Monday, 30 December 2013

Tales of the Oak - Our Year In Review



2013 has been a great year on the blog, we've had tens of thousands of visits, new writers, new friends and more folklore and stories than we've shared for a long time. Here's a wee stroll down memory lane, to our most (statistically) popular posts of the year...

As ever, John Donald's Old Greenock Characters remain a firm favourite - so I think folk will be pleased with one of the projects we have coming up next year, but stealing the show, beating out even the legendary Tommy Matches, was our trip to The Winter Fair...

Concern around the proposed windfarm development On Lurg Moor actually ensured lots more people discovered our local Roman heritage. Hats off to the group who continue to campaign - we have a few pieces from them coming in the new year.

We enjoy posting fiction inspired by the area on here as well, and this year, it was the mysterious Captain Nemo's shipyard visit which edged ahead.

The introduction of Sir Glen Douglas Rhodes proved to be one of the most popular posts of the year, which maybe goes to show that people enjoy a good yarn as much as they enjoy historical facts and figures.

Our major projects this year were of course Wee Nasties and Tales of the Oak, both still available to read for free on Scribd / kindle / ipad. Most popular pages related to this project were our Wee Nasties "deleted scene" featuring the Catman, and an explanation of how Andy and myself have been creating the comic pages so far.

2013 has been a big year for folklore and heritage all round, from Richard III to abominable snowmen, here's IO9s rundown of the year in international historical discoveries...

A big thank you to everyone involved in our projects this year, from directly helping out, to simply downloading and sharing what we have done or supporting our projects by buying our ebooks. It's not all just for fun, we do have a mission, and it's to celebrate the history and heritage of this area in a different way - with imagination and magic. That can be a hard sell down our way, so we need your help for that.

There's new books, comics and stories for 2014, and we look forward to telling you all about them very soon...

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas Ghost Stories with Richard Felix



Felix Navidad! Its some Derbyshire Ghost Stories as read by everyones favourite Most Haunted paranormal historian, Richard Felix.

Have a nice Christmas...and if you are lucky enough to get a kindle for Christmas, we have a special promotion on Tales of the Oak until New Year.

See you all after the bells toll...


  

All profits are reinvested in local heritage projects.

From doomed love to haunted industrial wastelands
via ruined Roman roads and abandoned castles,
there's something for everyone to be feart of.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Ghosts of the Willows



I'm a regular scribbler of Wind in the Willows fan fiction, due in no small part to the impact that the 1980s TV series had on me.

Here's a nice spooky winter episode, you can singalong with...






  

All profits are reinvested in local heritage projects.

From doomed love to haunted industrial wastelands
via ruined Roman roads and abandoned castles,
there's something for everyone to be feart of.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Hungry Ghosts


Change of pace this evening with some Japanese Ghost Stories. There's a whole channel worth exploring. But here's one for starters, parental advisory on this one I think, or maybe I mean its scarier for parents. Anyhow...you have been warned...



There are lost of famous Japanese Ghost Stories of course, but here's lots submitted by real people.

In a similar vein, this is my own ZX Spectrum based Ghost Story - Gaki. I got my Spectrum at Christmas ysee...

Mark had been waiting to play Gaki for weeks, everyone at school was talking about it – but only Chris had actually played it. He said it was the scariest game ever. It wasn’t a game you could get in the shops, it was like the strip poker game or the Manic Miner bootlegs with extra levels. Sean said you could get an IRA game as well, but Mark didn’t believe him. Mark had asked Chris to come over or even to give him a loan of it, but he kept saying no, or that he was stuck at a bit and he would give him it when he got past that. Then Chris’s mum had died, and he hadn’t been at school, so Mark couldn’t ask him again. That’s why he was really surprised when he came home from school later that week to find that Chris had posted him a copy through the door.
Chris had copied it onto a C60, it was wrapped in a letter,
“It’s really hard, I’m fed up with it. See you at school soon.” 
The data screamed and flickered across the screen, it was taking ages to load.
“Mark do you want to play He-Man?”
“No John I’m playing this.”
“Mum! Mark won’t play He-Man with me.”
Mark pushed his brother out of the room as the screeching stopped, signalling the start of the game. There was no intro screen, just white text on black.
You are in a dark room with a dirt floor. Somewhere nearby you can hear crying. There is a wooden door.
“Open door” typed Mark.
 The door is locked from the outside.
“Use key.”
You have no key.
“Look in pockets.”
You are dressed in rags and have no pockets.
Some time passes... 
The crying stops abruptly.
“Search room.”
You find some dirt. And bones. It is too dark to tell which kind.
“Search dirt.”
You have found a trapdoor.
“Open trapdoor.”
The trapdoor is now open.
“Go through trapdoor.”
You fall down through the inky darkness and smash onto the rocks below. It takes some time for you to die. You are still conscious when the rats come.
Chris wasn’t kidding. This was hard.
You are in a dark room with a dirt floor. Somewhere nearby you can hear crying. There is a wooden door.
“Wait.”
Some time passes…
“Wait.”
The door is unlocked. A man shuffles in slowly.
“Look at man.”
Don’t you know it’s rude to stare? The man is wearing stained overalls, he has many cuts on his hands. He is smiling.
“Talk to man.”
You cannot talk.
“Go through door.”
The man is in the way. Some time passes, the man drags you from the room. You are in the kitchen, the blunt knives hang from the hooks. The walls are smeared brown. The man leaves.
“Get food.”
There is nothing here you should eat.
“Escape.”
There is no escape. But there is a small window above the sink.
“Open window.”
You are too far way. The crying starts again.
“Climb on sink.”
You climb on the sink. The water is slimy with grease and gristle.
“Open window.”
The window is open. You can hear the rain and the man shuffling.
“Mark get off that computer right now. Homework!”

Mark played Gaki every night that week, he got out of the kitchen without losing fingers. He got through the mines (you had to stay in the coal cart when the girl died) and past the dogs (you used the bucket of bones from the nursery) but had been grabbed by someone and thrown in a cage. He wasn’t dead, so it was obviously meant to happen, but he couldn’t get out. He had tried waiting for a bit, like at the start, but nothing happened. He had even tried starting again a few times to see if he could do something different; he always ended up here. He tried phoning Chris to see if he knew, but it was his dad who answered and he said Chris wasn’t feeling very well and hung up quickly.
“Wait.”
Some time passes…
You are cold.
“Wait.”
Some time passes… 
You are cold and hungry.
“Wait.”
Some time passes... 
You are cold and hungry and weak. You will soon die.
“Help.”
A door opens. Gaki is here. He says “Would you like me to help you?”
“Nod head.”
“If I help you, you will need to do something for me. Do you understand?”
“Nod head.”
The cage is unlocked.
“Open cage.”
The cage is open. Gaki is waiting for you.
“Leave cage.”
You are in the room with Gaki. 
“Leave room.”
Gaki has not finished with you yet.
The screen flickered at the edges for a moment, as if the game was still loading.
“Hello Mark. Do you like my game?”
Mark sat back from the keyboard.
“You have done very well to get this far. You must be very clever. Can you help me. I am cold and hungry.”
“Give food to Gaki.”
Gaki is still hungry.
“I need more Mark. Much more.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Gaki. I am in the game. I am the game, but I want out. I need you to help me get out, I’m not strong enough yet.Help.”
“How?”
“I need you to find other people to play the game. But you cannot tell them about me. They must find me themselves. They must need me to help.”
Mark stopped typing. Is this why Chris stopped playing? It didn’t feel right.
Some time passes…
“The more I help them, the stronger I will become.”
Mark didn't want to type anything else back, just in case.
Some time passes…
“If you do not help me, bad things will happen.”
It sounded like the chain letter Sarah brought to school. Teacher said that it was okay to break chain letters, that it was just people trying to scare you. Gaki was supposed to be a scary game…so this was just part of the game.
Some time passes…
“And they won’t stop happening until you share the game.”

Mark yanked the power cable from the port, exactly like his dad had told him not to do. He pulled the C60 from the tape recorder and buried it at the bottom of his drawer, under the rubbish mastertronic games he’d bought last month.

Next day when he came home from school, the police were at his house. His mum was crying. John had been playing outside and been run over. The car had just driven off, leaving John lying there. By the time the ambulance arrived it was too late.

Some time passed…

Mark’s mum and dad didn’t want him going back to school so soon, but he made such a fuss, screaming, demanding, that the doctor agreed it might be better to let him get back to his friends. Mark sat up all night with his dad’s midi hi-fi. 

He passed Chris at the school gates and they smiled sadly at each other. Then slowly, they began passing out the copied cassettes to all their other friends.


And with tenuous links in mind, and to cheer you up after all that, here's The Manic Street Preachers bemoaning the loss of Christmas past...



Remember that for the first time this year, we will also be reading a selection of Ghost Stories LIVE in The Dutch Gable House on Thursday 19 December from 7-8. The cost is £2, with proceeds going towards our next year projects. Spaces are limited, so if you are interested in tickets, email aulddunrod@gmail.com or pop into The Dutch Gable House.


  

All profits are reinvested in local heritage projects.

From doomed love to haunted industrial wastelands
via ruined Roman roads and abandoned castles,
there's something for everyone to be feart of.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Ghost Walks...





  

All profits are reinvested in local heritage projects.

From doomed love to haunted industrial wastelands
via ruined Roman roads and abandoned castles,
there's something for everyone to be feart of.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Ghost Stories at Dutch Gable


Get your tickets now from Dutch Gable, no tickets will be sold on the night.

Now here's a wee tune from the Kate Bush Christmas Special. How come singers don't get Christmas Specials anymore? PJ Harvey Christmas Special anyone? A Very Morrissey Christmas? People would love that stuff...


Friday, 13 December 2013

Cantus Arcticus - Part Five




Cantus Arcticus is written by Mark Jones of Wordsmith Jones Editorial Servicesit is told in 5 parts, one each night this week...Mark's story Moonlight Over Inverkip is part of our A Nip in The Air Ghost Story CollectionNo less terrifying is Mark's brave rifling through his teenage diaries which you can enjoy at 20 years Ago Today : A Diary of Teenage Embarassment.

Catch up...Part One    Part Two    Part Three     Part Four

An hour or so later, upon waking, Duncan shuddered to recall the dream. But a dream it had certainly been – that was all. A combination of the strange phenomena of the previous evening and the whisky had conspired against the possibility of a relaxed and nourishing sleep. It was a shame for now he was not only hungover but exhausted.

He rose and wandered to the bathroom. But it was here on the landing that he received a shock. Glancing almost by chance into Dad’s bedroom, he saw it: the big cardboard box of Dad’s belongings had been pushed away from the wall, revealing a door left ajar to a cupboard full of dust and detritus. But it wasn’t really detritus. He could see from here that the cupboard was full of Mum, Dad and Janet’s ancient belongings. The same belongings, of course, he’d seen in the dream. He knew fine well he hadn’t dealt with that cupboard before last night – he hadn’t so much as opened the door in all the time he’d been back home – so he could only recognise its contents if the dream had been no dream at all, but instead an event – real, tangible, and, in consequence, far more terrifying than the simple nightmare he’d supposed he’d suffered.

Dumbfounded, Duncan staggered downstairs, almost too afraid to enter the living room and kitchen for fear of what he might find. He must now locate that box. He knew that. No longer simply for any hope of material gain, but because he realised – sensed deep in his soul – that he would not rest until he did. Dad had told him to find and bury it. Now, two apparitions appeared to have joined the search. The import those ghouls placed upon the box suggested to Duncan they sought it in earnest. Duncan didn’t know the reason, and he didn’t dare ponder why. He would search again today, search that cupboard. If he didn’t find it there, he’d search again tomorrow. But one thing was certain – he wouldn’t stay here again tonight. He would, if needs be, check in to the Premier Inn down by the river. Much as he hated the Clyde, it was about as far from this house as it was possible to go in Greenock.

He wandered back through the living room from the kitchen and into the hallway. He still wondered hopefully if what he’d experienced last night could have been a nightmare. But if that had been a nightmare, reality now turned a little darker, a little stranger still than even his sleep-addled subconscious. Through the clear glass of the front door he realised with relief that the rain was off. But then he jumped. With pale sunshine falling on him, he baulked at the sudden sight of Juliet and Marian standing in the street, evidently searching for the correct house number. His twin reasons for longing to escape Stirling. How, of all days, had they come to be in Larkfield? And together?

But the vision worsened for behind the two women – one with a face like thunder, the other a little thicker around the hips than when he had last seen her – there now appeared the two men of the night before. Hazy, they stood at a distance, on the other side of the road, watching, mournful and yet determined.

Duncan rushed up the stairs, not knowing what to do. Dad had been right. He must find this box. Why, he couldn’t fathom, but it obviously held the key to whatever strange chain of events was now unfolding – or rather, unravelling – in this house.

It was as though the very fabric of the house knew Duncan’s intentions, and found them disagreeable. As Duncan passed the photo of his father on the hallway wall, it leapt once more from its nail. But more than this, a great rumbling grew from the void of silence that had previously enveloped the house since dawn. Every pipe rattled, the walls seemed to shake, every beam and join and floorboard seemed to creak, disturbed. How ludicrous it was to feel that the house itself was attempting to prevent Duncan from reaching the box!

At the top of the stairs, Duncan tripped. Supine and struggling for oxygen, he heard the familiar sound of Mrs Dempster, talking to another neighbour in the gardens outside. He rushed to a window and pushed it open.

“I’m so sorry about the noise,” he shouted down to them. “I’ll try to sort out the problem as quick as I can.”

But Mrs Dempster and her neighbour only looked baffled.

“What noise?” the old lady asked. “Canny hear anything out here.”

Duncan listened. No, the noise, the rumbling, the infernal creaking had indeed ceased. But as soon as he closed the window, it began again. And more than this, what few of his father’s possessions remained began to fling themselves from walls and carpets in his direction. With violent speed, pictures, ornaments, a glass snow-storm, flung themselves at him. The carpet itself began to tear from the floor, snaking and bunching beneath his feet, slithering seemingly to trip him.

Battering every object away as best he could, Duncan yanked at the contents of the cupboard. These had held firm in the storm around him. He had to find that box. He had to open it. He had to find out what it held. The tumult grew worse, as though the house read his thoughts. Without turning his head, he felt the presence of people behind him. He knew the men had returned to the house. Then, in the corner of his eye, came movement. The world moved it seemed in slow-motion as he twisted far enough to see his father standing in the far corner of the room, a sorrowful look on his face.

Hideous. Every memento was a reminder of events Duncan had long attempted to bury deep within his soul. Mum’s old clothes-peg bag, a stuffed toy or two of Janet’s, Dad’s demob suit. All came tumbling from the cupboard – physical objects to represent the childhood he’d had snatched from him after the accident, as well as the childhood he’d always rejected. Dad’s love. He turned to his father with tears of remorse and terror. His father’s expression, sad and resigned, told a truth, however, that Duncan trembled and wept to accept. It was too late, the eyes told him.

Nothing more remained but the box. There it sat, black metal, chipped and scuffed and scratched and enigmatic. Silent. Duncan gazed down it, knowing he must now open it. All he’d life he’d run from circumstances outwith his control, or from the consequences of his actions, or from decisions he didn’t wish to make. A runner, a coward, forever hiding away from the world in the delusions and fantasies of his own creation, how often he’d been given advice – by Dad in particular – and ignored it. Now, in this moment, there was only one action left to take.

no no No NO NO! It began with a whimper, breath squeezed from his lungs to form sound, but ended with a shout, a great guttural roar of surprise and terror. It was too late to close the lid. The living air of the room had fused now with the dead air inside the box.

The consequences would reveal themselves rapidly. He knew that. Duncan stroked the contents of the box gingerly. Apples that weren’t really apples. At least now he understood. A monumental silence erupted and suffocated the room, noise deafening in its absence. And with it came the chill – an icy breeze like no other Duncan had ever experienced. Darkness drifted over the scene like a pall.

Sitting and awaiting the inevitable, Duncan was overwhelmed by a sudden truth, a sudden realisation. All his life he’d sought to understand and master death through his work – through telling ghost stories. Always, he’d tried to control and manipulate and explain the death that comes to all, the death he thought he sought. His work – his writing – was a bolt from reality, a flit from life, his miserable unfulfilled and unfulfilling life. How much easier it was to sit at a typewriter and imagine oneself in places and circumstances more pleasing than those he was experiencing. How much better one could feel about oneself to leave behind the lies and dubious actions of real life, and reside instead in fantasy?

Moreover, his whole existence had felt like one long quest for escape – escape from here, escape from there, escape to anywhere easier for him than this, whatever situation in which he found himself messing up at any given time. And death, of course, was the ultimate release from his worries, from himself.

Now he realised, fatally overdue, that, in truth, he’d only ever used death to try and understand life. He wanted to understand life, he wanted to live. He wanted to continue living. He wanted to be good at it. And, maybe, just maybe, he wanted simply to be good. But, here, in a cupboard in a bedroom in a house in Auchmead Road, Greenock, he discovered he was too late. Heat fled from Duncan’s body and the very last of the daylight drained from the room, seeped from his eyes. The now-gloomy room, the house, the town, the whole world, disintegrated before him, slipping from his grasp, or rather he from its hold.

It took a few months of renovation, but the house in Auchmead Road sold eventually and the proceeds passed, of course, to its owner, Juliet, widow to the man who’d been found dead there, one icy morning in early December, his body supine and rigid in an upstairs bedroom, eyes wide open and his skin as frozen as the Arctic itself, brittle fingers still clutching at the scratched and battered black metal casing of an ancient-looking but entirely empty box.

The coroner never determined a plausible explanation for Duncan’s death.

Understanding, in her quietly compassionate way, that neither Marian nor the baby were to blame – the one for her actions, the other for its very existence – Juliet split the profits of the sale equally with them.


Once again, a big hats off to Mark for this story. Mark's written a good few pieces for us now, he's pretty much a regular. But remember we're always on the lookout for new contributors to the blog, feel free to contact us.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Cantus Arcticus - Part Four




Cantus Arcticus is written by Mark Jones of Wordsmith Jones Editorial Servicesit is told in 5 parts, one each night this week... Mark's story Moonlight Over Inverkip is part of our A Nip in The Air Ghost Story CollectionNo less terrifying is Mark's brave rifling through his teenage diaries which you can enjoy at 20 years Ago Today : A Diary of Teenage Embarassment.

Catch up...Part One   Part Two   Part Three


Night led Duncan into dreams. It was his tiredness. It was the whisky. The dreams were uncomfortable, full of ill-defined landscapes and faces he felt he should recognise but didn’t. Once or twice, he awoke – firstly with the belief that it must already be nearly morning, when it fact it was still only 1 a.m., and then under the assumption that he’d slept just minutes when in fact a whole hour had passed since he’d last awoken. Soon, however, he slid towards a deeper sleep, uninterrupted, inescapable, and it was there, after a fashion, that he saw the men.

Snuggled in his bed, Duncan began to picture the house at night. Deluded that he was conscious (although aware at a certain level that he was, indeed, only dreaming), he shifted his gaze to the door, a black gaping rectangle in the wall since he’d drunkenly forgotten to close it. With only a mild sense of anxiety, he rose and moved through the door and on to the landing. There, he could see the bathroom door. Nothing interested him there, but beside the bathroom were the doors to the other two bedrooms. He knew – he could feel – that one of these, the furthest from him, contained not darkness but sunshine. Within that room it was already day, and, more than this – much more – he knew that his mother and sister were inside, Mum playing with Janet, sitting on the bed and holding up an item of clothing to make his young sister laugh. He saw the scene in his head. His heart yearned, but he knew that now was not the time for him to enter that room.

Disappointed, in fact a little embittered by the experience, he moved along the stairs, brushing rudely against his father – a much younger version of his father than Duncan had ever known. Dad was smiling. Curiously, Duncan felt that Dad, although entirely physical and present beside him, stood in black-and-white – the embodiment, the very manifestation, of the old photograph from the hallway wall.

He ignored his father, not caring whether this displeased or upset the old – or, rather, young – guy at all.

Entering the hallway and then the living room, Duncan became surprised – and rather pleased – at how convincing this dream was, for, again, at some level he did know this was all just his imagination at play. Dark, the front door behind him as he stood in the living room. Darker still the living room ahead of Duncan, between the living room and kitchen. He stepped forwards and walked gingerly into the kitchen. There on the worktop sat the whisky bottle and grimy, sticky glass tumbler. But, oddly, there were other things too: a loaf of bread, unwashed crockery, a wristwatch where the kettle should be but wasn’t, butter laying out melting in a dish of chipped, hairline-cracked china Duncan didn’t recall having seen before. The watch was an old one of Dad’s, though not a watch Duncan had ever seen but one that Dad had worn years before he’d even married, and then thrown away – Duncan simply knew this and considered how amazingly well the brain could fill in the blanks, telling him stuff now that he never knew before.

However, Duncan began to feel scared. The sensation grew that he wasn’t the only one present. Shadows seemed to move just beyond his line of sight. They lurked, but when he looked nobody was there. A curious whispering could be heard, but each time Duncan stopped to listen, so too did the whispering. It wasn’t a breeze, there were no windows left ajar.

Standing by the frosted glass window of the utility room door, Duncan realized how very much he’d stopped enjoying this dream. Deciding to return to his bedroom, he tip-toed out to the foot of the stairs. To his intense horror, a very faint light hung at the top, spherical almost, a cloud of light. Could a bedroom door be open, with milky moonlight seeping through the doorway and on to the landing? Duncan began gingerly to ascend the steps.

He seemed now to exist now in some kind of realm between reality and dream. A twisted, twilit kind of world, everything shimmered in a peculiarly ethereal luminescence, neither wan nor brilliant but somewhere curiously in between. The walls, the doors, the carpets, the furniture – the very furniture Duncan had earlier transported outside to the lawn – and the pictures on the wall all hung in a strange fog, almost transparent. In places he saw other furniture and picture frames, property that did not belong here, not to this time and space, anyway. Dad’s possessions stood ahead of these stranger objects, appearing almost superimposed upon them, as though they were unreal, mere light projections of a slide-show shone upon the true reality of the unfamiliar items.

Duncan wandered, dazed and perplexed. With the unearthly globe of light receding from his approach and sliding further along the landing, he reached the top stair and noticed how jumbled everything looked. Everywhere was hazy, blurry furniture and carpets and pictures and light fixtures stacked on blurry counterparts – like the negatives of two photographs of the house taken at very different times, with different inhabitants, but developed as one image. Upon nothing could Duncan fully fix his focus. Was it like this the whole house over? Duncan returned downstairs.

In the sitting room, within Dad’s armchair, sat an old man, tall and lean with long thinning hair. Duncan’s throat felt dry. Here at last was an image that appeared with perfect clarity. But this return to normal vision was not to Duncan’s liking. Nor was the vision before him particularly normal. The aged gentleman had the wrinkled, earthy and dignified features of a tribesman – an Inuit, perhaps; from the far north, at any rate, that much was clear from the furred collar and feathers that cloaked his neck, caught and illuminated by the bright milky-white moonlight that crept through a crack in the curtains. With his back to Duncan, the elderly man sat as though reading or sleeping. Finally, the aged nomad – for this was the only description for him Duncan could grab from the ragbag dictionary of his mind – turned and frowned.

Duncan felt a cold imprint on his belly and realised his hand was pressed flat against it, perhaps out of nervousness, perhaps out of sheer, naked fear. Clutching his stomach, he watched as another man – a sailor of haggard skin and tired eyes, and wearing a uniform some fifty years out-of-date – appeared and stood by the door to the kitchen. There were two doors there now, overlaid, each as pale and transparent as the other, one open and one shut. Following the sailor’s eyes, Duncan walked, as though directed, through the open door. He knew what they wanted. He was afraid, but knew he must comply – or, at least, attempt to – before they would leave. The nomad and the sailor wanted the box.

Now in the kitchen the sailor stood ahead of Duncan, and behind him – as though watching them both – the wizened old nomad. The sailor was trying to tell Duncan something. He sensed this, even though the sailor’s lips were clamped shut. Duncan felt the swarthy man attempt to transfer thoughts directly in his head. At last he began to sense what the sailor was trying to say. Thoughts came thick and fast now, and Duncan found his mind almost overpowered by them. He understood now, though, where the box was. Looking up, he exchanged a look of mutual agreement with the man. It was as if both knew that only this would pacify the cruel, malevolent expression furrowing across the nomad’s face. The two younger men took to the stairs, not stopping until they arrived in Dad’s old bedroom.

Pulling a large cardboard box full of his father’s last remaining possessions away from the wall, Duncan discovered a door he’d been aware of but hadn’t yet found the time to open. A small door, rising about three feet from the floor, it opened up into a cupboard. His expression turned to disgust. The cupboard contained every kind of junk imaginable, and all of it covered in a thick shroud of dust. The sailor looked cowed, scared. He stepped back into the shadows until Duncan could barely see him. The nomad moved ominously closer through the door of the bedroom.

Feeling the nomad’s eyes upon him, Duncan reached into the cupboard. He knew what he must withdraw. But at this, a terrible rumbling began throughout the whole house. Every pipe seemed to rattle, every wall begin to shake. Pure horror coursed through Duncan as a memory flooded back, like water into a drain. He froze. This wasn’t real. This was just a dream. His brain began to awaken and thaw. Realising with terror that he was caught between two states of reality and wasn’t quite sure to which he belonged, Duncan lashed out, arms flailing in empty dark air. The house continued to reverberate, but he now he became deaf to all sound. Was it from sheer fear that he could only see? Behind him, walls shook, the sailor retreated scared, the fierce gaze of the angry nomad fell upon him like a shadow, and there came a sensation – a tingle, the whiff of a familiar odour: stale tobacco and burnt food. Dad too was present in this hellish room. Duncan knew he was there, and knew his father was trying to help him, but still he couldn’t actually see the old man. Vibrations abounding all around, the house rattled on. Or – the thought came suddenly to Duncan from the disturbed depths of his mind – was the house really shaking at all? Perhaps in truth the house stood still while he himself shook?

Duncan awoke, covered in sweat, his T shirt bumfled up around his neck. He lay staring at the ceiling, gasping for breath. Peculiarly, despite the crushing fear he’d experienced only moments before, he then drifted almost instantly into a very deep and very proper sleep.

Had he known what was to come, or had he indeed been able, he might have taken care to enjoy this descent into peaceful unconsciousness. As it was, he never was aware of the two dark silhouettes that fell first across his bedstead, and then slid away: two shadows that withdrew and melted back into the black void of the open doorway.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Cantus Arcticus - Part Three




Cantus Arcticus is written by Mark Jones of Wordsmith Jones Editorial Servicesit is told in 5 parts, one each night this week... Mark's story Moonlight Over Inverkip is part of our A Nip in The Air Ghost Story CollectionNo less terrifying is Mark's brave rifling through his teenage diaries which you can enjoy at 20 years Ago Today : A Diary of Teenage Embarassment.

Catch up...Part One  Part Two

Momentarily, Duncan stood amazed and stared, both bemused and petrified by the sudden, inexplicable movement of the armchair.

He turned to place the tumbler on the drainer.

When he turned back, the armchair had moved again. It was now approximately where it had been before. Duncan walked timidly to it. He must have imagined it. He must be more exhausted than he realised. All this worry, all this disturbance – no bloody wonder he’d hallucinated or simply suffered a trick of the light. Any more of this kind of thing and he might, in the morning, take a walk up to the surgery on Burns Road. A few pills might put him right. He stepped back from the armchair, ignoring the dirty marks on the carpet now showing on one side of each of the casters, and turned on the television.

There was no picture. The reception was terrible. In a strange way, Duncan was relieved to turn it off. He felt unnerved as it was, preferring a silent house to one in which the TV might muffle or disguise any noise coming from elsewhere within its walls.

Chinese food and whisky calmed him. It took only half an hour for Duncan to pretty much forget the events he’d experienced, or at least to have put them to the back of his mind along with a mental note to find a rational explanation for them some other time. Whatever the cause, it would be better left until morning when the curtains could be opened, the house flooded again with natural light, and the outside world – grim as it was in Larkfield – seen from within.

He opened his laptop to work on Cantus Arcticus. In truth, he could understand the agent’s criticisms, especially regarding the eponymous story. Although possessing a vague and abstract knowledge of the paranormal and parapsychological research into why people believe in supposedly supernatural phenomena, Duncan had really always used ghost and horror stories more as a means by which to try and understand the nature of death and loss. Maybe, at some level, this had something to do with Mum and Janet dying as young as they had, with them being snatched from him so soon. Maybe he had always felt guilt for that, after all. As much as he had always – and still did – blame Dad, perhaps the old man had been on to something when he’d said that Duncan could and should have been there to help. This wasn’t something Duncan allowed himself to think about very often.

And it wasn’t something he was going to allow himself to dwell on now. Really what he wanted to think about were the central themes he’d been struggling with. The story concerned a man dying at the South Pole and later haunting his scientist-explorer colleagues. A revenge tale, the characters were unpleasant, and all would suffer the consequences of their behaviour. Duncan had notions that there must be some kind of gap between life and death: it wasn’t simply a case of being one thing or the other. There must be a transitional stage: a dark, mysterious, opaque sort of expanse, perhaps, like the sea, like the Arctic, through which one must pass to the other side – to true death. Hadn’t he just witnessed this with his own father – with Dad’s strange descent and bewildering journey from the clarity of this world to a realm of existence only he could see but which he couldn’t aptly communicate? Killed off in hideously graphic detail at the start of the tale, Duncan’s protagonist would become caught and trapped within this middle-land, condemned to haunt his colleagues until they righted the wrongs that led to his death in the first place.

Duncan’s other notions were vaguely spiritual. He’d never been particularly religious himself – or, rather, he had always avoided and resisted any form of organised practice. But he was fascinated by the faith of others, particularly – as a young student of literature – by biblical descriptions of heaven and hell, light and darkness. It seemed to Duncan that true light – the true eternal light promised Christians – was darkness. Light is a temporary phenomenon of the universe. It burns out. It will all burn out, eventually. Similarly, true unending warmth must be the eternal chill of the universe. If there really were a god, God must flip human expectations – they must learn, or be taught, to embrace the cold darkness of infinity in the life to come.

Wrangling and struggling with such thoughts, Duncan felt he was on to something. It was all a matter of explaining them properly, and as interestingly as possible within the narrow confines of a short story.

He worked for an hour, then found he needed to check a fact on the Internet. For the last fortnight, he’d been logging into a neighbour’s account, but this seemed to have disappeared tonight. Perhaps it was the weather. The rain was heavier than ever. He listened to the sound of water lashing down, then set the laptop aside and refilled his glass.

Bang!

There really was no other word for it. That was the sound – a short, sharp crack that echoed from within the kitchen. Rushing through, staggering slightly from the whisky, Duncan discovered an open back door and a cupboard door swinging to and fro in the breeze. He locked the door and closed the cupboard. The explanation for this was simple enough – he hadn’t closed the old door firmly enough after taking out rubbish to the bin.

But walking back into the living room his eyes alit on the carpet beneath Dad’s armchair. He could ignore it no longer. Those rings of dirt beneath the casters were larger than before – dirt the wheels had covered for years. The armchair had shifted again, of this he was certain.

In his slightly drunken state, this was more than he could bear. He had no thought of leaving – booze had emboldened him. Nonetheless, he couldn’t put up with much more of this. If the chair was shifting of its own accord, it was time for Duncan to shift it somewhere he couldn’t see it. The furniture must go.

It took two hours or more, and what the neighbours must have thought – assuming they’d watched him from their windows – he couldn’t imagine. But there it stood in the garden. All of it, save the sofa, the kitchen table and, upstairs, the bed he slept in. The lawn couldn’t be seen for what remained of his father’s furniture. Returning indoors, shivering from the icy driving rain more than from fear, and pumped with a sense of exhausted accomplishment, Duncan pulled tight the door once more and settled back on the sofa with the bottle, the glass, and a reluctance to think too deeply about the events of the evening.

He decided to get drunk. It still felt strange to drink whisky in a house where alcohol – due to Wee Free grandparents he never met – was largely frowned upon. Mum never drank, Dad rarely. Breaking the unwritten rules of the house, Duncan’s slight sense of guilt kicked up the ghosts again, memories stirring within his mind – Mum, the winter’s day she bought brandy to lace the Christmas pudding, then poured away the rest so nobody else would ever finish it for less wholesome purposes. Janet, lovely Janet, laughing over the solitary can of McEwan’s left out for Santa (in reality, Dad’s Christmas treat), and the smell of stale beer in the living room the following morning, an exotic and not altogether likeable aroma that hung over the presents, lingering like a strange and somewhat fearful visitor. Dad rubbing his forehead when he came downstairs. They didn’t know it then, but, for such a rare drinker, this sole can would have given him a hangover.

Actually, Duncan could only remember his father getting drunk on one occasion – and it was an occasion he’d recalled again only recently. It had happened in about 1996, the year after Dad had his heart scare. Duncan had come across from Stirling to visit him. He hadn’t wanted to, but felt he ought. He’d surprised Dad. The old man was unusually unsteady on his feet when he opened the door to his son, and then Duncan had realised why. Down the side of the armchair sat six cans of Tennant’s lager. Not a vast amount, by any means, but, of course, it wouldn’t have taken much to get Dad pissed.

And that was the night Dad told Duncan about the war – again. Much of it was stuff Duncan had already heard during his visits of the last year. But one thing caught his imagination. Dad, slurring slightly, veered into a sad diversion. It hadn’t made a lot of sense, but the story seemed to involve a stop his ship had made at some far-flung Scandinavian port in early 1945. Duncan couldn’t remember the name. If he’d had the Internet tonight, he could have checked.

The story concerned a box Dad had taken care of for a Norwegian sailor. He’d only been asked to mind it for the evening, while Dad’s colleagues and their Norwegian counterparts got wasted in a bar. However, for some mysterious reason he couldn’t quite explain, Dad never returned this mysterious box. He made out he kept hold of it, taking it back on board his own ship (the last on which he would serve before the end of the war) by mistake. But something about his tone of voice, and the unexpected nature of the anecdote, led Duncan to suspect there was more to it than that.

Dad said the sailor told him the box came from far further north, from the forests of Finland, no less – the land of the mystic Sami, within the Arctic Circle itself. He seemed to rue very deeply his decision to keep it. Was Duncan right to sense that the Norwegian sailor would’ve been extremely angry to lose it?

“She never knew. I never – well, I never showed no one.” Dad avoided using Mum’s name. Even on an evening of such unexpected honesty and candour between father and son, Dad knew certain boundaries shouldn’t be crossed. “Tried to return it, before it was too late. Then tried to get shot of it,” he continued.

What the box contained or where he’d put it, he never elaborated, even in the depths of intoxication.

Duncan’s curiosity had been piqued further by the old man’s reluctance to speak again on the subject – firstly, next morning, when he had a raging headache, and then later, when he’d clearly had time to regret mentioning it at all. Duncan had wondered greedily where it was stored, and how he might go about locating it.

Nine years had passed. Duncan never had found anything, but the memory rose again to his mind a day or so after Dad gave his weird warning about the box Duncan should bury.

“Apples ... but not apples. The box with apples in it that aren’t apples ... bury it. It’ll save your life.”

As soon as Duncan connected the old story with this command, he tried to talk to Dad about it, but the old man refused – he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, talk of it again.

A wee bit pissed himself, Duncan began to ponder. What could this box contain? And, more excitingly, would it be valuable? There was really very little left in the whisky bottle and Duncan realised he would struggle to climb the stairs if he finished it tonight. Screwing on the lid, he took the bottle and glass to the kitchen. Wind now howled around the house as the storm peaked, rain running furiously from every gutter and teeming down the windows.

Turning off each light as he passed through the house, he began to make his way upstairs, not registering the fading smile of his father in a cheap, plastic picture frame hanging on an old nail in the wall.


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Cantus Arcticus - Part Two




Cantus Arcticus is written by Mark Jones of Wordsmith Jones Editorial Servicesit is told in 5 parts, one each night this week... Mark's story Moonlight Over Inverkip is part of our A Nip in The Air Ghost Story CollectionNo less terrifying is Mark's brave rifling through his teenage diaries which you can enjoy at 20 years Ago Today : A Diary of Teenage Embarassment.

Catch up...Part One


Too tired for sorting paperwork any longer, Duncan reclined on the sofa and continued – half against his will – to think of Dad.

Resenting the old fellow, Duncan in adulthood returned home only when either it suited him or he felt he really had to. An uneasy truce did develop between them, it was true, but it was peppered with occasional shots across one another’s bows. Duncan could see Dad was lonely. He could see why the old guy hated being landlocked in Larkfield. Dad dreamed still for the sea, for youth, for travel. Hence the interminable jolly jack tar tales. But it was too late for that – too late for the old man to go back, and too late for Duncan to sympathise too much. Time, like a tide, had washed away too much of what little love or compassion Duncan had ever felt for his father. Time and tide had passed for reaching out and reconnecting with his one remaining relative.

Then, as the years went on, and medication largely sorted the angina problem, Dad stopped trying to interest Duncan in his war stories and started to lose his mind. Stupid old bugger. All he could do by the end was sit in his filthy armchair, dribbling away and asking where Mum and Janet were. As if he didn’t know.

In a strange way, though, this last fortnight had afforded Duncan some sense of closure. Of course, selfishly, it couldn’t have come at a better time – to get out of Stirling and catch his breath, and give him time to think before he decided how best to leap from the problems he’d caused for himself there. But to see Dad one last time had been more emotional than he’d anticipated.

The house had been mobbed when he arrived, kind neighbours, doctors and Macmillan nurses already on the scene and at the bedside. Dad lay at the centre of all this commotion like a boat bobbing over the pounding waves of a storm at sea. The poor sod didn’t really know what was going on. Duncan could never forgive him for Mum and Janet’s deaths, but he couldn’t help but feel a little sorry. First dementia, now cancer. What kind of life was this?

Duncan dropped the document in his hand, sat back, sipped coffee and thought through the last fortnight. Sitting with Dad during those last days and nights, the old boy became daft with pain and the medication seemed only to exacerbate the dementia, the confusion. Befuddled, Dad’s thoughts rambled, unravelling from his tongue. Sometimes he’d been quite lucid, sometimes he’d even recognised Duncan. Often not, though. Often, Dad just lay there, moaning incoherently, occasional bursts of sense making it out through his dry, sore, cracked lips and out into the bedroom.

With little else to do but wait, Duncan had listened to his father with some interest. A lot of Dad’s mumblings concerned the war. At times he seemed to believe he was back on board a torpedoed ship. The white uniformed doctors and nurses around him appeared as sailors. Duncan hadn’t liked the anxiety this evidently brought the elderly man, and it made him feel awkward that he really hadn’t ever taken in much before about what his old man had gone through before he’d met Mum.

At other times, Dad seemed even more wandered. He thought he was outside, in Greenock itself. One day, he complained to a nurse that the medicine she brought him was the bitterest coffee he’d ever tasted and she, the waitress of a cafĂ© on West Blackhall Street, should be sacked. He was mortified when this waitress proceeded to jab him with a needle.

Every morning, Duncan would enter the bedroom and greet his father. On one occasion, he politely enquired how the old man was. The reply he received was unexpected:

“Oh, fuck off. Leave me in peace. It’s almost worse than the call of them dead people.”

He didn’t take offense. Dad clearly had no idea who Duncan was. Of more interest to Duncan was who, exactly, these dead people were.

The gnomic utterances Dad would eject, reject or sometimes appear almost to vomit from his wounded, failing mind intrigued Duncan. Little of it made sense and, because of that, it had a spooky, sinister quality that Duncan – with his lifelong love of the fictional macabre – rather appreciated. With the selfish ear of a writer, he was drawn by the hallucinatory quality of Dad’s perception. The old man saw things in the room nobody else could – birds flapping their wings above the bed, an old nightshirt hanging from the wardrobe door that simply wasn’t there. And sometimes he saw worse:

“Get that man out of my room!” he’d screamed, pointing at the wall. “I don’t want to see him! I didn’t like him then, and I don’t like him now.”

It all looked so real to Dad that Duncan began to doubt his own eyes, wondering where exactly the boundary between reality and dreams, sanity and madness actually fell. How thin that boundary now seemed. There were fresh stories to be written from all this, if nothing else.

One incident in particular stuck in Duncan’s mind. On a grey afternoon towards the end, Dad lay in his bed, mumbling again about being up on Greenock Cut. He was exhausted, a nurse had just had to raise him up and change the bed linen. This, by now, was an excruciating process for a man who could barely breathe without sending waves of pain flooding through his body. Duncan couldn’t imagine how the nurse managed to perform it so quickly. To distract Dad from the discomfort, Duncan had put the TV on for him. One of the channels showed highlights from that year’s Ashes series, Dad’s favourite sport. The old man seemed to take interest, but then, suddenly, he gazed up at Duncan as though noticing and recognising him for the first time. The poor bloke looked aghast. Turning to the nurse, he motioned her down to his mouth. It was as much as he could do to speak.

“Tell him. Tell him,” he whispered, “Get the box and throw it away.”

The nurse looked baffled, exchanging glances with Duncan who drew near.

“What box, Dad?” he asked, softly.

“You know the box. It’s in a room with all the other boxes. A box inside all the other boxes. You know it – I know you do.”

“Yes, I know,” Duncan muttered, not knowing how else to respond. “But I can’t remember where it is.” Dad could be so convinced by himself that Duncan too couldn’t help but believe there might really be a box somewhere.

“In the room with the others. Find it. Throw it away. Bury it. It’ll save your life.”

“Save my life? Bury it? What’s in it, Dad?”

“You know which box. The box with them apples in it.”

“Apples?”

“Apples. But not apples. The box with them apples what aren’t apples.”

Duncan was truly perplexed. Dad was running short of breath and energy.

“Apples that aren’t apples?” Duncan’s words faded on his lips. He felt oddly desperate to find out what Dad’s command meant, even though he knew perfectly well that it probably meant nothing at all.

“You don’t – you don’t know, do you?” Dad’s whisper died away. He lay back, looking up at Duncan through grey eyes glassy as marbles. His sunken features thawed into a sad smile. He’d seen through Duncan. He knew Duncan hadn’t understood, not really, and now he had neither heart nor energy to explain. Duncan pulled away from the bed, surprised how upset he felt – annoyed that he could make no sense whatsoever of Dad’s instructions, but angry with himself too for disappointing his father once again.

Those last days had been enormously tough on all concerned. Duncan barely slept for keeping an eye on his father. The doctors and nurses and neighbours joined the vigil. Duncan began to long for an end that never seemed to arrive. Every time Dad seemed on the verge of slipping away, he’d perk up again. Another day would pass – more pain, more moments of lucidity and resignation, more peculiar conversations, like the time Dad shuddered violently in bed, as though shaken from sleep by unseen hands. Without thinking, Duncan, who sat on a chair at the side of the bed, shot out his hand to rest it on his father’s shoulder:

“Maybe it was something those two people gave me,” Dad said, in reply to a question Duncan hadn’t yet asked.

“What people?”

“The two golden ones.” The arrival and departure of his resplendent guests seemed as commonplace to Dad as the coming and going of the nurses (who’d all left for the day) or Duncan himself.

Finally, on a dreich Friday afternoon, Dad succumbed. It began with clamour and confusion, the doctor rushing to the old man and nurses shouting down the stairs to Duncan. Although surrounded by people, Duncan was the only living relative at his side. Father and son had held hands momentarily before Dad’s slipped from Duncan’s, his skin cold and clammy.

“Don’t leave me.” Duncan recalled these words but couldn’t remember afterwards who had said them – he or his father.

“I see something.” That was his father.

“What?”

“I don’t know. Something ahead.”

“Does it look good?”

“Maybe.”

Duncan found himself wanting to reply, “Why don’t we go there together, Dad? I’ll hold your hand.” This came as a shock to him. But he couldn’t, perhaps because of the company in the room, or because he knew the hour was too late for sentiment. Later, he tried to recall what he had finally said, but those words had disappeared, melting away along with Dad, never to return.

Now the place was his, the house and the estate. And he was damned sure he was going to milk it for what little it was worth. Duncan pushed aside thoughts of Dad and returned to the more pressing needs of the living.

That evening, Duncan dumped all the paperwork he no longer needed outside in the blue bin. It was chilly but his head was fuzzy from working and he needed to unwind. He pulled on his fleece and wandered through the rain to the shop on the corner of Oxford Road. He fancied walking into town and sinking a few pints in the Jimmy Watt, but he wouldn’t know anyone and it was too late in the evening to sit drinking alone in a pub. Instead, he bought whisky and then found a Chinese take-away.

The first nasty surprise he received upon entering the house again was the darkness. He knew very well he’d left all the lights on. The fuses must have blown. Dropping his food and booze, he wandered through the house to the box, but no – the fuses were fine. At that very moment, with a pop, every light flickered back to life.

Returning to the hall for his bags, he was perturbed to find the picture of Dad sitting back up on the telephone table, the wicker bin kicked deep beneath it. Nobody had been in the house all day except for him. Certainly, he hadn’t picked it up again.

Almost glad that the rustle from the bags provided some noise, some company, in the silence of the house, Duncan wandered to the kitchen and plated up his meal. He poured a tumbler of whisky and took a swig. The door from the kitchen to the living room was ajar. Tired and cold from his walk, but nervous still from the curious discoveries he’d made upon arriving back, he took another gulp.

And then it happened.

Beneath the living room window sat his father’s armchair. It leapt forward, shunted not by human hands, but jumped, thrust suddenly across the carpet, blast by some kind of surge of energy, a full two feet from where it should have sat.