Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
“Are you going to get a pint in, then? They’ve just called time.”
I didn’t hear him at first, I was miles away playing on the gambling machine in the far corner of the pub. It caught my eye as I was leaving the toilets. I always did have a soft spot for them. To my left sat an old couple in the corner, talking about how crap telly is nowadays and to my right a rather raucous group being quite vocal about how they lost the pub quiz, but won a pickled egg.
“Oi! Cloth ears! They’ve just called time at the bar!”
I definitely heard him that time and replied:
“Alright Will, you cheeky get! In fact, you get them in now for your lippyness. Half of Old Peculier please. Oh and make it snappy, they’ve just called time at the bar I think.”
As he toddled off to the bar, I chucked another quid into the machine and this time I was sure I would get the jackpot – the bleeding thing had already had four pounds fifty out of me.
We’d come to the quaint old fishing town once again at the beginning of November. By then, it was classed as out of season and was cheaper. Besides that, there’s always something much more magical about strolling down the old cobbled street on a crisp night, before slipping into one of the historical public houses with a roaring fire & many a rosey-cheeked reveller.
Will returned from the bar.
“Here you go my little chickadee. Have you actually even won owt on that machine yet?”, he asked.
“Nope, not a sausage. You never know though. Anyway, it’s better than them shooting games you go on in the amusements. At least I’m in for a chance of winning my money back!”
“Let’s hope your luck turns round soon then, Old Peculiar is off, got you IPA.”
We finished our drinks and made our way back to the cottage we had rented for the week. As we exited the throng & warmth of the pub, the biting night air brought silence outside. It was my suggestion that we go for a short stroll down to the harbour.
I stood at the edge and watched the glistening black liquid pull and push beneath me, the orange shimmer from street lighting danced upon it like fire. It cast my mind back to the warm glow of the pub & I wanted to go back to the cottage now to view all this beauty from the other side of a window in a centrally heated room.
As we walked back up the cobbled street, the darkened entrances between shops to old yards on either side of the street seemed to pass with increasing recurrence and each one blacker than the last. Anyone or anything could have been lurking in those old alley ways and as I tried not to think about it, I gripped hold of Will’s arm even tighter. The more I tried to ignore scary thoughts, the more my mind dragged me back to all the traditional ghost stories in the local interest books that I enjoy reading (well, in the daytime anyway).
We passed the bottom of some steps that led up a cliff to a churchyard above and I looked up expecting to see the silhouette of a gloomy figure high up on the cliff gazing down at me. There was, of course, no one there. At least no one I could see.
I was freaking myself out now, although I never mentioned any of this to Will. All the time, he was just rambling about how he wanted to enquire about a sea fishing trip tomorrow, which I think he got in his head from seeing a bloke in the pub that resembled a stereotypical fisherman.
Further up the street we strode without incident, past the old smoke house on the right hand side and straight to our cottage. Thank God.
It was warm within and my legs ached from the cold outside. It was decided that tea and toast was in order. As Will went upstairs to put those ridiculous super hero lounge pants on, I filled the kettle and set it boiling. As it rumbled and gurgled away, I stood there in a day dream thinking about the places and people we’d seen today.
“….please help us….”
I heard it clearly and yet, as faint as a gentle breeze, the whisper seemed to drift lightly through my mind. It felt like more of a thought than a sound and It scared me. I darted to the kitchen entrance and shouted “Will! Where are you?”
“I’m still upstairs! Can’t a lad have a dump in peace?”
“Charming…” I thought. I had to go sleep next to that room soon – the pig. “OK! just checking! Kettle’s nearly boiled!” The whisper surely must have been my imagination. I read somewhere that the human mind naturally tries to recognise something familiar out of disorder. The noise of the kettle must have caused me to hear a voice. It must have. Deciding to ditch the toast, I hastily mashed the two mugs of tea, turned off the kitchen light and danced out of the kitchen as if the darkness was something that could be evaded. Arriving upstairs, I vowed never to return to the kitchen until the morning.
Will came back downstairs and we watched a bit of inane late night television while we finished off our tea, all the while “please help us” played again and again in my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. We finished our drinks and headed off to bed. It had been a long day and I’d hoped for a good nights sleep. This never seemed to happen until the last night of the holiday, though.
I awoke suddenly, as I had done the previous night. My mouth was dry & rough and I needed a drink of water. It must be the alcohol I told myself, that and the fact of getting used to a different bed in different surroundings. I looked at my phone, the instant brightness seemed to sting my eyes. It read 02:34.
I lay there for a while pondering if I really needed that drink of water, as the prospect of traversing two floors of a strange old house by myself in the dead of night whilst already thinking about spooky goings on, felt rather daunting. “Come on girl,” I said to myself “grow a pair and get on with it!” I gathered up my courage and slipped out of bed, being careful not to wake Will, although not as careful as I could have been as the company would have been nice.
As I stumbled down the stairs, the floor felt unnaturally cold. The heating must have been off for a while now, I thought. You know these holiday cottages, the central heating can sometimes be something that can’t be understood or reasoned with. I reached the bottom of the stairs leading to the kitchen and, as I came round the corner, I saw her just stood there staring back at me. Her face was pale and soft as freshly driven snow and her long dark hair looked like snakes falling from her shoulders. The eyes, oh god the eyes! Like two spheres of Whitby jet, they seemed to absorb the light from her face like black holes. I screamed and jumped back in terror. So did she.
Coming to the embarrassing realisation that the spectre was actually just my reflection in the full length mirror next to the downstairs bathroom, I continued to the kitchen, if a little shaken up.
The kitchen sink was situated right in front of a window that faced out down the old cobbled street, back towards the steps at the base of the the cliff up to the church yard. The first floor where the kitchen was situated, was higher than the street level, so you could get quite a good view of the passers by below. The orange glow of the lighting gave definition to each of the cobbles and the street resembled the back of a giant snake that tapered off into the distance. I stood there a while in the silence, wondering if I could see silhouettes in the distance where the gaps in the street lamps gave way to shadows. I turned the tap on, and the metallic gush startled me at first. I stood there waiting for the water to run colder and was suddenly shocked as two figures emerged from beneath the window, heading down the street away from me.
It was a woman and a little girl, both in some sort of period dress which appeared very smart and brightly coloured, despite the darkness. It looked like maybe Victorian dress. The girl skipped along happily next to the woman, who was holding up a dainty looking parasol above her head, at night! I could not believe what I was seeing. Why the hell would a woman and a little girl be out walking in the middle of the night? I found it very odd but maybe they were here for the famous “Goth weekend”?
As they carried on, seemingly without a care in the world, I turned to the side and fumbled in the cupboard for a glass to quench my thirst (which seemed to intensify as I observed the odd couple). I turned back to the sink to fill my glass and as I looked again down the street, they weren’t there. They’d vanished. Even if they’d ran down the street, they wouldn’t have made it to the end in that space of time. I stared hard at all the darkened nooks & crannies, to see if maybe they were hiding and playing a trick on me, or someone else that I hadn’t seen?
I filled the glass, turned off the tap and waited for the sink to stop gurgling so it was silent again. I also turned off the kitchen light, it would be difficult for them to see me that way too. I waited a few minutes and heard nothing, then a footstep outside the front door. I was sure it was a footstep. The front door was located just outside the kitchen entrance. Then I heard a little girl’s voice, not clear enough to make out the words. Again, I heard the voice, “please”… the rest was hard to make out. “Please”….’something us’? ‘Please help us?’. ‘Please help us!’ They must be in trouble!
I unlocked the door, my heart pounding in my chest. I opened it and there they both stood, the woman and the young girl. They both looked terrible, their clothes torn and filthy. What had happened to them in the short space of time I lost eyes on them? Then I noticed the terribly gruesome bruises the woman had around her neck. The young girl had cuts to her arm and a small trickle of blood came from her right ear, like some sort of sick jewellery.
“Oh my god! Are you both ok?” I squealed.
The girl gripped my arm, the flesh of her hand felt cold and clammy. “Please, help us.” She said in a croaky, almost ethereal voice. The woman began to weep gently, and as I turned to comfort her, the girl ran past me into the cottage. I turned and shouted “Hey, hang on a sec!” but her diminutive figure didn’t stop as she disappeared up the stairs to the living room. I decided that I should probably let them both in then and at least make a hot drink and call the police.
I turned back to the woman to find nothing. She had vanished. I ran out into the the street to see if she had fled down it, but I could see no one. A black cat stopped halfway up the street and turned its gaze toward me, the two glowing orbs of its eyes seemed to pierce my soul.
Still in disbelief that the woman had offloaded her daughter and made a quick getaway, I returned to the house. I closed the front door behind me and went up the stairs to the living room. The place felt freezing. The girl wasn’t in the living room “oh god”, I thought, “I hope she hasn’t run upstairs and scared the crap out of Will!”. Sheepishly prancing up the stairs, I went up to the bedroom to see Will in bed, fast asleep, snoring away. Where the hell had she gone? I checked in the en-suite bathroom and the wardrobe, but could find no trace of her.
I seriously thought I was losing it by now, and I went back downstairs to check behind the sofas. Nothing. I went down the second set of stairs, checked in the spare bedrooms, the bathroom and the kitchen. Nothing. It was so surreal and I was now feeling sick from shock. I had no choice but to go back to the bedroom and wake Will.
“Will. Will! Wake up, something weird has just happened.”
He stirred “uhmm, what’s up? you okay?”
“No, no i’m not.” The tears came flooding.
I explained what had happened and he agreed to get up and have a search about for me. I knew he thought I had lost the plot – I could see it all over his face. After looking all around the cottage, and even out on the street, we found nothing. We went back inside, and had a mug of tea and a chat about what happened.
“You’ve been under a lot of stress lately what with work and of course it’s roughly a year since Jen passed away”. Jen was my best friend who died in a car accident. I resented him for bringing that up, but he could have a point so I just shrugged submissively, agreeing. He managed to persuade me to go back to bed, but I knew I wouldn’t sleep. All I could think of was that, if I closed my eyes, I would open them to see the little girl stood in the corner of the room staring back at me. Eventually I drifted off to sleep.
I awoke sharply. I panicked as I realised I was alone in bed, but then noticed the soft daylight pouring in through a gap in the curtains, like a waterfall of platinum. I could hear the tinkle of cups and the low rumbling of the kettle downstairs & realised Will had got up and was pottering about. I checked my phone for the time, 14:34. I could not believe how late it was.
I stumbled down stairs to the kitchen. Will was busying himself washing the pots. It was always like someone had made a four course meal for twelve people when he made nothing more than a sandwich.
“Good evening, sleeping beauty!”, he quipped. “Fancy a cuppa?”
“Jesus, why didn’t you wake me earlier?” I asked. His ‘hilarious’ remarks continued; “That’s Mr. Jesus to you lass and don’t forget it! I just figured you could use the beauty sleep.”
“You’re not funny mate. Yes, coffee would be wonderful, cheers.”
“Any more, woooooOOOooooo things that go bump in the night?” He enquired, seemingly wanting a slap.
“You bastard! That’s not at all funny. It really freaked me out.”
“I’m sorry, that was a bridge too far. How do you feel?”
“Not too bad, once I fell asleep I don’t remember waking back up! I don’t know, maybe it was just a really vivid dream.” I couldn’t get the events out of my head but I also didn’t feel like I needed to see someone about it.
“Do you want to call it short and get back home?” He asked. I actually felt like I did just want to go back home, or at least stay somewhere else. I knew he was just being polite, though and it wouldn’t be fair to ruin his holiday because of me.
“Nah, I’ll just lay off the Old Peculier from now on.”
“Oooh you heathen! Are you hungry anyway? Come on, get dressed and we’ll go get some fresh sea air and a bag of chips down on the front.” It sounded good, so I got dressed and wrapped up, and off we went.
Come nightfall, we found ourselves back in the warmth of the pub. It felt comforting to be surrounded by people. I was worried that maybe the drinking could have had an effect on me causing what had happened the previous night, so I was sticking to soft drinks. Will wasn’t though, apparently It’s against his “religion” to go to a pub and drink non-alcoholic drinks.
“Sorry, what?” I was miles away and didn’t hear WIll talking to me. When he said my name, it jolted me like an alarm clock.
“I asked if you wanted another drink. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah – I’m fine thanks, was just thinking. Erm, I’ll have a tomato juice please.”
“Tomato juice? Urgh! Are you making a bolognese?!”, he joked.
“Just go to the bar, pillock.”
“Yes ma’am!” He saluted as he got up and went to the bar. I just sat there looking round at all the people, noting how busy it had got. All the tables were now full. Groups of men stood about holding their pint glasses up to their chests like microphones, each group seeming to take it in turns to laugh at the top of their voices. A gap appeared between two of the groups and the vision that met me hit like an arctic wind. The little girl stood there looking back at me and everyone seemed oblivious to her. In the light, I saw her better now. Her clothes were muddy from head to toe and the colour made a stark contrast to her pale, almost grey face. I blinked, and she was gone again. I jumped up and made my way to where I saw her, but I couldn’t see her anywhere. Could she have gone outside? I went to the door. “Chelle?” I heard Will call to me from the bar, but I continued outside into the street. It was dark, cold and there was nobody around, save for a young couple further down the street.
“Chelle? You alright?” Will had followed me outside.
“I saw her again.” I explained.
“Who?” He asked.
“The little girl, she was right there in the pub, I’m sure I saw her.”
“Well she’s not here now love. Come on, why don’t we go back in a get a drink and then head back?” I could tell he was totally bewildered and didn’t know how to deal with this.
“Can we just go back now please? It’s getting late anyway, I fancy an earlier night, I’m shattered.”
Once back at the cottage and in bed (I made him lock up while I went and got tucked in this time) I laid there for a long while after he had started snoring. I couldn’t get the little girl’s face out of my head, standing there looking so forlorn. I checked the time and it read 02:34, so I closed my eyes for what felt like the thousandth time and attempted some sleep.
The dream that ensued, played out so vividly and real in my mind;
Once again, I saw the woman and the little girl skipping down the street.
“Look how fast I can run mam!” shouted the little girl, as she started to make her way off down the street.
“Don’t go too far ahead Emily, it’s starting to get dark and Mad Maggie might catch you!”, shouted her mother.
They got to the turn at the bottom of the churchyard steps, and entered a small house with a big wooden door. The door was heavy, and made a creak as the Mother opened it to let the girl in and then closed it behind them both. They entered the living area, and in there stood a man, who at first had his back to the pair, stoking the roaring fire place. Hearing the heavy door shut, he turned to face them. His speech slurred and it was clear he was very drunk, and very angry.
“Where ‘ave ya both been? Where the flamin’ ‘ell’s me tea?” He barked, his scowl blackened as he brandished the fire poker.
“We were just out for a stroll in the evening air, I thought nowt bad of it, love. I expected as much that you’d be home later than this so I could have had your tea ready”, offered the Mother. She was shaking.
“What is it to you what time I should be home? You should have my tea ready! I lost a bit of money playing cards which is why I’m home early. Do you think if I had more money I’d come back to see you? Useless bitch!”
It was at that moment, that little Emily plucked up some courage; “Don’t you talk to my mummy like that!”
“SHUT UP YOU!” he spat. At that moment, he swung the fire poker. It connected with the side of Emily’s head, she fell to the floor and lay there lifeless. The Mother screamed in horror and swooped to the floor to help her daughter, sadly it was futile. She knelt there cradling Emily crying.
“Stop crying! Stop crying!”, he shouted as he lunged forward, wrapping his weathered hands well around her neck, the sinewy tendons in his hands seemed to twist and creak like ropes. She choked and struggled a while, but was no match for his strength. She eventually slumped.
He waited ’til nightfall and when he had sobered up, he carried their bodies under the cover of darkness, one at a time back up the cobbled street, past the steps at the bottom of the church yard, past the old smokehouse and up towards the face of the cliff. He decided that if he were to cast their bodies into the waters of the harbour, the authorities would surely find the bodies soon enough when they washed up on the shore. He decided to dig into the side of the cliff, the crashing waves masking the sound. The full moon cast a ghostly aura over the macabre scene. The Mother and Daughter were covered up in an undignified tomb of soil and rocks.
“….please help us….”
I awoke with jolt. I knew now what I had to do, how I could help them. I carefully and silently slipped out of bed and got dressed. I crept downstairs and into the kitchen where I knew I’d seen a shovel in the cleaning cupboard and a battery powered lantern that was in the overhead cupboard with the fusebox. I crept back upstairs to the living room, where to one side of the cottage there were patio doors which led out onto a seating area and small garden which faced the cliff. The back of the garden was surrounded with a fence, which wasn’t very high and I managed to get over it with relative ease. I stood on the other side of the fence and faced the cliff, which towered above me.
How could I have known where to dig? The spot I started on just felt right. I felt so irresponsible in the back of my mind for digging into the weathered cliffs, but I couldn’t stop. I began cutting into the hard earth with the shovel, hitting rock after rock. My hands and arms ached so bad after an hour but I just couldn’t stop – not now. Then, suddenly, something caught my eye in a shovel full of soil. I sifted through the damp, heavy material and found a ring. It looked like a beautiful wedding ring. “I must be close!” I thought and continued the rest of the excavation with my hands on my knees. My own death seemed inevitable as i grovelled back into the hole which was easily over a metre deep. I soon came across something hard and light coloured, protruding from the earth. It was a small human skull with a large crack on the right hand side of it. Digging further, I uncovered larger bones and a matching skull.
I had found them. Maybe now they could find peace in death and be granted a proper burial. I clambered back to my feet and brushing the muddy earth away from my clothes, something caught my eye down onto the old cobbled street. Emily and her mother were there. They both seemed to glow and appeared so radiant and happy, as though they were super-imposed upon the orange lit street. They both smiled at me, waving. “Thank you!” Shouted Emily, her voice clear now and filled with joy, as a child’s voice should be. They both turned and moved off down the street, Emily was skipping all the while as they faded away.
Credit: J. Morgan