Writing Greenwood Tree – and more

of matters unearthly

Halloween Special

Like buses – nothing for ages, then three at once …

To help round off the Coffin Hop with a grand finale, I got together with a couple of publishers to hold a (nearly)week long giveaway (Monday to Sunday), with the chance to win 3 titles together: Cass McMain’s Watch (vampirism) and two ghost tales: Summers’ End by V.RChristensen with a rather sinister  pair of spectacles and my sorry excuse for a ghost tale, Ungentle Sleep which is a tongue-in-cheek take on haunted houses, with attics and, well, things going bump in them ….

Owing to WordPress’s layout, the giveaway page is again reduced to a link, however, it will be posted elsewhere and tweeted not infrequently. And there is the tale of the Red Footprints in A Night  at the Theatre meanwhile…

Simply click on the link here below, or top right  (on the main page), and choose how you want to participate (via tweeting, FB-ing, visiting the Coffin Hop!); there will be 5 prizes and around 10 runners-up… (if anyone joins in…)

About the Coffin Hop: this is the annual Halloween blog hop with over 60 authors & artists participating, each with something to offer, whether giveaways or contests as well as some fun tales of terror.

The Coffin Hop Bumper Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway


A Night at the Theatre ….

(‘Tis that time of year again …. and I am late. And it is late. And this is a little long. Still, I hope it pleases ….Happy Spooking ! And don’t forget to hop along to all the others taking part in the Coffin Hop (links on the site), the annual Halloween blog hop with over 60 authors & artists participating, each with something to offer, whether giveaways or contests as well as some fun tales of terror … in a few days I’ll be offering my tale Ungentle Sleep and there will also be a chance via giveaway to receive Cass McMain’s unusual take on vampirism in Watch, from Holland House Books (30-31 October, post coming soon…)

Pad, pad, pad, pant, pant, pant, pad, pad, pad, pant, pant. Woof.

‘Good boy, sit. All right, don’t sit, but stop wandering around, there’s a good fellow. Where were we?’ Felix Hartley, proprietor of the Rose Theatre, turned back to the theatre’s director, Daniel Wells. ‘Props, wasn’t it?’

It wasn’t props (Felix had a terrible habit of not paying attention) but it didn’t make much difference. Felix tended to leave everything in Wells’s capable hands, as he worded it. Thereby adding to the general headache of the thing.

‘It’s the footprints,’ repeated Wells, not a little wearily. Added to Felix’s propensity for not listening, he had a seeming inability to grasp the whole question of the reddish footprints appearing unannounced in various parts of the building. They did not make an impact on him, even when pointed out in all their disturbing detail. ‘Oh, ah, yes, those,’ he would say, patting his pockets, followed by ‘Now, about rehearsals for next week …’

Woof, went the overweight Pekinese at his feet, as if in support.

‘A few more have handed in their notice,’ continued Wells, now a little crossly, ‘and I simply do not have the time to be looking for fresh staff at such short notice – there’s the opening night in a week’s time, the scenery still to be sorted, and the lighting.’

‘Dear, dear, no, of course not. What a thing to happen. Cleaners, again ?’

The Pekinese started snuffling at Felix’s trouser hems.

‘Cleaners, call boy and now the prompter. Some of the cast are getting nervy too. Isobel’s threatening to pull out altogether unless something is sorted. What are we to do?’ This was serious. Isobel Courtney was the leading lady and a positive catch for the theatre itself, which had been teetering gently for a while now.

Finally Felix looked quizzical – a sign he might actually be applying himself to the problem in hand. The Pekinese meanwhile started padding around the room again.

‘Well,’ he said, after a long pause which indicated he had been debating with himself on a ticklish issue, ‘you could try … Septimus Brink.’

‘Septimus Brink? Who or what is Septimus Brink?’

‘Old crony of mine.  Knows this place. He’ll also know what to do with, ah, them.’

They were interrupted by muffled pandemonium from below. A red-faced youth in ill-fitting cap and suit appeared breathlessly at the open doorway of Felix’s office. ‘It’s the dresser,’ he gasped,  ‘something nasty in the wardrobe, so she says, threatening to hand in her notice.’ He gazed appealingly at Wells. ‘Will you come?’

‘I’ll be there in a minute – where is she now?’

‘Miss Aikfield’s dressing room, with the smelling salts.’

‘Very well – send for a doctor.’

Felix stared after the departing youth in puzzlement. ‘Isn’t he the understudy for –‘

‘Masefield, yes, he’s now doubling up as call boy until we get a new one. This Septimus Brink –  when can he come?’

Septimus Brink was a large presence; while not overweight, his bearing was of the sort that can fill a room on its own and knock an elephant down at ten paces flat.  He had a tendency to boom at people in a kindly manner until they gave in and let him carry on whole conversations uninterrupted. He was not what you might imagine a ghost-catcher to be, having none of the airs and graces of society mediums nor the mystery of a psychic, yet he proved very efficient at relieving people of unwanted ‘presences’, real or imaginary, with a happy combination of curiosity and common sense.

He swept into the theatre later that day with ample coat tails and a sleek top hat, and on sighting Felix boomed out: ‘It’s you again, is it?’ in avuncular fashion. Felix actually shuffled his feet and looked a trifle sheepish. His Pekinese let out a yelp of welcome and began wagging its tail.

‘Well, what is it this time?’

Felix turned to Wells, who took over with a resigned air: ‘I’d better just show you – and you could try talking to the dresser, the prompter; they haven’t left – yet.’

Wells escorted Brink along the corridor, towards the dressing rooms, whence an increasing volubility could be discerned; notably, the dresser and various members of the cast.

‘’Orrible it were,’ came the nasal tones of the dresser, ‘only saw it for an instance, but my life, never again – you won’t get me inside that room, I tell you – ‘orrible!’

‘There, there, dear, have some more brandy – oh, you have already,’ comforted one of the actors. The dresser, wobbly and sliding fast into mild incoherence, tottered over to a small easy chair and sank into it.

‘Show us the wardrobe, then,’ said Brink, to nobody in particular. Felix escorted him to the end of the corridor; on the left was a recess, with a cracked and peeling door on which was scratched in chalk  the single word ‘WARD’.

‘Ran out of chalk?’ asked Brink.

‘Something like that,’ murmured, Felix, now distinctly ill at ease. ‘We just never got around to adjusting it.  Whole place needs doing up, really …’ His Pekinese started to whimper.

Brink opened the door and fumbled about for the switch.

‘Allow me,’ offered Felix.  ‘Yap,’ went the Pekinese, cringing.

For barely a second as the light switched on, a figure was visible, smack in the middle of the room. Even Brink was visibly shaken. The light flickered and the figure moved towards them – then was gone.  The Pekinese yapped and yelped and had to be picked up.

‘Yes,’ commented Brink, ‘yes, I see. Quite upsetting, I imagine.’

‘Anything you can do?’ asked Felix.

‘Show me where these footprints are.’

‘Wells can do that – where is he…’

‘They turn up in different areas,’ explained Wells, once they had tracked him down to the stage where he had taken refuge behind a leftover precipice from the Tempest or something,  ‘– sometimes outside a dressing room, sometimes in the wings, once they followed one of the cast out of the theatre – at least, it looked like that.’

‘And then vanish?’

‘Yes, yes. Quite annoying, really.’

Brink walked over to face Wells, studying him carefully. ‘Follow people about, do they?’

‘Well, I don’t know about people generally – ‘

‘Which actor was this?’

‘Portland, Dicky Portland; he called in sick today – hope he’s not another one skedaddling off …’ Wells rubbed his head wearily, Felix jingled change in his pocket, whistling silently and the Pekinese, at his heels, woofed in muted sympathy.

Brink studied Wells a little more, then clapped him on the back.

‘Show me, as far as you can remember, the areas where the footprints have been seen. Starting with the first time they were seen.’

‘Oh dear, as far as I can remember … well … as to when, that’s easy enough – two days into rehearsals. At least, that’s when I saw them, just as I was coming up to the stage from the wings.’

‘Anyone on stage already?’

‘Oh yes, most of the cast, in fact. ‘

‘What did you see, exactly?’

‘Just that – footsteps, red ones – going around the stage as if someone were looking for something – or someone. I called for it to be cleaned – but by the time the boy came with mop and bucket, they had faded. Most perplexing. However, they didn’t reappear for a few days and we got on with things.’

‘Where next?’

Wells led them through the wings offstage and back to the dressing rooms. ‘Several times here, stopping outside different doors. Which ones? That I actually can’t remember, sorry, – but gave several people a fright. ’

‘How long would you say it took for them to fade?’

‘They seem to last a little longer each time – most recently, a day.’

‘Most satisfactory,’ said Brink comfortably. Wells stared at him. ‘Well, I’m glad to hear someone thinks so,’ he exclaimed, somewhat bitterly. ‘The question remains, what are you able to do about it?’

‘It might not rest with me, however,’ replied Brink, still completely at ease. ‘I would say however, that things are reaching a climax.’

‘I should say they are,’ complained Wells. ‘I have a cast in shreds, and notices being handed in left right and centre.’

‘It will require a late night at the theatre – let me see …’ Brink rummaged around in his pockets and drew out a small almanac. ‘Yes, I would say, in two night’s time.  Full cast present. No excuses. I meanwhile shall attend to a little research.  You can perhaps show me a list of all performances given here in the last, ooh, shall we say, twenty to forty years?’ Wells was quite nonplussed at this; Felix stepped forward. ‘I have records in my office. Follow me.’

Two nights and many, many complaints later, the full cast was assembled on stage: pale, wary and nervous. Wells, Felix (followed by Pekinese) and Brink joined them, bearing respectively an object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player, a round folding table and a tripod and camera.

The table was set up, the object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player placed upon it, and Brink proceeded to set up the tripod and camera. The cast, with expressions varying from mild incredulity to outrage, gazed on speechless. Which, as Wells said afterwards, was something of a miracle in itself and passing all matters supernatural.

Brink took centre stage and began.

‘How does the ditty go – I have a little list, I have a little list,’ he chanted, pulling out a folded paper from his pocket. He proceeded to unfold it, as he went on: ‘After a little hunting about in the history of this place, and a little puzzle-solving, I rather think I have found a solution. By midnight or a little after, this theatre should be freed of its uninvited occupants and the show can, as they say, go on … The fact that there is to be a full moon should assist in the energizing of the elements involved.’ He ignored the derisive snort or two from his audience and continued, while consulting his notes: ‘From the records kept here at the theatre, I have discovered the following facts: one, that a performance of Macbeth was held in this very theatre in 1900 – no more than ten years ago.’

A slight stiffening of the cast here. Several members resolutely avoided looking at each other.

‘Said performance ran for one week only, owing to a fatal accident, depriving one of the actors of their life.’

Various intakes of breath; a collective, muted hissing. The Pekinese sniffed. Brink paused, looking around. ‘Indeed. I see some of you recall the episode well. But to proceed: the name of the hapless thespian was one Edward Vaughan.’

‘Really!’ expostulated Isobel, wrapped up in a mink stole and very irate, ‘is this necessary? Leave the poor man’s memory alone!’

‘I would, if he would – but his memory, it appears, lives on regardless. On the night of the performance, he was acting the part of Banquo – and, on cue, was indeed found dead; rather messily with a genuine claymore rather than the prop one. It appears he did not die immediately, but attempted to make his way backstage towards the dressing rooms before collapsing and expiring. Foul play was naturally not ruled out – but his assailant was never found.’

The Pekinese, still at its master’s feet, crouched down and whined a little.

‘’Those of you with longer acquaintance with this theatre might be able to recall the names of the cast of that final performance.’ He paused for dramatic effect. Nobody replied. ‘No? Then allow me to refresh your memories. Lady Macbeth, Miss Isobel Courtney, Macbeth, Roland Masefield, Macduff …’ Brink paused again.  Was there a sharp movement from within the group huddled together on the stage? ‘Macduff,’ repeated Brink – ‘Richard Por-’ he was interrupted at this point however by Mr Portland who, cursing and swearing, knocked over Brink and dashed from the stage. The Pekinese set up a wild barking and bounded about in paroxysms of hysteria.

‘Stop him!’ called out Wells but there was no need. The lights flickered and went out. There was a flash, followed by the sound of feet as Portland stumbled his way down the wings, then, unmistakably, the sound of other feet behind him – cut short soon after by a hideous scream.

The lights flickered back on. A general gasp broke out as everyone observed the trail of wet, red, half footprints now visible on the boards of the stage, leading off into the wings in the direction Portland had taken.

‘Banquo’s ghost has found his murderer,’ murmured Brink, who proceeded to examine the camera.

There was a cautious dash down the corridor to where Portland’s body could now be seen, lying mute and frozen on the floor. Felix’s Pekinese slunk at his heels giving out small whimpers.

Felix patted at his pockets. ‘Should we not call for assistance?’

‘Most definitely.’

The doctor was called first – who pronounced a case of heart failure. No external wounds, no visible signs of attack. The footprints, as previously, had by now disappeared once again. The doctor was perfectly happy to write out a straightforward certificate, and there really seemed little point in trying to explain otherwise.

The camera plate, once developed, proved most illuminating. The moment at which Brink, with characteristic presence of mind, had taken it showed Portland in the act of running from the stage – and behind him, a figure dressed in the costume of an ancient Scottish warrior bearing a very efficient looking weapon, in hot pursuit. The relatively distinct, if horribly bloodied, features of this individual were considered, after due consultation of a few old photographs, to be unquestionably those of former dramatic actor Edward Vaughan, deceased. The dresser, on seeing it, went back into hysterics and more than half a bottle of brandy was consumed in less than half an hour. Brink and Felix both confirmed this was the figure they too had seen. The Pekinese fully recovered its former equanimity and padded about the place as if nothing remotely untoward had happened at all.

As for the object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player – well, it was, in a sense. Rather, it was a recording device, of peculiar sensitivity. Its discs, once played on a less unorthodox machine, proved to contain not only the voice of Brink expounding on the death of Vaughan, but also that of another, fainter yet still clear, repeating at intervals : ‘Murderer – I’ll have you yet.’ It was even possible to hear in the background soft thumps, which might or might not have been footsteps.

These, along with the plate containing the spectral image of Vaughan, returned with Septimus Brink to his home, to be added to his collection of phantom memorabilia: invaluable material for his ‘Theory of Manifestation’, he said, which he would one day write up.

The red footprints, as far as anyone knows, have never since been seen at the theatre.

Return of the Green Man …

This stone carving of a Green Man from Dore Ab...

From Dore Abbey, Herefordshire, England(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Is there a cathedral where you live? If so, chances are it will be an old one … just how old, would you say? And when you crane your head up to look at the ceiling, its arches lost in shadows, what else do you see? You might need binoculars, though – but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop of corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth; sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has only regained resonance in quite recent times: The Green Man.

Theories abound concerning his origins, both etymological and geographical; he turns up in a variety of guises, from Rome(Bacchus and Dionysius) to Mesopotamia and Egypt, (green-faced Osiris); he is Jack in the Green, Cernunnos, Pan, Silvanus, he can be found in Sumerian, Hindu, Aztec cultures – he exists  everywhere, a source of life and natural force . Occasionally neglected, his image however has survived in nooks and crannies, a constant reminder of man’s reliance on his natural environment and of man’s constant struggle with the elements. Another of his many names is Robin – but is he Robin Goodfellow, the mischievous imp – or Robin Hood, woodlander and defender of the poor? Apparently both and more: a guardian, a powerful god, an impish spirit, a playful invoker of spring and sprouting seedlings; at once venerated and feared:  for crops can fail too if you cause him displeasure … the corn dollies and harvest festivals are vestiges of something more than a ritual – they entreat the return of sun after winter, of growth after hibernation, they are offerings of supplication and penitence brought by children to their volatile father.

How has he fared with time, this father, this god of fertility and vitality? I mentioned he has gone through periods of comparative neglect, as when the Industrial Revolution stampeded across the countryside, bringing steam, iron roads and coal, blinding the people with its smoke, weakening his memory and perhaps also his strength and yet, something has struggled through, some collective memory perhaps, clinging onto the notion of one protective entity that will defend the very source of our food and means of survival. It is this protective aspect and this comparative neglect that I have focussed on in my mystery novel, Greenwood Tree. Here, the presence of the Green Man is hovering on the outer edges of dreams, occasionally manifesting himself (in more than one form) to warn and defend, his strength weakened by the frail memory of humanity. In addition he acts as the main linking figure in a multi-genre mystery, where detection meets mythology, in that foreign country called the past. In my mystery he has retreated, and his home is under threat, perhaps an indirect comment on his rather tenuous place in the cultural and social upheaval of the 1920s. I also tend to think of him as one of many Green Men, for to my mind there is something in the Ancient Greek idea that every tree contained its Dryad, every river and stream its Naiad : together unstoppable – but individually, vulnerable. In a similar way, the countryside from the time of the railway has been under constant, if gradual, threat, mirrored by England’s own very uncertain, susceptible condition in the aftermath of World War One. When Nature is attacked however, she has a way of fighting back, sometimes in unexpected ways.

The Green Man, in my treatment of him, thus becomes a metaphor for this vulnerable, while green and pleasant land. Disturb him at your peril.




 (First posted as the Green Man Cometh on Dean’s Den)

Coffin Hop Divertissement 3

As part of the 2013 Coffin Hop


This anthology is available for purchase here; all proceeds go to the charity LitWorld.org to help encourage children’s literacy throughout the world and is a first collection of stories from the annual Coffin Hop online horror extravaganza.

All the links to the Coffin Hop participants can be found here – do pop along to see what they’re up to!

2) Flash Fiction Competition run by Lost World Press:

 For those keen to flex those scribbling muscles, why not try out  the Flash Fiction competition on Lost World Press (with Amazon voucher for prizes!) : Flash Fiction Halloween 750 max, all things Halloween in Speculative manner (full details on the site) Happy Spooking ! Don’t forget to hop along to all the others taking part in the Coffin Hop (links on the site)

As we wind down towards the witching hour, (and the end of the Giveaway!) here is another bit of nonsense in celebration of the Coffin Hop


Artwork by Red Tash

The Door

A quiet tap at the door.

He had been waiting for close on half an hour, and at last it came.

Just ‘tap-tap’.

The first time he looked, he had caught sight of a movement at the end of the corridor, just tucking away round the corner.

The time after that, a whisper of air, playing about his shoulders, caused him to jump back inside and slam the door shut. Now it was locked, and remained so.

He should have left well alone.

He had been warned about opening the secret room. Still, he had persisted, deciding it would make the perfect study. The workmen had refused to work there after dark. There had been accidents and delays – nothing too serious, but . . .

Once the work was done, he had congratulated himself on his decision – the view from the window was entrancing, and the comfort within quite seductive.

His enjoyment lasted barely a week.

Now, his evenings alone were never quiet. He sought increasingly any excuse to be out of the house, but one cannot forever be trading on friends and acquaintances, and other pursuits, the theatre and suchlike, were either too far or too costly.

That morning, Cook had handed in her notice. Reason? She was not to be put upon. She was not to stay in a house where there were such goings on.

The other domestics were not live-in. So he was the only one there, come evening. Supposedly, the only one.

The sound came again. Not so much tap-tap this time, more of a soft thud, as of a large dog’s paw, pressed urgently against the door panel, in that way dogs have when they wish to be let out – or in. Unmistakable sound that, of claws. Was it a dog, then? Had he been terrifying himself witless because some stray had somehow managed to get in?  Should he open the door, show it the way out into the garden, give it some food?

Scratch, scratch, thud, thud, tap, tap. Now the door is trembling slightly in its frame.

That is no dog, he is certain. At least, not only a dog.

‘Who’s there?’ he calls out. He considers, as he speaks, that this was a mistake. Were they burglars, trying to find their way in, then he would have been better employed in not giving away his presence, but in escaping by means of the window . . . which refuses to budge. Some enthusiastic over painting, the damp, or age, whatever the reason, it is stuck fast. He is a virtual prisoner.

On the tapping and thudding continues, at times lesser, at other times greater, till it seems the door must surely burst open. On and on at intervals throughout the night . . .

When the housekeeper knocks on the door in the morning, she is answered with a scream and the sound of breaking glass.

They find him unconscious in the garden with the wonderful view, badly cut and bruised. Months of feverish babbling follow as he makes a slow and painful recovery.

The study has been bricked up since then, and a For Sale sign put up in the front.

Coffin Hop Divertissement 2


Giveaway plus a Flash Fiction Writing Competition (with Amazon gift vouchers for prizes!)

1) Giveaway  ! Going live at midnight (click here  to enter or on image below) : one prize of a free e-copy of the following anthology:


This anthology is available for purchase here; all proceeds go to the charity LitWorld.org to help encourage children’s literacy throughout the world and is a first collection of stories from the annual Coffin Hop online horror extravaganza.

All the links to the Coffin Hop participants can be found here – do pop along to see what they’re up to!

2) Flash Fiction Competition run by Lost World Press:

 For those keen to flex those scribbling muscles, why not try out  the Flash Fiction competition on Lost World Press (with Amazon voucher for prizes!) : Flash Fiction Halloween 750 max, all things Halloween in Speculative manner (full details on the site) Happy Spooking ! Don’t forget to hop along to all the others taking part in the Coffin Hop (links on the site)

Here instead: a little bit of nonsense in celebration of the Coffin Hop


Artwork by Red Tash

The Mist


He opened the door a crack and peered out. The snow had not quite melted away, and still streaked the muddy earth. He peered and strained and finally poked his head out. He paused to sniff the air, looked over the ground and finally relaxed. One step forward. The light was grey and uninviting, but clear enough. He might after all be able to take a turn about in the fresh air. A few more paces however, and he stopped, groaned, and rushed back indoors. Before he had moved two feet forward, he found what he had been dreading : the prints in the muddy slush.

He locked the door, and checked through the windows, one after the other. Now he saw clearly what his mind had forbidden him : a clear set of prints, trailing around the house – nothing to show where they came from, nothing to show where they disappeared to. It was the third day now, and each time, a little closer to the house.

He had tried to fight it off at first, walking down almost as far as the village, when the pattering behind him started. Whirling round, expecting – he knew not what – he had found . . . nothing. And again. And again. He pursued when perhaps he should have retreated, but the pattering had increased, grown louder, closer, close enough for him to hear panting – and each time he turned to face an empty horizon, devoid of life.

He returned to the house very quickly, and stayed within, peering out, listening, listening, then as no more was heard, and time drew a veil, he shrugged his shoulders and decided he had imagined it. Overwork, over study . . .he retired early to bed.

Sleep was however denied him. A restlessness in the early hours prompted him to wander about the room, until looking briefly out of the window, he saw, or thought he saw, a trail of white mist curling its way across the land directly in front of the house.

Intrigued, he watched, as it rolled and heaved past, gathering itself up, hurling itself forward – one could almost imagine there were legs and heads forming from those clouds.

Then the howling began. Far off at first, moving increasingly nearer. At the best of times disturbing – but the incident of the afternoon comes back to him tenfold, and he creeps back to bed there to spend a wakeful night until towards dawn, the howling fades away and he is permitted oblivion.

On waking, he has little or no recollection, it is only on realising he needs supplies form the village that he steps out – and sees the trail of prints around the house.

The pattering begins again as he walks down to the village. He will not be deterred this time . . . he will not be . . . he will not .  . .A few minutes later he finds himself back in the entrance hall to the house, trembling, shaking, pressing against the door of this virtual dungeon. Fear holds him fast and will not let him go.

The same again the third day – it is by some fierce combination of necessity, courage and outrage that he makes it as far as the bridge leading to the village.

He does not return that night to the house. The misty wraiths continue their noiseless tread around it, leaving behind yet more paw-prints, this time close up against the walls.

The villagers find him in a state of collapse in the street – muddied, for he has fallen more than once, his clothes torn (by thorns?), there are scratch marks even on his hands and neck – a puzzle, this, as it is clear enough countryside, there are no thickets for him to get caught up in.

He is at first incoherent, and it takes a few brandies to give him speech – on discovering the name of the house he has left, several of the older residents purse their lips. ‘The House of Wolves,’ mutters one of them.

Eventually, a small party of them accompany the visitor back to his ill-chosen winter abode. They find the paw-prints, this time on the inside of the door, leading through the entire house, as if hunting something out . . .

The visitor packs his bags and returns to town, vowing never to visit the countryside again. He still sleeps but fitfully, and cannot abide two things : the sound of dogs and the sight of mist.

Coffin Hop Divertissement


Giveaway plus a Flash Fiction Writing Competition (with Amazon gift vouchers for prizes!)

1) Giveaway  ! Going live at midnight (click here  to enter or on image below) : one prize of a free e-copy of the following anthology:


This anthology is available for purchase here; all proceeds go to the charity LitWorld.org to help encourage children’s literacy throughout the world and is a first collection of stories from the annual Coffin Hop online horror extravaganza.

All the links to the Coffin Hop participants can be found here – do pop along to see what they’re up to!

2) Flash Fiction Competition run by Lost World Press:

 For those keen to flex those scribbling muscles, why not try out  the Flash Fiction competition on Lost World Press (with Amazon voucher for prizes!) : Flash Fiction Halloween 750 max, all things Halloween in Speculative manner (full details on the site) Happy Spooking ! Don’t forget to hop along to all the others taking part in the Coffin Hop (links on the site)

Here instead: a little bit of nonsense in celebration of the Coffin Hop


Artwork by Red Tash

‘Evenin’, Gladys.’

‘Evenin’, Penny.’ (Purl one, cast two)

‘Coming along nicely, ain’t it. (Purl two, cast one)

‘I see young Tommasina’s nearly finished three already.’

‘Never one to hang about is our Tommy.’ (Cast one, purl three)

‘Our Mabel’s sorted out the business with the daddy-long-legs, by the way.’

‘Mmhmm. ‘ (Cast two, purl two)

‘Oh, look who’s arrived….’

‘Ah. Him. On His own, is He?’

‘Hang on – just peeking – no, got a couple of lady guests with Him.’

‘Ah.’ (Cast two, purl one)

‘Oh, – there’s more of them.’

‘A party.’ *Sigh* (Cast two, purl one)’Can’t remember the last time he had one of those ….’

‘Nor me, neither.’

‘It’ll be an all-nighter by the looks of things.’

‘What’s he doing now?’

‘Offering wine. Food. The usual.’(Cast one, purl three)

‘Maybe that’s why the manservant was in earlier, polishing up the goblets, setting the cutlery straight.’

‘Don’t miss a thing, do you.’

’I don’t.’

‘Proper little gossip, you are.’

‘That’s me.’ (Purl  two, cast one)

‘They’re getting sleepy already.’

‘That manservant – he’s never around in the evening, is he?’

‘No, never.Oh look , one of them’s dropped off.  (And purl three, cast two)

‘And that one in blue, as well.’

‘Works fast, doesn’t it.’

‘Indeed.’ (Cast two, purl  one)

‘Are they all asleep now ?’

‘They are.’

‘Has he drunk yet?’

‘He’s just about to, I think.’

(Cast one, purl three, cast two, purl one, cast one, purl three…)

‘Where’s he gone now?’

‘To feed the Children.’

‘Oh yes, of course. Got so used to the howling, I’d forgotten why.’

‘T’is gone midnight.’

‘Yes, yes, nearly done.’

‘You know He likes it all finished before dawn.’

‘Yes, yes, don’t fuss.’ (Cast one, purl three) ‘There – finished.’

One by one the spiders swung down to spread out and admire their handiwork, while outside the Children of the Night continued their demand for nourishment.

The candles burned low.

Come dawn  the late guests were barely visible beneath the thick coating of cobwebs. Deep in the bowels of the Castle, a faint squeal could be heard, as a lid was lowered.

‘That manservant – still hasn’t oiled the hinges on the thing.’

‘Getting rather lax, ain’t he.’

‘I wonder the Count keeps him.’

‘I’ve heard, good servants are hard to come by these days …’

Unseen Company

This was too long for the Readwave writing challenge (I still haven’t finished the one about The World Time Forgot ….) but I posted it on my own profile and thought I might as well post it here too before ether dust completely covers this sorry little blog …. the theme was Dreams. I got a bit carried away …

Unseen Company

(London, 1920)

Was it a dream?  Wallace is not so sure; Mrs Draycott is quite convinced it was, while Gerome has decided that this is the sort of thing one will get at séances, which is why they are best avoided.

They had gone to humour Adele, who went  to great lengths to arrange the thing : ’She (the medium)comes much recommended, I didn’t think much of it myself to begin with until I went – quite took my breath away!  The things she knew!  So if you could be punctual, there will also be the dear old Colonel, Mr and Mrs Fanshaw, oh, and Lorca.’  ‘Lorca, eh? Well, it will be worth going if only to see what he makes of it,’ said Wallace. Gerome raised an eyebrow. ‘That must have taken a bit of doing – not his sort of thing, I’d have thought; but yes, good fun, I wouldn’t miss that.’

Mrs Draycott, bored, nearly divorced and ready for anything, was adamant they would all go for Adele’s sake : ‘She always makes such an effort, the dear,’ she said, replacing yet another cigarette  in her ivory holder. ‘I’ve ordered a car for six thirty – don’t want to miss out if there is any booze going, eh? ‘

‘I should bally well think not!’ agreed her two companions. And so it was arranged.

Adele lived a little off Berkeley Square, in a quiet area more used to polite evenings around the pianoforte than séances, but then,  the medium was not your little old lady in feathers and pearls.

Lorca, resplendent in peacock green with purple cravat was just finishing one of his parodies as the little group entered – turning with cocktail in hand, he waved briefly and turned the final sentence in their direction, much to the amusement of his audience.

‘Come, old man, you’ll have to explain all that now,’ remarked Gerome as he pulled off his scarf.

‘A trifle, a mere trifle; your entrance was so deliciously timed – I was using the Arrival of the Mikado to illustrate my own entrance at the Savoy on opening night – ‘… the paraphrase to fit the line, I shall in course of time ….’ He hummed the refrain and allowed himself a self-congratulatory chuckle.

‘Ellipses and apostrophes, is that what we are to you?’ exclaimed Gerome with mock severity.

‘Dear boy, you could never be anything less than an exclamation mark,’ purred Lorca, ‘but come, there are some simply splendid young things dying to meet you…’

‘Bless me if you don’t crack me up every time;  thank goodness they invited you –  but, ‘ and here Gerome lowered his voice, ‘what do you make of the special guest tonight?’

‘Ah, la belle voyeuse – too soon to say, but I fancy the Daimler she rolled up in has seen better days, what?’

‘That Daimler, I happen to know, was Adele’s cousin who kindly offered to bring the lady in question here tonight, you frightful old snob.’

‘Then her credentials are impeccable and I say no more… ‘

‘Which one is she ? Oh, I say!’ Gerome now caught sight of the medium and drew in his breath.

Dressed in the height of fashion, she more resembled a Vionnet mannequin or a Parisienne (perhaps with shades of grisette), and her speech was calm, collected, almost disinterested. One could imagine she did not believe in the whole business at all. Her name, or soubriquet under these circumstances, was Astoral and she, like Mrs Draycott, smoked from a long ivory holder; it was hard to imagine her as being anything other than an exquisite design on a Vogue magazine cover.

Talk over drinks covered the usual topics one might find in any other drawing room of an evening in Bloomsbury  or Battersea in 1920 : Ascot, the theatre, Cole Porter, and why oh why A Night Out was so popular.

Suddenly Adele stepped forward, eyes bright with excitement and announced: ‘It is time – the table is set!’ and led the way to the dining room.

There was some subtle change in the air once she had spoken.

Astoral snaked (there was no other word for it) across Adele’s polished parquet as if on the way to a dance, her heavily shadowed eyes cloudy, unfocussed, distant.

The room was candle-lit. The lights had been lowered, the guests were in their places in that combination of shy embarrassment and expectation one finds at such gatherings.Gradually a hush fell.

‘I hope she doesn’t have all that ectoplasm coming out of her mouth…’ murmured Wallace.

‘Oh, I shouldn’t think so, dear boy – that is only in the lower circles, surely. It will be infinitely more refined here,’ Lorca replied in conspiratorial tones.

‘Hush, hush!’

The medium was now seated, her eyes continuing in that vacuous, dreamy state. She placed her cigarette holder on the ashtray provided for her; a thin thread of smoke continued to wind up from it.

Silence.  ‘…which did last an infernally long time,’ commented Gerome afterwards.

Someone, a late-comer presumably, walked across the floor. The candle light flickered and wavered causing the shadows to lurch uncertainly, confusing the eye.

‘You may be seated,’ said the medium.

Wallace thought it a bit much that the medium should take on the role of hostess in such a way, but perhaps this was now her realm. Certainly, the changed light, the oddness of the situation, the very atmosphere itself made it seem another world.

Whoever it was drew up a chair – at least, they all heard it scraping across the floor.

‘Adele will have a fit,’ whispered Mrs Draycott, her  voice tickling Wallace’s ear. Gerome, seated on the other side of him, stifled a chuckle. Wallace twitched irritably.

‘Tell us why you have come,’ continued the medium.


Well, what is he likely to answer?  thought Wallace, almost petulantly. Why are we all here? Curiosity, idleness, ennui …

More footsteps. Somebody, bored or in need of replenishment was pacing about, as if looking for something. Not the drinks cabinet after all, by the sound of it.

‘I say, is it usual for people to get up and move about?’

‘Anything can happen,’ replied the medium, unruffled.

‘Didn’t really answer my question, though,’ muttered Wallace. ‘If that’s the case, think I might stretch my legs as well.’

And he stood up.

Several things happened at once:  amid a general gasp and admonishments to ‘not break the circle’ there was a groan followed by  a crash as somebody’s (possibly Wallace’s) chair fell over, and then, a rush of air, causing the door to slam shut, and the running of feet.

‘Well, bless me, if a chap can’t take a stroll if he feels like it – I’ve had enough!’ Wallace strode across and tried the door, but it resolutely declined to budge.

‘Speak!’ said the medium, a little louder this time.

Wallace turned in time to see her lean forward, apparently addressing him, although her eyes had rolled back, showing only the whites.

‘Speak? What on earth am I to say?’ he spluttered.

‘She doesn’t mean you, you dolt!’ hissed Gerome. ‘Come and sit down, there’s a good fellow.’

The door chose that moment to open, or he had simply managed the trick of it, and he was out, back in the drawing room, only here too all was now shadow and shade, strange patterns leaping across the walls, a flickering, slumberous glow from the fireplace (a fire in summer? had it really been so chilly?) –  he tried to cross the room to reach the other door to the hallway, stumbling into furniture; someone, perhaps  the latecomer, had the same idea, only they kept moving things about and his path was being impeded.

‘I say,’  Wallace bleated, anxious only to get out, ‘you might stop chucking the furniture about.’

Instant silence.

It had grown dark indeed. Whatever fire had been in the hearth was now extinct. Yet still he could see, by the little light allowed through the windows, shadows, moving. Moving across the wall, and most definitely not cast by any log or candle.

‘Not by humans, either, ‘  he said afterwards. ‘Some of them, if I’d seen them by a stronger light, might have turned me quite silly: beastly outlines, more man mixed with animal – perfectly monstrous.’

‘It was probably some of those statues Adele has dotted about the place,’ soothed Mrrs Draycott. ‘You mistook them for … something else.’

Wallace thinks not.

At first he thought it some foolish prank, and called out to them to stop being such silly asses and let him out. Instead, without reply,  they all turned and advanced slowly, very slowly, towards him.

Whatever they were, he said , they made to come at him, and shout as he might for help, no word came out of his mouth. Some part of his fear also bound his hands and legs, for move he could not. Paralysed in speech and deed, he could only stand, looking around him at the closing circle.

‘On and on they came,’ he stuttered, ‘whispering, whispering : “You let them in, you let them in, “ – although who, and how, I cannot tell,’ he broke off, burying his head in his hands. He continued, in muffled tones: ‘I couldn’t breathe – I thought I was being strangled – there seemed a whole army of them; I must have passed out then … and none of you heard them, pounding and stamping about the place?’ He raised his head and stared at his companions incredulously.

‘We thought you were just asleep in the armchair, Wallace darling,’ said Mrs Draycott. ‘And you were quite, quite alone. There certainly wasn’t anyone pounding or prancing about. We found you there, quite peaceful, after we’d finished.  I do think it a pity you didn’t join us though – then you might not have had such an awful, silly dream.’

Wallace stared at her again, wide-eyed and dishevelled.

‘I did join you , though.’   There was some gentle laughter at this.

‘My dear, you decided you wouldn’t, after all. You’d picked up a book of myths and legends, just as we were leaving the room and said : “Herne the Hunter, there’s the chap. I’ll sit here and read him. You lot go ahead.” And so we left you.’

Wallace still insists this was not the case. Yet the Book of Myths and Legends, by one M. Larrimer (All Saints College, 1st ed.1872) with Herne, Oberon and Titania and all the rest of the Unseen Company, was definitely lying open on the table at his side. And he had collapsed in an armchair. The one they had found him in. The book was heavily illustrated, containing engravings that were … grotesque. He looked at a few, then shuddered and closed the book.  And then shrugged.

The medium was quite unconcerned by it all, and murmured something about sensitives, possession, and the like.

‘She was really excellent tonight – chilling, in fact,’ commented Mrs Draycott, once they were on their way home. ‘I could see even Lorca was impressed. She knew all about Uncle Horace – and she did mention there were quite a few ‘Unknowns’ wandering about. I wasn’t too certain what she meant by that. Perhaps they were the ones bothering Wallace while he was asleep?  I almost believe in it after all.’

‘Darling Davinia,’chuckled Gerome, ‘ you are too, too droll. As well as divine. There, all words beginning with D. Like your initials.’

‘How perfectly charming, perhaps I shall have them embroidered on something.’

Their levity had little effect. Wallace knows what he saw. Safe to say, he has not been to a séance since. And still sleeps badly.

Save a Word Saturday 6

save  a word Saturday image

(Full rules here : The Feather & the Rose)
1. Create a lovely blog post that links back to this one.

2. Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in your blog post. Luciferous Logolepsy is a great database of lovely old words.

3. Provide a definition of your word. Use your word in a sentence (or even a short paragraph) vaguely related to the theme chosen for the week.

4. Add your post to the linky list below (it’s down there somewhere). Then hop to as many other blogs as you can in search of as many wonderful words as possible!

5. Use as many of the words as you can on the people in your life.

My chosen words:

adj. – bearing branches. ramiform, adj. branch-alike.

adj. – extremely wicked; depraved; infamous

& this week’s theme is:




‘Who, indeed?’ joked Mr Gracious , a little nervously.

‘Pay no attention. There are tales of a phantom that haunts the place, but really, it is nothing more than an owl,’ said the host to his guest anxiously, as he placed a lighted candle on the table before leaving him to his bed chamber

‘Who who whohooooo…’ came the crazed voice again.

Mr Gracious tugged at his earlobe and hemmed and hawed a while.

‘Of course, nothing but a lot of old wives’ tales; still, perhaps not inadvisable to lock one’s door and windows at night – if an owl or even a bat were to make its way in, could be rather annoying.’

He peered out through the narrow window; the view that met him might have been created specifically for a Tale of Horror and Imagination or one of Le Fanu: a full moon, riding clear of some very oddly shaped clouds, framed against the bluey-black sky by the ramiferous arms of the old tree growing immediately outside.

‘Quite,’ commented Mr Gracious to himself, as if in agreement with the elements.

And so to bed.  He could not quite close the window however:  rust, or some fault in the original design caused it to stick, allowing a thin breath of cool evening air to enter. He tugged the tapestry across it and by means of his walking stick managed to pin it ingeniously in place.

A quiet read by candle light, and soon he was sleepy enough to doze off;  even the who-whooiing which continued far into the night failed to wake him, although occasionally he twitched in his sleep.


Who indeed, could be of such nefarious, such facinorous intent, as to wish harm to an itinerant traveller , a complete stranger to the semi-ruined castle?


Shadows flickered about the chamber,  assuming  strange and near human shapes – it is curious how a breath of air can make the flame flicker and dart in that extraordinary manner …  now a female figure, now a dancing, capering male figure , surely wearing a jester’s cap… and finally, the shadow of an owl, flying around the walls – how could that be? The window is not open, nor  is the door.

Night wears on into dawn – and as the walking stick falls away, the window swings open – and from the chamber, mysteriously, drifts out the owl.

Has the castle claimed yet another victim?

‘… framed against the bluey-black sky by the ramiferous arms of the old tree …’

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The Green Man Cometh

The Green Man Cometh.

via The Green Man Cometh.

I am a guest this week – what a novel experience that was!  Many thanks to Dean Lombardo for inviting me  – here is the opening :

“The next time you visit a cathedral, crane your head up to look at the ceiling, where the building’s arches lurk in shadow. What else do you see? You might need binoculars—but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth. Sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this often-sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has regained resonance only recently: the Green Man…”

Post continues  here …

The Old Inn (Love-to-Spook Blog Hop 1)

There is a small town up in the Tyrol, in that mountainous ridge that straddles the Southern reaches of Germany and Upper lands of North Italy, called Vipiteno (in Italian) and Sterzing (in German). It sits right on the frontier between the two countries and is divided by more than language. Some treated you better if you spoke in Italian, others , if you spoke in German. You couldn’t tell till you’d tried one of each. Things may have changed since I was there with my parents.

We stopped off there for a few nights, and, on the recommendation of a friend originally from the town, we stayed at the oldest inn in the place; I think it was called something like Das Krone – but whatever its name, it had been standing  there, as a wayside inn, up in the mountains, for five hundred years – and in the same family for all that time. This seemed an impressive fact to a child who had spent no more than three or four years at a time in any one country, and, combined with a family love of history, made me curious to know more; over dinner in the timbered restaurant on the ground floor, I looked up at the portraits on the wall over the fireplace at the far end. A man and a woman, early to mid-nineteenth century – possibly even earlier …surely they were ancestors of the present inn-keepers.  What might have been their history? What their names ?

The inn had expanded, there was a modern building across the road, only three years old, built mainly  to accommodate coach parties. We were staying in the old building, my parents in one room nearest to the stairs, I in another a little further on.

The upper floor had a narrow winding corridor, with the rooms leading off from it – lit with warm, glowing lights, comfortable and welcoming.

Full and glowing after a (probably over-rich) hearty dinner, I drifted off happily; we had spent a fascinating time in Venice, had chatted and giggled at dinner and were anticipating a couple of days exploration of Vipiteno. All was light and cheery. I slipped into sleep in a haze of comfort.

I awoke a few hours later,suddenly, in the dark, and petrified.  That over-used expression ‘paralysed with fear’ comes to mind; yet how else to describe the sheer impossibility of movement owing to the cold terror that has taken hold of your whole body ?

Indigestion, I hear you suggest. Over-excitement, says another. Pooh, over-active imagination,  from the gentleman at the back there.

It may well be so – yet those three are no strangers to me, and I think would have resulted in similar effects often enough for me to have already drawn such a conclusion, if such indeed were the case. I had not before, nor have I since, experienced such a sensation, such a terrifying  feeling ; –  of someone sitting on the end of the bed.


My feet were tilting – in the unmistakable way that feet do when the mattress is sat on; and this I believe was what had awoken me.

It can only have lasted a few seconds – yet it seemed an eternity before I could stretch my hand out to switch on the light. Finally, I managed to do that – and kept my eyes tightly shut. That welcome glow, through my eyelids ,  was not enough in itself to reassure me.  I had no intention of opening them – I felt most strongly that to do so would be a serious mistake, that my very sanity would be at risk if I dared to open them.

Gradually – oh, relief! – gradually, the weight lifted and dissipated. My feet returned to a normal position as the mattress lightened. But dear heavens,  it was slow in going – and still I kept my eyelids tightly shut. I did not want to see, I could not bear the thought of what I might see, at the end of the bed – until finally, all sensation of weight had gone completely.  How long did that take ? Again, probably no more than a matter of seconds – yet how interminable even seconds can feel, dragging on as a plough through thick mud ….

Now I could open my eyes – only because I was finally convinced that the room was empty. Not before. Now. You see, there was that sensation, powerful enough to convince me that there was a presence, a presence I did not wish to see, and that I would be unable to move until that same presence had withdrawn.

I looked at the clock. Close on three. There was no prospect of going back to sleep that night.  I got up and crept down the corridor as far as my parents’ room, then peered about, loath to wake them. There were comforting small night lights on. The corridor remained lit all night, which was a blessing. But I did not see how I could wander up and down the corridor all night. Nor had I any wish to remain in the bedroom.

I got dressed and went downstairs. By that time it must have been nearly four in the morning. I sat on one of the old wooden chests in the hall; I felt unafraid downstairs. I looked about me, at the furnishings, the great dark shiny floor, the stairs. I waited until the light changed, when dawn, so very welcome, finally broke, and the cleaning ladies came into the hall and started vacuuming, dusting, chatting …

I do not know if they commented on my being in the hall at such an early hour – I don’t know if they even saw me. That same day however, we were moved to the new building across the road. Perhaps that had been part of the original arrangement; it was certainly a surprise to me. I was in a sense sorry not to be in such a wonderfully old building – but I was also relieved.  I slept well that night, as far as I can remember. I certainly was not troubled by the feeling of someone – or something – sitting on the end of the bed (mind you, I think I left the bedside light on!)

As I have already mentioned, I have never had such an experience anywhere else before or since.

The inn (or hotel, I suppose it should be called) was later converted; I believe there are shops now on the ground floor; the upper floor all shut up.

I have since wondered, when researching  Elizabethan travel , as to how many might have passed through those inn doors – and how many passed out again. Did one or two of them disappear overnight? In those times , highway men, robbers and thieves roamed the area, and attacks on travellers in lonely inns were not infrequent.  How many secrets might such a building as that mountain inn hold ?

And then I look at a painting by Fuseli, and wonder again ….

Phantom Highwayman....

Phantom Highwayman….

… and Fuseli’s Night Terrors…




The Bell

Eight sentence snippet(http://www.wewriwa.com/):

“Julia sat a while, admiring the tree with all its mixture of old and new. Mrs Leveton took great pride in her festive decoration, and rightly so.

A dog wandered in through the door and lay down in front of the fire, in a very relaxed, familiar way, and looked at Julia enquiringly. A magnificent animal, long-haired, a black mix between labrador and retriever, with a little bell attached to its collar which chimed gently with every movement.

‘Hello – you must have come with new guests – I’m sure I haven’t seen you before,’ Julia murmured at the dog. The animal continued to gaze at her, then suddenly placed his chin on his front paws, keeping a watchful eye open. The bell chimed again; it sounded familiar and Julia couldn’t help a tiny shiver trickling down her back. How strange to dream of a black dog with a bell before actually seeing it.”

(Complete story below)


A short winter’s tale with Julia Warren, to bring in the new year. It was  inspired by … a pet dog’s bell hanging on a Christmas Tree.

Happy New Year  and Happy Haunting !

The Bell

1800, December

Letter to Edith Summers from her cousin Jane Leveton.

“… and such a tree it was, the children said, a great yew in a pot, standing taller than any man in the room, right in the middle of the floor and spreading its branches out as so many arms, each bearing something bright, something pleasing, something to delight – and delighted the children were, too, each coming home afterwards with his or her toy and sweetmeat tightly clasped to breast, cheeks all pink with excitement…little Robert declared it to be the best Christmas party ever… and Emma ate all her sweetmeat at once and was quite unwell most of the night…too much sugar and excitement, I have declared all rich food be kept out of sight for the rest of the week , or at least until their spirits are a little more settled….

‘I had not yet told you about the toys – Robert has marched the little wooden soldier he was given till I am certain I heard the poor thing squeak in protest; such limitless energy the little ones have! – whereas Emma has a doll with a bell attached to it; a shepherdess, I think it is, a charming little thing– the bell is on a stick, with a blue ribbon attached; every time it is shook, it gives off a singularly gentle chime. The child has been carrying it around the house, and now the dog  follows her everywhere: I am certain he does so in order to hear the sound of the little bell again…’

1800, July

Letter to Edith Summers from her cousin Jane Leveton.

‘My dear Edith,

Such a panic there has been since you were last here, I can even now barely set it down without my hand causing my pen to tremble and scratch, and the ink to run and drip most terribly – and this even with the happy outcome. No doubt in years to come we shall look back all together in fond memory of the day Emma went missing – but not at present; I am quite unable to imagine what I might have done or where I might be had things turned out otherwise …

‘You will remember it is Emma’s habit to wander about the garden on sunny days, (still with her doll and its little bell to which she is most attached),and so it happened she slipped away the other day without telling anyone – which she has been told not to do previously, on many occasions, but because we know her usual movements, we have always been able to find her. This time, however we could not find any trace of the naughty thing, and were quite desperate, and called all the servants out to help search the grounds for her. It was now growing near to six of the clock, and she had last been seen a little after lunch.  We had just sent the footman over to Hartley House to enquire if she had stumbled across their land, and I was standing at the gate, watching after him as he went, when up came our dog, straight to where I was, holding in his mouth Emma’s little doll – still with its bell, which gave out that tiny chime…I had no breath left in me, with calling her name and traipsing the garden, and the sight of this  poor little toy in the animal’s mouth made me close to fainting;  Bess and Jacob were nearby, fortunately, or I should have quite fallen. Toby began whining and pawing at my gown, all this time holding the blessed toy in his mouth, and turning his head constantly. Jacob it was who suggested we follow the dog – indeed I needed no persuasion, and we fairly ran after the animal, who led us across the field, through the copse at the bottom, and onto the hill behind – and there, under the old oak , on a slope, we finally discovered  Emma, asleep, her bonnet half off, and her book beside her. Jacob blessed the day with such warmth as if she were his own, picked her up and carried her back. Toby has been rewarded by having the bell tied to his collar on special occasions – and I shall keep the bell in memory of this day…’



A discreet tinkling, a sigh, a murmur and everyone paused briefly.

‘Oh well,’ said Mrs Leveton, ’I can get some more from Woolworths – it is a shame though, such a pretty colour…’ She gazed down at the mosaic of ruby and gold glass, then bent to pick another small globe from the large cardboard box beside her.

The Levetons had started decorating for Christmas earlier than usual – and a few of their hapless friends had been inveigled into helping out, including Julia. She had volunteered – or rather, Aunty Iz had volunteered first, only to find she was unable to go at the last minute – so Julia offered to help out, and found herself invited to join the house-party.

‘She is a dear, but she does tend to lose things rather easily; I think you would be good at finding them for her – and do take this over for her ….’Aunt Iz  gave Julia a parcel tied up with a deep green ribbon. ‘I am sure you will have a lovely time – and you know Geraldine and Tommy already, so you can catch up on old times.’

Julia trundled across to the Levetons in the careful custody of Brenton and the family car in time for lunch, and spent much of the afternoon unpacking decorations, arranging mistletoe and  holly, and finding lost objects: silver spoons down the backs of chairs, cousin Maud’s necklace, the morning newspaper … There was a merciful lull towards four o’clock:  various errands and invitations were recalled and Julia was left briefly with a brimming teapot and cup in the large drawing room with the now resplendent tree and a roaring fire.

It was warm, she was tired and drifted off comfortably for a few minutes. Her dreams were brief and muddled, involving a large black dog, a sleeping child and a small bell, chiming gently in the background. She awoke suddenly, convinced that the bell was real – indeed, so vivid was the dream, it left a fading impression of the bell still sounding its singularly light, gentle chime. There was even a lingering certainty of the black dog, padding gently away through the door. Julia blinked and looked again – surely there had been a shadow moving just out of sight, across the open door?

Mrs Leveton chose that moment to hurry in, anxious and flustered: ‘Oh dear, oh dear, now I know I had them in here not a moment ago…’

‘What would that be, Mrs L?’

‘My glasses, dear.’

‘They  aren’t the ones on your head, by any chance, are they ? ‘

Mrs Leveton felt about and breathed a sigh of relief. ‘You are quite right – I am getting too forgetful in my old age.  I must go and find Lucy…’ And off she went again.

Lucy was Mrs Leveton’s youngest niece, home from a brief, unsuccessful visit to Geneva and waiting to be presented next season. Pale, fair, dreamy, fond of animals and books and not inclined to talk, she put Julia a little in mind of cousin Bunty; without perhaps the aplomb.

Julia sat a while, admiring the tree with all its mixture of old and new. Mrs Leveton took great pride in her festive decoration, and rightly so.

A dog wandered in through the door and lay down in front of the fire, in a very relaxed, familiar way, and looked at Julia enquiringly. A magnificent animal, long-haired, a black mix between labrador and retriever, with a little bell attached to its collar which chimed gently with every movement.

‘Hello – you must have come with new guests – I’m sure I haven’t seen you before,’ Julia murmured at the dog. The animal continued to gaze at her, then suddenly placed his chin on his front paws, keeping a watchful eye open. The bell chimed again; it sounded familiar and Julia couldn’t help a tiny shiver trickling down her back. How strange to dream of a black dog with a bell before actually seeing it. Or perhaps he had already wandered in while she had been dozing and somehow entered her sub-consciousness.

Geraldine and Tommy, the Levetons’ daughter and son, were now out in the hall, arguing about holly and garlands. Julia went out to see what else she could do.

After another round of hunting for misplaced mistletoe and ribbons, it was time for drinks, followed by dinner; most of the other guests were to arrive later over the coming weekend, and Julia welcomed the comparative peace and quiet of a small gathering, in spite of Tommy insisting on winding up the gramophone and demonstrating his own version of the Charleston.

All went on pretty well the next day until just after lunch when there was a mild attack of panic – Mrs Leveton, on looking over the Christmas Tree suddenly emitted a genteel squawk. ‘The bell!’ she gasped, quite shocked. ‘Now, how could I have forgotten the bell …’ She started rummaging about in the semi-discarded decoration box, increasingly frantic, until she gave up and sat down.  Geraldine and Tommy sat on either side of her, looking anxious. Julia peered inside the box. ‘Is it very small?’ she asked.

‘It was from a child’s toy, and we always hang it on the tree every year; only now it’s not there…oh dear oh dear, what will Freddy say…’

‘Oh, come along now, mother, you know the old man doesn’t fuss about such things,’ offered Tom cheerfully. ‘If that’s all you’re worried about…’ Julia noted however, that he looked about the room with a faint hint of.. uncertainty? Even nervousness?

The fire was still billowing valiantly away, and yet the light and atmosphere in the room had somehow changed. Mrs Leveton’s anxiety was contagious. Julia got up and started hunting around the room. Tommy followed suit, leaving Geraldine to encourage their mother with suggestions. ‘…some more boxes in the attic, perhaps, or slipped down between the cushions..’

Julia’s curiosity grew with this concern over what might otherwise be considered a mere trifle, and, wary of further upsetting Mrs Leveton, waited until the suggestion was made to look further afield – as they tramped upstairs towards the box-room, she put a few questions to Tommy who was most forthcoming, if a little scathing.

‘Yes, it came off a doll one of the old man’s ancestors had; family tradition maintains it should be hung on the Christmas tree every year… something to do with a child getting lost and found. There’s a myth about not losing the bell, or things will happen, some such rot. Can’t say I believe in all that sort of thing, myself – nor does the old man, either. Oh well – if it will put the mater’s mind at rest – and here we are…’ He turned the handle to the box-room.

They had searched for the better part of an hour when the question was raised as to where Lucy was; she had not been seen, it transpired, since breakfast. Nobody had observed her leave the house, nor was she in her room or downstairs. Before another two hours had passed, Mrs Leveton was in a state of nervous collapse.

‘It’s the bell,’ she kept whispering, ‘I know this is because I’ve lost the bell …’ and she pressed a handkerchief to her mouth.

Geraldine took charge and persuaded her mother to lie down. ‘It’s exhaustion, mother, we’ll find Lucy, I’ll get Mrs Heron to make you some chamomile and you have a rest…’she escorted her upstairs, leaving Julia and Tommy to continue the hunt.

‘Cousin Lucy, you may have noted, is inclined to dream,’ commented Tommy, ‘I am wondering whether it is worth trying the Gallery as well.’

The Gallery was a lesser used part of the house, occasionally opened up in the summer for larger parties. From its original purpose in displaying the family portraits, to acting as an extended lumber room for the detritus of the intervening Victorian period, it now sat in semi-gloom, draped in spectral dust-sheets and to all intents and purposes in a state of hibernation.  Tommy and Julia decided it would be more efficient to split up and so it came about that Julia found herself in a rather remote corridor at the far end of the house, gazing somewhat hesitantly into its depths.

There was still light enough to see to the end of the corridor; that bluish light which comes when the sun decides he has had enough for one day and changes for drinks. There were shadows growing on the walls; half-tables, small chairs, the occasional standing plant pot – and the dog. He was standing at the far end of the corridor – and when he moved, she could just hear the distant delicate chime of the bell around its neck. He padded soundlessly round a corner, pausing briefly to look back at Julia, as if checking that she was coming too. She followed without a word, the sound of the bell leading her down another, narrower corridor, a couple of steps down and … Julia stopped and peered. There was a crack of light under the door on the right. She approached slowly, suddenly aware of her heart thudding. What if… what if… and a dozen or more doubts and queries flooded her mind. She knocked gently. Was there a rustle of cloth, of movement? She turned the door handle as quietly and gently as possible and looked inside.

It was a bedroom – the furniture belonged to another age – yet had been kept in good condition. Dust had not been allowed to make its home here, nor cobwebs their corners. Queen Anne and the Georges still held sway in the dressing table, chairs and small book case while the bed … was occupied. A girl with pale skin, pale hair, in her apricot dress and deep blue jacket lay on it, lost in reverie. Julia stepped forward and gently shook the sleeping Lucy. A book slipped from the bed and landed with a plunk on the floor; she noted briefly it was a collection of fairy tales. Lucy’s eyes flickered open and she let out a soft, startled ‘oh!’. She sat up slowly, and raised a hand, which she looked at briefly in puzzlement. She was holding a piece of cloth, half wrapped around something small that gleamed. Slowly she opened her hand and they both looked down at the small bell nestling in the cloth.

‘Aunty gave it to me to clean – she said it needed a polish,’ murmured Lucy, remembering.

It was not until they were half way downstairs that Julia thought of the dog.

‘Of course, now I remember – straight after breakfast, only it went completely out of my head,’ said Mrs Leveton, recovered after her rest. Everyone was back in the drawing room, the fire still burning healthily away, atmosphere once more restored to conviviality. The little bell, now well and truly polished, hung from a low branch, catching the odd flicker of light from the fire.

‘How did you come to be in that bedroom, though? It’s hardly ever used.’

‘I’m not sure,’ replied Lucy, a little vaguely, ‘I went to my room to fetch a fresh hanky and then I think I must have gone down the wrong corridor by mistake. I got rather lost, I’m afraid – and then, oh – there was the dog. He was sitting just outside one of the doors. Almost as if waiting to be left in. So I opened the door – and found the room… it was so pretty, and the books were so old…’ She looked as if she would fit better in a Gainsborough than in real life, considered Julia.

Mrs Leveton looked perfectly mystified. ‘But there are no dogs here today, although I think Gregory will be bringing his little pug with him on Monday. I wonder how it got in. We had better send someone around the house to check.’

‘I saw him too,’ said Julia, ‘and he sort of led me to where Lucy was. But he was here yesterday as well.That’s why I thought he had come with an early guest.’

A draught or gust from the chimney must have swept through the room, for suddenly the little bell chimed, and Julia jumped. ‘That was it,’ she exclaimed –‘that was the bell the dog was wearing – I heard it most distinctly.’

‘What did he look like?’

‘Quite big – a hairy,black thing, rather quiet – apart from the bell.’

‘Yes,’ added Lucy, more wide awake than she had yet seemed. ‘I remember the bell, too. It jingled a bit.’

There was a definite pause as Geraldine and Tommy looked at their mother. Tommy gave a low whistle. Mrs Leveton continued to look quite puzzled for a minute – then she said: ’Oh  – do you think it might have been ….’

‘He hasn’t been seen here for a very long time,’ said Geraldine to Julia, by way of explanation. ‘I for one have never seen him – but it sounds like Emma’s dog. Apparently when people, particularly children go missing – he comes and looks for them. I suppose we were not in the habit of getting lost, as children. He was the favourite pet of Emma Leveton – the one the bell belonged to. There’s letters about it somewhere. She was given a doll with a bell on it, and got lost, and the dog found her, by bringing the doll to her mother and then leading everyone back to the little girl.’

‘And it’s always been a tradition to have the bell hanging from the tree – in memory of the dog,’ added Mrs Leveton. ‘ Your grandfather told me to always hang the bell on one of the lower branches, so Toby can brush against it. “But,” he said, “if you ever do forget, no doubt he’ll find a way to remind you.” ‘

There was another pause; they might almost have been waiting for something to happen. Then, with a clarity that made them all jump, the bell gave off its chime. A tiny, delicate sound. They all looked at it, swaying gently from its branch, as if indeed someone had just brushed past it.

Later, Geraldine took Julia to the breakfast room. The portrait over the mantelpiece showed a young girl in white empire dress and large dark hat with a blue feather; the artist had used loose, bold strokes, yet treated the face with a rare delicacy. At her side stood a dog, a magnificent animal, long-haired, a black mix between labrador and retriever, with a little bell attached to its collar.

‘What was his name again ?’ asked Julia.

‘It is written on the frame – look: Miss Emma Leveton, with her favourite companion and rescuer, Toby.’


Mrs Leveton has never yet seen Toby herself – but very occasionally, she fancies she can hear the bell chime delicately in the distance and comforts herself with the idea that Toby is checking the house to make sure all is as it should be.

Haunted Venice?

Venice has often seemed strangely empty of phantoms to me; there used to be ghost tours but these I believe faded with time. I

certainly haven’t seen their posters in a long while.

Yet talk to those who work in old buildings …

There is one shop in Venice, filled with beautiful fabrics and silk lanterns; its large windows offer glowing, vibrant colours of the velvet and silk items displayed within – with prices to match. It commands a restrained presence on a busy tourist thorough-fare, more suggestive of pragmatic commerce than spooks and spirits. And yet …

A quiet day, off-season, very few people about and ‘Clara’ was on her own.

So she thought.

It started with the sensation of somebody standing behind her. Turn and turn again as she might, there was never anyone visible. But the presence was very strong, and, she said, definitely male. What made her think that? The smell of tobacco, for one thing.  Not from a cigarette, either. That sweetish smell of a pipe being smoked.

Again she turned to see who else was in the shop, and again, there was nobody to be seen.

She shrugged it off as imagination and set to work sorting out one of the cupboards.

‘There wasn’t a breath of air,’ she said, ‘a warm day, too, and I had a pile of cushions to store away. I was sorting the things, still trying to ignore the sensation of somebody standing behind me when puff! There was a breath on my cheek – quite distinct. Made me turn round pretty sharpish – but not a soul to be seen. That shook me. I couldn’t wait to finish that day, I can tell you.’

Later on, (there always is a ‘later on’) she discovered others working in the shop have had similar experiences. Guesswork suggests the original owner from when the company started up in the 1900s. Then there is a female presence on the fourth floor – nobody cares to venture up there alone after dark, and one of them always makes sure to ‘greet’ the presence on entering the room ‘otherwise she plays tricks’ – such as moving or hiding objects.

Can all this be put down to imagination, an overly sensitive reaction to the suggestive force of an old building? These might perhaps be termed urban or contemporary myths; I am only puzzled not to have encountered many more. There is for example a house in Cannaregio whose inhabitant claims two presences are often to be seen: one human height, the other small (she thinks it might be a cat); her dog often refuses to go indoors, apparently sensing something not quite right within. Awkward if it’s raining, I should think.Walkies takes on a whole other aspect then …

Venice, Italy

Venice haunted ? or haunting ….

More ‘classical’ ghost tales and legends dating from the time of the Republic, can be found collected together in a smart little volume by Alberto Toso Fei : Venetian Legends and ghost stories

( TosoFei  Mysterious Venice on Youtube)




Happy Birthday Mr James (or, A Note to the Curious)

Today I was reminded by chums on Twitter that it is the birthday of one of the great raconteurs of the British traditional ghost story : M.R.James. Over the course of the day I have suggested adding quotes, visiting this or that site, posting about it here and there in those places you would most expect to find him in. Yet there is little ‘noise’ about him, birthday boy though he be. But then, generally, his is a quiet influence, something left subtly behind with his passing; almost without comment, quasi intangible. He thrilled and continues to thrill a wide gamut of readers, and has inspired and influenced writers and film-makers. Scarcely a Yuletide passes without some version of one Jamesian tale or other being televised or played out on radio. Yet try to establish exactly what it is that attracts his audience, and the responses tend to vary : is it the setting? the academic detail? the dry wit and humour that add further edginess to the horrors to come ? Surely it is a bit of all of these, the sum of parts resulting in classics such as The Stalls of Barchester, Mr Humphreys and his Inheritance and a particular favourite of mine, Casting the Runes.

It was with the centenary in mind that I suggested to some author friends earlier this year that we put together an anthology of our own ghost tales –  a sort of ‘in memoriam’ . There was immediate response, and with any luck, the anthology will  launch around Hallowe’en. In the meantime, a small effort of mine(barely even a novelette, but too long to be a short story) will be launching soon from Captive Press. While the publication is not on the day of his birth, I can at least post the trailer for it now as a sort of salute.

Happy Birthday, M.R.James.

Related links :

Papergreat : with a lot of nice links

Master of the Ghost Story : a more in-depth look at the writer’s life and works

Spooky Isles : a special, erudite post in honour of M.R.James’s birthday

A Podcast to the Curious  (minute, detailed discussion of M.R.James’s tales)

Thin Ghost (I particularly like this elegant site, in particular the illustrations for the tales)

Dark Media City for all things spooky

And if you fancy sporting a ribbon in the world of Twitter in memory of the great man : http://twibbon.com/join/MRJames-Centenary

I am celebrating the centenary for the whole of this year, so I am hanging on to my Twibbon.

Now, where’s that punch bowl . . .

Tea Caddies and a Ghostly Tale thereof . . .

I did say I might write about tea caddies . . .(smacks paw against making such rash promises in the future) . . once I had recovered from talking about teapots. However, I see so much already written about them, I feel justified in limiting myself to a couple of details, and inviting the reader to peruse the following post by @GeorgianGent : The Tea Caddy Revisited

Again, like teapots, these items came in a range of shapes, from straightforward boxes to apples and pears; from miniature desks to barrels (see examples in Mr M. Rendell’s blog)

As for the word tea itself (and this too has been pointed out elsewhere): it has  an etymology that I find strangely satisfying –  actually indicating what route the commodity took to reach western shores.

‘Teh’, for example, is its denomination in Indonesia and Malaysia,  whence it crossed the seas over to Italy, Spain and France, before making its way with Catherine of Braganza and Charles II to the British drawing room – and in all three Latin languages it is called té, or thé (thence likewise  in Dutch and German thee or Tee).

Meanwhile, the use of the word cha or char in Chinese, Russian, Persian, Urdu– suggests land routes taken, including the Ancient Tea Route starting from Sichuan Province in mainland China: (http://www.silkroadfoundation.org/newsletter/2004vol2num1/tea.htm).

(Other links relating to tea caddies:





And the details that tickle me  in particular are  : that caddy derives from the Malaysian word ‘kati’ or measure (approximately a little over half a kilo); and that some of them were designed to have a secret compartment – like writing desks . . . so I could not resist writing up a very short ghost tale around one . . .

(Click on cover below to read in Issuu form with zoom capacity)

The year : 1929

The place : An antique dealer’s.

 ‘Nice piece. Very nice. Shall we say, knock a guinea off for the slight damage on the corner there?’

‘Well, perhaps a shilling or two.’

‘Knock off the guinea, and I’ll take it now, as it is.’

‘You are a shrewd customer, Mr Anshaw – you know a good thing when you see it,’ chuckled the antique dealer.

Edgar Anshaw certainly did know a good thing when he saw it; shrewd was the polite word used to his face. What the antique dealer said later on to his colleagues was less flattering – and rather curious.

‘He is welcome to his guinea – he won’t be able to get rid of it fast enough, mark my words, and then we’ll see what he makes of it, the skinflint.’

‘Is that the caddy from Portland House ?’ asked one of them, raising an eyebrow.

The antique dealer nodded, just the once.

‘Well, sooner him than me,’ was the general comment.


Mrs Anshaw displayed much delight at the wonderful inlay and warm, glowing veneer of the caddy – it was immediately instated with full honours on the sideboard.

‘Do you think it is safe to keep tea in it ? Weren’t some of them lined with lead ?’

‘My dear, it was the one of the first things I checked – it is a little older than that, and made entirely of wood – with an old silver tray on the inside which has worn a little thin.’

‘I shall line that with tissue paper- I have some left from Worth’s which would be perfect.’

And Mrs Anshaw duly proceeded to line and fill the caddy; she stood back to admire the general effect: on either side, a couple of vases with purple primulas complemented it perfectly. Behind it, the huge Georgian silver teapot.

A rattle of teaspoons roused her from her reverie – ‘That will be Amy – it must be later than I thought.’ She turned to remind the maid about the visitors due that afternoon – but Amy had already left the room.


‘What a lovely colour,’

‘Doesn’t it look splendid with the primulas ?’

‘A delightful thing.’

‘How old did you say it was ?’

‘Edgar says at least early 1700s, if not earlier.’

‘Goodness. Beautiful inlay . . .’

The latest acquisition to the Anshaw collection was proving a great success – admiration, curiosity and mild envy in perfect measure which normally would have satisfied Mrs Anshaw mightily. However, she found herself somewhat distracted; twice she found herself pouring an extra cup for nobody in particular, and on several occasions she was convinced she heard the rattling of teaspoons on the tray by the door – when nobody was in fact standing there.

‘Are you all right, Emmeline ?’ asked one of her closest friends quietly while the others were still gathered around the caddy. ‘Only you seem a trifle nervous.’

‘Oh dear, do I ? It is the oddest sensation I have today, Mary – I keep counting how many of us there are – it always seems there are more people than I can see – isn’t that fanciful of me ?’

‘How very strange that you should mention that,’ replied her friend, widening her eyes, ‘for I have found myself turning my head to see who is by the door – but there never is anyone; now why do you think we have that feeling ?’

‘What’s that ?’ asked another of the guests, who had moved away from the group.

When they explained, she nodded her head to agree – and one by one, the whole gathering discovered they had each in one subtle way or another, sensed an extra, indistinct presence moving amongst them.

Somebody tapped the side of their cup with a spoon. Mrs Anshaw started. ‘I think I shall open the window,’ she announced suddenly. ‘Let a little fresh air and light in, as it is such a glorious day.’

‘Might chase away some of our fancies, too,’ murmured Mary to herself.