Some of you might be able to remember all the way back to last year when I wrote the second of my seasonal 'ghost' stories. It was all moving and everything, and it had trains in, and everyone likes trains don't they?
Well, because of 'Circumstances' (Had to be very careful not to write 'Circumcisions' there - LOL!) I've read it out loud at real people a couple of times and they seemed to like it. So I was spurred to write a similar story for this Christmas. (Which you'll find below). This has also been read out to real people and has had a mixed response if I'm honest. Some people really liked it and some people... Well, didn't say much at all really.
Anyway, see what you think - Bear in mind that this is just the beginning, I've decided that I'm going to turn the Village of Lythe in North Yorkshire into the supernatural version of Midsomer (From the books by Caroline Graham) - There'll be seperate stories about Danny, St Oswalds (And its unusual vicar), The Duck Pub, The antique shop, The German Lady, The teeny-tiny Sheep, and other, odder things.
So, sit back and try to enjoy...
The Morehouse Decoration
Emma looked up at Jamie as he showed the auctioneer the card with their bidder number on it, trying to stop herself from throwing up her hands and squealing with excitement. Normally she would just have sat on them, but the advanced state of her pregnancy made that more of a chore than it really should have been. Instead, she steepled her fingers and placed them on her bump, clamping her lips together until they went white. Jamie looked back at her and shook his head. She made a show of ignoring him. But there was no disguising the fact that she was grinning broadly and trying not to laugh.
The house had gone for a little under the guide price, but by the time that the fees had been paid and everyone that came up to them with their hands out had had their palms crossed with paper, their savings, and the amount that they’d been left by Jamie’s aunt, were a shadow of their former selves.
‘Let’s go and see it now,’ she said, easing her way into their car, ‘it’s only a few miles, and there’s that pub, you know that one that had the menu outside, with the duck?’
He laughed, ‘I’m going to go ahead and assume that this is what all of your books call “Baby Brain”? Where the, and I quote, “mother-to-be loses the power of rational thought and speaks mumbo-jumbo for the rest of her life” Yeah, that’s what it is.’
‘Look, all I want to do is take a look at our new house.’ She replied, still too excited to feel any affront, ‘There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?’
‘Well no, but thirty-five isn’t exactly “a few” miles. You’re very pregnant, and I don’t think the water or electricity have been reconnected yet, seeing as I haven’t asked them to do it.’ He looked out of the car window, ‘And, it’s probably going to be dark by the time we get there.’
‘Well, I think it’d be romantic, the sound of the waves, the sun setting into the sea.’
‘Wrong coast… The Sun sets in the west, the bay is on the east coast.’
‘Well, let’s watch the sun rise then?’, She looked over at him as he shook his head, ‘What if we stay at the pub and go and see the house in the morning?’
He took a deep breath, but realised that he wasn’t going to get a moment of peace until he agreed. They left the auction house car park and drove north, towards the sea.
The pub was cosy enough, and luckily for the pair, it had a double room available. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the famous duck was awful, but when the waitress cooed at Emma’s bump and asked them if everything was alright, they smiled and said it was all fine. After the bar had emptied a little, and it just appeared to be a few, staunch regulars who remained, the landlady led Jamie and Emma up to their room. All of the doors they passed were made of thick oak planks, studded with black iron pins, their room key was large and heavy, reminding Emma of something you’d find on a jailer’s key ring. It turned easily in the lock and the door swung open with a loud creak. At that same moment, all the lights along the corridor momentarily flickered.
Catching their look of dismay, the landlady chuckled, ‘Oh don’t pay any mind to that my loves, there’s probably a spot of seawater in the wiring. It’s the spray from the cliffs you see.’
They looked suspiciously at the light fittings, which were now working perfectly, as if just to spite them. Squeezing past the rotund landlady, they entered the room and were immediately struck by the decoration; it was a mixture of local IKEA and early 16th Century Cornish wrecker chic. There was even a miniature ship’s wheel attached to the back of the door that was currently acting as a coat-hook, holding a pair of dressing gowns that had seen better days.
‘HMS Kent?’ Emma asked the landlady, who had turned to look outside, ‘Is that a famous local ship?’
‘Mmm? Oh no, I don’t think so. I picked that up in the antique shop on the High Street a few weeks ago. Don’t you two have any luggage?’
‘No, it was a last minute decision to come here. We’ve just bought a house up at Deep Grove and I couldn’t wait to see it. Nesting instinct I suppose.’ She gently patted her belly, ‘We’re almost there you see.’
The landlady looked at Jamie, who was making slightly more noise filling the kettle and arranging the teacups than was proper, and took this as her cue to leave. ‘Well, if you need anything, just give us a knock. We’re the first door at the end of the corridor with no number on.’ She frowned, and it looked as if she didn’t really want to continue, ‘But please don’t knock on the door next to ours, that’s Danny’s room, and he’s not to be… Disturbed.’
The door closed behind her and Jamie finished making their tea. They turned on the aged portable television, but there was only static, whose waves seemed to mimic those from the sea, just outside the window.
The weak, morning sun crept around the edges of their curtains and chased them both rudely into wakefulness. Not that Emma had slept more than fitfully; the tiny passenger she carried had seen to that, he seemed to have been invigorated by the sea air, rather than calmed by it. After a spectacular cooked breakfast, they headed down the coast towards Deep Grove. The crunch of their tyres on the short gravel drive brought a smile to Emma’s face; it was one of the things on her ‘dream home checklist’ along with a sea view, real fires and wood panelling. It didn’t matter that the house wasn’t particularly old, or particularly big. In her mind it was perfect, and it was theirs. She followed Jamie inside, hugged him, and then went into the kitchen. The view through the picture window was breath-taking. If she looked to her right, she could just make out Whitby, to her left, the sea seemed to go on forever. She felt at home, more at home than she ever had in the house she shared with Jamie back in York. Her mother had left them that house in her will and Jamie’s aunt had left them the extra cash they needed to buy Deep Grove. Emma frowned as the thought of the family deaths crossed her mind. But it was what both of them would have wanted.
She sat on the steps as Jamie contacted the service companies and arranged to have the gas and electricity reconnected. By the time he’d arranged dates and times, it was time for them to leave.
It took them less than two months to finalise everything. All of their furniture had been moved in, the source of a strange scrabbling noise from the attic had been attributed to squirrels and Emma had given birth to Carl, seven pounds four ounces of healthy, happy, baby boy. Her life was perfect, she had the perfect house, the perfect child, the perfect husband and her husband had the perfect job. Well, almost the perfect job – He usually worked from his upstairs office, but he very occasionally had to travel into his firm’s Head Office in Manchester. Today was one such day, Jamie had left home just as the sun was rising, he’d kissed her on the cheek, gently opened the door to Carl’s bedroom to whisper goodbye then drove away, trying to be as quiet as he could on the gravel driveway.
She stayed in bed until Carl started to cry. Sitting up, she called to him that she was coming, and then noticed her own broad smile in the dressing table mirror, this was the first time in her life that she’d been truly happy, there was nothing like it and she wanted to feel like this forever. Carl’s cries became an indignant shriek, which tore her from her reverie. She slipped from her bed and padded into the next room, the stripped floorboards feeling warm beneath her feet, despite the fact that it was nearing the end of October.
‘So what’ll it be partner?’ She struck a pose like a cowboy gunfighter, ‘Y’hungry?’ She put her hands under her still swollen breasts and pointed them at him like a pair of six-shooters, ‘Or are y’wet?’ She walked to the side of the cot and leaned over the rails, ‘Is that it? Have y’peed y’self boy? Did it all get too much for y’all?’
Carl looked her straight in the eye, and blew a bubble from his nose before starting to giggle uncontrollably.
‘Pheweee! Doggie!’ Emma made a show of waving the smell away from her face, ‘Smells like y’all got locked in the stable overnight!’ She picked him up and hugged him, before taking him over to the table and changing him. Within the hour they were both dressed and ready for the trip into Lythe. They could have gone for a day in Whitby, but Emma had promised herself that she would take a look at the little antique shop that the landlady of ‘The Duck Pub’ as they now referred to it, had mentioned all those long months ago.
The village of Lythe was less than a mile down the road, but she still drove. Carl wasn’t walking yet and she had no way to know how much shopping might accidentally get itself bought. They drove down the empty country lanes, and as they passed St. Oswald’s church it triggered one of the only historical facts that Emma could remember. She half-turned her head so that she was still looking at the road, but so that Carl could hear her. ‘Did you know, that St Oswald had five heads?’ She chanced a look at Carl, he seemed singularly unimpressed, but she continued unabashed, ‘they’re stored in churches all around the world and no-one knows which is the real one. Isn’t that interesting?’ A quick look in the rear-view mirror told her that Carl thought that the contents of his nose were significantly more interesting, and not to mention more tasty. ‘Please yourself you little luddite.’ She sighed. They pulled into the car-park opposite the duck pub and Carl struggled in his straps as Emma wrestled the pushchair from the boot. ‘Wait a minute Tyke, you’d better get used to being strapped in, because I’m not letting you out in the shop. I’m going to cost Daddy enough as it is without you adding to the bill.’ She released him from the car-seat and soon had him firmly ensconced in the pushchair.
The sun was shining as they walked down the street towards the little antique shop, Emma took in a deep breath which seemed to contain a heady mix of silage and the smell of cooking from the pub across the road. ‘Well,’ she thought to herself, ’that’s lunch sorted.’ She looked down at her son, who was chewing at the straps that held him in. ‘I was going to ask you if you were hungry, but…’
‘They’re a joy aren’t they?’
Emma’s head snapped up in shock. Stood in front of her was a vicar, or at least someone dressed as a vicar. ‘Erm… Hello?’
‘Good morning My Child.’ He said, offering his hand limply, ‘I’m David Sileby, Reverend of Saint Oswald’s. Children, they’re a joy.’ He looked at her expectantly, almost hungrily.
She took his hand, which had all the warmth of a leather bag full of sticks, ‘Emma, Emma Hall, this is Carl my son.’
‘Not for long I think?’ The Reverend’s mouth spread into a wide grin, showing large stained teeth that probably weren’t original. He leaned down to tousle the boy’s hair.
‘What?’ Emma placed her hand on Carl’s chest and stepped in between them. ‘Look here! If you’re trying to…’
‘Oh goodness, my dear lady! I’m sorry if I offended you, I merely meant that your son is very young, he hasn’t been around for very long. Perhaps I could have put it slightly better.’ He mumbled, ‘Should we perhaps start again?’
Emma stepped back, suspicion still burning in her eyes. ‘I’m afraid I have things to do. Goodbye.’ She grabbed hold of the handles of the pushchair, steered it around the Reverend Sileby and took off down the street. Every few steps she looked back to see him still smiling and waving, the fifth time she looked, he’d gone.
A small brass bell rang as she opened the door into the antique shop, the owner looked up from his newspaper and touched the brim of his worn fedora.
‘Afternoon, looking for anything in particular or just browsing?’ He asked, brushing cake crumbs from his jacket.
‘I don’t know,’ replied Emma, ‘Just some decorative items really. We’ve just moved into the house up at Deep Grove, and it still looks a bit empty, even with all of our stuff in there.’ She thought back to their stay at the pub, ‘Perhaps something a bit nautical? Not too nautical though, I don’t want it to look like Captain Pugwash’s house.’
He smiled and pushed his hat further back on his head. ‘We’ve got a few things like that, down at the back.’ He pointed down the corridor which seemed to be a lot longer that the shop was deep, ‘But I’m afraid that there’s not enough room for…’ He indicated Carl’s pushchair, then pointed apologetically at the sign behind him with his thumb. It read, “All breakages must be paid for.”
Emma was in two minds, she wanted to look around the shop, and after all it was the whole reason that they were there. But she’d never met this man before, and the idea of leaving Carl with him, especially after the incident with the vicar, didn’t really appeal to her.
As if he could read her thoughts, he looked at her and said ‘He’ll be perfectly safe, if anyone steals him, you’ll hear the bell go. I’ll look after him.’ He passed Carl a non-descript stuffed animal, that seemed to appear from nowhere and shooed her away.
Although she still wasn’t 100% convinced, she made her way into the depths of the shop and soon found herself surrounded by all kinds of random items, some of which were more easily categorised as ‘antiques’ than others. She picked up a papier-mâché sheep, but nearly dropped it again when it unexpectedly bleated at her, she assumed that there was some hidden internal mechanism and put its strange warmth down to the direct halogen lighting. She was tempted by a collection of whaling harpoons, mounted high on the wall above her, but the staining on their cruel points looked too dark to just be rust. Moving back towards the front of the shop, she knocked into a small cardboard box and heard the unmistakeably expensive noise of glass against glass.
‘Is everything alright?’ came the owner’s voice from the front of the shop.
‘Yes… I…’ She tried to lift the lid from the box to see what damage she’d caused, but it was much too tight and she decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Carefully taking the box with her, she walked back to the front and placed the box on the counter. ‘What’s this?’ she asked, hoping that it was nothing of huge value.
‘I have absolutely no idea, there’s so much jun… I mean, there are so many quality items hidden at the back that I tend to lose track. Let’s see.’ He gently slid off the lid, using no effort whatsoever. ‘Glass baubles… How very festive.’
Emma looked at the decorations, they were beautiful. Ten simple pearlescent glass teardrops, with loops made of thin ribbon. She reached out to touch one, but her fingers seemed to encounter some resistance, ‘Look, there’s a note.’ She pointed to a slip of paper underneath the baubles.
He nodded and slipped the yellowing piece of paper from the box. Putting on a pair of thick-lensed glasses he read the inscription. ‘Presented by Her Majesty’s Admiralty to Captain David Reed Morehouse of the Dei Gratia as thanks for the resourcefulness and courage shown during the recovery of,’ He took off his hat and used it to cover his heart, ‘The Mary Celeste, 5th December 1872. I remember these now; they were part of a complete house clearance that I bought.’
‘How much?’ Emma was already reaching for her bag.
‘Well, I don’t know, there’s provenance, I suppose. I’d have to get them checked out.’
‘A thousand pounds? I’ll buy them from you for a thousand pounds.’ She wasn’t sure why but the internal voice that she normally only heard in shoe shops was telling her that she needed these baubles. ‘They’re traditional, they’ll suit my tree,’ She looked directly at him, ‘I need them.’
As they walked back to the car, all thoughts of a pub lunch had been forgotten, all Emma wanted to do was to get home and start decorating the tree. The fact that it was only October was a mere formality. Luckily, the tree was in the garage rather than the attic. Even though she was no longer pregnant, she didn’t relish the idea of climbing a ladder or the legions of spiders and possibly even squirrels that she might have to encounter.
It took nearly an hour to wrestle the eight foot tree into position. Carl was watching her intently from his playpen in the corner. She’d decided to forego any other type of decoration save for the new baubles. Taking her time, she spread the delicate glass decorations equally over the periphery of the tree, constantly moving them around until she felt that they were all in their correct places. ‘What do you think Tyke?’ She looked at Carl, who was busily banging two wooden trucks together. ‘Well, I think it looks beautiful. Except…’ as she looked closer, one of the baubles seemed wrong, twisted almost, Emma cocked her head questioningly to one side but the decoration was still not hanging correctly. ‘If I just…’ As she touched the glass, there was a painful discharge of static electricity and the world went black.
Carl was roused from his home-made timber car-crash by a noise like thunder. His mother was suddenly nowhere to be seen. And he started to cry.
Emma sat up and winced, there was a stabbing pain behind her eyes which throbbed heavily as she moved. She looked around, but could see only an oddly familiar, pearlescent fog. ‘Hello, is there anybody there?’ her words sounded flat and emotionless, as if her own voice was coming from a long way away. ‘Hello?’
‘Hello.’ The voice came from directly behind her.
Emma spun, the increased pain in her head causing flashes across her vision. Standing almost apologetically in front of her was a small woman wearing a long Victorian dress with dark hair in a severe centre-parting. ‘Where am I?’ Emma asked.
‘I’m sorry but I have no idea,’ The woman giggled, ‘one minute I was decorating the Christmas tree on the ship, and the next… ’ She shrugged her shoulders, ‘Oh! How rude of me. I’m Sarah Briggs, pleased to meet you. You don’t speak German do you?’
Emma was having difficulty keeping up with Sarah’s quick-fire way of speaking, ‘Erm… No, sorry… What ship?’
‘Pity, there’s a German lady who I sometimes bump into, I can’t understand a word she’s saying. The ship? The Mary Celeste, although Benji still insists on calling her the Amazon. You haven’t seen him have you? My Husband? He’s probably off drinking his way through the cargo with Richardson.’ Sarah sat down comfortably in thin air, looking past Emma’s shoulder.
‘No, I haven’t I’m sorry. Did you say the Mary Celeste? Only that story’s a hundred years old. Found abandoned, drifting in the sea.’
‘Abandoned? How could it be abandoned? It’s just foggy, it’s a sea mist, we’ll sail out of the other side of it soon enough. Benji will sort it all out. Oh! Good Lord! Where’s Sophia? Sophia! Sophia!’ She grabbed Emma’s shoulders, ‘I’ve lost my baby, where’s my baby?’
As Jamie came through the front door, all he could hear was wracking cries. He dropped his laptop bag and ran into the dining room, not knowing whether to be more shocked by the huge Christmas tree, or the fact that his son had almost cried himself hoarse and was desperately in need of changing. ‘Emma? Emma!’ He lifted Carl from his pen, ‘Where’s Mummy? Where’s Mummy gone to?’ Carl stopped crying, but his breath was still coming in ragged sobs. Once he’d been changed, Jamie put him back in his pen where he immediately began to cry at the top of his lungs. ‘Demanding little soul aren’t you? Let’s find Mummy together shall we?’ He picked him up again and held him closely whilst they toured the house looking for Emma. She was nowhere to be found. Her car was still in the garage, her clothes were all still there, and there was no note. The pair went back into the dining room and stood looking at the tree. ‘Why has your Mummy put the tree up in October? And more importantly, why is one of the baubles in the wrong place? He put Carl down on the floor and reached up to adjust the decoration, with a now familiar thunderbolt, he disappeared.
Carl sat looking at the tree for a moment, wondering just what had happened. Both of the people who fed him and took care of him had gone away. Usually, he could bring them straight back by making the noise, so that’s what he did. He made the noise as loud as he could, but no-one came. He made the noise until he fell asleep, and then when he woke up he made the noise again. But still, no one came. He noticed that one of the shiny balls, that he had been told not to play with looked different from the others. He crawled towards it, slowed down by the weight in his nappy. He stretched up as high as he could and touched the bauble. His head started to spin and he fell forwards, knocking the bauble onto the floor.
The sound of thunder filled the house, when Carl opened his eyes a little girl was standing in front of him.
‘Hello Baby.’ She said, with genuine concern, ‘My name’s Sophia, what’s yours?’
So, Let me know what you think. Would you like to read more? Do you think that it might be worth a quick publish (It'd be fairly heavily edited, cleaned up and so forth beforehand) Feel free to submit ideas - I'd be genuinely delighted to hear creative ones... You know, ones that don't say "Give it up Baldy, you're rubbish at this!"