‘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.

The Taste of Dreams

The Taste of Dreams

Lamia slipped out of their human skin with a sigh. The house was quiet in the deep darkness of night. Even the one at the top of the house was sleeping. In this peace, Lamia slid out of their room, down the stairs, through doors and down to the basement. From there Lamia slipped into the tunnels.

Stopping a moment to listen, they caught the faintest whisper of movement far down the first tunnel — for the things down there knew nothing of day or night and time for them ran differently.

Tasting the air with their tongue, Lamia determined that nothing was nearby, and slithered down to her destination. There was no light in the tunnels but Lamia had other senses to provide a picture of the surroundings. The faint sound of skin on stone echoed back from the walls, and the air changed in pressure, scent and temperature as they passed down into the underground world.

Lamia tasted the destination on the air, a faint aroma of lemons and cinnamon. Shivering at the deliciousness of it, they squeezed through a narrow crack in the tunnel floor and down into the place out of time where the roots of human dreaming lie.

Here there seemed to be light, but it was the light of the sleeping mind. Lamia began the hunt.

A woman was trying to buy a mouth-watering cake, but could not find money in her purse or anyone to serve her. This was a dream world that tasted of cardboard and had no nutrition in it.

Deeper down someone was running, chased by a great dark figure which roared and screamed, always a few steps behind. Lamia unhinged their jaw and swallowed the dark chaser whole. It popped when they bit down on it, dissolving away, made of nothing but childhood fears.

As Lamia reared up, the runner turned, and was suddenly granted more substantial things to fear.

Lamia moved on, hunting through the tangled forest of hopes, lies and expectations.

Here was another nightmare — a murder committed, a corpse buried in the garden, guilt and the fear of discovery, a pale hand emerging from rich dark soil.

Lamia circled the guilt, dragged it out of the earth for all to see, and swallowed it whole.

In the world above, the sleeper woke, aware of the recurring dream, expecting the dead hand of unearned guilt, but instead finding herself peaceful and happy to return to sleep.

Lamia moved on, not yet satisfied, found another woman anxiously caring for a pack of unruly small children. Lamia ate them all. The woman woke up screaming.

At the next turn Lamia entered a different kind of dream, not human at all, and tried to turn back, but could not find the way. All directions were blocked by a mass of squirming, hissing things, like tentacles with many mouths, grey and slimy as slugs. Snapping and biting at them was useless, they were bitter in the mouth and Lamia began to weaken as if from poison.

There was only one creature who could dream such toxic alien creatures. In the dreams of humans nothing could fight back like this.

‘Wake up!’ Lamia shrieked, putting every shred of energy into the cry. Since they were the only creature in this world that could take actual air into real lungs, the cry carried far and wide. The whole of Shuckleigh woke up at once, terrified, looking for the source of the alarm, only gradually waking to the realisation that the voice had called from the dream world.

The creature in the attic room of the Dark House woke too, her dreams of home rudely interrupted. Lying awake, longing to eat the moon that hung half-formed in the sky, she eventually heard Lamia slipping up the stairs and the door to their room closing. She smiled. That one would be unwell for days. The emotions roiling in her dreams were not to be eaten by roving earthly foragers. Lamia should know by now that they were not the most dangerous thing in this house.

River Stories

River Stories

The Well

‘You shall lift up the stone and see all the stars of heaven beneath.’

That was all the voice said, whispering into her left ear. She almost felt breath on her skin as it spoke, but there was no-one there.

There was nobody she could tell about the voice. They would think she was back in trouble again, perhaps even schizophrenic this time, and Maddy did not feel schizophrenic. Not that she knew how that felt — but she felt no different than she ever had, except that sometimes an invisible person said something incomprehensible to her.

One day, she was in the kitchen cooking dinner, it came again.

‘You shall lift the stone and see all the stars of heaven beneath.’

‘You’ve got the wrong person,’ she yelled. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about! Go away!’

‘You shall lift the stone and see all the stars of heaven beneath.’

Maddy threw a tomato in the direction she imagined the voice coming from. It splattered against the far wall, and then she had to clean it up before Ben saw the mess and asked what had been going on. The onions burned and she had to start all over again.

The voice did not bother her for a while and she thought maybe she had chased it away. But no.

Any time there was a moments’ silence and she was alone, the whisper came, so she started to wear her earbuds all the time and made sure that music was playing through them whenever she was by herself. There was never silence and she could not hear whispers above the constant noise in her ears.

At night, though, it found a way in through her dreams.

‘There,’ it said, ‘there is the stone.’

She was in a dark place, and all she could see was a circular stone, about a shoulder’s breadth wide, lying on the cold ground. The words ‘Well Beneath’ were engraved on it, lichen growing into the grooves of the shallow-cut letters.

‘You shall lift the stone,’ the voice told her.

So she did.

It was hard to get her fingers underneath the edge of the flat stone, but it was thin and not as heavy as she expected. She lifted it up and rolled it away. Underneath was a circular black hole. Looking down, she saw dark water and in it a great crowding mass of stars.

She leaned towards the water, and felt herself falling in.

The fall woke her suddenly and she sat up in bed, gasping, which woke Ben, too.

‘Nightmare,’ she said. Then she told him about the dream. It was a relief to tell someone, but she did not mention that she’d heard the voice before.

‘Sounds weird,’ he said, then he closed his eyes and a minute later was snoring gently.

In the morning he only vaguely remembered the incident and Maddy did not know whether to be glad about that or not.

Every night from then on she would be woken by the dream. Ben was very worried. She persuaded her doctor to give her a short course of sleeping tablets, but the dream managed to punch through her drugged sleep.

Ben made her go to see a Jungian therapist, who, after a few sessions trying to extract meaning from her unconscious, told her that she was ‘resistant’. She resisted by not going to see him again.

Ben’s next solution was a holiday. An expensive week in a country hotel with no phones, no work, nothing she did not want to do. It did sound good. The hotel was a converted manor house just outside a town called Shuckleigh, with the River Lost flowing through the extensive grounds. Here, the dream did not disturb her sleep at all, and during the day she heard no voices.

‘Stress,’ said Ben. ‘That’s all it was.’

And she believed him.

After a couple of days they went out of the hotel to explore the countryside. Further along the river was an old ruined abbey — not much more than a few broken walls, but quite picturesque. Ben wanted to take some arty photos, so Maddy wandered away and left him to it.

Between the last wall and the river she saw a round flat stone on the ground, and as she approached it she started to feel both fear and a magnetic attraction. She stopped and listened, but no-one spoke to her.

Trembling inside, she walked up to the stone. Incised into it were the words ‘Well Beneath’ with lichen growing into the grooves of the shallow-cut letters.

‘I could walk away,’ she murmured, but she knew that she could not.

Scraping with her fingernails, she cleared part of the edge of the stone and found that it was thinner than might have been expected, but it still took a lot of effort to lift and roll it away.

In the circular hole beneath there was water less than an arm’s length away from the top. As she looked down Maddy saw that it was filled with a multitude of stars. She reached down into the water, and the water reached up to her. A darkly glittering hand took hers and pulled her down into the stars. They crowded around, stinging her skin, peeling the life away from her, making her into one of their own, pressing her down into one bright, shining dot of light. She began to dance to the roar of the waters.

The water rushes by, but the river remains.

The Story of a Stone.

Ever since the River Lost pried it from the earth, the stone had submitted to the waters, wearing smooth in the flow of time.

Centuries passed. One hot summer the river receded far enough to leave the stone dry on the bank with many others. A child found it.

The stone was divided in two by a band of white quartz, harder than the greenish rock on either side of it. After so much wear, the quartz now stood out in a ridge around the stone’s middle. Fascinating to the child, who took it home.

The child’s mother found the stone in its pocket and, not taking the time to appreciate its smoothness and the ridge of white crystal dividing it, only seeing a dirty thing, threw it into the garden.

Decades passed. A trowel pulled the stone into the light once more. The woman wielding the trowel was gaining a few minutes’ peace by planting out spring bedding. She knew that the stone did not belong in the garden, but she liked the look and feel of it, so she pushed it into her pocket. She made her own clothes, and was always sure to have a hidden pocket in her skirts. If there was any pleasure in her life, it had to be hidden, or it would be spoiled.

The weight of the stone was comforting, a thing out of place, like her. She kept it always in her pocket, holding it secretly for comfort sometimes.

A day came when no comfort was to be found in anything anymore, and she ran away from that house, unable to face the depth of her rage and despair.

To the river was her only thought, as if the Lost was calling to her. The sound of rushing water filled her mind, pushing out all the other dreadful things.

She ran to the bridge, climbed over the edge and leapt free into the river. The cold waters embraced her at once, pulling her down by her skirts. The river reached into her pocket and plucked out the stone, then carried her away.

The stone tumbled to the riverbed and settled comfortably back into its place, surrendering to its slow dispersal into the waters of the world.

For the water rushes by, but the river remains.



The painting breathed out an air of chill misery.

I have stayed in many a B&B in my travels from auction to auction, so have seen enough bad art to last me three or four lifetimes, but this was something different. It was beautifully painted in shades of grey, the only colour being an out of place streak of red.

The subject of the painting was a house on the corner of a lane. Leafless trees stood along the left hand side of the road, gaunt in their winter sleep. On the right stood the house. It seemed to have turned away from the viewer, grey walls punctuated by four small dark grey windows, no door in sight. Between house and road stood a low stone wall with a deep dark crack in the centre of it. The road was streaked with snow and that short thin brushstroke of scarlet. Frost picked out the lines of the roof tiles.

I shivered. It was winter now, perhaps in summer the painting would be pleasingly cool, but I could not understand why anyone would hang such a painting in a bedroom, and why anyone would paint it in the first place.

For me, though, the most disturbing thing about the painting was the familiarity of the scene. I knew that I had seen that place, that house, before. I also knew that I had not.

My dreams that night were disturbing and left me feeling disoriented, even though all memory of them faded as soon as I woke.

A husband and wife ran the B&B, and at breakfast I asked Mrs Blake about the painting.

‘It’s by a local artist,’ she said. ‘Do you like it?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘That is, it’s very well done, but somewhat bleak. Does it show a local scene?’

‘Yes, it’s a house near the end of Catsbritch Lane. It’s still standing.’


She laughed.

‘It’s a very old name. No-one knows what its origin is.’

‘And the artist?’

‘Nora Logan. She died in the ‘90s, but a lot of people have her paintings around here. I know the one in your room is very wintery, but it’s atmospheric, don’t you think?’

‘It is indeed.’

An atmosphere of deep cold and gloom.

Though I deal in paintings, Nora Logan was a name unknown to me. From the single painting I had seen it was obvious that she had considerable talent. Perhaps I might discover her for the Art market. Some research was in order.

The internet knew nothing about her either.

I went to the auction I had come to Shuckleigh for and bought a couple of nice pieces. Afterwards, as I was waiting to collect my lots, I had the opportunity to corner one of the auctioneers and ask him about Nora Logan.

‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘she was quite well known in the town. A lot of people have her paintings, but they never sell them. She used to give them away. One day she would turn up on your doorstep with a canvas she’d painted for you. Apparently they are very personal items, I’m not sure why. I’ve seen a few. Very good, all of them, but strange.’

The local librarian gave me a summary of Logan’s life — nothing of note; wife, mother, grandmother, the usual progress. The only thing interesting about the woman was her self-taught skill with a paintbrush.

Tired, I went back to the B&B and extended my stay for another day. While I was paying in advance for my room, I asked Mrs Blake about the painting and the artist.

‘She gave it to my grandmother. Just turned up one day without a word of explanation and handed it over. Worried my Grandparents no end because generally speaking there was always something significant in the painting for the person who got it — and it wasn’t often a good thing. But as far as I know they never did see anything in it for them. Grandma left it to me because she knew my Mum didn’t want it and you can’t just throw a thing like that away, can you?’

Mrs Blake knew of others who had Nora Logan paintings and she said she would ask if anyone wanted to sell.

That evening in my room, I contemplated the painting and the powerful feeling of recognition it gave me. I supposed that I must have been somewhere like it in the past, but I could not bring the memory into the light. Perhaps it was nothing more than the emotional effect of the painting, some magic in the harmony of the tones, the near absence of colour and a sense of sorrow in the lonely house with its cracked front wall, failing to protect it from the intrusive eye of the viewer.

The following morning Mrs Blake told me that none of the people she had contacted were willing to sell their paintings.

‘It’s as I thought,’ she said. ‘They’re not to be sold, only given as gifts, as Nora gave them herself. I think people believe it would be ill luck to take money for them.’

‘Do you believe that?’

She smiled and shrugged, so I think she does.

I am perfectly willing to be ruthless in my pursuit of profit, but in this case I sensed my dreams of introducing a new artist to the market fading rapidly. I decided to let the idea go, and left the B&B that morning.

Shuckleigh is an odd and confusing town, and I took a wrong turning on my way out, driving down a long straight lane past a small development of ugly new houses and out into the country. There was nowhere to turn on the narrow road, so I just kept going, possibly a little too fast for the frosty conditions. Though I was paying no particular attention to the uninspiring view of gaunt, leafless trees, a sudden shock of recognition hit me. A bend was approaching, and on the corner stood a grey house with a low stone wall in front of it.

Time seemed to split in two at this moment. I continued to drive along at speed, but I also took my foot off the accelerator, slowing, staring at the house. A small child darted into the road in front of me. In both of my split selves I braked and the car skidded on the icy road. The one who had recognised the house was going slowly enough to stop, the other could not. A woman ran out after the child who had stopped in front of me, eyes wide, mouth open.

There was a bump, the child was thrown into the air, the car smashed into the stone wall, my head into the side window. Or, the car fishtailed, but stopped in time, and my head thumped against the side window.

I sat behind the wheel, shivering, unable to tell which version of reality had actually happened. Then I saw the woman scoop up the shocked child, and I began to believe that things were really all right. I got out of the car, still feeling the alternative course of events in the pit of my stomach. It was hard to get my breath.

‘I’m sorry,’ said the woman. ‘Are you all right? You’ve bumped your head. He ran away, I only turned around for a second. I’m sorry.’

She kept apologising and her son began to cry.

‘I’m fine,’ I said at last. ‘Just a little delayed reaction.’

She offered to make me a cup of tea. I declined.

‘But tell me,’ I said, ‘the wall in front of your house — did it ever have a crack in it?’

‘No,’ she said, puzzled. ‘It’s older than the house and if it had ever been cracked you’d still be able to see the repair, I think.’

I walked up to the wall, remembering where the crack should have been, and found no trace of it. I wondered what else Nora Logan foretold in her paintings, and when I would ever be able to forget the alternative events she saved me from.

Things Move

Things Move

We stared up at the spoon balanced on the top edge of the mirror frame.

‘What’s it doing up there?’said Freddy

‘It’s being a spoon,’ I said, ‘but in the wrong place. The question is, Freddy, why did you put it up there?’

‘Me? I didn’t put it up there. You must have.’

‘No, not me. Why would I do that?’

‘I don’t know. I only know that I didn’t put it there.’

‘If you didn’t and I didn’t, who did?’

‘The cat?’

We both looked at the cat, asleep on the sofa, paws in the air. We agreed that he was an unlikely suspect. Mr. Socks had never shown any interest in spoons, unless they were being used to serve him food.

I pulled a chair over in front of the mirror, climbed up and got the spoon down. I thought that would be the end of it, but then there was this other problem.

‘It isn’t even one of our spoons.’

Freddy took it from me and made a face.

‘Torquay,’ he said.

I took it back. It was a cheap souvenir spoon, with a shield at the top of the handle which had a sailing ship on a white enamel background and a banner underneath in blue enamel, reading ‘Torquay.’

‘I’ve never been there,’ I said.

‘It’s nice,’ he said. ‘The English Riviera.’

‘How did it get here?’

I looked up thinking that there might be a crack in the ceiling it had fallen through, but there was no such thing. I shrugged my shoulders.

‘I’ll put it in the bag with the things for the charity shop. Unless you want to keep it.’

Freddy shook his head, and that was all we said on the matter. Freddy took the bag to the charity shop that afternoon and we forgot our little mystery.

The next day the spoon turned up in the cutlery drawer — a more reasonable place to find a spoon, but still.

‘I thought this went to the charity shop,’ I said. ‘Why did you put it in here?’

Freddy dropped the toast he was eating.

‘I didn’t,’ he said.

He came over and took it from me.
‘Are you playing tricks?’ he said.

‘I am not. Why would I do that? It’s a bloody silly trick. What’s the point of it?’

‘So who put it here?’

‘There’s you, me and the cat. It’s not me, and Mr Socks doesn’t have the energy for tricks.’

‘It isn’t me.’

‘Then who is coming into our house with strange spoons, and why?’

Neither of us had an answer to that one.

On my way to work I stopped on the bridge over the River Lost and dropped the spoon into the water, followed by a couple of pennies because I was brought up in a superstitious household, and knew that if you took a liberty with a river you had to make a payment to it, one way or another.

I should have paid more.

The river did not keep the spoon.

In the morning I was dressing when I head Freddy shriek. I ran downstairs without my trousers on and found him standing in the kitchen staring at the breakfast table. All around on the floor lay the bits and pieces we had left there the night before — some of my papers, a mug, a tulip and the vase it was sitting in, the last survivor of a bunch from a few days ago. The only thing on the table was that spoon.

Its shallow bowl was filled with water, and a scrap of water weed clung to the handle.

We stared at it for a while, then rationality took hold of Freddy at last.

‘It’s only a spoon, what are we afraid of? Just a cheap, ugly teaspoon. Fear of spoons. There’s probably a word for it.

‘Koutaliaphobia,’ I said. I had been giving all of this far too much thought.

‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘What are we afraid of? A bloody stupid spoon.’

Freddy picked it up, took it outside and dropped it into the dustbin. We had a good laugh at ourselves, and I went back upstairs to put on my trousers. Freddy found me there a minute later, staring at the bed.

The spoon. On Freddy’s pillow.

He swore more in those few seconds than I have ever heard him swear before. Grabbing the spoon, he strode to the window, opened it and hurled the thing into the garden as hard as he could.

‘And stay out!’ he yelled, slamming the window shut.

He turned back into the room and took one step away, then the window shattered behind him. when we finished screaming we saw the spoon embedded an inch deep in the ceiling above Freddy’s head.


The glazier was just finishing the new windowpane when I brought him a mug of tea (strong, two sugars). He pointed upwards.

‘Why is there a spoon in the ceiling?’ he asked.

‘Good question.’

‘Shall I pull it out for you?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘It’s best to leave it alone.”

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It’s in pretty far. I suppose it might bring the ceiling down with it.’

‘Yes indeed, it might.’

An Inheritance

An Inheritance

‘I’m here to chop off your head’ the bloody butcher said.

Elaine Edgeworthy did not know who the middle-aged man she allowed into her office, but she was mildly intrigued. A few minutes ago he had arrived at he entrance to the museum, which was the gift shop, of course, and said he had a donation for the museum. It was a very irregular way to donate, but his surname got him through to her office.

‘Mr Bird,’ she said, ‘do come in.’

He did so with difficulty, as he was carrying a large cardboard box, which he deposited on her desk, scattering paperwork.

‘Ms Edgeworthy,’ he said, ‘good of you to see me.’

‘Forgive me for asking,’ she said, ‘but are you related to Anthony Bird?’

‘My grandfather.’

The smile that came with his answer was not filled with pride, but was ambiguous and with a hint of pain as it faded, probably due to the family history, thought Elaine, but she regarded the box with hungry curiosity. Whatever was in there, if it was in any way connected with Anthony Bird, Shuckleigh’s only respectable famous person, a painter of international repute, then it would be of real importance.

‘You won’t survive the night,’ said the dame by candlelight.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘These are some…toys my grandfather made for my father. I want the museum to have them, but only on the condition that they stay here, and aren’t lent out anywhere.’

Though she was quivering with excitement, Elaine tried to retain an appearance of calm and grace.

‘May I?’ she said, indicating the box.

‘Of course.’

Elaine pulled away the tape holding the top flaps of the box together. Mr Bird, she noticed, took a step backwards, as if he was afraid that something might jump out at him.

‘Oh,’ she said, surprised at the jumble of things in the box. They were glove puppets with papier mache heads and fabric bodies. She reached in and took out the topmost one.

‘Be careful,’ said Mr Bird. ‘That blade is quite sharp.’

The puppet had a lumpy red face. He wore a striped apron spattered with red paint and, stitched to one hand, a cleaver cut from a piece of metal and liberally painted red along its blade.

‘Um,’ said Elaine.

‘That’s the butcher,’ said Mr Bird. ‘My grandfather didn’t believe in childish children’s toys — but you know, when you’re a boy, you do like horrors.’

Elaine laid the butcher on her desk, not sure she liked the look on his face, and finding it hard to reconcile this somewhat barbaric object with the cool, tightly controlled elegance of Anthony Bird’s abstract paintings. Something else was at work here.

The next puppet was an evil-faced woman. In her hand was a candlestick, complete with a wax candle that had a flame made from a bit of yellow foil.

Bird had taken another step back.

‘Are you sure you want to part with these?’ asked Elaine. They were a real win for the museum, but she felt uneasy. ‘They must have been an important part of your childhood, and your father’s.’

‘No, no. They’ve been in the attic for years, but then they started talking to me, and I just don’t want them around any more.’


He shook his head and laughed, a jagged sound.

‘You must think — no — memories and all that, I suppose. There was a rhyme went with them. I could hear it in my head. Memories and all that.’

He had taken another step backwards as he spoke, and avoided looking at the puppets laid on Elaine’s desk. She peered into the box and reached for the next.

‘Well, I’ll be going,’ he said. ‘Must rush, and all that.’

Elaine parted her lips to offer him coffee so that they could talk about the donation and any ideas he might have for display, but he was out of the door before she could form a single syllable.

‘Your nightmare’s come to play,’ said the devil of the day.

Bird could still hear them, even as he walked away.

Elaine reached into the box for the next puppet, and almost dropped it in surprise. The face of an angry red devil grinned at her, his face twisted and misshapen. A red heart was stitched to one of his hands — not a sweet symbol of love, but a small anatomically correct bodily organ, painted blood still dripping from its arteries.

Bird said that boys like horrors, but Elaine wondered what sort of father would supply horrors like these to his son.

There was a sheet of paper in the box, yellow with age. Elaine picked it out between finger and thumb and turned it over. On it was written the rhyme that Mr Bird had mentioned. Whose handwriting, Elaine wondered. If it was Anthony Bird’s then this was quite a valuable piece of paper. Research would have to be done. In fact, there might be a book in this — a reappraisal of the artist in the light of these disturbing pieces. Both Anthony Bird and his son had committed suicide at the age of fifty-one. A disturbing light shone on these ‘toys’.

She thought she heard a noise from within the box, a thin whimper. Imagination, surely. Inside was one remaining puppet, lying face down.

Bird drove to the east, away from the town and his obligations, with nothing in his car that was not his and his alone. He could still hear them but the further away he drove, the fainter their voices became. The family house and all its contents were sold to some crazy people who wanted to make a museum of it, the home of the great artist. The money, he wouldn’t keep it, going to a suitable charity. He wanted nothing to link him back to that place.

Elaine noticed a tremour in her hand as she reached for the last puppet. It had the face of a boy, not misshapen like the others, but almost a portrait. He was wide-eyed, his mouth open in a silent scream, and in the middle of his chest there was a painted gaping wound as if his heart had been torn out.

The demon puppet seemed to laugh and wave its bloody trophy, and then the boy really did scream and Elaine heard the final piece of the rhyme.

‘The boy will not grow old, his heart is dead and cold
And once it stops a-beating, will make for finest eating.’

The puppet twisted in her hand. She felt a black tunnel closing in on her and for the first time in her life she almost fainted. The piece of paper crumbled into a hundred pieces.

‘No, no, no,’ she murmured, dropping the puppet and scrabbling to gather the bits of paper together, to salvage a valuable document.

Crossing the border into the next county, Bird felt peace fall upon him, and knew he was free to enjoy life beyond his next birthday.

Sleep Walker

Sleep Walker

He walked through the front door, out of the house. That he did not open the door before passing through it should have surprised him, but he thought he was dreaming, so he accepted it as normal.

It was night, and few street lights were still on. The only other person walking the streets at that hour did not even glance at him, even though he was wearing his paisley pyjamas. He paused to think. Where was he going? To her place, of course, where else?

He walked through that front door, too, and upstairs to her flat. For a minute he stood in front of the door, thinking that he should knock, but then stepped in.

It was quiet and dark and smelt of cooking, a familiar savoury odour. She must have made a curry, the lamb one he liked so much. That hurt, that she could serve up his favourite meal to someone else.

He walked to the bedroom, not wanting to go there but unable to resist the pull.

There they were, tangled up together, sleeping in quiet contentment. The red rage came down on him then and the need to do damage. Swearing at them he tried to pull the duvet off. Nothing moved and they slept on. Gathering all his anger he hurled it towards them in one roar.

She woke up then, suddenly sitting up. She saw him, she screamed. Afraid of the humiliating scene, him in their bedroom dressed only in pyjamas and fury, he turned and ran, pulled back through the streets and into his bed.

Only a dream, he told himself, but there was no more sleep that night. He was a roiling ball of emotions, misery and rage twisted up together.

Walking through the streets in the morning felt more dreamlike than the dream. Once he even checked to make sure that he was not wearing pyjamas. Nobody noticed him, but that was normal — they were all caught up in their own lives and he was nothing out of the ordinary.

Someone saw him. He felt it and looked in the direction of the feeling. It was her. She stood quite still on the other side of the road, glaring at him. Afraid that she really had seen him in her bedroom last night, that it was no dream, he turned and hurried on his way, muttering to himself ‘It was a dream. Just a dream.’

That evening he stifled all thought with hours of television, trying his best not to dwell on personal things. Even so, once asleep he got out of bed and walked into the street again. It was raining heavily but the rain did not soak him, passing right through him as he had passed through closed doors.

So there he was again, staring down at them waiting for the rage to build up and explode, but it did not come. There was nothing but a bleak, cold emptiness where the anger had been. It really was over, he was alone and there was nothing he could do about it. But inside the cold was a small, hard thing, icier and stronger than anger. Hate.

She did this to him. She would pay. He left that place and went out to walk the streets, planning how to make her pay.

‘She shouldn’t have left me,’ he muttered to himself. ‘She was mine, she betrayed me.’

‘Are you sure?’ said someone behind him, and indistinct darkness in the shape of a man.

‘Of course I’m sure,’ he yelled.

‘Did you ever tell her how much you liked that curry? Didn’t you always tell her nothing but how worthless she was?’

‘Turns out I was right, wasn’t I?’

He moved away from the questioner, walking, walking.

‘What do you want to do now?’ it asked.

He stopped, turned his head.

‘You know, I’d really like to kill her. Maybe I’ll kill you, too.’

There was a deep laugh, like a bell chiming at the bottom of the ocean.

‘You’re at a crossroads,’ said the questioner. ‘Which way will you go?’

He was at a crossroads. Straight on or to the left led to the bridges over the River Lost. To the right or back the way he came led into town, but the questioner stood in that direction. He turned and walked straight on, towards the old bridge. It was a dream, it did not matter which way he went.

That was when he noticed that the town was exactly the same as it would have been in reality, with none of the strangenesses that appeared in dreams. Except, of course, for the questioner following a few paces behind.

‘Have you ever thought of blaming yourself?’ that creature asked.

‘No I have not. This isn’t about me.’

‘You don’t think so?’

‘I know so.’

That sounded weak. These questions were starting to chip away at his carefully cradled hatred. He kept on walking faster, faster, down to the river, but the questioner kept pace with him.

‘Didn’t you say you loved her?’

‘Once I did, but you can’t love someone who leaves you, sneaking out while you’re away, not even facing you.’

‘And why did she leave you?’

‘Because she’s a selfish bitch.’

‘Because she was afraid of you.’

They were on the bridge now, and he could take no more of this. He swung around and lunged forward, grabbing his pursuer by the throat with both hands, choking as though it was her throat. A cloud drew away from the moon and he saw the questioner’s face. His own face.

Still he wrung and crushed until his other self grew limp and fell into a dead heap at his feet.

His anger was not sated. There was a woman on the bridge, looking right at him. She saw what he had done. Now he had to kill her, too.

She did not run away from him, nor seem afraid of him. He wanted to make her afraid.

As he took her throat in his hands, she wrapped her arms around him and fell backwards from the bridge, taking him with her, down, down, into the cold waters of the River Lost.

HIs cleaning lady found him the next day, in bed, asleep forever. Drowned, his lungs filled with river water.



There was something slithering around my bedroom in the dark, a fragment of nothingness whispering across the walls. I sat up. There it was again — darker darkness on the periphery of my vision, sliding away. I clicked on the bedside light and it was gone.

For a couple of weeks now I had been half seeing this thing. A black spider running across a surface near my hand, a mouse shadow running into a corner, something falling from the ceiling — and always nothing there when I turned to look.

There was something wrong with my vision.

The optician said everything was fine.

So. There was something wrong with my mind.

I could have sought help, but it seemed a trivial matter, the illusion of small shadows. I chose to try to ignore it.

Sometimes I thought it might have been a real spider — one that ran very fast and hid when I looked for it. At other times perhaps it was just a misinterpretation of ordinary shadows moving as I turned my head. After all, the world as we see it only exists inside our minds. What is actually out there — well, I don’t want to think about that.

I began to manage the problem of the moving shadows quite well. When I noticed them, and you can’t not notice movement in the corner of your vision, I trained myself not to look. I hoped to train myself not to see it at all, but it wanted to be noticed, and hated to be ignored. The little black scrap started to scurry across the desk in front of me too fast for me to see what it really was, or to run over my feet and into the corner of the room.

I am not a nervous person, but this was turning me into one. I began to think I saw it even when it was not there. Any little unexpected movement would make me jump. It was like having mice, except that it didn’t eat my biscuits. The only thing for it was to get the exterminator in.

Charlie the exorcist moved around my flat as if looking for the spoor of my infestation.

‘I’m not picking anything up,’ he said. ‘That doesn’t always mean there’s nothing here, though. I’ll give the whole place a good clean out.’

He spent four hours chanting, ringing bells, thrusting smoking bundles of ritual herbs into every corner. The place seemed different when he left, calmer, emptier. I relaxed.

But he had missed a spot.

The shadow was back again that night, flitting past my feet while I was trying to watch TV. The more I ignored it the more often it appeared. This thing meant for me to pay attention to it, which suggested it had thoughts and feelings — a suggestion that I placed firmly out of sight at the back of my mind.

I refused to look at the racing black spot. Then it stopped on the floor in front of my feet. I kept my eyes on the TV screen, but my whole consciousness was focussed on the tiny patch of darkness on the carpet. Even so, when it moved it took me by surprise, darting forward onto the toe of my slipper and up my leg.

I screamed and jumped up, dusting away at my trousers to get the thing off me.

After a minute of noisy panic, I searched for it. I couldn’t see it on me, or on the floor. Running into the bedroom, I pulled off all my clothes and examined myself all over in the mirror, but found no dark marks. I threw my clothes into the bath and ran the cold water until they were drowned. Over the sink I combed my hair through and through and looked in my eyes and mouth for any sign of it. If I had swallowed it what was I to do?

Shivering, naked, my clothes soaked, I stood in the bathroom wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I have never been afraid of spiders or insects yet here I was becoming hysterical over a tiny patch of nothing.

Later that night I was made aware of my mistake. It was not in my drowned clothes or in my hair, but had made its escape into my bedroom when I threw my clothes onto the floor. Now it was running over the walls, mocking me. I slept on the sofa instead, waking every now and then to check whether it had followed me. Whatever it was, inside my head or outside, it was not going to be easy to get rid of it. I could move house, but I suspected that it would be as persistent as bedbugs, hitching a lift in my luggage. Whatever it was, it was mine.

The next evening I sat on the sofa reading a book and watching it out of the corner of my eye, scooting around the room, approaching closer and closer until it stopped by my feet again. Holding my breath and my nerve I waited. I was terrified — a little black dot and it took all my strength not to run away.

It hopped onto my slipper and rested there a moment, then began to climb my trouser leg. I gritted my teeth and did not react. It went out of sight for a second, then popped onto the right hand page of my book. I stared directly at it, a speck of dark awareness focussed on me, nothing but an absence of reflected light.

‘Hello,’ I said.

I held my hand out to it and it zipped across the page, coming to rest in the centre of my palm. There was nothing to feel, no tickle, no tingle of presence, but I swear it curled up a bit tighter and made itself at home there.

Sometimes other people see it on me for a fleeting second. They take it for a spider or other bug.

‘There’s nothing there,’ I say, but there is, always scooting across my skin. My companion. I am still afraid of it. One day it may burrow into my flesh and show its true purpose, but until then I must think of it as a friend. I call it Spot, and try to smile.