Gerhardt the Monster-Hunter

 

Gerhardt the Monster-Hunter

Gerhardt’s obsession with the paranormal that led to him becoming a semi-professional monster hunter began when he was barely four years old. His eccentric aunt Grethe invited the whole extended family to stay at her rambling, ranshackle old mansion for Halloween one year. It was a wonderful chance for family to catch up and for the hordes of cousins to meet each other. Much of the family was dispersed over great distances, so this was the first time Gerhardt had ever met most of the cousins who came to stay. The house seemed packed to the rafters with people, and at four, he found himself feeling rather shy and overwhelmed. A huge array of costumes had been provided for the children to find themselves outfits; Gerhardt opted to don a bright orange pumpkin-shaped beret. He’d never seen a pumpkin before and a gigantic one dominated the dining room where it peered over the room from the mantle-piece. In the carved face someone had put an old glass eye; it fascinated him with its shine and the way it seemed to follow him, and when no one was looking, he prised it out of the vegetable socket and popped it in his pocket. Years later, when much else had faded, he still kept the eye, on a little stand on his desk, as a kind of talisman against doubts.

The party was filled with games and jokes and everyone dressed up, including all the adults. Cousin Colin had found a vampire outfit and looked very scary with his fangs and dripping blood; aunt Grethe was a very convincing witch. Ghosts in sheets, zombies, wizards, ghouls and werewolves all gorged on sweets and cakes. By bedtime, Gerhardt had consumed almost his own body weight in candy. As his parents snored away in the big bed and the house fell first quiet and then silent, a raging thirst began to torment him, and taking Teddy and his blanky in hand, he ventured out to find some water.

Houses always seem very different at night, but even so, Gerhardt wandered down what seemed like countless corridors and stair cases, becoming more and more confused and lost in the semi-darkness. A few dim bulbs glowed in cobweb-bestrewn shades, creating more shadows than they banished. Behind him, he was sure he could hear footsteps but he told himself it was just the echo of his own feet on the bare wood floors. He clutched Teddy tighter, because as we all know, teddy-bears are guardians of frightened children and talismans against evil. A night wind blew through the passage way, catching the gauzy curtains and making them billow out as if someone were behind them. The sound of rasping breath from the end of the corridor were the darkness was deepest, made him hold his own breath and hear his heart begin to pound like jungle drums. As his nerves reached breaking point, from the deep shadows stepped two stooping figures. Dressed identically in old-fashioned school frocks, their long lank and dirty hair falling over their faces so that even their eyes were hidden, two thin girls lurched towards him, arms held out and fingers wriggling at him.

It was too much; Gerhardt fled screaming, pyjamas damp with the sudden shock, and ran away as fast as his legs would carry him. Later, his twin cousins Jessica and Jennifer confessed that they had also been out of bed, wandering the house in search of candy their other cousins had missed, but by then Gerhardt and his parents had gone home, and the family became estranged for all sorts of very trivial reasons, so that for Gerhardt, this became the only family gathering he ever attended.

The experience that night scarred him; he became a geography teacher. He took refuge in the routine, the mundane and the predictable for many years; yet a seed had begun to grow, and he started to explore the paranormal. A hobby at first, ordering books from the library, subscribing to many magazines and joining various groups, the arrival of the internet was a great boon to his studies. Eventually, his website dedicated to seeking monsters and spooks, became very successful, possibly due to being targeted by trolls, though not the type that live under bridges and eat goats.

He learned to be very cautious about how he responded to the many messages inviting him to investigate hauntings and sightings of paranormal beasts. Most proved to be pranks or misguided people who probably needed to get their spectacles checked. But sometimes there were ones that seemed so promising he followed them up, laden with his (mostly self-built) equipment and accompanied by his faithful ghost-hunting pooch Bob. Knowing that animals generally sense the presence of departed spirits and discarnate entities, Gerhardt had considered both cats and dogs, but eventually settled on Bob the dog because if nothing else, Bob would always give him an excuse to be out at night without looking like a prowler or a weirdo.

The email from a young couple who had stumbled upon a ruined church and a forgotten crypt intrigued him. The church had become ruinous many years ago, shortly after the final interment in the crypt of a lady whose family had been massacred by an axe-wielding maniac. Unable to forget what she had seen, she had fallen to her death in the river; compassionate lee-way was given to her regarding her burial in hallowed ground, and once the family crypt was resealed, building work hid the entrance. Like many remote country churches it fell into disuse, then disrepair and finally, the lead nicked from the roof, it more or less fell down. But the young couple had found the crypt entrance and had gone down with torches only to see phantoms and figures flitting around. Would Gerhardt like to come and investigate further?

So, weighed down with devices and protective amulets (the old glass eye tucked in his pocket) and with Bob the dog prancing along, Gerhardt arrived at twilight in the overgrown churchyard. There was no sign of his hosts, so he picked his way among the gravestones and table tombs, and tried not to trip up as the ground descended steeply towards the shadowy shell of a church. The ghost-monitor was beeping loudly, and the ectoplasm sensor was blinking, but Bob seemed unperturbed, so he carried on, picking his path with care as the darkness grew ever deeper.

Bob leapt up at him, startling him, and gave a little woof. Something or someone was watching them. Gerhadrt stiffened, a cold sweat breaking out beneath his tweed jacket with the leather elbow patches. Doggedly, he plodded on, when the earth broke open around a tomb with a terrific roar and from the blackness emerged a tall gaunt figure. Red-silk lined the heavy black cloak that swirled around the apparition, whose bloody fangs and white-streaked locks proclaimed his identity as a vampire.

Too scared to even squeak, Gerhardt cringed away, but Bob the dog bounced over and began to jump up at the figure to lick at the hands.

Oh excellent!” said the vampire. “You’re here in good time. Just in time for dinner too!”

Gerhardt reeled, his heart leaping in his chest, and he staggered back, as the vampire stepped from the hole and came towards him, hand held out.

It must be almost forty years,” he said. “You have no idea how hard we had to try and track you down. Family feuds are so last century, aren’t they? You can’t have got any letters. Or surely you would have replied.”

Gerhardt felt his skin crawling as if a million ants were running all over him; his eyes began to roll as the greyness flowed over him.

You’ve not changed a bit,” said the vampire. “Surely you must remember me? I’m Cousin Colin. See, the fangs come out-”

But Gerhardt had fainted. When he came to, Colin had managed to drag him to the terrace of the old mansion, and someone else had fetched a deck chair and some refreshments. Colin held out a goblet of faintly luminous green liquid.

Here, have some lime juice,” he said. “You’ll feel much better in a minute and then you can come and meet everyone. When Aunt Grethe passed away, she left the house to all of us and we decided to turn it into a themed hotel. We’ve had such smashing Trip Advisor reviews already. Tonight’s our first Halloween since we opened. We all wanted you to be here, so we concocted that tale of the crypt to winkle you out of your hermitage somehow. Come on in, the party is just getting started…”

© Vivienne Tuffnell October 2016

(a story inspired by the Story World Tales of the Haunted House, by Caitlin and John Matthews. A collaborative brain-storming by me, Graham Edge and Elaine Blath Feainnewedd October 28th 2016)

This is the first piece of fiction I’ve shared on the blog for simply ages. I’ve been saving up my short fiction to make into another collection. There’s one in the offing that’s going to be modern fables for grown-ups and another collection of ghostly tales that might be out in time for Halloween next year.

If you fancy some proper spooky stories for this Halloween, you could always try one of the following. Or all of them.

The Hedgeway 

The Moth’s Kiss 

The Wild Hunt and Other Tales 

Strangers and Pilgrims is set during the Halloween period but it’s not a ghost story. Away With The Fairies has themes that tie in with this time of year and is decidedly spooky at times too.

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Mwah! Mwah! Kisses from a Moth and from me.

For the rest of November, as a special treat to lovers of spooky fiction, The Moth’s Kiss (ten tales of truth and consequences) is just 99p. That’s less than 10p per story. The price is equally low world-wide, so grab it as the nights draw in, darker and darker. I’d love to see some new reviews as well. (hint hint!)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Moths-Kiss-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B00CPLPYJY/ref=la_B00766135C_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1446898684&sr=1-5

For those of a nervous disposition, Strangers and Pilgrims has had a little price drop to comfort and cheer during the dark days before the Christmas lights go up.  It’s now just £1.99 (or whatever that converts to in $ etc). There are plenty of folks who have loved this book and reread regularly. I am working in a very roundabout way towards a sequel but that might take a few years; there are five other works-in-progress in various states of undress.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Strangers-Pilgrims-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B0054D3DVQ/ref=pd_sim_351_3?ie=UTF8&dpID=51lK33ZZGxL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR113%2C160_&refRID=1ATKA94ZF7YEE0MY5NXS

Méchant Loup

Méchant Loup

The wolf-whistle cut across the cool evening air, shrill and insistent but the girl in red did not respond. Instead, her pace picked up as her shiny red shoes clattered along the path.

From a dozen yards away, the man in the wolf costume bristled with indignation as his bid to gain her attention failed. The heels of the shoes were too high for her to walk fast enough to get out of sight quickly, and the height of them made her wobble in a way he found most appealing. Glancing at her retreating figure he watched as her long legs in fishnet stockings tried to stride, but the combination of short, tight skirt and those absurd high heels meant she could not take more than short steps. The percussive sound of the heels on the concrete path was music to his ears(the real ones under the furry ones) and he levered himself off the bench and started to saunter after the retreating girl. His long loping gait caught her up in a very short time and he saw that she was indeed a real prize worth pursuing.

She glanced back at him as he caught her up, sweet, heart-shaped little face hidden amid the folds of the crimson hood. He smelled her scent, warm and woody and with a hint of hazelnuts and saw that under the short cloak, she was carrying a wicker basket filled with nuts and fruits. Apples and pears jostled with walnuts and chestnuts and hazelnuts and their mingled fragrance added to the enticing aroma of warm woman.

Going somewhere nice?” he said but she tried to ignore him.

Don’t be like that,” he called as she broke into an awkward run. “I’m only being friendly. What’s the matter with you? Bet you look so lovely when you smile!”

The path dipped into a wooded area, and the light from the park lamps dimmed. The girl was only a few paces ahead, stalled by cramp and doubled over panting.

Leave me alone,” she said, her voice hoarse and quivering with fear.

I’m just being friendly,” he said again.

The girl slid her shoes off, placed them in the basket, and took off like a hare, red cloak flapping. She’d hitched her skirt up so as she ran he could see the tops of her stockings. He licked his lips, appreciatively. The path wound into the spinney at the end of the park, twisting and turning in the town planner’s attempt to make the park seem huge and wild. Her nylon-clad feet made a dull thudding as she ran into the trees before vanishing from sight.

He set off after her, letting out a wild howl of enthusiasm, his trainers scuffling through the fallen leaves. He liked the howl, so he did it again and again, feeling the pulse of blood through his body, exciting and primeval. The joy of the hunt, he thought, in delight.

After about five seconds of running he stopped dead in his tracks as his howl was answered by one that was so much wilder it made his heart skip a beat. It’s a dog, he said, but when it came again, louder and closer, he knew with ancient instinct it was no such thing. Around him, the trees seemed to close in, cutting out the light and sounds of the city beyond the park. The path ahead of him had vanished amid nettles and brambles so dense there was no way through. He pushed back the wolf’s head of fake fur and lolling comedy tongue and tried to see what was going on.

He was surrounded by black forest, huge trees and tight undergrowth, and his breath hung in clouds around him. Frost coated the carpet of fallen leaves and as he marvelled at the sudden drop in temperature, he heard the growl.

Deep shining eyes, tinted with scarlet, were watching him, and the breathing of the creature was mixed with a low, menacing growl. His nerve broke and he started to run, pell-mell, not looking where he was going, his whole being consumed with survival instinct. He didn’t stop running until he floundered into the oozy black mud of the boating lake, drained for the winter, and fell on his face into it.

As the foul-smelling mud seeped into his costume, he listened, hoping that he was hidden from the thing that chased him. When nothing happened he eased himself up from the muck and headed homeward, Hallow E’en party and girl forgotten. As he reached the park entrance, he stopped for a moment, reeking with filth and with fear. A howl rang out, long and mournful, the sound muffled as if by trees, and ended in a peal of what sounded very much like laughter.

A Tale of Seeds

 

A tale of seeds

There was once a small collective of gardeners who banded together to buy their equipment and supplies. Tools and compost, fertilizer and weed killer all come cheaper if you buy in bulk so the four friends would split the costs and share the benefits.
One spring, as a free bonus with their order, their usual seed company offered a mystery gift. When it arrived they were eager to see what they had been sent. The gift came in a small cardboard box which, when opened proved to contain four small items. Each was about an inch long, dark brown and slightly wrinkled looking.
“They must be seeds of some kind,” said the oldest friend, turning them over in his hand. “Is there any information with them?”
A note fell out of the box, explaining that the seeds were part of a consignment sent to the seed company from an explorer who worked in far off places, collecting new plants and sending back their seeds. It seemed that the original label of the last batch had become detached from the parcel and the seed company did not know precisely what the seeds were for. “Grow them and see!” said the note. “And send us your pictures when you get them to bloom!”
“That’s no good,” said the second oldest friend. “How can we grow something if we don’t know what it is? What’s the point of that? I only have a small garden. I have to be careful of what I grow in case it’s too big for me.”
“And how can we grow it if we don’t know what it is?” said the third oldest. “Different seeds need different conditions. Some need to be frozen for two years before they grow. I’m not happy. Some free gift!”
The youngest said nothing but held the seed in her hand, and ran her fingers over it, stroking the ridged surface and trying to sense the life within.
In the end they agreed they would each take a single seed and nothing more was said.
The oldest friend took his seed home and spent many hours searching the internet to see if he could find out what it was and how best to grow it. He contacted all manner of experts before deciding that the seed must be new to science. He took many photos of it and sent it to a professor of ethno-botany at a university to study. The professor looked at it briefly, before writing back to say he didn’t know either but the letter and the seed got lost in the post.

The second oldest friend looked at the seed with suspicion. It looked like a nut so it would surely grown into a tree, far too huge for his little garden. Even planting it in a pot would take up far too much room and anyway, what use would it be? It wasn’t as if he was going to be able to eat the fruit from it; it would take many years before it grew big enough to fruit. He put the seed in an envelope and put it into the back of a drawer and forgot about it.
The third oldest took it home and after much thought, planted it in a nice terracotta pot and watered it, giving it a label that simply read ? Each week she came back and checked the moisture in the soil. After six weeks, she scraped the compost back to see if anything had changed. The seed remained hard and unchanged. She covered it over and watered it again. Every few weeks she pushed back the soil to see if the seed had begun to germinate. Eventually the seed began to crack and open and the thick tap root delved down into the compost, seeking purchase. “It looks like a bean plant,” she said, disappointed, but fetched sticks for it to climb up. When the first leaves began to appear, she changed her mind for there were no tendrils that indicated a climber. When it got to six inches high, she thought it must be a begonia and pinched out the growing tip to keep it nice and bushy. The plant withered and shrivelled and eventually died.

The youngest took the seed home and planted it in a pot, watered it and left it alone, whispering that small prayer every gardener has uttered, “Bless you, now GROW!”. Returning only to make sure the pot was moist enough, one day she saw that the seed had burst into a shoot, verdant and vital but still unrecognisable. She kept watering it, and every time the plant got too big for its pot, she moved it to a bigger one. With steady doses of sunshine and showers, the plant grew and grew until one day, a few years after it had been planted, it began to bloom.
Still no one knew what it was yet except the youngest gardener. Visitors to her garden would ask her what it was and she told them with a proud smile.
“It’s beautiful, that’s what it is, and it’s itself. That’s enough for me,” she’d say.

Angel Lights ~ a story for Christmas

Angel Lights ~ a story for Christmas

To have lived a hundred years is a remarkable thing,” Elspeth remarked to the girl who held her arm. “But it is a lonely thing, too. There is no one left who remembers me when I was young.”

The care assistant gave her arm a gentle squeeze for Elspeth was well-liked and as the oldest inhabitant in the home was cherished as much for her wisdom as for her venerable age.

Is there no one coming to see you this Christmas?” the girl asked and Elspeth shook her head, though she smiled as she did so.

No, they are all obeying my orders for once,” she said. “I said I did not wish them to disturb their day this time. So I have only myself to blame should I feel lonely today.”

The dining room had been decorated with so much tinsel and bright ornaments that Elspeth felt quite overwhelmed with the shining light that glimmered off every surface. The other residents were all seated, waiting for her as if she were the queen, and she was shown to her place and Christmas lunch began.

The merry atmosphere was added to by the playing of Christmas carols on the radio, and as she ate, slowly and carefully, she cast her mind back over her many Christmases. There was little to regret in a life as long as hers had been, but there were times, like today, when those who were gone, seemed to wave to her from her memories. She had outlived all but one of her own children, all her sisters, a beloved husband, dozens of dear friends and one grandchild. The friends she had today had never known her as a young woman, and there were times when that tugged at her heart. To be a hundred years old, and still mostly in possession of her wits and health was a gift she had never expected.

When lunch was done, she walked carefully back to her own room rather than go to the community room to watch television with the other residents. Inside, she could walk without the aid of a frame, using only a stick to steady her steps. Her room was a little oasis of treasures, the belongings she had chosen to accompany her to this home, and each held great meaning for her, for there was not a lot of room and they had been chosen with immense thought. There was a little fir tree in a decorated pot that her son (her youngest, and only surviving child) had brought for her, and around it were some packages in brilliant paper, decked with ribbons. The family brought small gifts in the week before Christmas, though the joke was often what do you buy for a woman who has seen as many Christmases as she had. She opened them carefully, gratefully, enjoying them. They were predicable, but well chosen: a lovely new nightdress, slippers, some books, some of her favourite soap. She smiled as she opened each, thinking of the donor.

One parcel had arrived on Christmas eve, hastily wrapped in stained brown paper and with an indecipherable post mark and a stamp that looked Arabic. She recognised the handwriting: her great granddaughter, not quite the black sheep but certainly the wandering one. Inside the parcel was a letter and two more roughly wrapped packages.

Grand-mère,” she read. “I had hoped to be home to see you but I think my parcel will be there before I am. I saw them both in one of the bazaars and thought of you. I hope to be in Jerusalem for Christmas so I will light a candle there for you and I will visit as soon as I get back.”

The first of the packages was tiny, and proved to be a vial of dark, viscous liquid that proved to be perfume, woody and musky and exotic and entirely unlike anything you would expect a lady of Elspeth’s age to wear. She dabbed a few drops on wrist and neck and sighed with delight. The second parcel contained a heavy length of raw woven silk in a celestial blue shot through with dawn pink and threaded with fine gold wire. It smelled of incense and mystery, and she wrapped it round her whole body. It felt as if her great granddaughter had somehow caught a whiff of her young self and Elspeth felt her heart race with delight.

The daylight was fading fast, and she had one more Christmas ritual to perform. From the top drawer of her bureau she brought out a little cardboard box, and painstakingly she assembled the device inside. Made from silver-coloured metal, the angel light held a carousel of dancing angels that were suspended from a canopy of slats. The heat from a candle below would rise and set the angels spinning, and their shadows and the glancing lights would pattern the walls and ceiling with their dance.

But naked flames were banned here and though she brought it out every year, it had been many years since the angels had turned. She set it on the window ledge, where she spent many hours sitting at the table, reading or thinking. Every Christmas Day since she had come here, she had brought this little toy out and wished that she might light a single candle and see the light and the shadow angels spin and flicker.

Rule were rules, and given the age and sometimes infirmity of most of the residents this was a sensible rule, that kept them all safe from fire. But this one day, she always wished to break the rule and give the angels their annual dance.

She turned on some music and settled to read one of the new books, wrapped tightly in the beautiful shawl, feeling the balance between contentment and wistful longing see-sawing this way and that. Her mind wandered from her book, and she wondered if her great granddaughter had indeed made it to Jerusalem for Christmas. It had always been her habit to light candles, since she knew that it was not allowed to her great grandmother any more. One day, the angel lights would go to her, perhaps.

The sky beyond her window had darkened to indigo, and she could see that a single star shone high above. On impulse she turned out her reading lamp and gazed out. As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she saw more stars slowly appear. A golden glow was reflected off the window glass and she looked down to see that where a candle would fit in the angel light, there was a flickering globe of light, so unlike a candle, that brightened and grew. The tiny metal angels quivered and began to shift, slowly turning as the carousel they hung from rotated smoothly.

The shadows on the ceiling spun too, amid the flashing, glimmering of the magical light and as she watched, her mouth dropping open in wonder, the room filled with the scent of lilies and she felt the brush of soft feathers against her face. She closed her eyes, but the glory of light still filled her eyes, and she knew she was not alone.

When her care assistant came an hour later, she could see from Elspeth’s face that she was happy and not lonely at all as she had feared she might be.

Is that one of your presents?” she asked, touching the shawl with tender fingers. “How lovely!”

From Istanbul,” Elspeth said. “My great-granddaughter was on her way to Jerusalem and stopped there for a short while.”

And some scent too,” said the girl, and picked up the bottle. She took a sniff of the contents and grimced. “Funny. This isn’t what I can smell. I’m sure I can smell flowers; this is musk and sandalwood, surely.”

Elspeth smiled at the girl.

Heavenly, isn’t it?” she said.

The ghost in the library

The ghost in the library

I had hoped to have some scary fiction to share this Halloween but the short story I wrote is either too scary or not scary enough, and I’d rather save it till I know which. I was also working on a longer story, but have stalled through lack of energy.

So, I thought I would entertain you all in the grand old tradition of telling true ghost stories at Halloween.

I’ve got a fair few odd little anecdotes about the supernatural from a life time of being something of a magnet for weird events, from being pelted with a potted hyacinth by a poltergeist to seeing the spectral form of a small child appear in the bedroom of our first house. So gather round, friends, and would someone shut the door lest the draught make the candles flicker? Throw a few more logs on the fire, pour yourself a glass of vintage port and make yourself comfortable.

Sixteen is a difficult age and while I was in few respects a true teenager, the world usually conspires to treat you as a being who falls squarely between being a child to be indulged and an adult who can be trusted. I was lucky that my post ‘O’ level work experience proved to be one where I was really given the opportunity to experience working in a museum.

Bedford museum had quite recently relocated to the Castle Gardens in Bedford, and the building it inhabited had an interesting history. Of the castle itself, constructed of timber shortly after the Norman conquest, only the mound still stood, and traces of the motte. The museum was a rambling old place which in its time had been a workhouse and also a brewery and when I joined for my month of experience, it was still undergoing changes. The smell of paint and plaster lingered; exhibits were being dusted down and given new labels as part of the whole programme of refurbishment.

I was originally there to work for the Archaeology Officer but I found I got on better with the curator and the Natural History Officer. As an adult I can see how hard it must have been for them to find me tasks for which I was qualified and able to do without reducing me to a tea girl, and I was first set with the task of examining and cataloguing a room full of boxes packed with magic lantern slides. They had been newly acquired but no one knew what was in most of them as there was no inventory. So I opened box and after dusty old box and methodically recorded what I found. It might have been tedious work but I found it actually quite good fun. I learned a lot about the world, too.

On occasions I got take out on trips, such as when John, the curator was asked to visit Police headquarters to help their public relations officer assess how to manage the museum housed there. That was eye-opening. I got to handle murder weapons from yesteryear and look at some quite gruesome relics of murders. Usually mid afternoon everyone at our museum came to the kitchen for a cuppa, and friends of the curator used to drop by too, several of whom worked in local government. I was included in these gatherings and enjoyed them.

The day came when I finished with my boxes of slides, and with some sense of accomplishment I handed over my inventory. I have no idea now if it was more or less what was needed but I got praised and then sent to the attic for my next assignment.

The attic was a vast long room that ran probably half the length of the building, and it was also the library. On one side of the room were lots and lots of windows, but the other walls were almost completely covered by shelves of books, floor to ceiling. It was a bright, sunny room and I suspect that it was far from the best place to store rare books but it was a pleasant enough place to work. It was reached by a steep staircase that began near the kitchen door in the private area of the museum. The stairs were solid enough but they creaked when you walked on them.

My task was to catalogue the latest batch of acquistions: a consignment of weights and measures. There was everything from the usual sets of scales (including tiny jeweller’s scales) to huge half hundredweight lumps of metal and a vast array of Chinese scales all in exquisitely made wooden cases of rosewood and velvet. I had to measure everything, and describe as accurately as I could everything about each item.

When you have measured a dozen scales, it gets boring. Really boring. On a summer afternoon, when the room has become warm, and sunshine is pouring in, a girl tends to suddenly start questioning what on earth she is doing in a museum library when she might be elsewhere. Of course, I didn’t sneak out and go and have a quiet afternoon down by the river but I did rebel a bit.

I went and found a book.

It was a bound edition of The Girl’s Own Paper from around 1900 onwards, and it was fascinating reading. From the coy problem pages to the advertisements for complexion soaps and dusting powders, I was hooked. There was a serial too. I remember little of it, because I limited myself to one paper a day. I had a guilty sense of stealing time when I read instead of cataloguing, and even though I was simply a volunteer, I wanted to make a good impression on those I was working for. So I kept the book as a secret treat.

One very warm afternoon I gave up working quite quickly. None of the windows would open and it was airless and stuffy. I worked at a big desk at the far end of the long room, and I sat side on, so that while I did not have my back to the room, I did not exactly face it. I was enjoying reading and was lost in some Edwardian beauty tips when it happened.

Directly behind me, someone sighed, loudly and with obvious sorrow. I froze, believing that one of the staff must have come up and found me shirking my tasks. I turned, ready to apologise, and saw there was no one there.

I ran through my mind what had just happened. I had definitely heard a pronounced sigh. I had felt it on the back of my neck. All the windows were closed. I had not heard footsteps coming up the creaky stairs, nor yet the same across the expanse of floor boards to my desk. I checked the room, to see if someone had sneaked up and was standing now grinning at my discomfiture.

I was totally alone. And the room that had previously been sweltering with July heat was stone cold.

I was out of that room and down the stairs in a very few seconds, landing in the kitchen white-faced and shaking. One of John’s friends was there, making tea and he was a bit shocked and my sudden arrival. Then he saw my face.

Oh, you’ve met our resident ghost, then?” he said and I nodded and was too scared to say more in case I was teased about it.

I did go back up a few days later, and while I had the eerie feeling of being watched, nothing further happened. I’ve looked up the museum now and while a lot has changed, including the name, it seems that ghostly goings on are still a feature as this Halloween they are running a paranormal investigation. http://www.thehigginsbedford.org.uk/default.aspx?page=0

 

A moth of mythic proportions(or a myth of mothic proportions)

 

A moth of mythic proportions(or a myth of mothic proportions)

I grew up with a brother who was obsessed with butterflies and moths, and bugs in general so I learned early not to show fear or I’d find something in my bed. In time, I stopped being terrified of spiders, and now rather love them, but I have been surprised by the number of people who while loving butterflies, loathe and even fear their nocturnal cousins, moths. But then, I think knowing a lot about something tends to dissipate fear.

At one time staying with my brother might mean sharing a bedroom with Indian Moon-moths, as the spare bedroom was the hatchery. Ghostly, pale, furry wings six inched across would flap slowly across the room, lit by the lights from the street outside. They didn’t bother me. It was better than his room which was lined with tanks of various species of tarantulas. They still have the power to make me wary.

So when I was writing The Moth’s Kiss, I asked him about the moth that is said to drink tears, assuming it was a myth of a moth. “No, it’s very real,” he said, and sent me links to it. This is a moth that derives its nutrition from the tears of sleeping animals and people. More than that, it pokes the eyes to make them water. “It also spreads dangerous diseases,” he said, and then added, “Isn’t it marvelous?”

I shuddered. The idea of such a thing coming to you in the night, unseen and unfelt was horrifying but there was a certain frisson of ghoulish wonder about it. Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.

The Moth’s Kiss was written as a side exercise, while I was writing a novel, a sequel to The Bet. The novel required that the main character become aware that he was being observed, stalked, not just by one person but by several, and to help me focus this idea, I wrote a number of extra sections, from the point of view of those stalkers, knowing that while I would not include those in the novel itself, they would deepen the experience for me. There’s nothing quite like building back story; it’s like method acting for writers. But when I wrote The Moth’s Kiss, I saw it could stand alone and unsupported because it touched on deep fears many of us share.

All of the stories in this little collection are intended to tap into those collective fears, that primeval jolt of terror, that is beyond the rational and yet even for us today still hold the power to unsettle and disturb us. We might not believe in ghosts, or demons or black magic, but most of us still have fears we’re not aware of till the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up on end, and rationality runs out the door.

I’ve encountered many experiences over my lifetime that might well be dubbed paranormal and spooky, and on the occasions I’ve been persuaded to do some live story telling, there’s been few listeners who haven’t at least enjoyed a frisson of fear.

Anyway, the collection of ten stories, some that have appeared here and some that have never seen the light of day can be found lurking in the darkest corner of Amazon, here and here.

I’d advise reading them in daylight, if you are of a nervous disposition. 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Moths-Kiss- ebook/dp/B00CPLPYJY/ref=pd_sim_kinc_3 or for USA: http://www.amazon.com/The-Moths-Kiss-ebook/dp/B00CPLPYJY/ref=pd_sim_kinc_3

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Bet-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/ref=pd_sim_b_3   or for USA: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Bet-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/ref=pd_sim_kinc_3