Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ghosts and memories—Tricia McGill

Check out my Books We Love author page for information on all my books. 
This little story I wrote years ago is one of my favorites, for it reminds me of holidays my husband and I spent in Devon and Cornwall in the early days of our marriage. I loved those dear little cottages with a staircase hidden in the corner of a tiny living room. I so enjoyed walking along a beach with the wind blowing a gale, or horse riding in the surrounding countryside. But most of all I loved the ghost stories the locals enjoyed regaling us with.
The Blue Ball Inn

A typical Cornish Cottage
We spent quite a few holidays in Lynton/Lynmouth and also stayed at a farmhouse owned by friends. All I recall is that we drove past the Blue Ball Inn on Countisbury Hill (an old coaching inn), which still thrives, to reach it set in a vale. I saw one of my first ghosts in the bedroom of that farmhouse while my husband slept blissfully at my side. I loved the landscape that inspired R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone. I had one of the first editions of the book, so small I could barely read it, but unfortunately it has been lost somewhere along the way.   
I hope you enjoy this small tale. It’s far from the romance I usually write. And I would love to hear from you if you know any of the places above or are lucky enough to live in that area.

The Ghost

On this gusty windswept day, the trees along the shore bowed in the southerly blowing in off the ocean. Mavis strode along the sands, pausing now and then to pick up a shell that caught her eye. At 84 Mavis didn't look her age, for she was spritely, always on the move. "No time to dawdle," she claimed.

Mavis enjoyed her single state. Jilted years ago by a salesman passing through who offered her marriage before skipping off, and taking her savings with him, she chose to be a spinster. Mavis’s coat was the black one she'd worn for her mother's funeral twenty years ago to this day.

"Evening Vicar," she said to the tall man who stopped and raised his hat in greeting. "Bit blowy today, eh?" The parish priest was one of the only two men in town she ever deigned to pass the time of day with. The doctor was the other one. They were fun to argue with.

"Have to expect it now Mavis, with winter on us." He smiled benevolently.

Mavis pushed the hair escaping from her bun out of her eyes, and grinned. "Best time of the year. No tourists. Darned tourists are enough to make you sick." She waved a bony hand, grimacing. She hated the streams of visitors who flocked to their little Cornish town every summer.

"If it wasn't for them the town would be in poor shape, Mavis. We need them to keep our heads above water," he said wryly.
"Make an awful mess and chase the wildlife away, and drive about like lunatics," she told him in disdain. "Must be off, lots to do." She gave him a wave and marched on along the sands. The wind grew stronger, blowing grains into her eyes. She squinted and scowled at a group of local children running her way.

"Here comes the old witch," she heard one of them say, and she laughed to herself. Good. If they thought her a witch they'd keep well away from her.

"Snips and snaps and frogs and old bones," she wailed, turning off into the bushes that shielded the main street from the sea. The branches of the smaller trees were bent low and one caught her on the cheek as she ducked under it.

"How d'ya know she's a witch?" one child asked, as Mavis leaned against the trunk of a gnarled tree to catch her breath.

"She's got a mole on her face with hairs sticking out of it, and a pointed nose, like the witch in the Wizard of Oz. And did you ever look at her eyes? They're like rat's eyes—all beady and glassy. Of course she's a witch."

Mavis cackled and pulled a butterscotch out of her pocket, popping it into her mouth as she made her way home to her cottage on the outskirts of town. With its four rooms, two up and two down, it was a bit cramped while her mother and father were alive, but now she was on her own it suited her nicely.

After hanging her coat on the hall-stand she went to the tiny kitchen off the living room and put the kettle on. It was getting dark. She shivered. That was the only trouble with winter. It was coming up to the time she dreaded. The time when the ghost was reportedly seen walking the streets, seeking revenge.

She made her tea and sat with a contented sigh on the armchair by the fire, poking at the coals until she got it glowing nicely. A loud thump brought her out of the chair with such a start that she knocked her cup of tea over. "What in heaven was that?" she whispered, brandishing the poker as she moved to stand at the base of the narrow enclosed staircase in a corner of the room. Another loud bump was followed by a strange sliding noise. The hairs all over Mavis's body stood to attention.

"Who's there?" Despite trying to sound fierce, she only managed to sound as scared as she felt. "Come on down and show yourself," she ordered, pulling the edges of her old cardigan together as if it would give her protection.

She heard a low moan and cringed back in fear. "Come on down this minute." She took a few paces back, when the top stair creaked as it always did when someone stepped on it. Her teeth began to knock together and her knees shook.

Whoever was up there was coming down. She counted the stairs. One two three... right up to twelve, but still no one showed their face. Mavis bit back a scream as she moved slowly forward. Peering round the edge of the wall encasing the stairs, she prodded with her poker.
"Ouch," a voice close by said, and Mavis jumped a foot in the air, then raced to the far side of the room to hide behind the sofa, every inch of her shaking. The wind knocked at the windows and howled down the chimney, sending sparks from the fire onto the bricks in front of it.

"Where are you?" she moaned like a frightened child. "What sort of trick are you playing?"

"No trick madam." The voice came from the other side of her sofa. Mavis peered over the top. The sofa was empty, but one of the cushions moved slightly and then a dent appeared in its middle. "I'm sorry if I scared you, but I was looking for my ring. I lost it last winter as I was passing through, and I thought I may have left it here."

"Here?" Mavis squeaked. What was she doing talking to nothing?

"Yes, I've been staying here for the last hundred years or so on my way up north. Nice lodgings you have here."

"Lodgings?" She bristled indignantly. "What are you doing coming into my home like this and thinking you can stay when you feel like it." Holding the poker in front of her defensively she walked round to the front of the sofa and began to wave it about.

"Careful where you put that, madam," the voice warned. "I died by the sword, so I don't wish to be marked again by a poker." The voice guffawed and Mavis couldn't believe her ears.

"I don't believe this," she declared, sure it was all her imagination playing tricks. "If you were a real ghost I'd be able to see you." She reached forward with a hand and moved it about where she estimated the voice came from.

"You wouldn't want to do that madam, believe me. I'm not a pretty sight. Who would be after the death I went through? At least I haven't got to carry my head around like some I know, for they didn't chop it off." He laughed again, quite cheerfully.
"They? Who's they?" Mavis was interested, in spite of herself.

"The King's guards. I was a trader. Pirate, I believe you call it these days. Oh what fun we had, smuggling in wine and perfume and fine silks and goods. I was betrayed by a woman. One I thought cared." He sighed long and sadly, then cheered up as he declared, "I'll show you where my stuff is all cached away if you like."

Mavis sat beside the dent in the cushion, intrigued now. "How can you show me if I can't see you. I can hardly follow you, can I?"

"Why ever not, madam. Come follow my voice." The cushion moved and then the voice said from somewhere near the door, "Let's go, follow me up to the large cave near the castle wall and I'll show you a way into the secret cellars."

Without thought, Mavis did as he bade.

* * *

They found her next morning, sitting in the cave where the ghost was said to haunt each mid-winter. Her eyes were unseeing, her clothes soaked by sea water, and her mind gone.

"So sad," said the vicar. "It's not like Mavis to go out without a coat at this time of the year."

There were scratches on her hands and her nails were all broken. They found marks on the back wall of the cave as if someone had tried to claw their way through. On the third finger of her left hand was a huge emerald set in a thick gold band. Mavis smiled as she touched it when they gently carried her away.

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