impaired and horribly scarred with a head that looked more like a cubist picture. Yet he was determined that he had survived, and all that he needed was to wake up from the anaesthetic and then he would be as right as rain.
There were also ghosts of animals, ones that had been worked and worked until their bones showed through their skins, and their limp forms floated carelessly and without direction around the grounds, through the walls and in circles as if they were still working.
It was on meeting the wartime man that Alida had made a concerted effort to remove herself from this static place and had sat doing nothing for a few days to rebuild her strength. She had seen a gap in the trees at the side of the enormous wooden gates at the front of the house. It looked a little like a rabbit run, the sort you would find in a hedgerow, but on closer inspection she had found it to be an old opening perhaps not back into her original time but it was worth a try. It could have been the route that Aethel had used to bring her here but it was obvious that whoever had used it last had tried to close it again but had done a half hearted job of it as there was a bubble of transparency, a little like a thin bit of glass in a hand blown vase. It was only the more discerning of ghosts that could move between the ages, most were trapped in their own time, which is why you would often see half a body float through a house; the house having been rebuilt or the floors moved. But some ghosts, like Aethel, had learnt that they could move to wherever they wished, being totally whole in any time. It was a difficult task to perform and if it didn’t work you were split, your soul and body in one age and your mind in another, one without the other being completely impossible as you were still trapped forever, but this time, with no means of getting back at all. The way that an era jump was accomplished was to believe that you could do it, and to picture where it was that you wanted to be. If Alida could get back through this way then at least she would be free to wander back to the present.
On her first attempt though she ended up being rebounded back into the ruins of the house that she had been trapped in, and she fell in a crumpled black heap at the feet of the old woman in her funeral outfit, who stared down at her as if she were something she had trodden in. This had given Alida just the right mixture of fear, partly because she hadn’t been split, and the hate and desperation she needed to try an immediate second attempt, and this time it had worked. She was pleasantly surprised too, for she hadn’t ended up in her time, but in the present, which was much easier and less energy wasting and she wasn’t harmed. Usually when Aethel had forced her out, which he had done on several occasions before, there had been a backlash, an extra nasty bonus that would either appear instantly to give her a reminder of her deflections or would gradually build, sometimes leaving her badly scarred.
She had landed not fifteen feet from where she had started, under the canopies of some of the older rhododendrons in the shrubbery, and looking over her shoulder she could see the high wooden gates that protected the hidden shell. After regaining her balance, Alida got up, placed her walking stick on the ground and swooped off to the darkest and farthest corner of the shrubbery to make herself completely inconspicuous. She would wait there a few days, and then make her way down into the town to find out if there had been any problems since she had been gone.
It was on Alida’s first outing from her hiding place that she had first seen Isobel. She didn’t know who she was or that she was living in the house, but as soon as she had seen her walk out of the front door, Alida had been curious and instantly suspicious. Was that Aethel’s reason for banning her from this house and from the rest of the town, for fear that she might befriend this girl? Well, thought Alida, if that’s what he doesn’t want, than that is what I shall do.
Yet shortly after seeing Isobel Alida had been attracted by a sound that she was unfamiliar with. It was the sound of other ghosts, ones that hadn’t been there when she had been told to go, and then been forced to go. It was while she had been sitting in her darkened corner that she had seen a young Tudor man walking past the clearing in the shrubbery with a young boy in tow and a host of faint faces and outlines. She had recognised Ty immediately; he was the young boy who had died in his sleep whilst suffering from a form of pneumonia. He was a street boy who had lived in and around the centre of the town during the 1940’s and had been dragged up by his loveless parents who had lost all of their money to gambling. They didn’t give a care for the boy and let him wander freely, speaking to and getting on with all the other elders that lived the same way. He was surprisingly bright and Alida started to wonder why he was here. Did he know Aethel, were there other ghosts that he could have known to get him in here, for this was no place for a young delicate minded boy, not with Aethel around anyway.
But her questions soon trebled on her sighting of Fenella. Alida had moved from her darkened corner and was sat up high in the branches of the monkey puzzle on the edge of the side lawn, directly opposite Isobel’s bedroom window. It was a good place to be because she could keep an eye on most of the grounds and not be seen or heard. She had seen Aethel walk out through the kitchen windows and settle himself on the ledge, and there was a woman with him. Alida couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she had noticed that Aethel was trying this woman out, as if he was going to blame her for something. There was a particular way that he would hold his head, or look ponderous, but inside she knew him too well, and he would be agitated and impatient to find out whatever information it was that he craved. There was something familiar to Alida about this woman, the way her hair seemed to be illuminated from behind, and that green dress, but Alida could not remember where she had seen her before.
It wasn’t until the woman moved away from Aethel, that Alida could get a direct focus on Aethel. She was determined to find out a little more of what was going on, in particular why she had been exiled from the grounds, Alida fixed her eyes into a hard stare just above Aethel’s eyebrows and started to contemplate what it was that he was thinking. It was a sly trick and without knowing Aethel had been the one to show her how to do it. It had taken much practice, but there was a state of being that provided just enough focus to allow a few minutes of clarity into another’s mind’s eye, enabling the focuser to delve into the subconscious of their subject. There was a whole jumble of stuff filtering through into Alida’s mind, mainly a plan to punish Fenella, followed closely by thoughts about a girl called Isobel, and then in the more confined areas there was the usual mash of hatred, guilt, power and decline; Aethel’s own decline.
Alida pulled away, any more time and he would notice that someone was interfering with his head. She sat musing for a while, the lady there, next to the honeysuckle must be Fenella, that name rang a bell too, but Alida still couldn’t remember, and Isobel she presumed must be the girl that she had seen, and whose bedroom she was sat across from now, but what significance did this young girl provide for Aethel to be thinking about her. There must be some connection. He wouldn’t get involved with a living person unless they were some kind of threat, and this thought alone made Alida decide that she would keep a close eye on the young girl.
Ty had moved from the damp confines of his hiding place and had looped back round past the shrubbery to the drive. Both Aethel and Fenella had gone and Ty found himself wandering closely to the edge of the boundary by the road. The day was beginning to awaken and in the early light he was as thin as the air itself. He hadn’t seen Ferdy for some time now and he was just beginning to wonder where he might have gone, when he heard his friends low cheer floating through the side wall of the house behind him. Ty dashed over, and Ferdy seemed delighted to see him too.
‘Ah! There you are. I wondered where you have been lately.’ Ferdy’s face reddened slightly, his usual glow spreading through him like embers in a fire.
‘I was just wondering the same thing!’ Ty looked up at his friend with a hint of relief on his face. ‘Where are the other ghosts that follow you?’ There was a noticeable absence of whispery faces clinging to Ferdy’s back.
‘I’m not so sure Ty, they seem to have found another place.’ He paused. Ferdy had been wandering around the old house and didn’t know whether to let Ty know that the house was a maze of different times, rooms, and places to find out about.
‘What do you mean another place? There’s only this place, isn’t there?’ Ty’s face started to furrow into a deep quizzical look that made Ferdy realise that he had better come clean.
‘Well, this place has been here for nearly one hundred years, as it is now anyway, but before that,’ Ferdy paused again he was looking at Ty’s expression, which was giving Ferdy the thought that perhaps he shouldn’t treat him quite so like a little boy after all. So he continued, ‘but anyway Ty, there was another house on this land before, and some of the foundations are exactly the same. The house then sprawled right out over the existing garden and its gardens were way off beyond the back fence, and there were acres of them. And the rooms in that house were enormous – ‘. He broke off again and winked at Ty. ‘Come on. I’ll show you.’
Ty was bemused. What did Ferdy mean that the house carried on over the back garden, he couldn’t see anything. But he followed Ferdy back through the side wall that he had just appeared through. Yet the wall was dense, some three foot thick in places and there was a strange tingling that met with Ty as he pressed ahead keeping up with Ferdy. Ty’s face appeared on the other side of the wall, followed slowly by a creaking sound that he didn’t like much. In front of him was a vast kitchen, that wasn’t there before, it was a spare unused front room wasn’t it? But the room was completely different. Opposite to Ty was an enormous fireplace with a range to one side, and a large open grate to the other. The chimney had what looked like metal doors in the plastered frontage and there were a dozen or so slotted rails with every size of spoon and ladle you could imagine.
‘Great isn’t it?’ Beamed Ferdy to his agog young friend. ‘You can really get the feel of the place, but there’s no one here.’ He added hastily.
Ty didn’t respond. He could see the room and he could see Ferdy with his mouth moving, but he couldn’t hear anything, but the thing that was worrying him most was that his ability to move had ceased. Panic rippled through Ty, at about the same time at it did through Ferdy for his friend.
‘What is wrong Ty. Ty?’
But it was no use. Ty couldn’t hear him or gesticulate or anything, he was torn.
Ferdy was shocked. He had never encountered a torn ghost before, and it hadn’t even occurred to him that it might happen to someone that he knew. It had happened a lot in the past, of soldiers re-living their battlefield events and desperately wanting to go to another age to rid themselves of their constant living nightmares, but to a young boy, with no reason to hide or dessert a place or an age. May be that was it, he had no reason, and therefore he would be there and here forever. But then he himself had had no reason other than pure curiosity, so what had happened. No, he can’t be torn, either that or there must be a way to retrieve him, but the more Ferdy thought about it, the more his guilt and naivety of leading his poor young polite friend into turmoil. He dreaded to think how it must feel, to know that you’re somewhere but somewhere else at the same time. But there was nothing he could do for him. He had never known of torn ghosts ever making a comeback or retrieving their lost other selves. May be, thought Ferdy, I will just have to swallow my pride, and ask for help, but who would know such things?
‘There is someone you could try.’ Said a light rose-tinted voice from behind Ferdy’s back.
Ferdy spun round. He was so busy thinking and staring at his young friend that he hadn’t heard another enter the room. There standing in an elegant pose, looking exquisite in every detail, was Fenella. Her hair was glowing ever brighter, despite there being no source for the light and her face was radiant, all peaches and cream, with a slight sickly smile spreading across her lips as Ferdy stared at her in a mixture of shock, guilt and relief.
He opened his mouth to say something, but his mouth just ‘O’ed’ instead.
Fenella was pleased. The guilt was showing wildly in his face, the guilt of venturing around the old house, and the guilt of keeping his distance from her, after all she had saved him once, was she about to do it again? No. She was going to get Ferdy to talk to Aethel if she could; he had to, if he wanted to save this little boy, the urchin, now supposedly caught in two places at once.
‘I said.’ And she smiled again. ‘There is someone you could try.’ Fenella gathered her skirts at the sides and walked across to where Ferdy was still staring at her. She stood right in front of him and started to talk once more, in the same rose-tinted voice.
‘I know how you’re feeling Ferdy.’ She purred. ‘It’s a horrible consequence, and we forget readily when we ourselves can do as we please, but we must remember that some of us are luckier than others.’ Fenella’s voice rose slightly at the end, and she meant it, to make Ferdy feel even more guilty than he did already, knowing full well that Ty could see this charade, yet not hear or do anything about it.
Ferdy readjusted himself, trying not to physically shake, but to pull himself together in front of this woman. She seemed sweet, but from what he had seen of her before she could turn her affections at the flutter of one of those long auburn eyelashes. Perhaps she did know someone, and he soon realised just who she meant. She meant Aethel; the one person that Ferdy had been hoping not to see in a long while.
Fenella noticed this change immediately, but carried on in her delicate approach.
‘If you really want to help Ty, you must see Aethel at once. He will be able to bring him back, perhaps not to his own time or to this one, but at least he would be somewhere and whole again. If you follow me?’ Fenella gestured to a door that led from the left side of the fireplace. ‘I will take you to him.’
Ferdy had no choice and both he and Fenella knew this. He turned to Ty and mouthed ‘I will be back as soon as I know how to help you.’ Hoping that Ty might be able to get a grasp of what was happening, and followed Fenella through the door.
But Ty had gone. There was a faint wisp in the air near to the wall of their entrance and there was no outline of the young boy. Ferdy looked round, but there was nothing. On his glance around the room though, he noticed the look on Fenella’s face, it was one of disgust. A lurching fear flashed through Ferdy as he pretended he hadn’t noticed her expression and followed her through the door. They were standing at the bottom of Isobel’s staircase, back in the present.
‘Now, please. If you wait here I’ll go and get him for you. He has probably guessed what has happened, but that we will have to hope for, you never know, he may have started doing something about it already.’
Fenella was annoyed that the spell that she had used on that wall to prevent the other ghosts from entering the house had only partially worked. Obviously it wasn’t strong enough to hold out against Ferdy, but because Ty was so small and naïve it had worked; rather too well, but at the same time, not well enough. Ty would be now standing outside in the present, wondering how he had done such a marvellous thing, to walk through somewhere but not really be there. But then the new twist was that Ferdy was under the impression that he had split Ty in two, half in the present and half in the past. She had to get to Aethel before this episode got out of hand. As soon as Ty realised that he was alright he would want to find Ferdy and tell him so, and then of course there would be the growing suspicion to why it had happened.
Fenella left Ferdy waiting patiently at the bottom of the stairs, just as he had been told to do, and she sashayed off through the end of the wall that split the kitchen and the dining room.
This was new to Ferdy. He had been wandering around for quite a few days and had come across the kitchen where they had just been, and of course the other kitchen, the fine house kitchen. It was much more impressive than the other one. It had a long wooden table, with pits in where he guessed the cook would have rolled out her ingredients over a long time. The floor in this kitchen was chequered with black and white tiles around the outsides at the centre was the usual terracotta tiles, which seemed to be everywhere in this house. He had also found that the slant in front of the present lounge was hiding another place, but no matter how much he had tried to walk in to it, he was rebounded. This wasn’t the only place that he had had trouble going into; there was a staircase between the kitchen and the dining room, which appeared to be blocked off, although he could see the stairs. Then upstairs beyond the present landing there was an old doorway that loomed heavily in the old studded walls, with two gas lamps to either side. He had tried walking straight through the middle, but there was no way he could get in, so he had tried the side, but again he was pushed out. And it hadn’t struck Ferdy until this moment that perhaps he was being kept out. But why would someone want to keep ghosts out of some parts of an old house that still stood, well in certain places anyway, on where the present house was? He was just starting to ponder this when Fenella appeared with a smooth glide as if she had stepped off a shallow stepped stairway.
‘Aethel’s upstairs, but for some reason he doesn’t need to see you, because you are alright. But he has assured me that he will try his hardest to help Ty.’ She smiled reluctantly but as sweetly as she still could and carried on. ‘Apparently it is easiest to undivide a person if you leave them for a longer period of time, which I admit I never knew, which was why I was so quick to help’. God! Thought Fenella. How long do I need to keep up this pretence! It makes me feel nauseous!. .
‘Alright then. But let me just ask you one thing, if I may, Fenella?’ Ferdy hesitated as he watched her face, but there was no change in her stance. ‘You mentioned a moment ago, that Aethel might know about this already. How is that?’
Fenella didn’t pause, not for a second, which in Ferdy’s mind suggested a well rehearsed reply.
‘Aethel knows lots of things about this land, this house and the last house and of course his family’s house, that was once here. He has been here for nearly three hundred years and therefore knows all the different ways through between the ages. The house has feelings of its own apparently; ones that I have never felt, and like you I can get between most walls but not all of them, so I hope that clears up that question too. But, Aethel is a good man Ferdy, and he will do all he can to help Ty find his way back here, so he can be with his friends and not lost, because that would be quite cruel, would it not?’
Ferdy thought for a moment, she was right, he had wanted to ask that question, and in some ways he was glad to hear that she could not get through to some parts of the house also, but then again, he felt a deep mistrust in those bright shimmering green eyes of hers. She had suddenly become quite righteous in her approach to the situation, as if she was hiding Aethel from him, or perhaps something else. But Ferdy decided to ignore this for now anyway, and let Fenella think that he was fine with the situation.
‘Well, yes. I am sorry Fenella, I just wanted to know. It is hard being a newcomer here, not seeing anyone for days on end, and then the excitement of exploring has led to Ty being torn between two ages, it is all a bit of a shock really. Perhaps I should go outside.’ He paused, there was a flash of impatience on Fenella’s face, as if she had things to do, but what would they be, and that flash suddenly changed into a look of concern and she spoke without hesitation.
‘Perhaps outside would be good for both of us, but may I suggest that we go to the old gardens? They are far calmer than these modern ones. We could walk through the arboretum and into the rose garden; it is lovely down there at this time of year.’
Bewildered at such a proposal, but just as accepting, Ferdy nodded and they walked, rather awkwardly arm in arm down through the present kitchen and through the wall to the left of the windows, which instead of being the end of the veranda was a large imposing ball room, resplendent with gilt mirrors reflecting the light from the huge windows letting the mid morning sun wallow in pools on the vast polished oak floor. Once they had stopped and taken in the brilliance of this room, they carried on through a series of walls, through a long panel-lined corridor with many small doors leading from it and at last out of a grand reception hall that led them down a shallow flight of stone steps onto a large terrace that overlooked the Arboretum. To their left was an enclosed garden, surrounded by high red bricked walls that looked as if they had been taken from a Mediterranean garden, for their redness had all but paled to a frosty orange.
Fenella broke her linkage from Ferdy and strolled over to the high walls. She was feeling very insecure. She had led him here in an attempt to stop him from finding Ty, but on bringing him here, she was exposing him to Aethel’s family’s land. Something that Aethel was particularly fond and deeply private about. It was completely selfish of her to keep him away, but if Ferdy found out that it was she who was keeping the ghosts at bay, on Aethel’s behalf of course, as part of her punishment for letting them in, then with Ferdy’s bright mind, it wouldn’t be long before he would piece everything together and start asking more questions about the goings on here. No, she said to herself, this is the only way.
Ferdy was eying her from behind. He sensed instantly that she was uncomfortable, for her elbows were jutting from her fine sleeved dress at a stiff angle, as if she were clasping her hands tightly at her front. And as she turned, despite the warm infectious smile there was an underlying tension that she revealed unknowingly in her high wide forehead.
‘It’s beautiful out here, is it not?’ Fenella exclaimed in a brilliant voice, accentuated perfectly. ‘So calm and peaceful; lets walk to the trees it is even more serene down there.’ She walked back to where Ferdy waited patiently, and again took his arm as they strode off down the sloped lawn that merged into a long path, bordered only by slightly raised lawns to either side. They came to a crossing of paths, where a large sculpted urn stood proudly in the centre.
Ferdy had been thinking as they had walked down to this particular spot. It was such a grand garden, one of superior wealth and local power. He had never questioned Aethel on his background, but it was obvious that he was a man of great ancestry and no doubt education. And although Fenella had mentioned the calmness of these gardens there was an unmistakable loneliness too, just as there was in the present garden. The only difference here was that he couldn’t hear the loneliness, and this was beginning to bother him. If he had not of come here he would have never have said that he could hear it in the other garden, but it was so silent here that in comparison it was booming loudly in his ears. Pondering for a moment he hesitated before mentioning it to Fenella. She had drawn away from his arm but her hand was lightly resting on his shirt sleeve. She seemed more relaxed then earlier and Ferdy took this opportunity.
‘You say there is a sense of calm here, there undoubtedly is, yet there is still a sense of loneliness, wouldn’t you say, like a depravity almost?’
There was a horrid pause while Fenella took stock of what Ferdy had said. The questioning had started and she was beginning to feel weak all of a sudden. She knew just what Ferdy had meant, she had asked herself often enough, particularly in the other garden, but she had hoped it was only her feminine sensitivity that had alerted herself to it. But this was now no longer the case and how on this earth was she going to answer this question. Did she come clean and agree with him, saying she had noticed it too, especially in the other garden, or did she defy him and say that she hadn’t noticed such a thing and that it was delightfully calm in both gardens. The two answers had their doubts, would he then question her further on her openness if she agreed, or on the other hand he could just be satisfied that she too had the same observation or not. After much thought and to-ing and fro-ing in her mind she decided to be honest.
‘Yes. I agree. There is a sense of loneliness here. Do you feel that it is just here though?’ Fenella had reclaimed her tight grip on Ferdy’s arm. Almost too tightly and Ferdy felt nervous as if being trapped for a particular answer. But he gave his truthfully. Ferdy wanted more than anything to gain answers from Fenella and this might be his only chance. Her answer to his question had taken a long time and he was growing suspicious of her calculated nature, but then again, if she had answered honestly she had obviously taken time to think about the question, so maybe she didn’t have anything to hide.
They walked on, past the urn and towards the Arboretum, whose trees where beckoning to them in their naturally planted positions offering shade or light and a gentle rustling that should surely be relaxing.
‘It is funny you should mention that Fenella. That was my point exactly. It isn’t just here is it, it is more pronounced in the other garden, almost.., almost marked by sound too.’ Ferdy cleared his throat as if slightly embarrassed. ‘I don’t know if you understand that, but I can almost hear the difference in the loneliness’.
Ferdy’s gaze was directly on Fenella as he spoke, he was showing his great compassion for others and his ember-like glow intensified to such a point that Fenella started to feel like a fraud, yet she was entranced by this man’s posture and honesty and soon she was lapping him up. She released her tight grip to more of a loose hold and watched Ferdy’s face as he spoke his reply. She did know exactly what he meant but she had never uttered a word of it to anyone, and certainly not to Aethel. But here, this fine Tudor gentleman, walking down a grand path that led to an aristocrats wealthy grounds, made much later in time than he would ever have known, and to such proportions, was so concerned that it showed his true colours resplendently, making his fine clothes pulse with their original hues, as if this true talk was making him whole again. And Fenella couldn’t wait to answer, she was almost stuttering with her answer before he had finished.
‘Yes, yes! I know, isn’t it strange. I mean here it has a sinister tone, like it is new and fresh and raw, and the other garden it is old and musty and the sound is more like a long groan of despair, almost like, like, well, as though someone people have given up, that kind of deep sigh, like they or whatever it is, cannot be bothered anymore. Is that how you hear it Ferdy?’
He was amazed. Fenella had gone through every emotion possible in their short time together. She had started off in a very coy yet supervisory mode, then she had seemed heckled and disturbed, and then on entering the ball room through the house she had turned into a serene lady as if she were in seventh heaven. Then cold again when they had reached the bottom of the stone steps and now she was feisty and truthful and delivering the precise answer that he had wanted. Just what was this woman all about, was she so insecure that she felt she had to hide herself, or was she just a natural flirt, flitting to whoever she felt warm towards.
‘That is precisely it Fenella. But what is it, that’s what I would like to know, and why is it raw here, so fresh that it is hardly audible, but then so stale in the other garden?
Their conversation dropped off; they were both contemplating just what could the sound be, and they wandered freely together still arm in arm into the flickering shadows of the great quivering Aspens and the low willows that bordered a small natural lake that emerged to their left.
“Ty is Back”
‘I take it you are torn young boy?’ Aethel said as he approached Ty who was standing quivering by the small gate that led to an enclosure for the household waste.
‘Aethel? No. I’m not torn. Whatever gave you that idea!’ Bemused once more, Ty looked up into the greying eyes of the old man with such clarity and forth righteousness that Aethel was taken aback.
It was quite so too, he was definitely not torn. He could hear and speak and move; all the necessary attributes of a non-torn ghost. So why was it that Fenella had said that he needed help? Aethel’s mind was a whirr. Was this a trick by her to expose him as knowing more about the wisdom of ghosts and ghouls and all things mysterious, or was she just ignorant to torn ghosts, perhaps she had never seen one.
‘I’m sorry Ty. I was told earlier that you were split between two ages and that you were stuck. Did that not happen then, am I being told tales?’ Aethel’s voice was caring and approachable, exactly how he would have been in his surgery to an ailing patient, a learned voice with an exceptionable mind.
‘Well. I had a strange journey’. Ty stopped. Who had told Aethel this? It can’t have been Ferdy, surely not, he wanted nothing to do with the man, and nor did he, not after seeing what he had done in the shrubbery the prior evening, but then he appeared to be kindly in his questioning, but Ty decided not to tell him about Ferdy.
‘I was wandering around near the edge of the driveway when I heard someone.’ And Ty pointed to the wall that he had seen Ferdy emerge from. ‘So I walked in through here, and it was really odd, I could see a kitchen, but I couldn’t move, and the passage through was strange too, as if I was creaking, as if I was…’ but he trailed off. He didn’t really know what had happened, but he was glad that he was alright now.
Aethel laughed. ‘Is that so? What kind of creaking was it that you experienced, was it the wall, or was it your movement that created it?’ But this was not a question for Ty to answer, and Aethel carried on talking. ‘So, you’ve seen a little of the old house, before it was restored to how it is now, it was charming was it not, a lot friendlier than now.’
‘What do you mean, before it was restored?’ Ty had been listening carefully.
‘Well my young boy, the house as it is now was restored about fifty years ago, for example, the stairs in the hallway, they are new, not the original stairs. No. They were very grand, wooden still, but with a long red carpeted runner held down by brass holders on each step, and the kitchen you mention was the main kitchen, but they decided to move it to where it is now and make that room into a second reception. I suppose the then owners wanted to put their ideas into practice, make the house more of their own. So you see, you were in two ages, just not so long ago as you may have perceived.’ This was a total lie. Aethel was well practiced in the art of making things up on his feet, and he thought nothing of telling this untruth to Ty, because after all who was Ty going to ask, no one really with as much knowledge as him.
Ty was intrigued.
‘So this restoration was only a little after I died?’
‘Yes, that’s right.’ Aethel nodded slowly.
‘And is this the only time the house was restored?’
‘Yes, that’s right also’.
‘So what was the creaking?’
‘Ah. Well that is just the house creaking. It has memories too. It may have been complaining that you wanted to enter the old house. Perhaps it felt uncertain to let you look, perhaps it is protective of its past, who really knows, but you are fine now, and there was no harm done was there?’
‘No. I suppose not. But I have never encountered that feeling before, it made me wonder if I were not allowed, as you say, as if I was not allowed to look. But I have never heard of that before, but then I am only young.’
Ty was fiddling with his fingernails and looking down past them to his feet. He had lost interest in the conversation and was hoping that Aethel would go away as quickly as he had appeared. There were several questions beginning to loom in his head, all regarding Ferdy. Like how come he had managed to walk through the wall so quickly and without the same sounds? And where had he gone to now? And why hadn’t he returned to find out if he was alright?
‘Well, I will leave you be, young Ty. I am glad you are alright, nothing sinister or anything has happened, so just remember that there will be other times like this and you will know not to try and push through, just leave the house to itself. Some days you might be allowed in, others not, but please don’t be offended by it, it is just the way this place is.’
Aethel gave a small smile in Ty’s direction. That should keep him quiet, he thought to himself as he turned and walked down through the door to the outhouses. But Aethel’s main concerns lay with Fenella. He had told her to harness the house against the curious newcomers, to stop them from walking freely around the old house and more importantly his family home, and to make sure that none of them ventured into the places that he held dear, like his study in the slant of the wall, and the old servants quarters on the first floor behind the wooden double doors, that led peacefully into his old surgery.
Ty looked up and as he did so he saw Aethel walking through the doorway to the outhouses. Surely, this was the place Aethel had warned him about when he had first come here. So, thought Ty, he can tell us not to venture somewhere but he can do it himself. That is just not right. And in that instant, Ty followed Aethel.
He was not more than ten paces behind him, when Aethel turned and looked through him. Although he had seen him and he wasn’t happy.
‘I thought I warned you about coming down here?’ His voice snapped through the air like a rifle.
Ty was stood still in the corner behind the door. He had seen that there was another door immediately to his left and had felt an urge to bolt through it. But now he was stuck.
‘I’ve been through here before, saw nothing, felt nothing, what’s wrong with taking a short cut?’
His defiance angered Aethel, but he tried to remain calm.
‘Oh, is that so? Well, you must be the only ghost or person around that has that ability. Well done!’ His voice rose to a sarcastic tone that buried itself deep into Ty’s young skin.
‘So it’s okay for me then?’
‘On the face of it, I suppose so.’ Aethel was starting to warm to this boy, no matter how credulous he appeared. If he felt nothing, then perhaps he was immune to the old man. There was no point going into it, if Ty had not seen anything.
The abruptness of Ty’s response led them their separate ways, yet Ty made a note of the wall that Aethel walked through. It was not the door at the end of the corridor, but one which led sideways into the house. The same bit of wall that he had attempted to walk through earlier, but much further along. Now, all he had to do was find Ferdy. Ty needed to ask him about what happened before, and where he had really been for all those long days of not seeing him. He also wanted dearly to tell Ferdy of what he had witnessed between Fenella and Aethel.
Look out for Chapters 10 to 16 coming soon…
Note by Author: Lizzie Ross.
There are a further 13 Chapters, all written. I just need to put them on here and add some of the drawings I did too. It is all consuming when I write. I see the book as a movie and then have to split it down into sections, then chapters. The characters are there from the beginning and I name them all. The names have to have a special meaning. Alida for example means “Little Bird” in her native Hungarian tongue. You will find out later in the book why her Mother called her that. It is worth looking up the other names for their meanings too. For example: Fenella is a girl’s name of Celtic origin meaning “white-shouldered one”. Fenella in my story has a porcelain skin.