by Phil Clarke

  ....   HOME. ........ ....... STORIES summarized


......... A GHOST STORY


This story is based very roughly on a TV play I saw about 20-years ago. So the plot is not new, and I can't claim the genius of having invented it. But it's a good one worth re-telling.

In re-creating the story though, I've kept it concise and free of extraneous detail, which means it has ended up only 2600-words long - about 6-paperback pages.


The fire blazed-up fiercely when David placed a huge log behind the sinking heap of glowing embers. 'That's big enough to last the evening.' He said, falling back into a chair and retrieving his newspaper, 'They should be arriving soon.'

'I'll check the oven.' Said Sarah, getting up and going towards the kitchen. 'I wonder if the Carters will turn up?'

'They didn't sound enthusiastic.' Replied David, 'A toss-up between fear and curiosity.'

'They're not what I'd call a robust couple.' called Sarah from the kitchen, 'I don't expect they'll come.'

'Bloody silly, if you ask me.' Snapped David, 'It's what happens when people have nothing important to think about. They start believing all kinds of nonsense.'

'I like to think you're right, Dear,' said Sarah, raising her eyebrows as she returned to the lounge, 'but one can't be too certain.'

'And what's that supposed to mean? You're not having second thoughts, I hope?'

'Well, it's a bit late now if I am; but there were those odd noises from the attic last night.'

David laughed, 'What? Birds in the eaves! Or maybe a loose board.' He sighed, 'At least we don't have neighbours now to blame it on. But we've only been here a fortnight, we're bound to notice all kinds of little quirks as time goes on. Every house has it's strange sounds, you know.'

'And those unpleasant rumours.' said Sarah, 'It took some prodding to drag them out of that old guy in The Red Lion. Lived in the village all his life, apparently.'

'Old Fred?' barked David, with a chuckle, 'What can he know about it? When you get to his age you'll invent anything to add some thrill to your life.'

'Then there's the landlord.' Said Sarah, 'Over 40-years he's been there. He's sharp enough wouldn't you say? And this place has changed hands more times than even he can remember.'

'We are a little off the beaten track.'

'Ten minutes walk! Be serious.'

'A bargain though, you have to admit,' said David, waving an arm, 'Normally a house like this would fetch double what we paid. The surveyor was impressed; that's not something that happens every day, I'll bet.'

'I've never seen anyone look so relieved as Mrs Blunt after we'd exchanged contracts.' Said Sarah, 'She seemed positively changed. She went from a distressed terrified shrew to a normal confident woman.'

'That's how people get when they're desperate to move.' said David, 'Moving house is reckoned to be second only to divorce on the stress gauge.'

The door chimes sounded. David rose from his chair and went into the hall. 'Alan!' he cried, 'Dora! Entrée, s'il vous plaît.'

Sarah appeared, 'The only real French he knows.' She laughed. 'Come on in, you're the first.'

'Quite a place you've landed' said Alan, gazing around the hall, 'I've never been to a house warming before. But this definitely deserves it. Real olde worlde charm.'

'I'm envious already.' Said Dora, following Alan into the lounge.

'Later, when everyone's here,' Said Sarah, going to the drinks cabinet, 'I'll give a tour. First though, what'll it be? An aperitif or something to counter the frost?'

'That sounds more like it.' Said Alan, 'A scotch would do nicely. And good old D has agreed to drive, haven't you sweetheart?'

'It's my turn.' Said Dora, 'But I'm not one for the alcohol anyway. Just a tiny sherry, Sarah, no more please.'

'You'll have some wine later, I hope.' Said Sarah, 'It's a vintage Chianti. Special for the occasion.'

The chimes sounded again. 'I'll go.' Said David.

The three in the lounge sipped their drinks and listened.

'Jane, Brian, glad to see you. Welcome to "The Thatch"'

'A bit tacky for you David.' Said Jane.

'It's always been called that.' Said David.

'How old is it?' said Brian, 'must be 500 at least.'

'The records go back 340-years.' Said David, ushering them into the lounge, 'But Sarah intends to look deeper when she gets time, don't you Dear?'

'I do. Research is my favourite pastime. I once worked for a psychic investigation group whose main work involved finding out what had given rise to certain ghosts and hauntings. It wasn't my job to visit anywhere, just to search records and collate what others had discovered.'

'Sounds absolutely fascinating.' Said Dora, with a hint of sarcasm.

'It's absolute piffle.' Said Alan, grinning.

'That's what I say.' Said David, frowning, 'Though in more diplomatic style.'

'Thank you, Dear.' Said Sarah, turning to Brian, 'And how about Brian?'

'Call a spade a spade.' Said Alan, 'Best policy I know.'

'I prefer to keep an open mind.' Brian said, glancing in turn at the others, then around at the room.

'Those beams are original.' Said David, 'I'd stake my life on it.'

'That's going a bit far.' Chuckled Alan, picking up the newspaper, 'You never know who's listening when you say something like that.' He chuckled again and opened the paper.

'Alan!' Said Dora, 'We won't be invited to any more parties if you go on like that.'

'Like what, Sweetheart?' Said Alan, closing the paper and concealing a grin. 'Really though, how can you take any of that stuff seriously?'

'Don't mock what you don't understand.' Said Sarah, 'After dinner we'll have a little tour. There's some aspects to this house you might find… unsettling. But dinner is almost ready - and the dining room is through there.'

'OOOooooo' said Brian, squinting through the window. 'And it's almost dark now too.' He added, 'So brace yourselves!'

'Don't you start.' Said Jane.

'Dark already?' said Alan, going through to the dining room.

'It never ceases to astonish me,' said Brian, following, 'how time goes so fast. You get up in the morning and before you know it it's lunchtime, so you stop for a break and then half the afternoon's gone and it's time to think about finishing for the day. Then it's dinner and suddenly it's time to hit the sack…'

'Don't I know it!' said Alan, taking a seat and placing the newspaper beside him.

They all took their places, except Sarah and Jane - who helped carry some dishes to the table. David passed around the wine.

'What happened to the Carters?' said Dora.

'They have long standing friends in the village. They've heard rumours. And I suppose they believe them, or else weren't prepared to take a chance.'

'A chance?' laughed Alan, 'A chance they might be made to look nutty with all their weird theories and what not.'

'What rumours?' said Jane, 'You don't mean…?'

Sarah nodded. 'Ghosts.' She said. Then after a pause and passing around the salad, added, 'Who here believes in them? Or thinks they just might be true?'

'I do.' Said Jane, 'Definitely.'

'And me, I think.' Said Dora, 'Though I'm not totally convinced.'

The phone rang. David went to answer it, and returned a moment later. 'The Carters,' he said, 'Having to baby-sit for their daughter.'

'I didn't know their daughter was married.' Said Sarah.

'She isn't.' said Alan, 'All the same, she has a baby. I've seen her with it.'

'I didn't think they'd come.' Said Sarah.

'What were we talking about?' said David.

'Ghosts.' Said Jane, glancing at her husband and nodding, 'It was your turn.'

'I prefer to keep an open mind.' Said Brian, 'That way I can't be wrong.'

They laughed.

'What's being wrong got to do with it?' asked Sarah.

'No-one likes to be wrong.' Said David, 'It stands to reason.'

'But when it comes to something like this…' began Dora, sipping the wine. 'Strange flavour this.' She said, pulling a face.

'Chianti's meant to be sharp.' Said Alan, 'But tell us,' he added turning to Sarah, 'what was the rumour?'

'I don't know if I should tell you.' She said, 'I don't want to scare anyone. And this is supposed to be a party, after all. We're meant to be enjoying ourselves.'

'But we're intellectuals.' Said Alan, 'Not superstitious numbskulls or thickhead know-nothings. Some macabre historical event must have taken place here from which people have weaved all kinds of fantastic stories and consequences.'

'Have there been any deaths here?' asked Brian, 'Unnatural, that is; unexplained?'

David finished chewing something then looked up, 'Do you mean as a consequence or as a cause?'

'Well, either, I guess.' said Brian.

'As a consequence, would be more to the point.' Said Alan, 'Because then we might have reason to worry. Otherwise, why should any of us be the first?'

'Good point.' Said David, 'But I thought you didn't believe in these things.'

'I don't.' said Alan, seeming to give a little shiver, 'But as Voltaire is reputed to have said on his death bed when pressed to renounce the devil: "Now is not the time to be making enemies!"'

They all laughed.

'What a thing to say!' exclaimed Dora, looking at her husband, 'And you old turncoat!'

'I can't answer for Voltaire.' He said, 'Don't forget he was supposed to be a non-believer too. But he did have a point.'

'You mean: no sense in taking unnecessary risks?' Said Brian.

'Precisely.' Said Alan.

'And you don't see that as hypocritical?' said Dora.

'Name me anyone who isn't a hypocrite.' said Alan.

'Another good point.' Said David, refilling their glasses.

'No more for me.' Said Jane. 'There seems to be something odd about this wine.'

They all stopped eating and tasted the wine. Then in the silence while they swilled it in their mouths, Sarah said: 'Two hundred years ago a whole family was locked in here. This very room. The kitchen and study were later additions, and the lounge was an outhouse. But this room and the lounge are original - you can tell by the beams.'

'Why were they locked in?' said Brian.

'It was said that the woman was a witch, the man a swindler, and the children possessed by the devil.' Said Sarah, 'So the rumour has it. This house being remote from the village, was surrounded by the more zealous of the villagers and the windows were closed up, the shutters fixed and the doors barred with stout planks. And they starved. A whole family of four children were left to starve to death.'

'How terrible!' exclaimed Dora.

'But why?' persisted Brian, 'There must have been a better reason than mere superstition. Perhaps they'd tormented the villagers in some way?'

'Many years later,' Sarah went on, 'it was revealed… confessed… by certain villagers in their old age, those who'd been paid-off at the time, that the local Squire had been… with the mother.'

'Shagging.' barked Alan, cheerfully, 'That's the word for it.'

'Alan!' Snapped Dora, amid laughter from David and Brian.

'Had been…' continued Sarah, 'copulating regularly with the mother - whose husband vowed to murder the Squire.'

'And the Squire got away with it, I imagine.' Said Dora, pouting, 'They usually did.'

'Got away with what, Sweetheart?' said Alan, 'The copulating or the murder?'

The men laughed again.

'Two of the children were said to be the Squire's,' said Sarah, undaunted, 'And he did, the squire that is, actually meet a sticky end. He was found head-first down in the village well, long dead by then and thought to have gone abroad.'

'What did they do for water?' asked Alan.

'Shut up you!' cried Dora, gazing around with wide staring eyes, then violently spitting out a mouthful of food, 'This food is just awful!'

'Manners, Sweetheart.' Said Alan, getting up and attempting to hug her, 'You don't have to eat it. You don't have to eat anything. Just sit back and rest.'

'She's right.' Said Jane, 'Something's happened to the food. It tastes terrible, like rotten meat, rotten and stinking…'

'My God!' cried David, leaping up, 'even the potatoes are bad.' He looked at his wife.

Sarah stared back aghast. 'I don't understand.' She said, 'It was lovely, yet now it's mouldy, horrible, as if it's been standing weeks and gone completely putrid.'

'Well,' sighed Alan, after spitting out onto his plate, 'I suppose we'll have to make do with the wine.'

'That's bad too.' Snapped Jane, 'It's all thick and sticky. Try it. Just try it.'

'She's right.' Said Brian, 'It's like…. blood.'

'What?' cried David, 'Blood?'

'Yes, blood!' screamed Sarah. 'What's happening?'

'Just calm yourselves,' said David, 'Please stay calm. We'll get to the bottom of this… Why don't we all go down The Red Lion and reason it out? It's only a quarter of a mile.'

'And see what old Fred has to say about it?' chuckled Alan, nervously.

'If you must.' Said David, throwing him an irritated stare.

By now they had all drawn away from the table and were walking about, Jane and Brian trying to look through the windows, Alan and Dora holding one another and going into the lounge. David and Sarah gazed intermittently at each other with astonished expressions.

Then David went into the hall and yanked at the front door. 'The door!' he cried, 'It's stuck. Come and help me someone. Alan! Brian!'

They came in and, grabbing whatever part of it they could, together they heaved at the door - to no avail. David hit it with his fist which made him wince. Then he went to the big under-stairs cupboard and withdrew a sledgehammer.

'A-ha!' he rasped, 'The sods behind this little stunt never banked on me having this!'

Brian and Alan stood aside, their wives watching from the lounge door. David swung the hammer: THUD!

It scarcely made a dent, and the door hadn't budged.

'The windows.' yelled Alan, 'Try the windows.'

So they went into the lounge and tried opening the windows, which like the door were stuck solid. 'Stand clear.' growled David. They all stood aside, and he swung the hammer again: THUD!

'It's not possible!' exclaimed Brian.

'Here, let me try.' Said Alan, grabbing the hammer. He swung it back first and with huge momentum slammed it into the window. THUD!

'I can't believe it!' he said, staggering back and dropping the hammer. 'It's as if the house is submerged in an ocean of solid pitch.'

'And our voices…' Said Brian, trying again to see through the glass. 'Have you noticed?'

'Everything is dull and close.' Said Jane, shaking, 'There's no echo. I feel so closed in. And I'm so tired.'

'Me too.' Said Dora.

They returned to the dining room and sat staring at the rotten food. Alan tasted the wine again then collapsed off his chair, knocking the glass over. Blood ran across the table and began dripping onto the carpet. Brian fell forward, his face flat on the table. Then Jane slipped gently to the floor, followed one at the time by the others… until they were all unconscious.


In the morning the postman, alarmed by the damage to the front door, knocks several times. Although it's early, he is surprised to get no response - especially with two cars standing there. He goes to look in at the window, sees the cracks made by the sledgehammer, then catches sight of bodies inside. He immediately calls the police from his mobile.

Later, a Detective Inspector waits outside for a forensic report. When he emerges, the forensic officer says: 'Inconclusive. For one thing the bodies haven't been touched since death occurred - in fact one of the victims lay on top of yesterday's 'Times'. So from our view they died within the last 24-hours.'

The detective frowns. 'But?' he says.

'But… the doctor has recorded that they've been dead at least two months. And, incredible as it might seem, he insists they died of.... starvation.'

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