The Captive

The Captive

In the complete darkness of the seance room, a faint luminescence appeared, turning into two columns like waterfalls of gentle light. A brighter shimmering manifested between them, flowers picked out in white light, moving slowly upwards, becoming a gorgeous, flower bedecked dress. Under the folds of the gown a female form shaped and moved the mysterious fabric. The waterfalls now created the impression of long fine hair on a woman’s head. Pearls of light shone at her throat, though her face was not visible. The apparition moved sinuously, and spoke in a soft and melodious woman’s voice, uttering words in a language none of those present could understand. She moved towards the audience.

Caroline felt the touch of a delicate, insubstantial hand on her bare arm, and shivered. There was the strong smell of violets.

Then the apparition folded in on itself and was gone. A heavy groan sounded.

‘Lights, please,’ the medium said, and groaned again.

Someone turned on the electric lights, so much harsher than gas lighting, revealing everything.

The medium was slumped in his chair, pale-faced. Caroline looked at his hands, large, hairy masculine hands, massive fingers apparently incapable of any delicacy. He was a powerfully built man. When he stood, as he did now, unsteadily, he was over six feet tall and broad of shoulder.

Caroline looked for any signs of fakery, even stepping up to the medium’s chair and examining it for any clue to the nature of the illusion.

‘She is real,’ the medium said. His voice was deep and somewhat hoarse, no musicality in it at all.

Glancing around for evidence of somewhere a confederate could hide, Caroline was startled when the medium laid his hand on her arm, in the very place the apparition had touched. His hand was heavy and rough.

‘She is real,’ he said again, ‘and she likes you. She does not like many people.’

His assistant bustled between them. Mrs Cranborne was a short, portly, irritable woman. she was the right height for the apparition but there was nothing sinuous about her. She scowled at Caroline, but asked politely that she should give the medium some space, as manifestations were very draining for him.

The rest of the audience chattered excitedly about what they had just seen, credulous every one. they all believed that they had witnessed the apparition of an Ancient Egyptian princess who was the medium’s spirit guide. They did not seem to care that none of them had received any comprehensible message from the other side.

Only Caroline did not believe in the reality of the apparition. She had no idea how it was achieved, but she strongly resisted any belief in spirits — and yet, that voice, the touch on her arm.

Aunt May was quite delirious with joy at the experience.

‘He said she liked you, darling Caroline,’ she whispered.

Caroline smiled. Her aunt gained great solace from these seances and the assurances she got that her husband was living a blissful afterlife. Caroline had no intention of expressing any doubt about the matter to Aunt May.

Something tickled the back of her neck and she smelled violets again, mixed with a sappy, woody odour.

She looked about to see what was causing it, and noticed a look of agitation on the medium’s face. Mrs Cranborne noticed too, and went to have some words with him. They both looked in Caroline’s direction, but she pretended not to notice, agreeing with whatever her Aunt said, though she hardly heard a word.

A maid brought in some tea for the assembled company, as this was only an interlude in the proceedings. Messages were to be sought once the medium had regained his strength.

At last the lights were switched off again — click— so sudden a darkness. Caroline did not like it much. The medium began to breathe heavily, calling on the princess to bring messages for those assembled in the room.

Caroline felt a flutter like leaves passing over her face and quickly grasped for whatever it was, but her hand closed on empty air. She felt a touch of lips to her mouth and gasped, breathing in cold, then warmth and the odour of a woodland in spring. She stood and began to utter words in that strange language, which she now knew was not Ancient Egyptian. Indeed, though neither voice nor language was her own, she understood the meaning. Help me, help me to get away.

The electric light clicked on again, and Mrs Cranborne came over with a look of extreme annoyance on her face. The medium looked startled.

‘I think you had better leave,’ said Mrs Cranborne.

‘No, no,’ said the medium. ‘We must talk. Please come through to the parlour.’

Caroline was confused. She followed the medium through the door into the next room. Behind her, she could hear Mrs Cranborne beginning a talk on the difficulties of gaining messages from spirits.

The medium turned to Caroline with a very stern expression as soon as the door was closed.

‘I do not appreciate other mediums coming to my evenings under false pretences,’ he said.

‘I am not a medium,’ Caroline protested.

‘Then’ he said, ‘you must be subject to a spirit possession. I will draw it out and free you.’

He raised his right hand, holding a small round device, and approached as if ready to pluck something from her mind.

Caroline felt a shiver of fear, not her own, in the core of her body.

‘No, sir, do not touch me.’

‘Miss,’ the medium said, ‘you do not understand. The princess seems to have an affinity with you, but I must retrieve her. I need her for the work I do. I give solace and healing to so many — your aunt included.’

Caroline wavered. Words screamed in her mind, the meaning of them screamed in her soul.

‘I can’t,’ she said. ‘I can’t.’

She fled from the room, told her aunt she had to leave, then ran. She ran all the way to the old woods, then into the trees, joy at the familiar smells, the comfort of home. Caroline fell onto the mossy earth and exhaled the spirit — not a woman at all, but an ash tree, lithe and green.



We thought we were lucky to find this house. It is small for a family of four, but the rent is very low. We moved in about a year ago. There are only two bedrooms upstairs so our nine year old daughter, Sally, had a room on the ground floor, while our son Paul who is eight, has the tiny second bedroom upstairs.

It was working well for a few weeks after we moved in, but then one night about 2pm our daughter came running into our bedroom and shook me and my wife awake. There was someone in the house, she said, walking around downstairs and looking into her room.

Confronting burglars is in the job description for a dad, isn’t it? I had hoped never to have to do it, but I was out of bed and on my way down there before I had time to think about it. Alison, my wife, started to come too, but I told her to stay upstairs and be ready to phone the police.

Putting all the lights on as I went, I searched the whole ground floor, kitchen, sitting room, Sally’s room, even under her bed. It didn’t take long. All the doors and windows were locked and secure and there was no-one down there.

Just a nightmare, we told her, but we let her sleep in our bed because she was so scared.

The next night, same thing. I searched again, not expecting to find anything. I didn’t. I even took her with me and showed her that there was nothing there. She slept with us again.

The third night she refused to sleep in her own room at all. We put her to bed in our room and I told her that I would sleep downstairs to prove that there was nothing to be afraid of.

The bed was way too small for me, but I got to sleep okay.

I don’t know what time it was, but I woke up suddenly, hearing what sounded like footsteps. Just the creaking of an old house, I told myself. Then the bedroom door opened slowly. I couldn’t move. I watched the door open and someone looked into the room. It was an old man, with a very miserable expression on his face. Lying still, I pretended I couldn’t see him, that I was still asleep. The door closed slowly.

I pulled the covers up over my head, but that uncovered my feet, so I curled up into a ball. Then I realised that I was reacting like a nine year-old child, so I forced myself out of bed and out of the room.

The old man was at the far end of the hallway, near the kitchen, looking right at me, but there was something all wrong about him. He started to walk towards me and I panicked and ran upstairs. I was heading for my bedroom, for my wife, running like I was my own child.

‘Just a minute,’ I thought, ‘I’m a grown man, not a little boy.’

I sat down at the top of the stairs to try to get some control over myself. Dragging footsteps sounded in the hall, and then the miserable-looking old man was there at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at me.

‘Who the hell are you?’ I asked. ‘What’re you doing in my house?’

Then — well, then he turned his head right round and on the back of his head there was a different face looking at me. Not the same man at all. This one smiled, but not in a friendly way, and his eyes had a sharp glint in them. There was a smell, too, sweet and rotten.

I lost the ability to breathe.

He stood there looking at me for what must have been only a few seconds, but seemed much longer. Then he began to fade away. The last to go were the eyes. They hung in the air, looking at me, blinked and vanished.

When I could breathe again, I was shaking all over. I went and got in bed with Alison and Sally.

Sally said, ‘Did you see the man, Daddy?’

‘It’s okay,’ I said, ‘it’s okay.’

But it wasn’t, and we both knew it.

Really, why was I so afraid? He did nothing to me. It seems like he can’t even climb the stairs — but I only have to remember his head turning like that, the eyes, then I can’t breathe and I start to shake.

We moved Sally’s bed up into our room. Most of the day, the house is ours, but during the hours of sleep, the ground floor belongs to him. I hear him walking most nights, and when I hear him, I see his first face turning to show me his second. He is a piece of wrongness in the world, and if he was to touch me, I think the wrong might get into me. I might do harm.

It is me he wants. I know it.

Cupboard Love

Cupboard Love

It was a big old kitchen cupboard, with two drawers at the bottom under a two door cupboard with plenty of shelves for storage, painted pale blue. Hannah and Andy bought it from a local farm, where it had been stored in a barn along with a lot of other old junk the farmer was trying to get rid of.

Fitted kitchens not being their thing, Hannah and Andy were looking for retro pieces that they could assemble into an eclectic and unique mix to impress visitors, and maybe get featured in an article in the Observer Magazine.

Hannah also bought an old stone sink, which she got plumbed in instead of the steel sink in the kitchen, but with ultra-modern fixtures and fittings. The Aga looked farmhousey, but it was all electric with internet connectivity so that when she was out she could start it up from her phone. She had never done that, but she could if she wanted to.

Andy stripped the cupboard down to the bare wood and varnished it. Hours of work, but well worth it, he thought.

It was when the kitchen was finished that Hannah began to have her doubts about the cupboard. True, it did go very well with the rest of the decor, the scrubbed oak table, stone sink, flagstone floor, recycled marble worktops and the carefully chosen Persian tiles, but it had too much presence.

Sometimes, as she sat working on her laptop at the kitchen table, her she could almost hear it breathing behind her.

Whenever she opened the cupboard to get out a jar of olives, she expected to find something else in there. Something alive.

She never did, of course, and she kept her imaginings to herself. There was no way she could suggest that the cupboard was not right for the space, because Andy was very proud of the work he’d put into it, and it was a handsome piece. So, Hannah tried to ignore her irrational feelings and think instead about the new flooring she planned for the bedrooms.

Not long after this resolution, Hannah was working at the kitchen table when there was a bang from inside the cupboard. Thinking that something must have fallen down, she opened the doors, but the shelves were completely in order.


There was a can of baked beans in the middle of the second shelf between the porcini mushrooms and the preserved lemons. A can of baked beans. Some sort of supermarket own brand. Fine Fare, it said on the label. She didn’t even know what that was, but she knew baked beans had no place in her kitchen.

When Andy came home the can was on the kitchen table, waiting like an accusation.

‘What’s this?’ he said, picking up the can.

‘I thought you might tell me.’


‘They were in the cupboard. You must have bought them.’

‘I did not. I haven’t eaten baked beans in all the time you’ve known me, have I?’

‘Not that I’m aware of.’

‘I did not buy them.’

‘Well, I certainly didn’t.’

After a day or two of mutual chill, the episode of the baked beans was almost forgotten.

They were making supper when there was another bang inside the cupboard. Andy went over to see what had fallen, he supposed. Hannah thought to stop him, but she didn’t.

‘What the hell is this?’ he said.

‘What?’ she whispered.

‘Vesta boil in the bag curry,’ he said, holding up a box with a picture of a nondescript lumpy brown curry surrounded by a ring of white rice on a plate.

‘What?’ she whispered.

‘Secret snacks?’ he asked, not having quite forgotten the baked bean accusation.

She shook her head.

‘I don’t know what it is or where it came from. It’s the cupboard. There’s something wrong with the cupboard.’

There followed a blazing row about stupid excuses and lies, interrupted by another bang from the cupboard.

After a moment of silence, Andy opened the cupboard doors again. In the middle of the second shelf there was a packet of Cadbury’s Smash Instant Mashed Potato. Next to it was the can of baked beans, back again.

Day after day, new old things turned up. They found out that they were all brands from the 1970s or late ‘60s. Soon there was no space for their own food.

The journalist and photographer from the Observer Magazine turned up. As long as the cupboard was closed and kept quiet, everything would be fine, but of course the journalist made a beeline for that very item of furniture.

‘How gorgeous,’ she said, and opened the doors wide. “Wow!’

Hannah and Andy were doomed now.

‘Wow,’ said the journalist again. ‘What a fantastic collection of old packaging. How clever, so stylish. we’ll have to get some photos of this. It’s all in such good condition, just as if they were bought yesterday. Where on earth did you find them?’

Hannah rallied first.

“Well, these things turn up, don’t they?’ she said. ‘It’s all from when the cupboard was new. Space Age food, you know.’

The posed, smiling, in front of their clever collection.

A short while after the journalist and photographer left, they walked back into the kitchen. There was a terrible rotten stink.

A few minutes of sniffing brought them back to the cupboard. Opening the doors, they saw a strange green triangular object on the second shelf. A close inspection revealed it to be a horrifically mouldy cheese sandwich.

Andy shut the door on the awful sight and Hannah went to get a bin bag.

There was another bang, and they found a putrefying Black Forest Gateau on the shelf, complete with maggot sprinkles.

‘The cupboard hates us,’ Hannah whispered.

‘It has to go,’ said Andrew.

The following week it was for sale at the local auction house, with nothing inside but a sticky smear of cherry jam on the shelf.

In The Darkness of the Well

In The Darkness of the Well

There are several old wells in Shuckleigh, every one with a story.

In the garden of the vicarage of St Mary’s Church there is a brick-lined well that was capped over in the 18th century with a thick oak lid bound down to the well wall with iron bands. The old wood looks very weatherbeaten now and the iron bands are pockmarked under several coats of black paint, but the structure is strong and solid. If there is perfect quiet in the garden sometimes the swishing of water can be heard, as if there is something down there, imprisoned in the dank darkness.

This well used to be the primary source of water for the vicarage, but the water turned bad, they said.

The vicar at that time was the Rev. Eldridge Manners, a man who could not bear the presence of women about him. His only servants were a man called George who did general housework and cooking, and a boy who came in daily to help out.

In church of a Sunday, Manners would glare at any woman who caught his eye during his sermon, and direct all his general ire concerning the sinfulness of humanity at her and her alone. It was soon the case that all the women preferred to sit as far from the pulpit as they could.

The very front rows were reserved for a few notable families, and it came to be that the women of these families would often become unwell on Sundays and stay at home – all except one young woman, daughter of a local landowner, Sarah Burns. Soon she was the focus of Rev. Manners’ fury, but she met his eyes with a cool gaze that only enraged him more. She never blushed or looked away at all.

Manners called upon her father, and told that gentleman that his daughter was showing all the signs of being a dangerous sinner, but her father denied the accusation.

‘My daughter is the sweetest, most virtuous of girls,’ he said

‘Sin often clothes itself with the outer appearance of great virtue,’ The Reverend told him, and would not be swayed by any argument to the contrary.

Mr Burns left, declaring that he would no longer attend St Mary’s. His daughter, however, insisted on taking her place every Sunday, sitting alone in her family’s pew while the vicar poured vitriol and the blame for all the sins of the world in her direction.

The rest of the congregation were eager to see how this would end, and some of the other women were emboldened to sit a little nearer to the pulpit, since all the vicar’s anger was directed at Sarah and he had forgotten about the rest of them.

As Manners grew more and more furious, Sarah grew more serene. Those who could observe her closely said that there was always the slightest hint of a smile on her lips, even as the vicar predicted eternal damnation for her and all her sex.

One day she arrived at the vicarage, asking to see the Rev. Manners. He would not have her in the house, but came to meet her in the garden, his manservant George with him.

‘Have you come to repent?’ Manners asked.

‘I have little of consequence to repent of,’ Sarah said. ‘I was only concerned for you, Sir. You seem to be making yourself ill with your hatred of womankind.’

The Reverend was taken aback.

‘You presumptuous hussy,’ he said. ‘I am a man of God, and I preach his truth.’

‘No,’ Sarah said, ‘you do not. You preach the word of a different kind of being. I can see him hiding behind your eyes.’

This was the last straw for Manners. He lost control of himself and lunged at Sarah, taking her by the throat. His manservant stepped forward quickly and laid a hand on his arm.


Manners lashed out and struck George so hard that he fell to the ground.

For a moment it seemed that he would kill Sarah, but she remained calm, and he suddenly gained control of himself and let go of her throat.

‘I have a friend,’ said Sarah, her voice shaky and hoarse from the manhandling, ‘who lives with me. She has seen that you have an enemy who lives with you. She is going to stay with you for a while.’

Sarah walked quickly away from that place, but where she had stood, Manners could see a silvery wraith, indistinct and transparent, but with a female form. He backed away, but the wraith approached. He ran past his manservant, who was just picking himself up off the ground, and into the house. The wraith followed.

For days afterwards the wraith, which no-one else could see, was always with him, whispering things that he could not properly hear. He felt as if his soul was being torn from his flesh, and could not eat and would not sleep. Night and day he talked to the invisible being, and George began to think that perhaps Sarah Burns was a witch after all.

Sunday was coming around again, but there was not likely to be any sermon that week.

‘I see,’ shrieked Manners, ‘I see!’

He ran into the garden, pursued by George, and threw himself into the well. While George was frantically running about getting a rope strong enough to lower himself down to retrieve his master, terrible noises were coming from the well – screaming and raging, and the sounds of a torrent of water, like a mighty wave crashing against rocks.

George finally descended, afraid of what he might find. In the darkness at the bottom of the well, he thought he saw three people entwined in a furious fight. He grasped the one he recognised as his master, threw the man over his shoulder and, strengthened by terror, climbed out of the well as fast as he was able.

‘Cover the well,’ Manners gasped as George lowered him to the dry earth.

George needed no more prompting. The well had an oak cover which he pushed into place. Just before the cover slid home, a soft breeze and a silvery mist issued from the well.

Once the cover was on, George weighted it down with half a millstone that was used as decoration in the garden. He said later that he didn’t know how he lifted it.

Manners was weak for a month after that, but not unwell. He looked younger, people said. He would not, however, preach in St Mary’s again, but he was able thereafter to look upon women as people, rather than as vessels for the sins of the world.

Of Sarah Burns, he was terrified. No-one understood why. Gone mad, they said.

He had the iron bands put on the well cover, and soon after left Shuckleigh forever, leaving something behind in the well. No-one has ever tried to find out what it is.