24 March 2018


The room was cold. The fire, now no more than dying embers, made the fireplace look like a cavernous hole surrounded by a black marble mantelpiece. The unfinished drapes hung at the window awaiting final measurement. In the swelling silence Ellie Peterson was thankful that she couldn’t see outside.

An hour ago the sound of footsteps had unnerved her. Petrified she had waited for the door to open but nothing happened and the footsteps died away. Now, except for the creaking stair, the house was eerily quiet. She sat on the hard wooden settle, her body taut against the high back, feeling the terror in her spine. Dare she move? Would the spirits know of her presence if she did?

She wanted to believe the occupants had returned but they knew she was there so they surely would have called out. Her mind switched. Maybe it had been a burglar. If it was he was being terribly quiet. There were no other noises to indicate that drawers were being searched or cupboards ransacked.

The New Year’s Eve party seemed so long ago. The usual gang had turned up at Lacey’s Wine Bar with one extra, a boy called Ram who told stories about ghosts. While they drank in abundance someone mentioned the big house on the hill, saying it was haunted.

Ellie was taken aback for that house was where she would soon be working. The owner had commissioned her to replace the drapes in the dining room while the family was away in Tobago. In a mildly drunken state, she had scoffed at the suggestion of the place being haunted, saying it was all nonsense and bragging that she wasn’t in the least scared of ghosts. She didn’t mention that as a child she was scared to walk past the turreted property in case the ghost came out to get her.

It was Tom who dared her to spend the night there. Ellie had laughed and joked that she wouldn’t mind spending several nights there. And so she was dared so to do.

She had telephoned Jacqueline McCleary the next day, asking for permission to stay until her work was completed. It would be so much better, she’d said, if she could devote all her time to the task and not have the inconvenience of travelling to and fro. Mrs McCleary was delighted, saying it would be useful to have someone in attendance during her absence. She would make up a bed in the west wing.

Ellie remembered trembling with the excitement of spending nights alone in a supposedly haunted house. Now she trembled with fear in the icy room.

The musty smelling room was lit by a dim lamp on the antique bureau, out of reach from where she sat.  She couldn’t remember putting it on but she did recall switching on the central chandelier before lighting the fire, then switching it off because the light was too harsh. Although she didn’t doubt her action she looked up, seeing only flickering firelight reflected in the clear glass. But the fire was dead and she half wondered if she was too. 

She twisted round to check the door, wondering if she had the courage to go into the huge, cold hall that led to the west wing. She decided against it. It would be better to stay where she was, maybe close her eyes and try to sleep. The hard settle didn’t encourage sleep but she was too afraid to move to the comfort of an easy chair.  Folding her legs beneath her, she eased the tartan blanket over her arms and prayed for daylight to come, wishing she’d ignored Tom’s stupid dare.


Outside the wind howled and rain lashed against the glass. The chandelier shook and the new drapes swayed in the half light. In a room in the west wing a shadowy figure rose from a winged armchair. Her skirts floated behind her as she noiselessly glided through a heavy wooden door that led to an imposing staircase. At the top she paused and listened as the first musical notes filtered through the air.


Ellie stirred, shifted her position on the settle. In the distance she heard faint music. It took her straight back to her childhood, when she’d been so afraid. Straining to listen she became aware of an indistinct soprano voice intoning the words of The Londonderry Air.

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

Ellie shivered as the eerie singing grew louder, swallowed to suppress a ripening scream. Somewhere in the back of her mind was the thought that spirits didn’t like screams and anyway, wasn’t she a grown up, sensible person who wasn’t afraid of ghosts? Hadn’t she said so repeatedly before… before coming here?


The crash completely unnerved her. It sounded like something smashing against the far door. Hardly daring to breathe, Ellie pulled the blanket round her shoulders and slid from the settle, grabbing the wooden arm to keep from falling. Against her better judgement she felt she had to investigate? Fearfully, she tiptoed across the polished floor and eased the door open.

On the floor was the oil painting that had been hanging in the hall, to the right of the door. Its heavy gold frame was broken, the glass lay in smithereens, but the picture seemed unmarked. Inches away lay the picture hook complete with fixtures, the screw ends coated with plaster. Ellie stooped to examine the painting, a naval officer. His stiff posture and stern expression was a little forbidding as he sat on a long wooden bench. The name at the foot of the painting indicated that this was Daniel McCleary, presumably a family ancestor Behind him, one hand on his shoulder, stood an attractive lady dressed in grey. Ellie stretched out an arm to touch her solemn face. The eyes seemed moist as if tears were falling. So sad, she thought, as she made to wipe them away. Ellie shook herself, reprimanding her foolish imagination.

Unsure about how to cope with the picture at that late hour and reluctant to delve further into the mysteries of the house she returned to the room where she had briefly slept. In the morning she would clear up the mess.

Sitting again on the settle she let her mind drift back to the picture, remembering the story of the young diva being killed, stabbed by her lover. So much for respectability, she thought.


Light was beginning to penetrate the room, making the shadows seem less creepy. Soon she would hear the dawn chorus; only then would she be able to relax. Ellie thought about the picture; knowing she would have to explain to Mrs McCleary filled her with trepidation. 

As more light seeped in Ellie found the courage to move about. Throwing aside the blanket she went to draw the curtains. She had to admit they looked good; the burgundy velvet went really well in the room. Since taking the commission she had worked hard, sewing well into the night on some occasions. Now all she had to do was measure and complete the hems. She would start early, after a drink and maybe some cereal. The need to move on with the work and leave the house couldn’t be ignored. But first she must clear up the mess in the hall. 

Ellie stretched and yawned and tried to suppress a sudden desire to sleep, a long sleep in her own bed, in her own apartment. A cup of tea would revive her, she thought as she moved towards the door, reminding herself to tread carefully to avoid the broken glass.

Somewhere in the distance she heard a tinkling laugh that seemed to echo through her head, a young voice. Braver now the gloom had dispersed, Ellie flung open the door, stepped into the hall, prepared to see an expanse of broken glass on the floor. But there was not one sliver to be seen. Looking up, she saw the picture on the wall. Intact. Except that the man now had streaks of blood on his face and at his side the young lady smiled.

Completely disregarding the waiting drapes Ellie Peterson fled to the sanctuary of the outside world.

22 March 2018


Why does everything shift about on the iPhone. I arrange all those little icons in order of preference and a few days later they’re swopped around to Apple’s order of preference ... or is it the phone company that messes with our phones? It’s little things like this that drive me bonkers. I am quite an organised person and like things to be easy to get at if I’m in a hurry. If I want to see something on the iPhone I want to see it straight away and not have to hunt for it. Fussy, or what?

One thing I am pleased about comes under the heading GOOGLE. All the time I have owned an iPhone and iPad (more years than I can remember) I have been unable to post comments or do anything else remotely connected to this blog unless I gave my password and email address. Not in bulk, but every time, for every different comment. Suddenly, about a month ago, I found I could do it by phone, albeit assuming the eyesight was strong enough to see what I was doing. The only way round that was to do it all on computer. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I needed to post a comment whilst the computer was switched off and I was in an idle mood. Yes, it was sheer laziness that caused me to do it on the iPad. Just once, I thought, it wouldn’t kill me to go through the procedure just once.

Imagine the shock of not being asked for password or email address. It must be a one off, I thought, but I was wrong. It happens all the time now. Someone must have complained! It wasn’t me, honest, although I was very tempted to write to Google and complain. 

20 March 2018


How exquisite is the night so cold,
stars like diamonds standing out so bold,
a glowing moon lighting up our space,
making the planet a beautiful place.
There’s peace and stillness on a night like this,
the cold disguised by a cloak of bliss,
covering us with dreams of better things,
like butterflies with gossamer wings,
But when spring is born
and cobwebs glisten every morn,
when buds are grown and standing proud,
will we forget that wintry shroud?

17 March 2018



Nearly midnight. From where she sat Shelly Cunningham could see the flickering shadows on the dividing wall. She tightened the belt of her dressing gown as if the action would protect her from evil. The pink robe was cosy, a little too warm for the time of year but she needed the comfort it afforded her.

The wall was new a couple of months ago; the neighbours had got rid of rickety fencing in favour of solid brick. Easier to climb than a wobbly wooden fence. The flat was situated on a main road, bedroom at the front, lounge at the rear with views side and back. The Star Inn was on the opposite side of the road. Even at this late hour the busker played his spoons outside the pub, a regular sight when special functions were held. Shelly used to sit on her bed and watch through the window but not so much these days. In any case, now that the nights were drawing in, the pub gardens would soon be empty and the customers either closeted inside or at home.  

She hated this area. It was a main thoroughfare, noisy, untidy, and alive with traffic.  Pizza boxes and cigarette packets were strewn adinfinitum and nobody gave a damn. Shelley and nearby residents were forever clearing their front gardens after the revellers had gone.  

Shelley’s flat occupied the entire ground floor of a converted old house. She and Daniel had been lucky to get it at a time when housing was in short supply. Daniel lasted a year; he couldn’t stand the noisy neighborhood. It was the best thing, really. They did nothing but argue and, apart from that, he didn’t get on well with the guy upstairs. Continually moaned about him. Shelley suspected he was jealous of Reg Carney’s laid back approach to life.

The upstairs flat had been empty since Reg died. He was killed by falling from some scaffolding, an unfortunate accident considering he was a scaffolder by trade and should have known better than to step into thin air. Still, accidents do happen. At least she had been able to take care of Lisa, his cat, and even she had now departed from this world.

For all his faults Reg had represented security, another soul in their rambling building. He didn’t intrude on Shelly and she kept her distance as much as she could. However, having a man nearby was a comfort when drunks were at large. When he found one totally inebriated man roaming in the yard he dealt with him pretty swiftly. The yard was shared, Reg had his own section of the garden and Shelley had hers. They had their own sheds and took turns mowing the grass. The arrangement was good. Nowadays Shelley wished she could go back to it; if only Reg hadn’t died.

Every night for a week she had seen the shadows dancing on the wall. Every night she willed herself not to panic, especially when she heard a disturbance at three o’clock in the morning. At first she thought there was an animal outside but the noises seemed more human: subdued breathless gasps as if someone was climbing the wall. Yet there was no-one there. She was braver in the beginning, now she was reluctant even to peer through the window.

The wall was about five feet high, easily seen from both main room and kitchen. That first night she was too scared to go to bed, imagining the worst, like someone breaking in while she lay sleeping? For hours she sat in the darkened room, breathing erratically, unwilling to switch on the light. She didn’t want to be seen ... watching.

Tonight, while taking a bath, she heard noises outside: footsteps, the rasping bolt on the side gate, someone entering the yard, the clang of metal against metal. Whoever it was had put something in the galvanized bin and let the lid crash down. Reg used to dispose of rubbish like that, raising the lid and letting it fall without any thought that she might be startled by the noise. It crossed her mind that the culprit could have been a boozed-up patron from the pub, in which case a request would have to be submitted to the landlord for additional security. Only padlocks and barbed wire would keep drunkards out.

Shelly was irate, wished she’d not chosen to take a bath at that time. In a bold moment she felt that nothing would have given her greater pleasure than to accost the person who was using her yard as a rubbish dump. Yes, it was easy to be heroic behind closed doors. She considered calling the police. The only thing that stopped her was the foolishness of her story. Could you come round, officer, I think there’s someone putting rubbish in my bin. She rang a couple of friends but neither of them answered the phone. Eventually, during a lucid flash, she reminded herself that the doors were all locked and bolted so nobody could get into the house.

For the first time in ages she wished Daniel was still around. For all his faults he would have protected her from intruders. He would have put those enormous fists to good use, and probably arrested for it. He wasn’t the gentlest of men when roused, as she knew to her cost. It had taken a long time for the mental bruises to fade. 

Thinking a cup of tea would calm her she went into the kitchen to fill the kettle. Almost immediately fear overtook her. The sink was too near the back door ... if anyone was out there she would be seen. Oh how she wished she’d thought to put a curtain up at the window. Tomorrow, she would definitely buy some material. Dismissing the idea of tea, she grabbed a bottle of Evian from the fridge and went back to the lounge. Settled in the armchair, tugging the gown closer to her body, she wondered why she didn’t just go to bed. But she knew sleep would not be forthcoming while her nerves were raw. She would only toss and turn and worry herself silly.

A car’s headlights lit up part of the garden, moved slowly to reflect on the ceiling as the driver negotiated the crossing. Mesmerising! The mantel clock ticked in rhythm with her breathing, when it chimed the quarter hour she jumped. Rapid heartbeats heralding trepidation. Even as she tried to calm down there was a noise outside. A cough. A serious cry. Shelley froze, grabbed her mobile phone, remembered it was dead. If only she’d charged it when she had the chance. Still seated in the chair, she peered through the window.  As if someone had flicked a switch the scene changed. The car light had gone, the flickering had stopped. Except for the distant mewing of a cat, it was deathly quiet.

An hour must have passed before Shelly plucked up the courage to look outside. There was a French window in the lounge that led straight onto the garden. If she went that way she would be able to peer round the end of the house and see if any damage had been caused by the intruder. She was pretty sure he’d gone. Maybe he’d fallen off the wall and killed himself.

Armed with an iron poker, Shelly opened the French door, lifted her robe and crept out, stepping over the single step onto paving slabs, alternate colours, a whim of her ex. A distant owl hooted. The garden looked eerie in the moonlight. A train rumbled through the valley and a sudden wind whistled through the trees; loose tentacles of Russian vine waved, one glanced against her neck. She spun round, felt the cold tremor run down her spine.

She tightened her grip on the poker. The feel of a weapon in her hand gave her the confidence to peer round the edge of the house. All quiet. Stealthily she eased her body round until she faced the brick wall, in time to see a cat leap up; black as a witch’s cat with gleaming yellow eyes. Without hesitation it disappeared to the other side.


Feeling foolish, Shelly shook her head to dismiss the weird thought.

Further up the yard, nestled between two small hydrangea bushes, was the refuse bin. Glimmers of moonlight played on the hard black plastic. Rooted to the spot she stared in disbelief, unable to believe her stupidity.  How long ago was it that the council replaced the metal bin with plastic?

As if the devil was on her tail Shelly hurriedly retraced her steps, shot through the door, slammed it shut and shot the bolts. One slipper lost in her haste. She leaned against the door, beset by a series of involuntary shivers, relieved that she was safely inside. With her ice-cold hands on her cheeks, she forced herself to breathe normally. It had been Lisa, she was sure of it. She had looked after that cat long enough to know... it... was... her. Yet, how could it be when the cat had died in her arms.

With a sudden intake of breath, she remembered ... Lisa’s medallion, found in the soil when she wrenched out a bunch of creeping ivy.

... and the phone call, days after; the silence when she’d answered, reminiscent of a call when Reg died ... when his ex-wife was too choked to speak. For a few minutes all she’d heard was someone sobbing. But that recent call ... although the line was live she felt there was no-one there. Just static; indistinct and ghostly.

... and the scratching at the back door. Lisa wanting to come in. Only Lisa, like Reg, was dead. She had died in her arms. The vet said she would suffer terrible agony if he didn’t put her down. Shelley remembered thinking it was fortunate that Reg didn’t know what she had done. Reg would never have counselled the idea of killing his cat.

Slowly exhaling, she recalled the footsteps, one late evening, loud and purposeful on the floor above, around the time the landlord was paying spasmodic visits. She had gone to the front door to say hello, to check if he’d decided what to do with the property, found Reg’s door locked; the landlord ... gone? With all the strange noises she wasn’t sure he’d been there at all.

Gyrating her head to relieve the tension in her neck, she felt certain she was going mad. Normal people didn’t see ghosts or hear noises in the night; therefore she must be going off her rocker. Her sister always said there were more insane people outside the asylums than in. Perhaps she was one of them. Perhaps she was due for a visit from men in white coats? The phone rang as that thought passed through her mind. She hesitated for a moment, then went to answer it. Nobody ever rang at this hour unless it was an emergency.

As she walked up the hall she heard music: soft, but getting louder. Pink Floyd. One of Reg’s old favourites, the one he played over and over until she felt like screeching. Reaching the phone, she lifted the receiver, whispered into it. ‘Hello’.


The receiver crashed down so hard it almost fractured the cradle. She felt sick in the pit of her stomach. Her head pounded, her brain felt like cotton wool. She tried to scream but no sound came. Whoever it was sounded just like Reg. Groping her way down the hall, hand over hand, using the wall for support, she felt something warm brush against her leg.

Lisa moved her head against her shin, just like she did when she was alive.