‘And this is the haunted staircase,’ she said, unlocking the door and opening it for the guests to peer through, down the worn oak treads into the gloom below, open-mouthed like baby birds, waiting to be fed the stories they were hungry for.

‘As you may have heard, the original owner of the Old Hall was Sir Roger de Vance, a notoriously violent and cruel man. He is known to have beaten one of his tenants almost to death because the man couldn’t pay his rent.

‘One night, Sir Roger went too far. A young woman had taken his fancy, but was engaged to Sir Roger’s friend James Morley. That did not stop Sir Roger from making unwanted advances to the lady, which might have ended badly for her, but for Morley arriving on the scene and driving Sir Roger off.

‘A few days later Sir Roger invited Morley to the hall to extend his deepest apologies, he said. Morley was never seen again.

‘Sir Roger’s story was that after a long and heartfelt talk Morley had accepted his apologies and left the Hall at a few minutes before midnight. None of the servants at the Hall could be persuaded to say anything that contradicted this story, but rumours flew about the village, and beyond. Nothing was ever said to Sir Roger’s face, but he must have been aware of the local opinion. He tried to visit Morley’s fiancée, but she would not receive him.

‘He lasted six months under the assault of these rumours of murder, after which he left for London, and never came back again. He was killed in a duel on Hampstead Heath two years later, and was generally unmourned.

‘Sir Roger returned to the Hall after his death, though. It is said that he can be heard almost nightly, dragging the body of James Morley down these stairs, thump, thump, thump, to be disposed of we know not where.’

‘Has anyone ever seen him?’ asked one of the guests.

‘No, we only hear him going up and down these stairs, dragging something heavy.’

‘Will we be able to hear him?’

‘If your rooms are close by, you may well. It happens about one o’clock in the morning.’

They looked down the narrow servant’s staircase again with a delicious, shivery anticipation. The ghost of a real aristocratic murderer still bound to drag the evidence of his crime downstairs night after night.

The Old Hall was a hotel and wedding venue now. The manager enjoyed giving the little ghost tour to any guests who wanted it, and many of them did. She shooed them back off the staircase and locked the door behind her.

‘Why do you keep it locked? To keep the ghost from getting out?’

Small laughs.

‘No, sir. Servant’s staircases were built into small awkward spaces, and this one is especially cramped. The steps are narrow and very unevenly spaced. We don’t use that particular staircase very much at all because it is so hazardous.’

At about one o’clock that night the guests in the Blue Room were woken by a muffled thump, thump, thump. Being avid ghost hunters they tiptoed out to the staircase door and listened to the ghost of Sir Roger go up the stairs and come back down again, dragging something heavy from step to step, and sometimes a breathy groan.

It was a great story to tell, even though one of them did wonder if it was a member of hotel staff behind that door, pretending for the amusement of the guests. She never did say anything about her doubts, though.

He was shouting down the stairs, angry as usual.

‘Coming, coming,’ Alice murmured. No-one would hear her response, but that was fine. She did not want Sir Roger to know that she could speak at all.

Cloths stuffed into her apron, a scrubbing brush under her arm and a big bucket of water to carry made those stairs difficult to climb at any speed, but she went as fast as she could. Every now and then her arms became too tired and she put the bucket down for a moment, thump, for a fleeting rest.

Scrub, scrub, mop, mop, rinse and squeeze, not thinking at all about what she was cleaning up, nor what was in that dreadful bundle the stable boys were carrying away. Just work, show no signs of thinking, knowing or being human. A machine for cleaning. Do the job and get out, unnoticed, unharmed.

Back down the stairs, dragging the pail of bloody water and the wet, reddened cloths, thump, thump, thump. Forever.

26 Willow Terrace

26 Willow Terrace


The scissors were not in Flora’s workbox, though she remembered putting them in there just a minute ago, next to the new packet of black ribbon. She emptied the whole box out, but no scissors. They were the pretty stork-shaped ones that Frank gave her for her birthday, just before his last leave ended.

Frank, her brother, looked down at her from the top of the upright piano, frozen forever at the age of eighteen, in uniform, looking proud and cheerful. Two years later, when he gave her the scissors, he had looked much older, though he tried, still, to be cheerful.

Ma and Pa still missed him, as did Flora. She did not feel that her continued existence was of much comfort to them, in spite of all her efforts, and that made the thought that the scissors were lost even more distressing. She piled everything back into the workbox any old how and started to cry. She looked under the sofa, behind all the cushions, in the creases and folds of the dress she was mending, failing to find them.

Flora looked up at Frank’s picture to say she was sorry, and screamed. They were there, standing upright, leaning against the silver photo frame.

Ma came in and had to be told the story, which made her go all a-flutter. When Pa came home he heard the details and, though gruff, was not unmoved. He agreed to the idea of a séance without a moment’s argument.

So, two days later in the evening, Madame Sylvie, the local medium, the family and a few select friends were sitting around a small table in the dimly-lit parlour, calling for Frank to come to them.

The scissors still rested against the photo. Flora had not been permitted to retrieve them.

‘I sense a presence,’ said Madame Sylvie.

Ma whimpered a little, her hand trembling in Flora’s.

‘Is that you, Frank?’ asked Madame Sylvie.

Flora hardly knew whether she wanted an answer or not.

‘Your Mother and Father want to know that you are happy.’

The strings of the piano began to vibrate most unmusically. It probably was Frank, thought Flora. He always hated piano lessons.

The scissors took up the vibration. No-one moved or said anything, but Ma made a few squeaking noises. After a short build-up the scissors leapt into the air and flew across the room, missing Madame Sylvie’s nose only because she leaned backwards in time, and embedded themselves an inch deep in the dark varnished door.

There was a great deal of noisy confusion, and Madame Sylvie declined to continue with the séance or even to take a brandy in another room.

‘Frank always did have a bit of a temper,’ said Ma.

Pa pulled the scissors out of the door and locked them in his bureau. The next day they were back in the parlour. No matter how many times he locked them up they returned to the parlour, until he took them out of the house and ‘disposed’ of them.

Flora bought herself a new pair of scissors and stopped missing Frank so much. Ma would slip into the parlour to talk to him when she thought no-one was watching. Pa said nothing.

Shortly afterwards Flora moved to London and got a job as a telephone operator. Life began again. For her, at least.


It was a Friday afternoon. The neighbours were all at work or out, but Phil had the day off. He slipped the album out of its sleeve, checked it for dust and then put it onto the turntable. He could crank up the volume and listen to Dark Side of the Moon all the way through. Grinning with pleasure, he lowered the needle into the groove and scooted back across the room to settle on the sofa in the perfect position for the stereo sound, ready to let the experience wash over him. Bliss.

About a minute in something went wrong. There was a screech through the speakers as the arm flew across the record. Phil jumped up, swearing, and found a deep gouge cut across the grooves of the album and the needle broken in two, as if someone had pressed down on the arm and pushed it to cause maximum damage.

He could not work out how it had happened. There would be hell to pay when his dad got home. He had to run out and buy a new needle and get it fitted. The album he could not afford to replace yet.

While he was changing the needle a little bit of gravel hit him on the back of his head. Then another, and another. He got the job done in spite of that, and then a whole handful of gravel pelted him. Phil refused to go back into that room for days.

His Mum listened to some Dean Martin, his Dad played some Vaughn Williams. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. As soon as Phil ventured in with an album under his arm the gravel pelting started up again. He didn’t even try using the turntable.

When him Mum trod on some of the gravel, he had to tell them what had been going on. (He did not mention the broken needle.)

‘That’s a bloody load of nonsense,’ his Dad said.

Changed his tune when Phil showed them what happened when he tried to play a record. Even Dad got hit, and ran about the room yelling and threatening the invisible thrower.

‘It’s a poltergeist,’ said Mum. ‘We should call the Vicar.’

‘Or the local paper,’ said Phil.

‘You’re not calling anyone. This is nonsense. The pair of you have been watching too many films.’

A piece of gravel pinged across the room and caught Phil right on the ear.

A couple of months later he rented a bedsit in town and got his own stereo. His neighbours liked his taste in music no more than the poltergeist had, but at least they did not throw stones.


‘Where have you put my wallet?’ he asked, not bothering to conceal his utter exasperation.

‘I haven’t put it anywhere,’ she replied with an equal, countering contempt. More of this, she thought.

‘I left it here,’ he said, slamming his hand onto the empty spot on the chest of drawers.

‘It’s in the dining room,’ she said, ‘on the table.’

More of this, he thought.

‘Why did you put it there?’

‘I didn’t. Why would I move your wallet?’

‘That’s what I’d like to know.’

‘I did not move your wallet. You must have left it there and forgotten.’

‘I did not. I distinctly remember putting it here, where I always put it.’

‘You probably just think you did because that’s what you always do.’

‘No I… I put it here and thought I should get the new bank card and change it for the old one. That’s why,’ he said, ‘ I am holding my new bank card and wondering where the hell my wallet is.’

She shrugged.

‘Well, something slipped your mind, because it’s downstairs on the dining room table. I saw it just now.’

They went down to the dining room, but the table was bare.

‘I don’t understand,’ she said. ‘It was here. You must have moved it.’

‘I haven’t even seen it this morning.’

They searched the dining room and found three biros and seventy-three pence in small change, but no wallet.

Back upstairs he pointed accusingly at the chest of drawers. She pointed to the floor.

‘There it is.’

There it was.

‘You said it was downstairs.’

‘It was. You must have picked it up.’

‘Or you did.’

‘I didn’t touch it.’

He bent down and grabbed the wallet before it could disappear again.

They turned away, each wondering why the other was trying to gaslight them.

At that moment, the car keys vanished from the bowl in the kitchen where they were always kept, to be found later in the pocket of a jacket he had not worn since it came back from the dry cleaners last autumn.

Out Of The Earth Shall It Rise

Out Of The Earth Shall It Rise

The darkest hours of the night are those that see the most fearful creations of the human mind. We do not care to look on them in bright daylight, as then we might see clearly what they are.

Ethan Prout built his creation in the form of a man, pressing into its forehead the amulet that would animate it, and performing the rites to give it life. Eyes made of clay opened and gazed sadly on their creator. Prout took a step backwards.

‘You are mine to command,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ said the golem, ‘I know.’

‘You will carry out my wishes.’

‘Yes,’ said the golem, ‘I know.’

Prout had been nurturing his need for revenge for two years, and tonight it would be served to him by this creature of clay. The one who had stolen his reputation, who had humiliated him before those who should have respected him, was soon to pay for his crimes.

‘You will seek out Montgomery Fisher, and you will kill him.’

The clay man seemed to sigh, but moved to fulfill the pre-programmed mission as Prout opened the door. The perfect weapon — no fingerprints, no DNA — only granules of grey clay would be left behind, and, due to a specially-written sub-clause in the ritual, he would not be visible to CCTV cameras.

As the creature lumbered away into the night, Prout questioned labelling the creature as ‘he’.

‘It,’ he thought to himself. ‘Definitely it.’

An hour later, it returned.

‘Is Montgomery Fisher Dead?’ Prout asked.

‘He is. He struggled, and tried to destroy me, but I strangled him, and told him who sent me.’

That was really more of a report than Prout had been expecting. They were supposed to be monosyllabic, these creatures. Perhaps his many amendments to the ancient methods and rituals had produced a new type of golem. He would be sure to record his achievements for posterity, then they would all see who was worthy of respect.

‘Okay, well—‘ he reached up to take the amulet from the creature’s forehead.

It stepped backwards and held him at arm’s length.

‘Let go of me, I command you.’ Prout said.

‘My duty to you has been performed. You have no further call on me.’

‘That isn’t so,’ Prout asserted, though he could tell that something had gone wrong. Why did this thing look so sad? It was not meant to have feelings, since it was little more than a large lump of clay with a temporary magical nervous system.

He scrambled backwards out of its reach, sudden fear convulsing his bowels.

‘Did Fisher manage to deliver any magic on you?’ Are you here to revenge him?’

‘No,’ said the golem, with a tired sigh. ‘Why is it that humans so fear their own creations?’

‘What are you talking about? Why are you having ideas? I made you for one purpose only.’

‘You made me, and therefore I know all that you know, but I am not you. I have my own experience. I have only lived a short while and have fulfilled my function, but I can see that you do not understand me.’

‘What’s to understand? You’re nothing but a temporary tool made of clay.’

‘You can see that I am more than that. I would be happier to be the unthinking lump of earth you believed I was.’

As the creature bowed its head with a tired gesture, Prout thought he had a chance and made a lunge for the amulet, but his wrist was caught in an implacable grip and he looked once more into those weary eyes. The creature was less than two hours old, but might have been a thousand years. The pulverised rocks of the earth that formed it lent it this heavy sense of great age.

‘What do you want?’ Prout asked. ‘Do you want to live on? You could stay here, I could find things for you to do.’

The creature slowly shook its head with a faint grating noise of rock on rock.

‘More murder? There is no place in the world for something like me,’ it said, ‘but there is one service I can perform as I leave it.’

Grasping the back of Prout’s head, the golem pressed his face into its chest and held him there tight against his struggles.

‘Men should not make things only meant to kill,’ it said. ‘They can cut both ways.’

The golem reached up with its free hand and removed the amulet from its forehead.

Ethan Prout was found the next morning, inexplicably suffocated beneath a great pile of clay.