Another day of horror as the story about the mass grave in Tuam, co Galway, Ireland goes on. For those of you who have not heard the bodies of over 800 hundred children were found in a septic tank at a home run by the nuns. How much more of these vile acts have to be uncovered before the government and the police do something about it? Everyone who took part in these atrocities should be hunted down like the Nazi war criminals and brought to justice. When I was researching my novel, Whispers, I just touched on the subject, but |I heard stories from those in the know that were too sickening to put in to print. Please share this post with your friends around the world, so the outcry is heard even in the farthest corners of the globe. Maybe, then those in power will be forced to act and those poor little children will get justice at last.
This is a modern ghost story that happened a week ago to a friend of mine who works in a nursing home. There was one patient, an old lady in her eighties who she was particularly fond of and would spend hours chatting with her during the night shift. This went on for many years. Each night the old lady would come in to the common room and sit in her favourite chair. Anne, my friend, knew she was on her way, as her arrival was preceded by a racking cough. The old lady suffered from her chest and the cough was a distressing and painful one. One night, last week, the old lady failed to turn up, so Anne went to check on her. Sadly, she had passed away. The following night, Anne sat reading in the common room. Every now and then she glanced over at the old lady’s empty chair and felt her heart ache with sadness. Around 4 a.m., when the wards were all silent, Anne was roused from her reading by a racking cough coming from the empty chair. In that instant her nose started to bleed for no reason. You can imagine her fright, as she rushed from the room. She has never suffered from nose bleeds, her blood pressure is normal and there was no one else around with a cough. Strange, of course, and something that makes one stop and think.
Another wet and grey Sunday here in Limerick, but below is a link to put you in the mood for such a day . Click on the link to find a list of events for the coming October, and although it may seem far away, you know how the months fly by, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out. For all of you with a yearning to put pen to paper, you will see from the site that I will be teaching a Creative Writing Workshop on the Gothic novel. I know we have a wealth of people in Limerick who have so many great ghost stories to tell about our city,so go on and have a look. And keep liking the Locating the Gothic page.
After listening to yet another story about a so called medium scamming someone out of their money, I urge you to be very careful when dealing with these people. As a writer of the Gothic novel, I love the thrill of the ghost story and sharing my imagination with my readers, but there are those who do very real harm by feeding off the suffering of those who have lost someone they love. These people do not, I repeat, Do Not, speak to the dead. There are those who will take offence at this, but to them I say, go to the James Randi Foundation and prove it. They offer a million dollars to anyone that can prove they have paranormal powers. In all the years they have offered this very tasty incentive to those who believe they have such powers, they have never found anyone who could prove it. So take the challenge or get a proper job like the rest of us.
Nora no longer recognised the housing estate that had been her home for over fifty years. The tidy gardens were now littered with an assortment of rubbish from empty drink cans and broken bottles to other unsavoury things she didn’t dare think about. Most of the surrounding houses were derelict and an attempt had been made at boarding them up. The barriers the council put up to keep the human scavengers out never lasted long. She shivered as she recalled the nights spent listening to the groans of the boards as they were wrenched from their housings. The wood was used to feed the huge oil barrels that blazed each night throughout the estate.
“Time to go out,” she picked up her cat, which was dozing on a chair and carried her in to the kitchen.
All Hallow’s Eve dawned dry and cold. Perfect weather for the children to do their trick or treating, Nora thought, as she placed the cat on the ground. It looked at her in disgust before turning its tail up and walking away. She smiled at its antics and watched as it made its way to the bottom of the garden. The trees in the little wood outside the wall looked sombre. It was no longer a playground for children, but a dark, sinister place. She ran her hands down the sleeves of her faded cardigan, trying to brush away the cold. The wood was deserted now, but she saw them at night; the dark shapes scurrying through the trees. The glass shards she cemented in to the wall, in the hope of keeping them out, glistened under the watery sunlight, but they did little to add to her sense of security. The little timber gate in the centre of the wall was kicked down countless times and her hands were too old and bent from arthritis to repair it. She walked back inside and turned the key in the lock. It was wishful thinking that the frail door would keep anyone out. Shrugging on her black coat, she tied a scarf under her chain and picked up her old wicker basket.
“Come on, old fellow,” she called to her dog, Seth. “Time to go shopping.”
He looked up at her bleary-eyed and groaned. Like his mistress he did not relish the daily trek to the shops. She warned him to keep his temper in check as the last time he showed his objection to the way the street vermin treated his mistress it had resulted in a visit from the police, with a warning to keep the dog in check or else. He knew she depended on him for company and he could do nothing more than walk by her side and behave in much the same way as the stupid cat. It made him feel worthless, but if he kept his mistress happy then so be it.
“Come along,” she held the door open for him. “You’ll have no dinner otherwise.”
Leaning heavily on her walking stick she started down the path. She didn’t really need the stick, but it would serve as a weapon if need be. It was still too early for the druggies and the dealers. All would be sleeping off the effects of last night. Nora nodded to one or two of the old neighbours, but kept her head down for the most part. It was best not to make eye contact with anyone and as the pavement was cracked it meant she could choose her footing with care. Seth growled, as a mongrel crept out from one of the abandoned houses, but the animal was too ill and staved to offer any threat. There were many such animals roaming the estate; dozens of feral dogs and cats abandoned in much the same way as the houses.
The only shop still open in the area was kitted out like a prison. Stout bars lined the windows and razor wire ran the length of the roof. Nora ordered the few items she needed and packed them in to her basket.
“I see the eye is healing up nicely,” Joe, the shopkeeper remarked on the cut above her eye.
A stone, thrown by one of the yobs had met it marks and the cut required four stitches.
“Yes, thank you,” Nora said. “It’s not too bad now.”
“It’s a bloody disgrace that decent people can’t go about their business in peace.”
Everyone had an idea of what should be done to better the estate, but no one was acting on it. After saying her goodbyes, she began the short walk home. Seth walked before her, sniffing the ground, searching for new scents. The skeleton of a burnt out car sat on one of the green areas and it became a playground of sorts for some of the children. They were three of them sitting in its ravaged innards now, so Nora crossed the road rather than pass them. They knew she was easy game and would lose no time in picking on her. Things could have been so different, Nora thought if her daughter had lived and her husband hadn’t run off, but that was long ago; too many decades for wishful thinking. She tried to banish such thought from her mind as the loneliness threatened to overwhelm her.
“Look at the witch.”
She picked up her pace and tried to ignore the taunting voice.
“Hey, witch,” the boy ran in front of her and was soon joined by his other two companions.
He was no more than ten or eleven years old and should be in school. Nora knew enough to keep such things to herself and she kept walking.
“Fuckin old witch,” one boy sneered. “Where’s your broom?”
They fell about laughing at this and Nora felt her heart race as they stood in a line blocking her way.
“Let me pass, please,” she hugged her basket closer.
“Let me pass,” the mimicked her soft tone.
Seth bared his teeth and his growls of warning rumbled like thunder in the silence.
“You better watch it,” one of the boys said. “My dad will have that mutt put down if it touches me.”
“Seth will not touch you if you let us pass.”
They eyed the dog warily and moved apart just enough to let her pass. One of them jostled her as she squeezed through and she lost her footing and fell against some railing. She managed to grab one of the rusted bars so she didn’t hit the ground, but she banged her side. Her basket fell from her hands and the contents went spilling out on to the dirty ground. The boys laughed as she staggered to her feet and one of them scooped up the packet of biscuits she’d bought as a rare treat and the bag of sweets for the few children who would call that night. Saliva dripped from Seth’s mouth as he gnashed his teeth and made small lunges at her attackers.
“Don’t,” Nora whispered and the dog drew back.
Tired with their game, the boys started to walk away.
“Thanks for the goodies, witch,” one called over his shoulder.
Nora concentrated on picking up the rest of her shopping. Her side ached and she could feel the bruise begging to form in her skin.
“Come on, Seth,” she was glad of the solidness of the walking stick as her knees shook from fright.
The boys had returned to the burnt out car and their laughter followed her all the way home. It took her a while to get the key in the lock of the front door as her trembling fingers refused to stay still. Placing her basket inside the door, she turned back and looked back to where the boys were sitting. Seth followed her gaze and looked up at her in question.
“Do you know what tonight is boy?” She looked down in to his big eyes. “It’s All Hallow’s. Do you remember, Seth?”
The gleam within his eyes flared until they burned like fire. Of course he remembered, but that was long ago and something his mistress ordered he forget.
“That’s right, boy. Tonight belongs to us and it’s time we showed those who torment us the full meaning of Halloween.”
Her cat, which was lurking in the bushes, ran forward and rubbed against her legs; purring her pleasure at her mistress’s words, because black cats remember too.
copyright © Gemma Mawdsley
“She called her home Purgatory and it was an apt name, trapped as she was between heaven and hell.”
I stood in silence and watched as Old Tom drew the back of his shovel over the earth, smoothing the mound and patting the last bit of loose dirt in to place. His thoughts became words, as though he no longer cared that anyone was listening.
“Her hell was him,” he nodded towards the headstones on the other side of the graveyard. “And her heaven,” well,” he gave the earth a final pat. “She’s lying beside her now.”
I watched as he took a grey handkerchief from his trousers pocket and wiped the sheen of sweat from his forehead.
“I’ll just put this away and we’ll be off,” he nodded at the shovel. As an afterthought, he turned and looked at me. “You’re very quiet.”
I shrugged, overcome by the sadness of the day and the small turnout for the funeral.
“It was good of you to come,” he smiled, “And fitting as it turns out. This is the young one who likes a ghost story,” this was addressed to the other mourner who had stayed to watch as the last shovelful of earth was heaped on the grave.
I didn’t recognise the old woman who stood by my side and her soft sigh at Tom’s words carried across the listening graveyard. Despite the brightness of the day its sound was chilling and I felt the familiar unease that warned worse was to come.
I turned, introduced myself and held out my hand to the bent figure.
“I know your people well,” she said. “I’m Kitty Morgan, I was housekeeper to Ruth,” she nodded at the burial mound.
“I only knew her in passing,” I said. “I’ve lost track of people since my grandmother passed away.”
“She was a hard woman to know,” Kitty took my proffered arm and we started to walk down the graveyard’s stony path. “Will you come back to the house? I’ve prepared a lunch, but I imagined that I’d be catering for more than three. I would be a shame for it to go to waste.”
“Of course I will,” I said.
“Good girl,” she nodded, pleased.
We stopped outside the gate and didn’t have long to wait. Tom crossed himself as he passed the new grave and even at a distance I could still smell the rawness of the earth. The mound looked like a dark stain against the green, lush grass.
“Kitty asked us back for lunch,” I informed him.
“Grand,” he pulled the gates closed and the screech of their rusting hinges sounded like a scream in the silence. “I’ll have to oil them.” Tom said.
My car was in the little parking area across the road from the graveyard, but Tom decided that we should walk to the house.
“The lane is overgrown and rutted,” he said. “You might break a spring or something and it’s not far.”
The woman on my arm was tiny, but I was aware of her weight as we walked down the hill and her bony fingers dug deep in to my skin, as though she was terrified of letting go. We turned off in to a laneway and I saw that Tom was right. The old ruts left behind by bygone tractor wheels were carved in to the earth. Grass ran down the centre of the track and on either side the bushes ran riot, their spiky branches and pointed thorns kept us to the centre of the lane. Even though I was wearing flat shoes, I stumbled twice on the uneven ground and it was only Tom’s hand on my elbow that kept me from falling and taking the old woman down with me. The trees above our heads had formed an archway and other than Tom and the old woman’s laboured breathing the only other sound came from the soft chirping of birds in the overhead branches. A wrought iron gate came in to view and a large sign hanging from one of the bars proclaimed, Private Property, No Trespassing. We waited as Tom struggled with the ancient bolt and I have no idea what I was expecting of the house up till then. My thoughts that day were mostly filled with the absence of mourners in a place where a funeral is often seen as a social gathering. Tom pushed the gate back and stood aside to let us pass. We walked into a quadrangle, with the main house to the right of it. I stopped, taken aback by the beauty of the place. The house is a huge two storied affair. Built of limestone and whitened further by the onslaught of countless winters, it gleamed in the ebbing sunlight. There are eight windows on the front, two at either side of an old studded door, its wood scarred and blackened with age. The other four were set in a line overhead and looked down on us with blind eyes.
“It’s a fine house,” Kitty noticed my look of amazement. “It’s mine now, she left everything to me.”
“Let’s get inside,” Tom tapped my shoulder and looked up at the darkening sky. “We’ll have rain before long.”
He was right; the day was becoming grey and overcast. Any hint of summer was an illusion and the morning’s sunshine a tease for those who thirsted for its warmth. The interior of the house was cool and if I expected the welcoming bark of a sheepdog when the door was opened, I was disappointed. The hallway was dark, the flag stoned floor uneven like the lane.
“I was going to serve the food in the dining room, but seeing as it’s just the three of us,” Kitty looked at Tom.
“We’ll be fine in the kitchen,” he assured her.
The kitchen is huge with an enormous open fireplace that harks back to another century. It dominates one wall of the room and the old iron cooking arm stands to one side, its hinge rusted and hanging with cobwebs. It’s obvious from the lack of ash or remnants that the fire has not been lit in ages. An ancient gas heater stands at one side of it and is obviously the only source of heating for the room. Overhead the wall is lined with an assortment of things, two old fiddles, the bows dangling from the broken strings, an old deer’s head stares down with glassy, dead eyes and an old shotgun, its black barrels coated in layers of dust.
“I’ll put the kettle on,” Kitty walked to the old stone sink.
A gas cooker stood against one of the walls and she lit the jet beneath the kettle.
“Sit down, sit down,” she urged us over to the table.
Whatever food she had prepared was covered by a large cloth and made the spread beneath looked like an uneven sandcastle.
“There’s plenty to eat so don’t be shy,” she threw back the cloth with a flourish.
She was right. A large ham took centre stage and set around it like some circling satellites were plates of cakes, sandwiches and sausage rolls. Bowls of cherry tomatoes blushed beside a mound of lettuce its leaves glistening with tiny dew drops of water. Aware of my intolerance to gluten Tom stood, picked up a carving knife and started to slice the ham.
“Don’t start acting finicky,” he whispered, layering a plate with fleshy slices and placing it in front of me.
“Is everything all right?” Kitty put a pot of freshly brewed tea down on the table.
“Lovely, Kitty,” Tom assured her. “It’s just this one is allergic to wheat.”
“No,” she gasped, as though the idea was preposterous.
“Indeed,” Tom said. “And she won’t drink tea either.”
They both stood looking at me for a moment until Kitty broke the silence.
“Would you drink a coke?” She asked.
“Yes, thank you,” I was glad of the release from their searching gaze.
“There’s some in the dining room,” she said to Tom. “There’s whiskey in there as well. You may bring that back with you.”
He was back in seconds with my warm coke and a bottle of whisky. Kitty went to a press and returned with three crystal glass.
“We’ll toast the dead,” she said and took the bottle from Tom.
Half filling the glasses with the amber liquid, she handed one to both of us.
“To past friends,” she held up her glass.
“To past friends,” we echoed her words and sipped.
The whisky burned my throat and I tried not to cough as I swallowed a tiny sip. I had a long drive home later and that gave me an excuse not to have to finish the glass. The ham was delicious and not at all salty as I imagined. For a few minutes we ate in silence and I used this time to look around the room. There were three suitcases standing by the door. I hadn’t noticed them when we passed.
“Are you going somewhere,” I asked the old woman.
“I’m leaving this place tonight,” she said.
“For a holiday?” I asked.
“No child,” she put down her fork and looked at me. “I’m leaving this place for good.”
“Are you selling it?”
“No,” she sighed. “I doubt if anyone would want to buy it and I wouldn’t want to bring misery on anyone unwise enough to do so.”
“You’re better off going,” Tom said. “You couldn’t stay here now anyway.”
“No, you’re right,” Kitty picked up a spoon and started to stir her tea.
I watched the brown whirlpool in silence and listened to the clink, clink the metal made on the side of the china cup.
“Why couldn’t you stay here?” I knew as I asked that it might have been wiser not to know.
“Because of him,” she turned and nodded to an empty chair beside the fire.
I looked at Tom, wondering if he could see something that I couldn’t.
“She means the ghost,” he shovelled another forkful of ham in to his mouth.
“What ghost?” The chill I first felt in the graveyard came rushing back and I felt the familiar fingers of fear crawling up my back.
“I suppose there’s no harm in telling her?” Kitty said to Tom. “They’re both dead now and it’s as well that someone knows the full story.”
“I thought you would feel that way,” he nodded. “She’ll write it down you know, but change the names, so there’s no harm in telling her.”
“Tell me what?” I asked.
“The sort of story you like,” he said. “A true ghost story about how love can turn to hate and anger can cause those who lie uneasy in their graves to return to haunt those left behind.”
“I couldn’t have said it better,” Kitty picked up her whisky glass and sipped.
The watery sunlight disappeared behind a cloud, plunging the room in to shadow. Tom’s knife scratched against the plate as he cut through the ham and the sound made my hackles rise.
“It happened like this,” Kitty began.
Now available in print at the link below.