The Legend of the Mirror

The Legend of the Mirror

In the Shuckleigh Museum there is an exhibit labelled ‘Eve’s Mirror’. No-one seems to know where the name originated.

The object in question is a solid silver disc about twelve inches, or thirty centimetres, in diameter with a patterned rim and an elaborate twisted handle across it, terminating in stylised flowers. It is a mirror, but the plain polished surface faces away from the viewer in the museum for display purposes, or perhaps for other reasons.

It has the local reputation of being a fairy mirror, but the museum curators assure us that it is, in fact, Roman.

The first known record of this beautiful object in in the 15th century when it was in the possession of Eleanor Mosse, wife of Sir Thomas Elkin Mosse.

Sir Thomas went away from his lands for two years and returned with a wife, Eleanor. By all accounts she was beautiful, with dark hair and eyes, and she often wore green. She was tiny and most delicate looking, but with a fearsome glint in those dark eyes when she had cause for anger. The rumour spread that she was a fairy woman.

She brought with her a number of remarkable things which reinforced this idea, the mirror being prominent among them, and her pure white horse which only her own groom, himself an odd, taciturn fellow, was allowed to tend.

Having the reputation of fairy origins was probably an advantage to the lady. No-one would have been eager to anger her in any way, for then they would not only have had her to deal with, but also all of her kind.

Sir Thomas had a young niece, who came to stay in his household under the protection of his wife until the time came for her marriage. A rich baron had taken a great fancy to the girl, who was lovely in that pink-cheeked way of young girls, and the marriage was a significant step up for the Mosse family.

Eleanor showed every sign of fondness for the girl, and would allow her to sit in her rooms as she was dressed and her mirror was brought to her, covered in a silk cloth. The maid held up the mirror by the twisted handle and drew away the cloth so that only Eleanor could look into its reflective face. One day the girl asked to see herself in the mirror. Eleanor refused.

‘But why?’

‘The mirror tells only the truth, and the human is rare who can look upon the truth without harm. People must live in their lies in order to make life possible.’

The girl was indignant.

‘I do not live in lies! I want only the truth.’

‘That may be what you believe, but you are very young and have dreams and a world in your head that is not like the world that is.’

She put away the mirror and ceased to allow the girl into her rooms when she was dressing.

The girl was disappointed and angry, believing that she would see the truth of her own great beauty in the mirror, and that Eleanor did not want this. She kept her counsel and waited for an opportunity.

One day she was left unattended for a while, and Sir Thomas and Lady Eleanor were out riding. The girl took her chance and slipped into Eleanor’s chambers. Taking the mirror out from the box in which it was kept, she slipped off the silk cloth and gazed upon her own beautiful face in its reflective surface.

They found her there, the weight of the mirror dragging on her arms, her face haggard, eyes wide, unable to look away until the cloth was thrown over the mirror once again.

The girl spoke only nonsense afterwards, and she cried a great deal. when she was not crying or babbling, she fell silent and stared into the far distance at things only she could see.

She was quite unfit for marriage.

Sir Thomas was furious. He burst into his wife’s rooms and demanded the mirror.

‘It is not the fault of the mirror, but of the girl,’ the lady said, but Sir Thomas was in a high fury. He took the mirror, rode to the lake, and threw it in.

Eleanor called for her white horse and rode away from Sir Thomas’s house, along with her groom and the few things she had brought with her. When she did not soon return, Sir Thomas set off to find her. He came back five years later, a broken man.

He had the lake dragged and the mirror retrieved, polishing it clean himself. For the rest of his life, which was not long, he sat in his library staring into the mirror, weeping, and begging whatever he saw there to bring back his wife.

She never returned, for a fairy once offended can never forgive.

Sir Thomas’s line ended, and the mirror, boxed up safely and locked away, passed into the hands of his brother, and then down the generations until the last of the Mosse line donated it to the museum.

Did the curator who polished it for display wear a blindfold, or did they take a look at themselves and see the truth? The museum label does not say.

The image with this post is of the Wroxeter mirror, which is on display in Shrewsbury Museum. If you ever get a chance to visit this museum, I can recommend it highly.

Offerings

Offerings

Back in the 1950s a hole opened up in the garden of a suburban house in Shuckleigh. It appeared overnight. Not a very wide hole, about a metre in diameter, and almost perfectly circular, like a giant’s drill-hole, very deep.

The people who lived in the house were Harry and Lucie Morgan and their children James and Daisy. Naturally alarmed, they called in a builder who said it must be a sinkhole, but he knew of no mining or underground cave that might have caused it.

They fenced off the hole and a geologist came to look at it, said it must be a sinkhole and tried to measure its depth, but his line was not long enough, which he found remarkable.

Since their house did not appear to be in any danger, the Morgans got used to the hole and started to ignore it. Daisy began to throw things into it, a crust of bread, a pebble, a doll that she was now too old for.

When the doll went down, the hole rumbled.

Daisy, who was thirteen and had never really liked dolls anyway, went and got all her others and threw them into the hole one by one. The hole rumbled every time.

The last one went down to a very satisfied-sounding rumble and Daisy got scared in case she was setting off some kind of vibration that would make the sinkhole get bigger and swallow the whole garden. She went back into the house and pretended that nothing had happened. Nothing did happen.

The geologist came back with a colleague and he descended into the hole on a rope. Daisy watched, for two reasons: The geologist was young and good-looking, and she was waiting to see if the hole would rumble when a real live person went down there.

The rope paid out for a long time before he called to be pulled back. Up he came, holding a dirty and battered doll in one hand.

‘Is this yours?’ he asked Daisy. ‘It was caught on a root.’

Embarassed, she took the doll. He smiled at her and she blushed bright red, which only made him smile more.

To her father he said, ‘The hole goes right into the bedrock, but it gets too narrow for me to get to the bottom of it. I’ve never seen anything like it before. No idea what caused it, but it seems stable.’

They went inside to discuss practical matters and Daisy stayed by the hole, mortified, clutching the dirty doll. As she stood there, she heard a whistle from the hole.

‘What?’ she said.

It whistled again, a few brief notes, like someone calling a sheepdog.

Very annoyed with everything, Daisy threw the dirty doll. It bounced off the edge and fell into the darkness. The hole made a low rumble.

She went indoors, and passing the living-room door, she heard, ‘…fill it with concrete…’

Serve it right, she thought.

That night the hole started whistling again.

Daisy’s brother, James, heard it too. It woke him in the dark small hours and he looked out of his window. Daisy was standing in the moonlight, looking down into the hole as if she was listening. James opened the window to call to her to come in, but in the moment he took his eyes off her to find the window latch in the dark, and then looked back, she had vanished. He thought he had dreamed it. There was no more whistling and no-one in the garden. He closed the window and went back to bed.

In the morning, Daisy was nowhere to be found.

James told his parents what he had seen and they called the Fire Brigade to go down into the hole in case Daisy had fallen in. There was no sign of her.

For two days the neighbourhood was searched. Every shed, every garden, the countryside all around.

On the third night there was a tremendous rumble that rocked the whole house and the whole neighbourhood.

Fearing subsidence, the family ran into the garden to find that the fence around the hole had fallen, and where the hole once was, their daughter lay curled up on the earth, as dirty as if she had been dug from the ground.

Daisy did not speak for six months, and when she did, she claimed to have no memory of anything that had happened.

Of the hole there was no sign but a circular patch of bare earth on which nothing would grow for many years.

What We See In The Woods, Part Two

What We See In The Woods, Part Two

One of the tales told of Sleetswood is that of the Old Lady. She must always be addressed as a lady, or she might take offence.

It is said that she lives in a house made of the bones of every animal that has ever died in the woods, and that includes people. It is also said that if you find her house then it will not be long before your whitened bones are added to its walls.

There are several explanations of who she is. One is that she is a witch, wrongly accused of blighting a farmer’s cattle and condemned to be burned, but the Devil himself came down and pulled her out of the flames, casting her into the woods where she remains to this day, bearing a fierce grudge against the rest of humanity. Especially men.

Others maintain that this is untrue, that no witches were ever burned in Shuckleigh. They say that the Old Lady is the spirit of the wood, one of the fairy folk left behind when the great forests were felled and her wood became an island surrounded by people. The wood is her home, her domain, and whoever strays into it is subject to her desires. She might leave you alone if the mood strikes her and you are attuned to the ways of the wood, but if you behave like a human – take without repaying, cast off your unwanted litter without thought, crash through the woods disturbing those who belong there – then she will make you pay.

There is one curious account from the 1920s of an encounter with the Old Lady.

A young man was visiting relatives in Shuckleigh, and having nothing to do one day, he went for a walk. The woods looked cool and inviting on a hot summer’s day, and, never having heard the stories, he decided to go in, looking for birds’ nests. In those days. collecting eggs from nests was considered a healthy hobby for a young person.

He climbed through the thorny undergrowth and began to wander about the woods, searching the trees for promising signs. After a while he found a few different eggs and stowed them carefully in a cotton-wool lined box he carried for the purpose in his knapsack.

Not long after his third or fourth depredation on the bird life of the woods, he became aware that there was someone else nearby. He heard a lovely song being sung, but could not make out the words. Following the sound, he soon found a sweet-looking old lady with long silver hair and old-fashioned green clothes sitting on a fallen tree trunk. She stopped singing and smiled at him.

He said hello and asked if she needed any help, because he was a well brought-up youth.

‘Ah,’ she said, ‘someone has stolen my eggs.’

Thinking she was talking about hens’ eggs, he sympathised with her and said how sorry he was to hear that.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘you will be sorry.’

She stood up and stepped towards him, opening her mouth wide and letting out a wild and frightful scream. The young man should have been scared, but he was mesmerised by the strange scene, and she was only a tiny old lady. He stood there, wondering if she was perhaps a bit mad.

As she moved towards him, her mouth kept opening wider and wider. he could not quite believe what he was seeing. Closer and closer she got, and her mouth became a dark cave bearing down on him. Then he thought he saw in that cave darker creatures, with red eyes like hot coals, coming towards him.

He watched in puzzlement and fascination as the cave grew larger and nearer and the creatures within it approached and reached out for him.

All at once it occurred to him to be frightened. He still did not understand what he was seeing, but he understood that it was dangerous and that it was coming for him.

He screamed and ran, lashed by branches, slashed by brambles, but managing to break out of the wood at last.

He got away with his life and most of his sanity, but the Old Lady kept his knapsack and the stolen eggs.

What We See In The Woods

What We See In The Woods

In the woods, we come face to face with our primal fears. On a bright summers’ day, alone among the trees we may feel watched, stalked by something that means to do us harm.

Even on this island, shorn of its once great forests, there are still wooded places that harbour things to hunt us. No more wolves or bears, but stranger things. Spirits of the wild.

Shuckleigh, of course, has its own haunted wood. Behind the derelict shoe factory there is a large area of woodland called Sleetswood after the family who own both the long defunct shoe factory and the wood.

Although there is no prohibition on walking in these woods, very few people ever go there. So close to town, it would appear to be the perfect location for a picnic or a day communing with nature, but there are many stories associated with the woods and local people know them and cannot help at least half-believing them.

From the outside the wood looks impenetrable. The remains of a fence lie against the edge nearest the road, but a fence is unnecessary in the face of the dense thorny barrier of hawthorn, sloe, and bramble that borders the larger trees. Foragers do collect the fruits of this vegetable barrier, paying for their bounty in blood, as every bush and vine is armed with miniature daggers.

One person has given us his account of going further into the dark woodland. Here it is, in his own words.

‘My Grandma used to tell me all the old Shuckleigh stories, you know, the Black Dog and all that, and she told me all about Sleetswood and the things that were supposed to live in it. I loved those stories, the way I loved Hammer Horror films.

‘This was the 1960s, I was 14, and some of us, all boys, thought it would be clever to spend Hallowe’en in Sleetswood. There was me, Alan, Bill, Francis and Davy. We all told our parents we were staying with Francis, and he said he was staying with me. Hallowe’en wasn’t a big fun thing in those days. In Shuckleigh, everyone kept their doors closed and stayed home, just in case.

‘Everyone brought some food, a blanket and a torch, and we planned to have a campfire. It was a big dare really.

‘We got fairly cut up on the way in, but we made it and eventually found a bit of a clearing. Alan started to set up the fire. He was a boy scout and he got it going really well, which was great because it was pitch black in there. You couldn’t see the sky, and there was a big moon that night, but none of the light made it down through the trees.

‘We sat around that fire with our backs to the darkness, telling spooky stories and pretending not to be afraid. I don’t know about the others, but I was scared and cold and I would’ve liked to go home. I stayed because I didn’t want to be laughed at, and I wouldn’t have been able to find my way out by myself. Nothing had happened, but I felt the woods, the trees, something, leaning in, pressing down on me. I just kept looking at the flames, as if the light would keep me safe.

‘Alan was sitting next to me, sometimes feeding the fire with sticks. Bill had just finished telling a ghost story about the woods we were sitting in, the one about the old lady. We were all laughing louder than usual, but maybe loud enough to push the night away from us. Suddenly Alan grabbed my arm.

‘”What’s that?” he whispered, pointing across the fire into the darkness.

‘I couldn’t see anything, because of looking into the bright fire, and I thought he was trying to wind me up.

‘”Nothing,” I said and gave him a shove. Then the fire went out, like someone had poured a bucket of water on it, and it was a good fire, not just a couple of twigs burning.

‘”Hey,” I shouted, jumping to my feet, ready for a fight. “Who did that?” I was angry and fed up with being frightened.

‘I couldn’t see a thing, so I got my torch out of my pocket and turned it on.

‘There was no-one there. I thought they were ganging up on me because they knew I was scared, but the more I looked, I knew it was all wrong. This wasn’t the same place. There was no clearing, no sign of a fire, no blankets, chocolate wrappers, crisp packets or anything. Just trees. All around and close by, crowding around me.

‘Then my torch went out and I couldn’t get it to come back on again.

‘Something touched my back. I screamed and jumped away, banging into a tree that I swear hadn’t been so close a moment before.

‘Turning around, I threw out my hands to keep away whatever was coming up on me, and touched only rough bark. There was a creak and the tree leaned towards me, pushing me back against the trunk of the other.

‘I know that I screamed. Twisting and wriggling, I got free, pushing my way through, crashing into tree after tree. Hands like twigs, or twigs like hands, grabbed and clawed at me and every tree put itself in my way.

‘Running in the dark, what I imagined and what was real, I don’t know. I fell and landed in wet rotting leaves, smelling of earth and decay. More and more leaves started piling down, like someone was shovelling them over me. I struggled, drowning, trying to fight my way out, but sinking deep down instead, damp leaves in my mouth and my eyes. I must have fainted.

‘Bright light in my eyes. Someone spoke my name. It was Bill, filthy, with wide scared eyes in his dirty face. I must have looked the same. We were lying at the edge of the wood, as if it had thrown us out. The others were there too, except for Alan.

‘We got in big trouble from our parents. We had to tell them, because of Alan. It took a day of searching to find him, in the little clearing, sitting by the ashes of the fire, smiling like a crazy person and talking to someone who wasn’t there.

‘After that he never spoke to real people again, and he was always going back to the wood. Someone told me he’d gone into the wood one day and never come back out again. I don’t know if that’s true.’

The Stain

The Stain

It is an old house, built in parts over hundreds of years. We bought it cheaply because no-one had lived in it for decades, and we couldn’t afford anything but a wreck to fix up.

After almost a year’s work on the place, we decided that it was time to tackle the big back bedroom. There were layers and layers of paper on the walls, I’d never seen so many. The top layer was floral paper from the 1970s, turquoise and green, absolutely hideous, and made worse by the large weird stain stretching over almost half the wall, like a faint scorch mark. Alys said it looked like an unfriendly bear, and that the whole room was giving her a headache.

We got that layer off easily. It peeled away and underneath was a 1950s paper with a geometrical design. It was like wallpaper archaeology. The stain was on this one, too, but darker. We were worried that there was a fungus problem with the wall underneath, though it seemed dry.

The next layer was a horrible brown paper, nearly the same colour as the stain, which was still there, but disguised in the nasty murk of the wallpaper. It looked to me as if someone had deliberately chosen that colour to hide the stain in plain sight. That paper had a kind of varnish over it and was not so easy to get off, so we called it a day.

In the morning there was an odd smell in the house, a faint burnt odour, hard to pin down the source. We opened the windows and carried on.

After the brown paper, which took us a couple of hours to get off, the rest of the layers came away easily, and the last one was a beautiful hand painted Chinese-style paper, with a blue ground, covered with trees, birds and butterflies. We think it is 18th century. It, too was spoiled on that one wall by the horrible stain, now really dark and unpleasant. We decided to keep that paper everywhere except the stained wall, and to go for an antique look in the room.

Nervous about the damage we would uncover on that wall, we took a break.

The burning smell had got a lot stronger, even though all the windows were open. Alys thought it might be the wiring, and she called our electrician. He came over right away, and searched the whole house, looking for hot spots with an infra-red detector, testing the wiring, everything he could think of, but he found nothing.

The next day we had to carry on with the redecorating while we had the time, so we just opened the windows and ignored the smell.

Starting to peel off the last layer of paper was strange. We wanted to see what was underneath, but were also really nervous about what we might find.

The paper started to crumble as we pulled it down, and we soon saw that what was underneath was not a stain, but a painting.

Well, it is the most horrible thing. A monstrous dark creature, somewhat like a bear, but not any real animal that I know of. It is chewing and trampling on naked people, a deranged look in its red eyes, blood spraying everywhere, and surrounded by strange symbols. I wanted to paint over it, but Alys said it was probably very old, so we got the people from the Shuckleigh Museum to look at it. They were very excited. They couldn’t date it, but did say they had never seen anything like it, that it was unique.

Since we uncovered it, neither of us have been able to sleep – if we do, we dream of appalling things that I do not want to talk about. And the screaming, can’t you hear it? All the time.

Alys is staying with her parents. I’m living in the kitchen for now, because it’s the room furthest from the painting, but the screaming and the smell of burning still keeps me awake.

There is a constant stream of weird people wanting to see the thing, but I think they’re taking nightmares away with them.

The museum people are upstairs now. We are donating it to them, and they think we are being wonderfully generous. They are taking it down in one piece, but it’s such a long process.

Alys says it is the best thing to do, but I feel guilty about passing this damned painting on to someone else. It isn’t just paint and plaster, but a dreadful intention, and I fear that some of the blood may be real. I only hope it will be kept in a locked room.

A Note on the Reality of Fairies

A Note on the Reality of Fairies

It is said that the Fairy Folk used to be commonly seen in these parts. They were not the tiny, pretty bewinged creatures who danced through the addled Victorian imagination – that place where nature was defanged and submitted to the unnatural niceties of the new industrial age.

No, these Fairies were dangerous, quick to take offence and often deadly. They could give, but they were more likely to take away. Take your health, your spouse, your children, your sight, your life.

Cross them once and you would never have a chance to do it again, or even to make up for it – and it was not hard to cross them.

It was thought that they had lived in this land a long time before heavy, unmagical humans ever set foot here. Then we blundered into their world and took it away, shouldered them out, pushed them into corners and wastelands and tried to deny their existence.

Even so, everywhere there was a bit of wild, they persisted. If people kept them sweet, superstitiously leaving out the fairies’ share of the butter, the cream, the corn and the apples, then they left well alone. If they were forgotten or disrespected, they made the land wither, the cows dry up, the crops fail, and they crept into houses stealing away precious but intangible things.

They are beautiful, though, these wild, savage Fairies. Dressed in green, followed by enchanting strange music wherever they go (if they’re in a good mood), silver-eyed, dark-haired, golden-skinned.

If they discover that you have seen them, they will make you pay for the sight. Your sanity will be gone with the wind, and they might well curse you with the gift of poetry.

Some say they still live in those few lost places, where humans do not care to wander, but it is best not to go looking for them, unless you are prepared to pay the price.

Image: Titania by Arthur Rackham

Welcome to Shuckleigh

Welcome to Shuckleigh

In Shuckleigh, the Old Gods still walk, it seems, and some new ones too. there is no such thing as an unusual experience here, no matter how it might seem to an outsider.

Shuckleigh natives take most phemomena in their stride. Indeed, a casual obsever might think that they ignore anything out of the ordinary, unless it directly affects them. They treat it as they would the weather, in other words.

Occult rituals in the crypt of St. Mary’s Church? A fairly ordinary occurrence in any rural town, and some not so rural. A spectral black dog running down the High Street? Not so usual. The many groups practising occult rituals and holding strange beliefs? Unique to Shuckleigh, perhaps.

In this town, a haunting is an ordinary, quite banal event.

Through this portal, Shuckleigh Chronicles, we hope to show you a town twisted and formed by its interface with other worlds, even as it goes about the ordinary daily life of a small rural town.

Welcome to Shuckleigh