NINE GHOST STORIES
A First Collection
The Stories and Authors in the Collection
CAPPADOCIA - Philip Watts
A LONG LIE-IN - T M S Jefferies
THE BANSTEAD LETTERS ~ FRAGMENTS (I) - J G A Watts
THE BANSTEAD LETTERS ~ FRAGMENTS (II) - J G A Watts
ON THE EAST CLIFF - Annie Thornfield
THE FINGER THAT SHOWED THE WAY - Philip Watts
THE MAN IN THE OVERCOAT - T M S Jefferies
THE NARROW HOUSE - Ed Mayhew
THE STONEMASON - S D West
Preview stories in the collection
A LONG LIE-IN
T M S Jefferies
I awoke suddenly, as if from a bad dream, but I had no recollection of any visions of any sort. The bedroom was bathed in diffuse light. I looked at the digital alarm clock on the bedside table; it read 11.17. I sat up and was surprised at how light, how fresh I felt. There was none of the usual morning lethargy. I stood up and stretched my arms above my head but no muscles ached and no joints clicked into place. I felt good.
Putting on my dressing gown, I went into the living room and opened the curtains to reveal a beautifully bright winter day with the remains of a sharp frost still visible on the north-facing roofs. Barely a cloud inflected the blue of the sky whilst the bare branches of the large tree outside the window hardly trembled in the slightest of breezes. A seagull arced across my view and took imperious command of a chimney stack on the Victorian terrace opposite. Beneath me, in the view from the second floor window, the street teemed with everyday life.
I assumed that it must be Saturday.
Of course I should have known what day it was but for some reason this was a grey area in my mind. I had obviously needed a lie-in. My alarm had not gone off – or had not been set – and I had awoken with none of the tension or anxiety associated with a normal working day. Did I work yesterday? Curiously I could remember nothing specific about the previous day or night. Had I drunk too much? I had no hangover; that much was certain. This was odd but I saw no reason to be concerned. I decided it had to be a Saturday as there were too many people out and about for a Sunday. I looked forward to a quiet, lazy weekend with only my own company.
THE BANSTEAD LETTERS ~ FRAGMENTS (I)
J G A Watts
My dear Charles,
I promised to write to you concerning the unusual events that happened to me recently. I beseech you at the outset that you keep these accounts to yourself, for I do not yet know the meaning of them. I do not know quite what I should call them; it seems rather mystical to call them visions, and even that does not quite seem to do them justice. Though it seems to me I saw ghosts, there was much more substance to them than that: they were far different to the shadowy, ethereal characters you meet in popular books who go by that name. I will write a second letter to describe the second occasion, that I might have room to do them both justice. So, content you for now with this, and I will write again soon to tell you of the other. There is quite enough to think over here.
It was some weeks ago now (this is the first occasion I have had to put pen to paper, aside from my own journal), I was taking the train from London to Banstead, that line we know well. I fell asleep with the rocking of the carriage, though the clouds were heavy over all and the rain lashed the windows noisily. It being the time of year, it was barely four o’ clock and the light was failing. I cannot recall at which station I fell asleep, but I awoke with a start at Banstead itself. Leaping up, I started out of the carriage and down onto the platform as the whistles blew. Not a moment later the train went on, and I stood alone.
ON THE EAST CLIFF
The year was 1760.
The small port of Rye lay darkly on its hill overlooking the estuary of the Rother, for it was almost midnight in mid-November. Yet a careful observer might have caught the faint sound of voices from behind the heavy wooden doors of one or two houses down by the western quay, or perhaps seen a stray beam of light escape briefly between the thick drapes pulled across the windows of a house by the steps near the market-place at the top of the town.
It seemed that no one was abroad that night but the observer, moving down to the sea shore under the east cliff, where the fishing boats lay on the mud, might then have noticed two dark figures huddled at the foot of the cliff.
Above them, alternately perilously steep or more gently sloping, was a mix of exposed rock and scree, where only the most sure-footed would have been certain of finding the path to the top in the darkness.
Samuel and James had been waiting on the shore in the bay beneath the cliff for almost two hours, alert to all sounds and looking out anxiously across the mudflats and salt marshes. They were awaiting a boat, expected from East Guldeford, the small hamlet nestling beside its secluded creek across the Marsh.
Peering into the dark, hoping to catch some sign of the boat approaching, Samuel could just perceive the dim silhouette of the old wool warehouse out on the promentary at the bay's northern end. He turned and looked quickly to the south where the Gungarden rocks jutted out into the water. From there, rough steps led up the cliff past a stone tower - the town gaol - and he shivered.
THE FINGER THAT SHOWED THE WAY
After much twisting and manipulation with the badly cut key, the bright new Yale lock of the heavy but simple wooden front door finally yielded, reluctantly allowing entry into the old house. Months of uncollected mail impeded the door and Geoff had to lean his weight against it to create a gap large enough to squeeze through. Scrambling precariously over a mountain of letters and plastic-enshrouded mailers and packages, most of which were probably unwanted, he searched around for a light switch in the forlorn hope that the electricity was still connected. He located a switch but in vain. Clearly the electricity company had long ago cut the supply on the realisation there was no individual to pay for it.
So torch it was then, until he could reinstate what natural light there was from another dull and misty October day where the damp seemed to pervade his very bones in spite of his overcoat.
Armed with clipboard, torch and damp-meter he proceeded cautiously into the dark interior and was immediately assailed by the odours of decaying food, unwashed clothes, dampness and the general filth that usually accompanied a repossessed squat or bedsit in houses used for multiple occupation. As he felt his way across a largely unseen but encrusted floor covering, he could only imagine what he was walking on and already his skin was starting to itch and crawl to the possibility of all kinds of vermin infestations. His torch-light picked up a plain but damaged door to what seemed a living room or bedsit. Carefully easing the door open and entering he made his way over numerous discarded items of rubbish and personal belongings towards the window to shed light into the dingy interior.
THE MAN IN THE OVERCOAT
T M S Jefferies
It was a Wednesday in late September. I don’t know why I still remember that so clearly even now. Perhaps by relating the story, in as much detail as I can, autumn will no longer fill me with the same dread as it has done these last years.
We left the pub reluctantly, Jim and I, and set off on the short walk towards the grid of narrow residential streets where our respective homes lay waiting. We were poised somewhere between sober and drunk, conscious of the bind work in the morning. But we were in good spirits. It was a mild and still evening and a ceiling of high dense cloud denied the stars their chance to shine.
Walking briskly, we soon turned off the main road with its late night corner shops and steady traffic into a dimly-lit terraced street. Jim’s home lay waiting at the far end. There was no sound except for our own voices. The familiar landmark of the red brick Victorian church loomed into view. It was long redundant and covered in creeping ivy that inched toward its Gothic tracery.
As we passed a gap in the high flint wall, where a rusted iron gate was half off its hinges, I saw amidst the darkness the bright eyes of what I took to be a startled fox. I was glad to soon be past the church’s brooding presence but as usual Jim seemed unconscious of any hint of malign existence and continued to regale me with his thoughts.
We walked on but a trailing shoelace caught my eye and I stopped to retie it. Jim wandered slowly ahead. As I rose again I was aware of a figure passing, though I had not been aware of anyone approaching. I looked back and saw a tall man in a long dark overcoat, his collar turned up and his hands thrust deep into his pockets.
THE NARROW HOUSE
"Did the two of you have any other unfinished business?"
Freya slid the cooling mug from side to side, scraping along the surface of the veneer. It stood as tall as when the waitress had placed it there half an hour earlier. The leaf-shaped sprinkles now sank into the milky foam as the bubbles gradually deflated.
"You mean, apart from the ring?"
Unfinished business. When had she last seen her sister? Not since the wedding.
A decade ago, she would wear short skirts and her hair free. People turned to eye her with something bordering on wonder.
The ten-year had dealt even more brutally with Mal. He still plastered his hair down into that thin nest, and he kept that lopsided grin from the left side of his mouth, but his eyes seemed set back in his skull, surrounded by months of insomniac-blue skin. They appeared bruised. Lined. And lifeless.
The ring was an heirloom with a net value £10,000 (sentimental value, about the same). It was the reason she was meeting her younger sister’s husband - ex-husband? No. Ex-younger sister. She let him witter on about family politics in general, hoping to be able to confirm a quick exchange and leave him to his long nights and empty bed. Her mind roved through the family albums of her memory, picturing her sister, the brat-sprat, who got exactly what she wanted, and if she didn’t, somehow ended up well out of the bargain anyway. It’s hard to forgive the dead, she reasoned.