Dear readers,

I have recently announced that my short stories will be available for free via my website. If you visit my homepage, you can scroll through the posted ones and choose any that take your fancy. Let me know your thoughts or favourites!

For a U.A.E based story, read Ayesha.

For a memoir extract on loss, We bought white lilies.

Or if you are feeling reflective try, Reflections at an English Teahouse in Borneo.

Here is another new one. I enjoy experimenting with different genres. Haunted is a short tale I wrote after being inspired by the wild Scottish countryside.

scottish picHaunted.

Nightfall.

Outside I hear the ghost wailing, coming for me. The sound is getting closer. Louder. Now it is just outside barely a few metres away from the house. I console myself in the fact that it cannot get through the barred windows and deadlocked doors. The door begins to rattle in its frame. Unnervingly, the sound stops followed by silence. No wind. No sounds of the waves crashing on the close shoreline. Just dead silence. I am not afraid of ghosts, because sometimes I feel like a ghost myself. My mind leaves my body behind and travels to other worlds. That is how I have stayed alive this long.

I ask myself how I ended up in an old farmhouse on the isolated moors on an island off the coast of Scotland. The high tide makes the island inescapable for most of the daylight hours and now I am trapped. I stare down at her, the reason I am here. Victoria’s face is distorted in the dark as she looks back at me from the faded missing poster.

I glance out of the window. The thick clouds briefly expose the moon and in its grey light a shadow passes by the window. I retreat further into the kitchen away from the door. The silence is shattered by the rattling sound of the door shaking. The howling begins again. Surely, it can’t pass through the door? I don’t know what to believe anymore. Anything seems possible. If the sky were to crack open and evil were to fall from it, I would not question my sanity. It seems penetrable.

A stone screeches outside. The lock unbolts. Once, twice. The door swings open and in the fading moonlight, it enters.

The morning before.

It is almost nine and the sunrise signals my final seven hours to find Victoria. There were no witnesses, only tales of the ghost that haunts the hills and a sea that pulls its victims down to a watery grave. Perhaps she died on the moors? I have heard that those who don’t belong in its harsh landscape run over the frozen ground in the depths of the night never to return. But why would anyone be running out into the moors in the middle of the night? What was she running from that would make her risk the Atlantic Ocean? I wasn’t buying the stories they were selling me. There would be a reason. Someone would know what had happened. I pack the rest of my clothes, The Wasp Factory and the photo of Victoria into my case. Outside the window, I see the hillside undulate gently and smoothly like womanly curves. Unlike the house. That beast sits on top of the hill by the sea, stamped into the landscape. Even on the wildest of nights where the winds whip up into a frenzy and the sea threatens and roars it remains standing, defiant.

I walk down the old staircase scanning the unusual layout of the house. I try the doors. They are all locked. The house hides its secrets. It conceals its past. It leads me down to the only place I am allowed to be, the kitchen. Its sparse wooden floors stained like they have been scrubbed with bleach water, the stone walls covered in limestone wash are stark white even in the dim winter sunlight.

Agatha is there, like every morning before that, standing at the cooker stirring porridge in a pan above a flickering flame. At first, she was pleasant. An old woman who once looked like she withstood this hard landscape, but something had bent her strong bones out of shape and she had set that way. Almost disfigured. Her skin was tough, like rubber as though she had developed a thick, wrinkly hide to protect herself. She used to make small talk, despite me feeling like she didn’t want me to be there, but when I mentioned Victoria, she had snapped.

I find it odd that despite her moods, she always makes me breakfast. Two breakfast sets lay neatly on the ten-seater table that stretches the entire length of the small room, scarred as she was by overuse. I sat at it quietly. I don’t want her to snap again. I look at the empty chairs. I wonder if they were full of children once and if they were, what had become of them now. She put the porridge down in front of me and she sits a few chairs down. I put the spoon to my mouth, going through the motions of eating, waiting for my chance to bring up the subject.

“I must leave today.” I say. She doesn’t reply, so I continue, “I need to go outside.”

“There be no need for yer to be roaming these moors.”

“Please, just for some fresh air.”

“What if yer don’t come back? Then what will I do? Nah, it is too dangerous”

She hobbles to the fire, the house keys jangling from her belt. A bunch of them temptingly swinging, just out of reach. I will take them by force. I walk to her.

“Agatha, I need you to help me find out what happened to Victoria.”

Aye, I want to know that too. But don’t you worry little lass, you will be going soon.”

“Going where? I decide what happens, ok, I am leaving today.” I lunge for the keys, but she grabs my hand. “Give them to me!”

I knock her backwards and she falls into the fireplace. Her strength dissipates. The house seems to consume her. The huge fireplace towers above her head, like an open mouth about to swallow her whole. I feel guilty I was so rough. She lurches ungracefully out of it and dusts her clothes off matter-of-factly and begins to look for something.

“Fire, we need fire. This hame wants me to die in its cold.”

“Did Victoria die here?”

“Get out of this hoose.” She snaps, her eyes bloodshot and wild, her hands shaking from the last dregs of adrenaline she has coursing through her blood. I push it further. She is about to break.

“Where has she been taken? Who took her?”

“Go,” she shouts, and I take my chance.

I run outside around the back of the house where scorched auburn land darkens a patch of the moors. I pick through the ash to see if I can find something. Anything that might give me a clue. Just as I want to give up I see an old key poking out of the ash. I tuck it into my pocket and yank up my hoodie. Even though the sun is out the cold wraps around me and sinks into my bones. I walk in front of the house to the coast line. The surf cuts itself on the jagged rocks. The dock is now barely visible. I stare down into the murky water and see Victoria’s face staring up at me. Did she drown? I close my eyes and imagine it. I place my hand in the cold water, within seconds it is numb. I feel like I know her from the photograph. She wouldn’t have gone in. Not unless she had too. Unless she was running from something that was worse than drowning in the freezing sea.

I turn and look back at the house. A slice of sun cuts through the clouds and lights up the doors to the outhouse. They were shut but strangely the doors swing wide open. I trudge back, beaten by the winds. I walk inside and see hooks, stiff and rusted, hanging from the walls. A loud bang shatters my bones and fear creeps into my stomach like a sickness; heavy in the pit of my stomach.

I am trapped in the darkness. The doors won’t open. I kick them over and over, but they don’t move. I try to calm myself and tentatively feel around the floor. My hand stops on a thin gap where the wall meets the floor. I run my hand across. A metal flap hides a key hole. I reach into my pocket. The key. I don’t want to open it, but I must get a hold of myself. I don’t believe in ghost stories. I believe in investigating and finding out the truth. The logic of truth. I turn the key in the lock and the door creaks open to a stairway spiralling down into the darkness and underneath towards the main house.

Cracks between the kitchen floor and the roof of the basement allow some light in so I can make out just enough to see. It is not full of dead bodies or the bones of ghosts piled up, but it is something far worse. Lined up across the bare stone floor are rows of beds. I count them. Four on each side. Eight altogether. An old teddy bear, slumps over. A disfigured doll stares at me with missing eyes and plucked out hair. The beds, stripped down. Naked. I can’t lift the oppressing feeling from the air. It overwhelms me. It seeps into the core of me, forcing me to throw up on the floor. As I lurch forward, I steady myself on the cold bar of a metal bed frame. Something glints from under the bed. I scoop down to pick it up. A delicate gold chain. It was Victoria’s. She was wearing it in the missing poster. She has been here. Did she ever escape this place? Did the other girls? I need a whole team to help me find some evidence of what happened here, but I don’t get a chance to think any further. Falling soil sprinkles down onto my hair. I turn and look up. I hear the outhouse door creak open. Heavy footsteps strike the floor above me. Someone is there. I run as swiftly and silently as I can through the winding corridor that leads from the dorm. A trapdoor opens out onto the moors. I stop to get my bearings. The sun is sinking behind the hills turning the heather black. The sea is a dark sheet of navy blue. I run to the house, panicked at the thought of Agatha locking me out. I pray the house is open. Relief flows through me as the door opens into the dark kitchen. I slam it shut.

Nightfall

I hear the ghost outside. I tremble as I look through the window. My eyes see a dark, overbearing silhouette coming towards the house. Heavy even without bones, it recognises its power. I duck away from the window and tuck myself further into the corner of the kitchen. The floor is cold. The kitchen is dark, and I now can’t remember where the candles are. I want to shout Agatha, to call her so she can do something. But it is too late. The door swings open and in the fading moonlight it enters.

It is not a wispy, ethereal figure as I imagine a ghost should be. It is impossible that its presence is so overbearing. It carries a smell of blood and air hooked into its clothes. I scream but no sound leaves my lips. I can’t breathe. My eyes open to see Agatha hunched on the stairwell. The door is wide open. She looks at me. She looks at the door. She darts to shut it. I run.

“Go noo to yer room.”

“Move, let me out,” I scream as I push past her and out onto the moors. She shouts after me, “Yer aff yer heid”.

I run, thinking of Victoria. Is this why she left? But I can’t stay, not even for her. I will never survive this place. Out on the moors it is so dark I cannot make out where I am. I stop and listen. The howling wraps around me. The sea heaves and swells on the shoreline. The ferry. It must be due. I hear its horn bellow out into the night time sky. A light comes over the horizon as it approaches the shore, bound for the dock near the house. I run so fast my breath carves up my lungs until I feel nothing. The darkness of the night is all I see.

Mainland

I wake up in an unusual place. I am in a hospital bed. There is a woman sat in the chair next to me. She is talking to a police officer. He leaves. She turns to me.

“How are you feeling, Grace?”

“I…don’t know where I am. How did I get here?”

“I’m your new social worker.”

“How did I get here?”

“The ferry driver brought you. He found you, near the docks. Do you remember how you got there?”

My mind races trying to piece together what happened.

“This is the fourth foster home you have ran away from. Agatha was worried about you.”

“She doesn’t care about me. She kept me like a prisoner in that house.”

“She told me you had tried to run away before.”

“You don’t understand. I must find Victoria. She is missing. I know what happened-” I try to sit up, make my voice heard.

“Victoria?”

“Yes, she went missing.” I pull out the missing poster from my pocket and thrust it into her hands.

“Grace, Victoria is not missing. Well not anymore”

“What do you mean?”

“She was missing but we found her a few weeks back. She is living in Edinburgh.”

“No, that can’t be true.”

“She didn’t have to go back because she turned eighteen. Like you now. You don’t have to go back into a children’s home, if you are feeling like you can manage to be by yourself?”

“I don’t understand.”

“It is not uncommon for survivors to see things, to invent things,” she paused. I feel as if she wants to say more, “You can get back into therapy. We can manage your past. Help you look towards a new future.”

Edinburgh.

Over the following weeks I try to recover. My time at the moor house morphs into many different scenes and nightmares. I don’t know what is real anymore.

I live in Edinburgh now and I am going to find Victoria. I must see her for myself, so I can finally stop thinking about her. I have the address of where she works on a piece of paper; a tearoom at the bottom of Arthur’s Peak. It isn’t far now. As I arrive, I see it is a quaint place with prettily decorated windows and tables where everyone wears those black pinafores you see in the old films. I watch through the window until a waitress comes through the double kitchen doors. It is her. I go inside and sit at a stool at the tea bar until she comes to serve me.

“Can I take your order?” Her voice is sweet, a little shaky.

“Tea.” I say, but when she is about to leave I hold her arm. “Sorry, this is going to sound strange but are you, Victoria?”

“How do you know my name?” She says, pulling away from me and taking a few steps back.

“I stayed at the home, you were in. The moors, on the island-”

“I am trying to forget that place.”

“I am sorry, I just had to…you know…I had to make sure I wasn’t crazy.”

“Crazy? That place will turn anyone crazy.”

She leaves to go and collect my tea. I disappear before she comes back. I go back to my apartment in the city with its large windows overlooking the bustling streets. It lives within its landscape, it echoes with people’s footsteps and laughter from the pavements outside. It doesn’t hide its secrets. I am slowly learning how to become free.

 

The End.

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