Purgatory Part 1

July 11, 2012

Purgatory Part One
    “She called her home Purgatory and it was an apt name, trapped as she was between heaven and hell.”

I stood in silence and watched as Old Tom drew the back of his shovel over the earth, smoothing the mound and patting the last bit of loose dirt in to place. His thoughts became words, as though he no longer cared that anyone was listening.

“Her hell was him,” he nodded towards the headstones on the other side of the graveyard. “And her heaven,” well,” he gave the earth a final pat. “She’s lying beside her now.”

I watched as he took a grey handkerchief from his trousers pocket and wiped the sheen of sweat from his forehead.

“I’ll just put this away and we’ll be off,” he nodded at the shovel. As an afterthought, he turned and looked at me. “You’re very quiet.”

I shrugged, overcome by the sadness of the day and the small turnout for the funeral.

“It was good of you to come,” he smiled, “And fitting as it turns out. This is the young one who likes a ghost story,” this was addressed to the other mourner who had stayed to watch as the last shovelful of earth was heaped on the grave.

I didn’t recognise the old woman who stood by my side and her soft sigh at Tom’s words carried across the listening graveyard. Despite the brightness of the day its sound was chilling and I felt the familiar unease that warned worse was to come.

I turned, introduced myself and held out my hand to the bent figure.

“I know your people well,” she said. “I’m Kitty Morgan, I was housekeeper to Ruth,” she nodded at the burial mound.

“I only knew her in passing,” I said. “I’ve lost track of people since my grandmother passed away.”

“She was a hard woman to know,” Kitty took my proffered arm and we started to walk down the graveyard’s stony path. “Will you come back to the house? I’ve prepared a lunch, but I imagined that I’d be catering for more than three. I would be a shame for it to go to waste.”

“Of course I will,” I said.

“Good girl,” she nodded, pleased.

We stopped outside the gate and didn’t have long to wait. Tom crossed himself as he passed the new grave and even at a distance I could still smell the rawness of the earth. The mound looked like a dark stain against the green, lush grass.

“Kitty asked us back for lunch,” I informed him.

“Grand,” he pulled the gates closed and the screech of their rusting hinges sounded like a scream in the silence. “I’ll have to oil them.” Tom said.

My car was in the little parking area across the road from the graveyard, but Tom decided that we should walk to the house.

“The lane is overgrown and rutted,” he said. “You might break a spring or something and it’s not far.”

The woman on my arm was tiny, but I was aware of her weight as we walked down the hill and her bony fingers dug deep in to my skin, as though she was terrified of letting go. We turned off in to a laneway and I saw that Tom was right. The old ruts left behind by bygone tractor wheels were carved in to the earth. Grass ran down the centre of the track and on either side the bushes ran riot, their spiky branches and pointed thorns kept us to the centre of the lane. Even though I was wearing flat shoes, I stumbled twice on the uneven ground and it was only Tom’s hand on my elbow that kept me from falling and taking the old woman down with me. The trees above our heads had formed an archway and other than Tom and the old woman’s laboured breathing the only other sound came from the soft chirping of birds in the overhead branches. A wrought iron gate came in to view and a large sign hanging from one of the bars proclaimed, Private Property, No Trespassing. We waited as Tom struggled with the ancient bolt and I have no idea what I was expecting of the house up till then. My thoughts that day were mostly filled with the absence of mourners in a place where a funeral is often seen as a social gathering. Tom pushed the gate back and stood aside to let us pass. We walked into a quadrangle, with the main house to the right of it. I stopped, taken aback by the beauty of the place. The house is a huge two storied affair. Built of limestone and whitened further by the onslaught of countless winters, it gleamed in the ebbing sunlight. There are eight windows on the                                                                                                                 front, two at either side of an old studded door, its wood scarred and blackened with age. The other four were set in a line overhead and looked down on us with blind eyes.

“It’s a fine house,” Kitty noticed my look of amazement. “It’s mine now, she left everything to me.”

“Let’s get inside,” Tom tapped my shoulder and looked up at the darkening sky. “We’ll have rain before long.”

He was right; the day was becoming grey and overcast. Any hint of summer was an illusion and the morning’s sunshine a tease for those who thirsted for its warmth. The interior of the house was cool and if I expected the welcoming bark of a sheepdog when the door was opened, I was disappointed. The hallway was dark, the flag stoned floor uneven like the lane.

“I was going to serve the food in the dining room, but seeing as it’s just the three of us,” Kitty looked at Tom.

“We’ll be fine in the kitchen,” he assured her.

The kitchen is huge with an enormous open fireplace that harks back to another century. It dominates one wall of the room and the old iron cooking arm stands to one side, its hinge rusted and hanging with cobwebs. It’s obvious from the lack of ash or remnants that the fire has not been lit in ages. An ancient gas heater stands at one side of it and is obviously the only source of heating for the room. Overhead the wall is lined with an assortment of things, two old fiddles, the bows dangling from the broken strings, an old deer’s head stares down with glassy, dead eyes and an old shotgun, its black barrels coated in layers of dust.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” Kitty walked to the old stone sink.

A gas cooker stood against one of the walls and she lit the jet beneath the kettle.

“Sit down, sit down,” she urged us over to the table.

Whatever food she had prepared was covered by a large cloth and made the spread beneath looked like an uneven sandcastle.

“There’s plenty to eat so don’t be shy,” she threw back the cloth with a flourish.

She was right. A large ham took centre stage and set around it like some circling satellites were plates of cakes, sandwiches and sausage rolls. Bowls of cherry tomatoes blushed beside a mound of lettuce its leaves glistening with tiny dew drops of water. Aware of my intolerance to gluten Tom stood, picked up a carving knife and started to slice the ham.

“Don’t start acting finicky,” he whispered, layering a plate with fleshy slices and placing it in front of me.

“Is everything all right?” Kitty put a pot of freshly brewed tea down on the table.

“Lovely, Kitty,” Tom assured her. “It’s just this one is allergic to wheat.”

“No,” she gasped, as though the idea was preposterous.

“Indeed,” Tom said. “And she won’t drink tea either.”

They both stood looking at me for a moment until Kitty broke the silence.

“Would you drink a coke?” She asked.

“Yes, thank you,” I was glad of the release from their searching gaze.

“There’s some in the dining room,” she said to Tom. “There’s whiskey in there as well. You may bring that back with you.”

He was back in seconds with my warm coke and a bottle of whisky. Kitty went to a press and returned with three crystal glass.

“We’ll toast the dead,” she said and took the bottle from Tom.

Half filling the glasses with the amber liquid, she handed one to both of us.

“To past friends,” she held up her glass.

“To past friends,” we echoed her words and sipped.

The whisky burned my throat and I tried not to cough as I swallowed a tiny sip. I had a long drive home later and that gave me an excuse not to have to finish the glass. The ham was delicious and not at all salty as I imagined. For a few minutes we ate in silence and I used this time to look around the room. There were three suitcases standing by the door. I hadn’t noticed them when we passed.

“Are you going somewhere,” I asked the old woman.

“I’m leaving this place tonight,” she said.

“For a holiday?” I asked.

“No child,” she put down her fork and looked at me. “I’m leaving this place for good.”

“Are you selling it?”

“No,” she sighed. “I doubt if anyone would want to buy it and I wouldn’t want to bring misery on anyone unwise enough to do so.”

“You’re better off going,” Tom said. “You couldn’t stay here now anyway.”

“No, you’re right,” Kitty picked up a spoon and started to stir her tea.

I watched the brown whirlpool in silence and listened to the clink, clink the metal made on the side of the china cup.

“Why couldn’t you stay here?” I knew as I asked that it might have been wiser not to know.

“Because of him,” she turned and nodded to an empty chair beside the fire.

I looked at Tom, wondering if he could see something that I couldn’t.

“She means the ghost,” he shovelled another forkful of ham in to his mouth.

“What ghost?” The chill I first felt in the graveyard came rushing back and I felt the familiar fingers of fear crawling up my back.

“I suppose there’s no harm in telling her?” Kitty said to Tom. “They’re both dead now and it’s as well that someone knows the full story.”

“I thought you would feel that way,” he nodded. “She’ll write it down you know, but change the names, so there’s no harm in telling her.”

“Tell me what?” I asked.

“The sort of story you like,” he said. “A true ghost story about how love can turn to hate and anger can cause those who lie uneasy in their graves to return to haunt those left behind.”

“I couldn’t have said it better,” Kitty picked up her whisky glass and sipped.

The watery sunlight disappeared behind a cloud, plunging the room in to shadow. Tom’s knife scratched against the plate as he cut through the ham and the sound made my hackles rise.

“It happened like this,” Kitty began.       

Copyright© Gemma Mawdsley 2012  


Body and Soul, a story of Possession.(Part Two)

May 11, 2012

Body and Soul, a story of Possession

Before Tom could continue with his story, a sudden gust of wind roared in the chimney. The sound made me jump and caused Jip to look up and eye me warily.

“It’s turning into a bad night.”

Tom voice made me more aware of the deepening shadows and their inky-black shapes on the stone floor.

“Perhaps it would be better if you told me the rest of the story as we walk?” I suggested.

Tom looked towards the small window of the cottage and realised for the fi...

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Body and Soul,a story of Possession (Part One)

May 7, 2012

Body and Soul, a story of Possession.   

I wondered, as I drove along the narrow, twisting roads on my way to visit my old friend Tom, why the belief in the paranormal is so readily accepted in the countryside. Is it the absence of streetlights that allowed the mind to wander, or the tranquil way of life, uninterrupted by the chaos of city living? In the silence of the bogs and deserted roads one is lulled into a meditative state and is it at such times that the wind whistling across the quiet...

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April 9, 2012

The “For Sale” sign creaked and did it best to stay aloft, despite the winds onslaught. Eileen watched from her bedroom window the leaves that scuttled across the garden path and traced their flight until they disappeared into the maelstrom of darkness. Her house was on the outskirts of the village and therefore deprived of the comforting glow of streetlights. She depended on the moon to light her way when she went outside, but tonight its rays were weak as the wind sent clouds scudding a...

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A Ghost Story for Christmas (1)

January 1, 2012

“He’s evil, there’s no other word to describe him.”

Mike Wallace smiled, as he recalled his friend’s words. He found consolation in the fact the Frank O Connor, his best friend, had always been one for overstatement and while his flair for the dramatic bode well for him in his chosen field of law, it tended to grate on the nerves of those who preferred plain speaking. The bus jolted again and he was forced to grab on to the seatback in front of him. When he bought the ticket, the com...

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Ghost Story (The Wailing Wood 2)

December 31, 2011

Milly stood at the small window of her cottage and watched the children at play. She smiled at their antics as they chased one another round the yard.

Francis, her eldest at just eight was pretending to be a monster and his lumbering gait had his sisters Jane aged six and Maura four, screaming with excitement and terror. Milly shook her head in awe of their innocence and wishing she could remember such a time. Her husband Pat was due in soon for his dinner and there was work to be done. Select...

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Ghost Story (The Wailing Wood) Part One

December 31, 2011

There were still a couple of hours of daylight left when we set off for the wood. I was wrapped up against the chill in a heavy coat and gloves, but Bill wore only his threadbare jacket. I’ve bought him gloves and hats in the past, but he refuses to wear them. He says he’s used to the cold, though the state of his skin belies this, as his cheeks are red and threaded with veins and his hands dry and sore-looking.

“I can’t understand how it’s gotten so cold,” I shivered, as we steppe...

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Graveyard Secrets Part (2)

December 31, 2011

Tom’s cottage is snug, though the air is thick from the turf  he uses to keep the old range going. I sat at the table and watched as he took plates of cold meats and cheeses out of the fridge.

He had prepared these ahead of time, and I was glad I hadn’t refused his offer of lunch. I was touched and honoured to find he had bought packets of gluten free biscuits for me, and he offered me juice instead of tea. Once he had finished setting the table, he sat opposite and started to talk, as he ...

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Graveyard Secrets Part (1)

December 31, 2011

The elements were against me as I set off on Monday morning, and instead of the sunshine I’d hoped for, the sky was grey and overcast.The first drops of rain splattered the windscreen, as I pulled out of the driveway and I was glad I’d bought a coat and umbrella.

The first sixty miles were the usual seemingly unending stretch of bleak motorway and it wasn’t until I pulled off the main road and was heading into the countryside, that I finally relaxed. The winding, narrow roads here haven...

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The Most Cardinal Sin

December 31, 2011

The world had never been kind to lovers. Those who have fallen in love unwisely have often met with the most horrifying acts of cruelty, even death. From the middle ages and right up to the present day, we read of those who have suffered at the hands of disapproving parents, whose anger had spurred them to terrible acts of violence and murder.

My story this week concerns two such lovers, but it is not the classic boy meets girl tale. I first heard the story many years ago from a school friend ...

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