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Nightmares are the fear of the unknown and what happens after death. Many people become scared of spirits and ghosts. Darkness hides everything, and fear creeps in like a falling shadow.
The noise in an empty room can cause the mind to become conscious of a touch on the shoulder, a whisper of the breeze or the movement of a curtain.
But do all shadows hide those who wish to seek mischief?
Ruskington Manor had its secrets, the empty house played host to spirits on a halfway journey, but when two worlds collide there can only be one outcome.
CHAPTER ONE - A COLD RUSH AT RUSKINGTON MANOR 1879
The rain fell on his skin like icy shards penetrating his thin clothes.
He watched as it washed the ground, rippling across the cobbled streets in rivulets.
The sound of his footfall was lost in the whispering sound of the rain and the blur of the narrow street and buildings disappeared into the darkness as the boy headed towards the manor in the distance.
The house was silent in the darkness, its brick chimneys ghostly silhouettes on the skyline. The black windows were foreboding, and the thick front door unwelcoming to visitors.
Ruskington Manor lay at the end of a gravel drive amongst shadowy trees.
Scrambling towards the fading walls, they hid its past behind red brick and thick foliage.
The small glow of a lantern shone like a beacon through a window on the upper floor as the boy raised his hand, rattling his knuckles against the damp door. The hinges squealed quietly as the door swung open into the entrance hall.
The boy peered into the darkness as an uneasy breeze blew from the shadows within.
Glancing upwards, an amber glow meandered towards the stairwell, drawing him towards an open door on the floor above.
A gentle touch on the shoulder guided him towards the stairs and the flickering light above. He watched the shadows dancing on the walls and listened to the echo of doors creaking in the gloomy corners of the building.
A sudden change in temperature chilled him to the bone and he was pulled into the darkness, alone.
CHAPTER TWO - THE BOLDNESS OF SHADOWS WINTER 2017
Gracie stared up at the sky. It was a crisp white afternoon and she couldn't wait to explore the house.
The removal van was parked outside and her parents were busy unloading the furniture into the house.
"I'll go in and open all of the doors." Gracie said enthusiastically taking the heavy set of keys.
"Wait for Charlotte." her mother called as she ran towards the door.
Every room had a peculiar scent, but this one had a subtle odour, a smell she recognised as home.
Most odours or smells can define a family, like lavender or sweet apple, just like her grandmother.
This was safe and reliable, everything she had ever known.
The front door was wide open so Gracie walked along the hallway, passing each door as she searched for the right key to open it. When she had completed the ground floor, she made her way upstairs to the bedrooms above, working her way past the bathroom until she came to the last door on the right.
She put the key into the door and paused. There was no real reason for her to go into that room; no reason to disturb it. She pulled her hand away and went back downstairs.
Several boxes were stacked in the hallway, and clumps of snow lay across the floor discarded from heavy boots.
"That snowstorm came out of nowhere" David Bellamy shook his coat.
Gracie looked out of the window; the snow was so thick she could hardly see across the garden.
"WOW! Can I build a snowman?" she asked excitedly.
"No, not yet anyway" her father replied "I'd no idea we'd be getting a storm."
"Weathermen! They're so unpredictable!" her mother quipped.
"We might as well wait it out; we'll unpack the boxes in the hallway and rearrange some of the furniture." "What furniture?" Charlotte asked. "The furniture in the lounge, it was your great aunts."
Gracie pulled a face and walked through the double oak doors facing opposite. "We'll have to use the microwave."
Gracie could hear her mother moving around in the hallway, lifting and moving boxes across the floor.
The darkness crept in quickly, the blizzard squeezing every inch of natural light from the passing day, and the lounge was the only space blessed with light as the house fell into dusty darkness.
The warmth from the fire filled the room and the flickering flames bounced from the ceiling to the floor in a bright orange glow. The muffled sound of laughter spilled into the empty corridors, struggling with the darkness. It failed, dying miserably away in the gloom.
David Bellamy had a collection of poor jokes and bad stories which he took great pleasure in relating beside the fire, and as the room erupted into laughter, the sound soared above their heads into the darkened hallways, stirring the dust until it retreated to its quiet post.
The heavy chime of a grandfather clock echoed through the empty space as Gracie's father stepped forward to examine it in the dim light.
As the clock struck midnight, he checked his watch but the night was still young and the visibility zero outside.
With the storm worsening, the Bellamy family settled down for the night and waited until morning.
Gracie was like any other teenager, inquisitive, disruptive and prone to rebellious outbursts. Walking around the mansion in the pitch black seemed far more exciting than camping out in the lounge during a blizzard.
The rooms lay empty with nothing but greying cobwebs spun by inquisitive spiders hanging from the corners, and the echo of voices and footfall fell heavily on the bare floors.
As she walked around the corridors, she became more aware of the house and its space. Every room had its nooks and crannies, and every wall had its shadows, they either fell across the floor or climbed the walls. The lumpy mass that followed her every step was her own shadow, moving with the diffused winter light, and every spark was a doorknob until she came to the door to the attic.
Gracie had seen no reason to open it earlier and as she glanced behind her, she didn't give the lumpy shape a second thought.
The following morning, heavy snowfall had left a covering at least two feet deep and the family spent an hour clearing the path for the move to complete.
"This is just the beginning," David said, agitated "it's going to get a lot worse"
The Bellamy's couldn't have chosen a worse time to move house.
They hastily moved box after box through the driving snow alongside furniture and suitcases loaded to the brim.
Occasionally, a spatter of brilliant sunshine sparkled off the whitewashed ground, but the rolling clouds returned, showering everything with heavy snowfall. The tumbling flakes drifted lazily from the skies until the wind changed direction, hurling the snow relentlessly to the ground.
Gracie was in no hurry. She could hear the sound of her mother's voice ruthlessly dictating what should be kept and what should be thrown out, failing to recognise the heirlooms still standing in some of the rooms.
Above the noise, the radio crackled, struggling for a signal in the stormy weather. The forecast was grim with more snow expected to fall in the coming days.
"Well," said her father stretching his arms "it looks like we're pretty much stuck until the storm dies down." "There's no rush David, we've just moved in," her mother replied lightly "it's just as well we ordered some fuel before the snow fell."
The fire crackled merrily in the grate, and as the family busied themselves to keep warm, the storm arrived with ferocity shaking the house with its painful moans. David shovelled coal onto the fire.
"Nights like this are only good for one thing." he said with a meaningful expression.
"Really? And what's that?" Gracie asked
"The telling of ghost stories." he replied with a cackle.
Charlotte raised her eyebrows
Maybe it was the way it was said, or maybe the wind had finally found a chink in the house, whatever it was made Gracie and her mother shiver as David Bellamy launched into a tale of a headless spectre, made all too real by the groaning of the wind outside.
Gracie was sitting in the seat closest to the door. She suddenly became aware of the cold empty space behind her that seemed to cringe into the darkness.
As her father came to the end of the gruesome tale, his voice seemed more hushed than ever, and Gracie had to strain her ears to pick up the words, the more she tried the more impossible it became.
She suddenly felt cut off from everyone else; pulled further into the darkness, until the shadows released their hold.
When Gracie went to bed, the sound of footsteps followed her upstairs, one set, two sets, her own set, .and then another.
The fourth set of steps persisted where the others had disappeared.
She climbed into bed, covering her head with the heavy duvet. Her eyes darted here and there without resting on a single spot until the darkness took over, and she fell almost reluctantly into a deep sleep.
CHAPTER THREE - RAPPING IN THE ATTIC
Gracie opened the bathroom door and stepped inside. The room was dominated by a claw foot bathtub with gnarled iron legs jutting out at an angle. They clasped the floor like misshapen paws, and Gracie imagined them scuttling out of the bathroom when her back was turned.
A mirror hung over the washbasin, and as she walked across the floor, she could see the bath reflected in its misty glass. She gazed slowly around the room and then peered expectantly over the side of the bath. It was empty, no shadowy shape lay in the depths and yet, she had the strangest sensation that she was being watched.
"I bet you a penny you can't make it to the top of the stairs." said a distant voice behind her.
Gracie turned; but she was alone in the room.
"Hello! Is anybody there?" she called as the sound of footsteps disappeared along the hallway.
Gracie peered out onto the landing, her eyes wide in horror as the sweet smell of hay and freshly cut grass drifted from the bathroom.
The moment her foot touched the landing, she heard a rapping noise above her head.
Curious, she followed the slow rap! rap! until she came to the narrow staircase leading to the attic.
"Well, it isn't midnight and I can't see any skeletons" she muttered to herself as she began to climb the stairs.
"I'm coming to find you" she called "so if you're a ghost, you'd better come out!"
As she reached the attic door a whisper of a breeze touched her face and the door silently opened. Footsteps echoed across the dusty floor as a shadow moved in the corner of the room, passing over cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.
Gracie watched as it drifted behind an old chair before moving towards the faint light.
She blinked once, twice, but the shadow remained still, opaque but with form; child-like but smaller than either she or Charlotte.
The chair jolted forwards in invitation as Gracie took a sideways step towards the door.
A hushed silence fell across the room, and in a moment of terror she leaped from the attic and ran down the staircase as the door closed noisily behind her.
She ran along the landing until she reached the staircase to the ground floor, and then bounded down the stairs towards the kitchen.
"She's still here!" she screamed as she pushed open the door.
Charlotte turned around in surprise. "Who's still here?"
"Aunt Iris! She's in the attic!"
"In the attic? Don't be ridiculous, we buried her month's ago." she replied.
"Oh well you didn't do it very well because she's back!" she said breathlessly.
"Back? What do you mean she's back?"
"Just what I said, she's back, and if it isn't her it's somebody else!"
CHAPTER FOUR - THE MOCKING WIDOW
Iris Bellamy rose from the crumpled chair. Her bones still ached from the journey through the portal. Nothing seemed to be straightforward. Passing to the spirit world had so much red tape, it was ridiculous, a total headache for anyone, and now she was stuck floating about for eternity in the house she had tried to give away years ago.
Life was such a bind, and she had the noisy residents to contend with.
She shuffled her feet and looked around the room. The attic was such as mess, and that servant boy had been in the house for centuries; if only she knew where he was.
Iris and William Bellamy lived at Ruskington Manor for sixty years, inheriting the house and garden from Sir James Bellamy, the fourth Duke of Ruskington.
Whilst James was popular and outgoing, William was nothing more than a social hand grenade and his bad manners and peculiar sense of dress left him wide open for criticism.
After several years, Iris gave up offering helpful advice and laughed openly at his loud ties and ridiculous suits. William had such a large ego that he was rarely phased by his wife's comments, and continued to aggravate while she mocked him whenever the chance arose.
Iris was ninety-four when she passed through the portal to the spirit world.
The decaying manor was placed in trust for her niece Charlotte, in the hope that it would be brought back to its former glory, minus the previous occupants; but something had gone terribly wrong and they were all stuck.
Iris had no idea that Ruskington Manor had a resident ghost, until Christmas Eve nineteen eighty-five when a series of peculiar events led to the revelation of a gambling debt in the Bellamy household.
Alistair Murdoch was a young servant boy who was always getting into mischief. Every morning he sat on the top step of the staircase close to the Duke of Ruskington's private rooms waiting for his daily orders, one of which was invariably to spy on fellow members of the Duke's gambling ring.
One cold winter's night, the boy mysteriously disappeared after settling a debt with a local businessman, and for over a century the manor had played host to the boy's mischievous spirit.
Iris first set eyes on Alistair in the dining room.
He appeared beside her husband before tripping the butler as he stepped away from the dinner table.
She tried to ignore him, but his antics became such a nuisance that she called the parish priest in the hope that he would send him away.
Alistair was too set in his ways and continued to live in the shadows causing mayhem in the house.
Now that Iris had passed to the spirit world herself, she was determined to find him.
She gazed out of the window at the falling snow. The winter had set in early. The overgrown trees were almost invisible, and their sprawling branches creaked under the weight of snow and ice.
It would soon be Christmas, and that stupid servant boy would be tampering with the lights again.
He was such a nuisance, banging doors and rattling windows.
Iris barely had the strength to float let alone anything else. She sighed heavily and the sound of her breath sent a spider scurrying across a web.
Nothing had gone according to plan, and the transition hadn't been as easy as she thought.
She couldn't understand it; she'd planned everything meticulously to the last, yet here she was, still peering through a window.
Iris watched as the cold air froze the surface of the glass, scattering tiny patterns into the corners of the window frame. The garden looked horrendous and the house was even worse. The view to the stables was lost and the statues had been stolen years ago.
If only she could haunt the place like that annoying little boy; but where was he?
CHAPTER FIVE - THE PLAYFUL APPARITION
Gracie and Charlotte crept along the landing towards the bathroom.
The chilly air caught their breath in tiny clouds, and the creaking floorboards echoed in the empty space. The doors were closed against the winter cold, and Gracie eyed the handles warily as they moved along the landing.
"Are you sure you saw her?" Charlotte whispered as they neared the bathroom door.
"Well, not exactly but I smelt something and saw an old chair move."
Charlotte raised her eyebrows "Where was that?" she asked.
"The chair or the smell?" Gracie replied.
"Both!" said Charlotte.
"Well, the smell was in the bathroom and the chair was in the attic!"
Charlotte pulled a face.
"It was like old hay" Gracie began.
"Old hay? Aunt Iris didn't smell of old hay!"
"Oh well, perhaps you do when you, you know what, pass on." Gracie nodded her head to one side.
"I don't think so Gracie," Charlotte replied impatiently "nobody smells of hay when they you know what!"
She peered around the bathroom door.
The room was empty. No shadows, just the large Victorian bath in the centre and the misty mirror on the wall. "There's nothing in there" she said quietly "and there's no smell either."
Let's try the attic" Gracie whispered.
Charlotte shot a glance across the landing. No shadows on the walls, no creatures lurking; apart from the grisly spiders in the corners.
"Why did you go up there in the first place?" she asked.
"Because I heard footsteps." Gracie replied.
The house has been empty for months Gracie, it's probably a mouse."
"Just take a look." Gracie hissed.
The staircase was narrow and winding with one step missing from the full flight. Charlotte listened to the sound of her footsteps, the steady sound slightly off beat by the missing step. She casually brushed away flying cobwebs and reached for the walls to steady her legs.
The walls were covered in ancient cracked plaster, escaping decoration in the floral print of the other rooms. A forgotten space, it lay damp, dark and dismal without purpose, a staircase leading to nothingness. The falling shadows masked the end of the stairway and she turned and walked back down, leaving the offbeat sounds behind.
"Well?" Gracie asked.
Charlotte hadn't even gone through the attic door and Gracie hadn't noticed the missing step when she had climbed the stairs earlier.
"There's nothing" Charlotte replied "It goes nowhere, it's a staircase to nothing."
Gracie opened her mouth in surprise and then watched her sister stomp noisily down the landing. The doorknobs twitched with every step, and by the time she had reached the top of the stairs, the whole landing echoed with rattles and moans of the wind. The bathroom door closed with a click, the noise unheard by Charlotte who swept noisily down to the kitchen. Gracie held her breath and then rushed past the bathroom. She halted at the top of the stairs as the sound of laughter drifted across the landing. Gracie listened. That was no aging aunt, that was somebody else.
Gracie took the stairs two at a time, stopping mid-flight as something touched her shoulder, playfully tugging her hair. She turned sharply. She was alone, aside of a shadow moving cautiously across the wall. Gracie watched wide-eyed as it poured over the side of the banister and spilled onto the floor below. A flash of fur dashed by her legs and disappeared into the shadows, and, convinced it was a rat, she stepped slowly, placing one foot at a time on the stairs until she reached the bottom.
The shadow remained, hovering just above floor level until a disembodied arm took a swipe at an empty box. The sound of scraping cardboard quickly fell silent and Gracie's eyes started as a small figure darted towards the front door.
Later that morning, the sockets in the manor began to lose power and the half-baked cannelloni in the microwave remained half-baked as David Bellamy tweaked at the old fuse box in the kitchen. As soon as he pulled, something pushed and the house was plunged into darkness amongst flying sparks and smoke.
Upstairs in the drawing room, Olivia Bellamy straightened a portrait of the fourth Duke and then returned to the kitchen to test the sockets. As the door closed, the playful apparition stepped from the shadows and moved the portrait to the left again.
Unseen footsteps strolled around the room, studying the orderly chaos of jumbled furniture and photographs.
There was something about the woman Olivia the shadow couldn't quite put his finger on it.
The others were Bellamy's, that was clear to see, but the woman was different, puzzling.
She was astute with figures, organised, practical and demanding. Not a typical Bellamy choice.
The Duke's generally managed their own finances, which unfortunately had been the reason for the decline in the manor. He frowned. That was exactly the reason why he was still here over a century later organising the Duke's affairs, or not.
Alistair moved towards the window and looked out at the overgrown branches peering through the snow. The gravelled drive no longer swept to the gated entrance, and the once majestic trees scrambled awkwardly across the lawns. Their thorny arms reached across the windows, smothering every ounce of daylight from the sky.
It had been a cold night when he returned to the manor.
Charles Bellamy had sent him on an errand to settle a debt with Miles Hemingway. The meeting hadn't gone according to plan, and Alistair was kidnapped by the businessman's' henchmen and taken to a cellar. He was bound and questioned about the affairs of Ruskington Manor, but his loyalty to the Duke was stronger than the concern for his own life.
A blow to the head sent him spinning into a world of darkness, and he returned to a different world wearing the simple clothes he had arrived in. His untidy appearance had sent him into a head-on collision with a passing footman, and when he stole his uniform, the shadows no longer offered him the shelter he needed to haunt the decaying pile.
CHAPTER SIX - A MOCKTAIL OF COCKTAILS
Iris passed into the scullery. The old butler sink was stained and she was tempted to turn on the taps and give it a good scrub, but it was pointless. All she could do was hover about in the hope of finding Alistair. The clock struck three in the hallway.
She moved towards the upper floor and along to the drawing room. She so hated it when David called it the lounge. The Duke's portrait had always hung in the drawing room, not the lounge.
She tutted impatiently, sailing through the door as Olivia appeared from the kitchen.
Alistair loitered outside the bathroom. Gracie was still downstairs in the kitchen. He was sure that she could see him, well part of him at least and if not she could definitely hear him.
He wondered if any of the others had the gift.
He drifted down the landing towards the Duke's study and disappeared through the door.
The faded curtains hung loosely at the window and as he paced up and down above the threadbare carpet, the material billowed like a sail in the breeze.
Stepping into the Dukes private rooms was a privilege for any servant, more so for Alistair.
The stable boy had been jettisoned to the position of page servant and had rapidly become a trustworthy aid and messenger. Life on the other side of the tracks had opened him up to wealth and greed he could only ever have dreamed of. His life had been humble until he was plucked from the dilapidated cottage he shared with his family and taken to Ruskington Manor to work as a stable boy.
He slept in the hayloft, tended the horses during the day, prepared the carriages and saddled the hunters for visiting guests. The position of page servant had been a step up to a better life, had it not been for Hemingway and his men.
Alistair drifted around the room gently touching the furnishings with his fingertips before disappearing into the folds of material on the window.
Iris meandered towards the library.
There were far too many books; most of them were so tattered they were not much better than hamster fodder. Drifting from room to room was so pointless, her skills hadn't developed properly and she was no more a spirit than an empty glass of air.
The sound of laughter came from somewhere down the hall.
She stepped forward hovering once again past the billiard room until she reached the drawing room.
The study door was open and the floor was littered with books. The music room was silent, and the sound of breaking glass came from the direction of the conservatory.
Iris paid little attention to the noise and moved purposely towards the laughter, poking her head through the panels on the door.
Iris still hadn't mastered the electrics in the manor. Moving things around was relatively easy, but anything to do with the sockets and fuses was beyond her scope for the time being at least.
Alistair was good at most things, in fact he was probably more use to her in spirit form than he was in anything else.
He was the most annoying little ghost. Always causing problems at dinner parties and trashing the family tree at Christmas, and she was deeply suspicious of the shrinking levels of gin in the drinks cabinet.
He was capable of most of the spooky tasks at the manor and it was only right to assume that he was the secret ghostly tippler.
Iris stopped mid-flight. It would be Christmas in a few weeks.
If she couldn't locate Alistair by then, the entire house would be filled with spirits of every kind, one chasing the other.
She needed a plan; perhaps Gracie could help. Iris decided to pay her a visit.
The Bellamy's were seated close to the fire. Charlotte shot a glance at Gracie as she toyed with her mobile. Gracie was too old for imaginary friends. It made Charlotte feel uncomfortable knowing that her sister was a little kooky. She hoped that she wouldn't start talking to herself, it would be so embarrassing.
She lifted her head just in time to see a vase move across the room all by itself.
Alistair had moved from the Duke's private rooms to the floor below and had been sitting quietly in the corner watching the two sisters. He felt a tinge of sadness; the girls were roughly the same age as he was the day he passed into the spirit world.
Suddenly it seemed an eternity since he had been kidnapped and knocked into this darkened space.
Charlotte contemplated throwing the vase back when the door flew open and the smell of stale gin drifted into the room. Alistair spotted a pair of slippered feet hovering above the floor. He waited, but the figure neither spoke or acknowledged his presence, they were merely concerned about the vase floating above the Bellamy's heads. The disembodied feet shuffled to and fro as a pair of arms waved frantically until the vase nose-dived into Gracie's lap.
The room fell silent. The Bellamy's held their breath as a shuffle of feet brought the figure to a standstill. Clearly invisible, Alistair let out a gentle cough followed by a deep gasp. The blast of air sent the flames in the hearth spiralling up the chimney. The slippered figure turned around oblivious to Alistair stepping out of the shadows.
Gracie stared down at the vase, her eyes wide in alarm. "I think we need to leave." Charlotte said feebly. "Nonsense!" replied her father "this is fascinating!"
Iris raised her eyebrows in surprise. David had always been adventurous and he was clearly unphased by unexplained phenomena. Olivia turned sharply. Ghosts had never been her thing and living in a house with a floating resident wasn't very appealing. "Perhaps we should call someone" she suggested.
There's no need for that Olivia, it's only Aunt Iris. Who else would it be?"
"Oh, well if that's what you think maybe you should ask her to leave?"
The door swung open on creaking hinges, slamming noisily as Alistair brushed past. Olivia Bellamy was different in the shadows. The hollow of her eyes accentuated the length of her nose and there was something about the way she stood that startled Alistair.
The library door shook as he passed along the hallway to the kitchen flicking at lights and tapping windows until he reached the passage to the stairs. He felt alienated from the familiar darkness and a sudden surge of anger sent a shiver through the servant's bells as he turned into the scullery. Alistair had never been evil or violent, but there was something about Olivia that made him want to scream, or haunt Ruskington with a malice it had never seen.
CHAPTER SEVEN - A VERY UNSETTLING INCIDENT
Olivia drew the curtains across the window, locking out the blackness of the night. The bitter cold trapped every ounce of moisture and icy patterns lay across the window, unbroken by the heat of the fire.
Charlotte watched the flames dancing in the grate as her father poked the hot coals.
Have you ever been to the attic dad?" she asked casually.
"No, it was out of bounds when I was a child," he replied "there'll be nothing there anyway apart from dead birds."
So there is a way in then?" she quizzed.
"There is, but there's also a staircase to nowhere in the house. Don't ask me what's up there because it goes nowhere!" he laughed.
"So how do you get in?"
"You don't, it'll be too dangerous now so leave it. I'll check it out when I'm ready."
"And what about Iris?" Olivia asked, "She could be floating about forever if we don't do something about it, and she could well be in the attic!"
David Bellamy sighed deeply and suggested they all take a look in the morning.
Alistair's darkening mood had sent a flurry of vibrations through the manor, disturbing furniture and rippling threadbare carpets.
Olivia Bellamy had a broody expression. Her close-set eyes made her nose look too long and the way her hair fell over her shoulders made her face appear cloaked, hidden behind the low fringe and thick waves. Something stirred in him, as if a distant memory had returned to haunt him. He moved around the building, an eerie breeze creeping through every door.
He stopped when he reached the drawing room. Photographs lay flat on every surface and as he drifted across the room, his eyes opened wide in despair. The unmistakable resemblance was there, in the eyes, the nose and the mouth. The soft fall of the hair, the dark blue clothing. The expression was kind and the smile reassuring, but there was no mistake, or was there?
Alistair glanced across the room to a pile of documents resting on a small table. The paper gently billowed to the floor as the pages moved with unseen hands. He swung around as the footman breezed into the room followed by Barnaby the stable cat. He glanced at Alistair with an air of indifference and scattered the fallen paperwork across the floor as he passed through the wall on his way to the games room.
The drawing room was a dishevelled mess with upturned furniture and paper strewn across the floor.
With the twitch of a finger, the draws of a writing desk flew open spilling out the contents.
Satisfied with the chaos, Alistair followed the footman through the wall as a pair of books quietly left a shelf and rose towards the ceiling. Barnaby watched as they danced on the breeze casting shadows in the moonlight, and then pounced silently across the room, his tail dusting the door frame as he left.
Iris Bellamy floated motionless above the floor of the drawing room. She was still reeling from the comments Olivia had made about getting rid of her.
"Spiteful little madam!" she muttered to herself "after all I have done for Charlotte. Oh well"
She moved across the room to the fireplace and glanced upwards towards the mirror. She sighed deeply. Why did she have to be so short? She couldn't see a thing in the mirror apart from the reflection of the curtains on the window, and then it suddenly occurred to her that ghosts don't have reflections. "How ghastly" she breathed heavily flipping a photo frame on its side.
I can't even see myself let alone a servant!" She spun around cutting through the edge of the mantelpiece with the tip of her shoulder. The sudden movement sent a flurry of sparks up the chimney and she stepped into the shadows in search of Alistair.
CHAPTER EIGHT - A HELPING HAND
"I'm telling you, they have to go!" Olivia's voice was excitable as she paced across the bedroom floor. "Don't be ridiculous Olivia. And how do you know that there's more than one? It could just be Aunt Iris and she's harmless."
"Harmless? David, things are moving about in the house, I don't call that harmless!"
"Perhaps if we try and contact her." he replied.
"And do what David? send her an email or get the girls to WhatsApp the lot of them! Perhaps we could tag them on Facebook!"
"Now you're being ridiculous, Iris didn't have a laptop!"
"I'm being serious, either they go or we do it's as simple as that!"
"But it's Charlotte's inheritance Olivia."
Well, maybe that's the reason they're all hanging about, they want to keep the old pile for themselves." "They're dead Olivia, what could they possibly want with it? Nothing!"
But they are doing something with it aren't they? They're haunting it!"
A door opened and the sound of footsteps disappeared down the hallway.
"Right, get the girls; we're going on a ghost hunt!" David said gleefully rubbing his hands together.
The family moved quietly through the house. Shoulder to shoulder they shuffled in the darkness, guided only by a small torch light. The narrow beam danced across the walls, searching quiet corners and doorways for movement as anxious eyes peered into the gloom, knowing that the bumps of the night were not the central heating.
The Bellamy's started on the top floor close to the servant's quarters with its wooden floors and bare iron bedsteads, each one trying their best to feel something in its dark corners. Oddly, Olivia was the first one to actually feel anything. A drop in temperature sent a shiver down her spine and somewhere in the depths of silence she realised that they were not alone. Without warning, she felt something brush her shoulder. The air was strangely sweet and as she turned, the remains of a chocolate mousse landed on her head and dripped towards her chin.
Olivia screamed "I felt something!"
Startled, David shone the torch. The light caught the end of a globule of chocolate and David watched in horror as it balanced precariously on the end of her nose before plopping onto her white fluffy jumper. "Wow! Somebody doesn't like you" Charlotte quipped nervously.
Err, I think we'd better leave; follow me and stay close." David reached protectively into the darkness.
They moved quickly along the upper floor, alert to the sounds of creaking floors and turning handles.
The air was cooler near the servant's rooms with a distinct odour, and the occasional rush of whispered voices. Alistair smirked as Olivia wiped her face and wrapped her arms protectively around Gracie and Charlotte.
In the diffused light, Alistair clearly saw the face of Miles Hemingway, and there was no mistaking the family tie. He moved quickly ahead passing through the group as they approached the staircase. The cold chill sent spiders scuttling in anticipation across dusty cobwebs, and small orbs of light, barely visible in the gloom, passed from one door to the next.
Gracie gasped as they rose and fell in the shadows, weaving their way through the banister to the ground floor where they disappeared though walls and ceilings.
"This place is full!" she cried.
"Whatever you do don't provoke them!" Olivia cried as they reached the top of the stairs.
Charlotte looked nervously towards the front door.
It might be locked" said Gracie in alarm "or blocked by THEM!"
"Well it clearly isn't Iris is it? She didn't have a nasty bone in her body!" said David quietly.
"Well she's out of it now and who knows what she's capable of?" Charlotte added.
I don't think it was her that threw the mousse." Gracie said helpfully.
"I don't care who threw the mousse!" Olivia wiped the remains of the chocolate from her face.
Actually mum I have something to tell you" Gracie began.
"I was in the bathroom a few days ago when I heard a noise."
"Really, what sort of noise?"
"Voices, and then someone ran through the house so I followed the noise to the attic. Only the door isn't there any more, but it was because I went inside. It's full of rubbish and dirty cobwebs. And there's an old chair that moved on its own. It was spooky and freezing."
And what else was in there; a foul creature with bony limbs?"
"No it was a shape the size of Charlotte."
"Why didn't you say something?" her father asked.
"Because you wouldn't have believed me." Gracie replied sheepishly.
"That does it, we're leaving now!"
Olivia skipped down the stairs closely followed by Gracie and Charlotte as David flicked away cobwebs in the darkness. As the group moved quickly towards the front door, the heads on the family portraits turned after them, watching every move.
Gracie reached for the door handle as the sound of the car horn bellowed across the garden, and it's flashing headlights streamed through the dusty windows.
The family held their breath and peered into the darkness, wide eyed.
"Have you got the car keys David?" Olivia whispered.
"No," David Bellamy gulped "they're in the bedroom beside the clock."
"I'm not getting in the car!" said Charlotte nervously.
"Neither am I" Gracie added.
"Just open the door!" David Bellamy lunged forward and pulled at the handle. He tweaked and twisted the ancient brass door knob but the door remained tightly closed.
"What did I tell you?" Gracie cried "they've locked us in!"
Charlotte reached for the light switch beside the door.
"Don't touch anything!" Olivia said alarmed.
"OK" David shouted "That's it you lot! If you think you're going to get away with this you're not. And that goes for Aunt Iris too. I don't care if you left this old pile to Charlotte or not, you'll stop this business now or I'll call the priest!"
"Don't tell them that!" Olivia hissed.
A loud thud came from somewhere near the library as Iris mastered the art of blowing the electrics in the manor. Alistair had been standing close by sneering at Olivia.
How dare a Hemingway set foot in the Duke's house? Overwhelmed by bitterness and anger, he threw himself across the floor sending Olivia to the ground in a crumpled heap.
The air became very still as Alistair hovered beside the window. Beams of light from the car headlights caught a smattering of tiny floating particles falling through the air, and in the diffused light, Gracie saw the outline of Alistair's face.
His eyes were deep, almost sunken, and his thin lips were fixed in a painful smile.
He slowly raised an arm, sending a chilly breeze through Gracie's hair.
"I can see him." Gracie gasped, helping her mother to her feet.
"See who?" Charlotte whispered.
"A boy, he looks like a servant."
Alistair breathed heavily, seeking Olivia's attention.
The sound of crunching snow distracted the Bellamy's momentarily as a police car pulled to a halt behind the family Volkswagen. David peered through the windows as the officer climbed wearily out of the police car and studied the Volkswagen.
The horn was still blaring and the headlights flashed intermittently like a pair of eyes blinking in the daylight. The officer checked the interior of the car and shot a glance at the manor.
The single track of tyres in the snow had disappeared under fresh snowfall, and it was clear that the Volkswagen hadn't moved for several hours.
In the dim light, David Bellamy's face was pale and gaunt; almost ghost like behind the glass.
The police officer eyed the stationary vehicle suspiciously and then turned his attention to the manor.
There were no visible footprints apart from his own, and it was clear to him that the Volkswagen was an abandoned getaway car, unless the burglars were trapped inside the empty mansion.
He shone his torch at the front door and checked for signs of forced entry. The lock was clean, and there were no signs of splintered wood in the snow. As he reached for the door handle, the face at the window caught his eye. Masked by shadows, the face was full of anguish, and its ghoulish smile sent a momentary shiver down Henry Perkins spine.
David lifted his hand to wave and then frantically pointed towards the door. A halo of mist appeared on the glass, and David looked more menacing than ever.
Henry Perkins opened his eyes in alarm. Ruskington Manor had been empty for months; with no sign of activity since Iris Bellamy had passed away.
The man at the window was obviously a thief, an incompetent one at that.
Henry Perkins had caught him red handed. He decided to call for backup. In his experience there was usually more than one thief, and this was no exception.
A place like Ruskington could be swarming with thieves, dealers or squatters.
He returned to the patrol car, requesting assistance from other officers in the area.
The struggling signal failed to connect, and the officer was forced to deal with the issue alone.
He climbed out of the car and shone his torch at the window.
David was still standing in the darkness, his ghostly silhouette fading into the shadows.
"Open the door!" Henry Perkins glared at the Bellamy's as they crowded around the window, peering into the torchlight.
Inside the manor, Alistair had begun to move the furniture in the dining room and Iris was practising her newly acquired skills in the music room, including banging an eerie melody on the piano keys.
The haunting sound of music drifted through the quiet hallways filling the empty space.
"I think we need a priest." Gracie whispered.
"You'll need more than a priest."
The voice came from the direction of the front door. The Bellamy's turned to see Henry Perkins standing inside the hall.
"You're under arrest for trespassing."
CHAPTER NINE - PRIESTS AND OFFICERS
David Bellamy leaned against the counter in Little Muxley police station.
Henry Perkins hadn't believed a word he was saying and had arrested the entire family.
"So, Ruskington Manor is yours is it?" The duty constable peered at him over dark rimmed glasses.
"Yes, it belonged to my late aunt Iris Bellamy; she left it in trust to my daughter Charlotte. We've just moved in."
"Have you got a problem with the electrics then?"
"No, not exactly." Olivia replied.
"Oh? So you just sit in the dark with the doors locked and leave your car headlights on for fun then? It's past midnight and most people are in bed."
"Ah yes; I can explain."
"Yes, so I've heard, Poltergeists isn't it?"
The constable raised an eyebrow and continued to tap furiously on the keyboard.
"Well we're not actually sure, but there's something odd about the house."
Olivia tugged David's sleeve as Henry Perkins appeared in the doorway of the interview room.
Are we going to be charged constable? It's a bit ridiculous to charge someone for living in their own house!" David laughed nervously.
"We just need to clarify a few things Mr Bellamy." the constable replied lifting his head "If you'd like to follow Officer Perkins into the interview room somebody will be with you shortly."
The Bellamy's walked solemnly into the light blue room and closed the door behind them.
The sound of muffled laughter escaped from the room as a well-built officer in a grey suit disappeared through the door carrying a file.
Outside the station, the bitterly cold wind whipped through the spiked icicles hanging from the roof, snapping the weakest ones mid length.
They fell to the ground in delicate shards where they lay like broken diamonds in the snow.
A ruffle of fallen snow edged its way along the path, stopping at the entrance to the station.
The doors breezed open and Alistair stepped into the light.
Alistair's ghostly shadow passed across the floor.
In a haze of mist, it cut through the seating area, hovering momentarily before drifting towards the operations room on the upper floor.
The duty constable shuddered as he passed and then glanced at the CCTV screen.
There were no signs of movement.
He quickly glanced around and then walked towards the door.
The world outside was silent and the sky was grey with a hint of fresh snowfall as Alistair floated along the silent corridor, peering through windows and rattling door handles until he reached the door to the operations room.
The room was full of flashing screens and ringing bells, and dark figures lurked beside the windows.
He passed quickly through the door, knocking over a coat stand on the way in. The stand was heavy, and narrowly missed a filing cabinet when it fell to the floor. Alistair moved slowly across the room leaving a trail of static behind him. Tiny sparks rose from the carpet and a gentle buzzing soon became a loud crack as the main fuse blew in the circuit board.
Muxley police station was thrown into darkness and the excitable hub was reduced to a silent whisper. Downstairs in the interview room, chairs shuffled as Officer Perkins ploughed through the door with the Bellamy's to the front desk.
By the time they had reached the counter, the backup generator kicked in and the station was flooded with light.
Constable Watkins eyed the group suspiciously.
"They're free to go," said Henry Perkins "on the proviso they contact the vicarage!"
The officers watched as the family stepped reluctantly into the darkness, their feet quickly disappearing into the snow.
"They could have given us a lift." said Olivia shivering in the cold.
"How are we going to get home?" Gracie asked through chattering teeth.
"Taxi I suppose." David peered into the darkness as a flurry of snowflakes fell gently to the ground.
Olivia stared at the dismal skies "We can't walk home in this, we'll freeze."
The sound of an engine pierced the silence as a battered transit van chugged to a halt on the road opposite the station.
The family watched as an elderly man in a dressing gown climbed out and lifted the bonnet.
A pall of smoke escaped into the air along with the smell of burning rubber, and as the smoke cleared, the man leaned forward and began to pull something out of the engine.
After several minutes he returned to the van, leaving the bonnet open.
As he climbed into the driver's seat he noticed the family standing in the snow.
The van engine had overheated and he would be on his way to the vicarage in no time, but he couldn't possibly leave without offering to help a stranded family.
Geoffrey Symington climbed back out of the van and walked very slowly through the deepening snow.
His thick fur lined boots kept his feet warm and dry, but the wind soon whipped through his frayed woollen gown.
"Good evening, forgive me for asking, but can I be of any assistance?"
The family were huddled together against the cold and eyed the dilapidated van which was clearly un-roadworthy.
"Are you stranded? Because I'll be happy to give you a lift once Lizzie has cooled down a bit, she's a little overheated at present, but you're more than welcome to sit in the van until she's ready to move."
"That's very kind of you." Olivia chattered "Yes, we are stranded and it's too far to walk in the snow." she blabbed.
"Please follow me; you'll be much better out of the cold. I'm Geoffrey Symington by the way, the Vicar of St Martins.
Gracie nudged Charlotte. Geoffrey Symington was the perfect winter visitor.
"We're the Bellamy's" David replied "from Ruskington Manor."
Geoffrey's eyes widened in surprise "Ruskington Manor? Oh I see, well it's better than it going to rot I suppose. Have you been there long?"
"We moved in a few days ago." Olivia replied.
"I see, very interesting." he replied pulling the van door open, "Do step in."
The rusty door struggled for a moment and then closed with an awkward clunk.
The van was full of boxes stacked in unruly piles against a wooden bench, and the floor was littered with polystyrene beads.
David and Olivia slid onto the bench followed by Gracie; leaving Charlotte slumped on the floor beside a reindeer with a broken antler.
"So, do you like living at Ruskington? The manor has been part of the ministerial circuit for a number of years, although I've never visited it myself."
Geoffrey Symington was a likeable character, a little eccentric with a hint of magic.
Charlotte's heart leaped. The vicar's appearance was comforting, perfectly timed and the perfect solution. Somehow he made the ghostly goings on at the manor more bearable.
All they had to do was convince him to stay.
Lizzie, the junk mobile, was soon moving carefully along the snow bound roads towards the Manor.
Olivia was reluctant to return, but in order to leave; they had to return to collect the car. She only hoped that the cheeky little poltergeist hadn't done anything other than tamper with the headlights, and the thought of Gracie having hallucinations was more than she could bear.
She pushed her hands deeper into her pockets and crossed her fingers.
The thickening snow was unforgiving, and the van crawled, slipped and jolted its way through silent streets, until reaching the desolate road to the manor.
The roof line was just visible through the snowy haze and its chimneys appeared through ragged trees reaching for the sky.
The gate to the manor was open, held back by freezing snow and ice, and navigating the final stretch of road was difficult without markers.
Iris Bellamy was busily trying to rearrange the furniture in the dining room when the van pulled to a halt outside. She'd grown tired of playing the piano and had drifted towards the entrance hall when Alistair plunged through the wall in pursuit of the patrol car.
She peered through the window as the van crunched to a halt. The van was barely visible against the snowy backdrop, and when the group emerged, they resembled visiting ghosts from a neighbouring parish.
David Bellamy pushed the door open and stepped inside. The house seemed strangely inviting as the family filed into the hall. Charlotte had been the first to step out of the van, and waited motionless for the others to join her. Geoffrey Symington smiled at Gracie as she grasped her mother's hand and stumbled towards the house.
The distant clattering was less disturbing, and the forbidden corners of the manor seemed to open out in welcome to the rather unconventional visitor as Geoffrey Symington, vicar of St Martin's, stepped into the darkness.
The vicar gazed in awe at the high ceilings and sweeping staircase.
In the grey light the house looked surreal, with the faded gilding on the picture frames providing a dash of sparkle. Delicate orbs of light danced across the floor like fairy lights in a woody dell. In a magical display of blue and shimmering silver, they darted here and there, rising and falling without fear of discovery from those who believe in other planes of existence.
Geoffrey's eyes wandered across the walls to the large mullioned windows and back to the empty fireplace.
"It's marvellous, but you do have a problem with your light bulbs."
Charlotte shot a glance at Gracie, and Olivia raised her eyebrows in surprise.
"We had a power cut." she stammered.
"I see, well I have travel lamp in the car, there's still a bit of juice in it."
Geoffrey turned to open the door but it was tightly shut against the falling snow.
"Oh dear, I'm afraid I might be stuck here for the night." he said peering out of the window.
The gentle snow storm was now a blizzard, and the ghostly figure approaching the manor was no more than a whisper in the wind.
CHAPTER TEN - THE ELEMENTAL BODY
Geoffrey Symington was seated comfortably by the fire, his shadowy figure spilling across the arms of the chair. His eyes sparkled as he studied his surroundings with interest. The room was warm and comfortably furnished with a scattering of family photographs in various frames. His wizened face was darkened by the dim light, but as daylight broke through the clouds, he took on an almost surreal appearance by the fire.
The touch of a breeze flowed through the empty spaces and a glimmer of light danced across the upper floor. Bouncing tiny beams shattered in the daylight leaving behind obstinate flecks that tricked the eye. Alistair had startled the spirits.
The gentle energy of the house was being drawn, almost partitioned, by a negative force with depth and meaning, a dark brooding force intent on destruction.
Geoffrey twitched his nose. He had a spiritual energy, radiating kindness and compassion without judgement and he sensed that the falling silence wasn't welcoming.
The presence of a negative force tipped the balance between magic and the real world, and he was compelled to assist the inhabitants of the manor in any way he could.
The stillness crept in slowly until he felt the feathery touch move across his face.
"It must be fascinating living in the manor, so much history." The kindly old man smiled at Olivia. She was agitated. The stillness was uncomfortable and she was glad of a break in the silence.
"It's centuries old with lots of dark corners and creepy histories." she replied.
"And a resident ghost I presume?" he said lightly.
Olivia laughed, shrugging her shoulders as David shovelled coal onto the fire. Charlotte nudged Gracie. There was more than one unwanted guest in the house. Aunt Iris was floating about completely disembodied and the servant boy was the closest to a poltergeist Gracie had ever seen.
As for the rest of them, they could be anywhere at any time, spooking.
"Tell him" Charlotte whispered.
"About who? Aunt Iris or the servant?"
"How do you know it's a servant?" Charlotte asked.
"Because I saw him" Gracie replied.
"He should be easy enough to find then, he won't be able to hide and the vicar can throw him out."
"What about Aunt Iris? She left you the house remember!" Gracie hissed.
Olivia watched the two girls closely. Heads together they were so like their father. There was very little Hemingway in there at all. Gracie's expression could be similar to her grandfather's when the mood took, but there was no mistaking that she was a Bellamy.
"What are you two whispering about." she asked.
"Nothing much." Gracie replied.
"Ghosts!" Charlotte shot a glance at the vicar as Olivia shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
"Ghosts!" Geoffrey laughed "Ghosts are spirits who are either stuck midway between two worlds or they have unfinished business on earth, according to legend anyway."
"We've got two!" Gracie said excitedly.
"We've got loads!" Charlotte added.
"Girls!" Olivia said sharply "Don't be ridiculous."
"We're not being ridiculous, one of them dropped a chocolate mousse on mums head!"
Geoffrey looked bemused "Oh dear, malevolent beings can be a nuisance and they do become obstinate when they're asked to leave."
Olivia looked alarmed. She had left her enthusiasm for haunted mansions behind in a classroom thirty years ago.
"Can you help us vicar?" Gracie asked sweetly.
Geoffrey clasped his hands in thought.
Olivia was doubtful. Geoffrey had already mistaken the orbs for flickering light bulbs. One more tiny mistake could leave them all stuck in the manor in a head on collision with spooks and spirits leaping from every corner. She was beginning to wonder if it was all part of an elaborate plan, she hardly dared admit to her grandfather's connection to the manor, but perhaps somebody else had.
The room was eerily silent. Charlotte watched as the ashes from the fire fell softly onto the hearth.
David coughed gently.
"So these spirits have unfinished business with the manor?" he asked.
"Possibly, activity in general indicates intention." replied the vicar.
"That means you mum," Charlotte said uneasily "you're the one who got hit."
"Nonsense, that mousse could have landed anywhere." Olivia replied.
"But it hit you mum, and it might happen again." Charlotte was adamant.
Alistair leaned towards the gentle little man, blowing in his ear, but when he raised a hand to move the armchair it remained fixed to the floor by an invisible force.
"It appears you have a dilemma." Geoffrey said quietly.
"We do vicar." David was cautious, unwilling and unsure if his words were reaching the unseen through the walls and ceilings above.
Geoffrey's gaze was direct "Well, my appearance could not have been better timed."
"Indeed vicar, indeed." David watched as the flickering flames began to draw further up the chimney, hissing and spitting their way across the blackened brick.
"Perhaps if we move to the affected areas," Geoffrey began "the areas of activity. Attics are usually a good place to start in old houses, or kitchens."
"What if it's the whole house?" Gracie asked.
Geoffrey tapped the end of his nose and then reached into his pocket pulling out a leather bound book and a small round object very like a clock or compass, with hands pointing to various places on the dial.
"What's that?" Gracie asked.
"Dunno, a watch maybe." Charlotte replied.
Geoffrey polished the glass dial with his dressing gown sleeve, studying it intensely.
The device was a truth telling instrument that could analyse dreams and create answers to the unknown, the unexplained. It also analysed dust, and the dust in the manor was made from elementary particles of the spirits who remained in its walls. The small golden dial could read the colourful auras radiating from each one.
Geoffrey moved his lips in silent prayer and returned the strange looking object to his pocket.
"Shall we make a start?" he moved slowly, clutching the book tightly in his hands.
CHAPTER ELEVEN - THROUGH EVERY DOOR
Olivia nervously followed Geoffrey through the hallway.
She began to wish that she had been more open with David when they met. The way Iris looked at her was almost a dead giveaway. The old lady had never really taken to her and Olivia had been totally surprised when she had left Ruskington Manor to Charlotte. The trust fund was a bonus too, but if David ever found out that the Hemingway's had tried to take the manor all those years ago, Olivia would lose everything, including the girls. As she wandered through the gloomy hallways, she knew that the house sensed her betrayal. She drew in a deep breath; the unwelcomed occupants would have to leave.
The walls seemed to breathe as the group moved through the quiet building.
Whispers echoed in empty rooms as they passed from one floor to the next. Charlotte's eyes fell to her feet as pooling water merged and crystallised into a patch of solid white, reflecting splashes of light across its surface. Something touched her ankles, like weeds breaking through cobbled pathways.
She pulled her shoulders tight, huddling to keep warm.
Somewhere ahead, a door lay ajar allowing a delicate glow to meander across the floorboards. As they reached the open door, the smell of candle wax drifted into the hallway. Gracie cringed at each creak of the oak floor until something flickered in the corner of her eye.
Alistair followed close behind, but never quite reaching Olivia who walked behind the girls with David. Several doors opened of their own accord, and the rush of footsteps faded as the Vicar of St Martins approached. Behind him, laughter followed the sound of splintering wood as he reached for the magical little compass in his pocket.
Geoffrey watched the needles spin gently to the left, before turning full circle where they hovered, before coming to rest, their points facing the wall. He waited until they were completely still before declaring the energy force was positive. He moved on towards the door leading to the former Duke's private room, where he stopped and studied the readings.
Olivia was uncomfortably close to Alistair but he was unable to penetrate the energy field around them. Instead he back tracked, ripping through the ground floor, leaving a trail of destruction behind him.
Voices whispered in her ears "We know." and the feathery touch of unseen hands tousled her hair as she trod warily behind the children.
David sensed her unease and wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders.
"They'd better be gone by Christmas." her voice cracked in the chilly air "I couldn't tolerate another round of Bach's greatest hits."
Iris poked her head through a panel on the wall.
The house was alive with glowing orbs and peculiar smells clinging to the heavy atmosphere, and the footman had been suspended from the ceiling of the morning room for hours.
She'd never seen so much activity.
She stepped though the panelling and followed a flickering ray of light through the house until she spotted the Bellamy's huddling together outside the dukes private rooms.
She watched the walls come alive with disembodied heads, their necks outstretched like freakish creatures. Raw boned and pinched, they pulled at the air with scraggy arms.
The needles on the compass spun anti clockwise, barely stopping on its central pivot.
Geoffrey laid the compass across the open pages of the book and watched as the walls became a knotted mass of body parts, all seemingly trying to escape the hold of the ageing bricks.
Charlotte gripped Gracie's hand in terror.
"You have got a problem haven't you?" Geoffrey called above the increasing noise "They appear to be guests of a malevolent spirit!"
"Guests!" The Bellamy's looked on horrified.
Iris stopped abruptly behind Olivia. She had never seen so many ugly people. She tapped Olivia lightly on the shoulder.
"I've no idea who they are." Her voice was barely a whisper until Geoffrey Symington turned around.
Olivia's eyes opened wide in alarm.
"Get them out," she hissed "get rid of the lot of them!"
"You nasty piece of work!" Iris spat "After all I've done. How dare you!"
The house began to groan, and the whispering voices became louder, forcing the group to take refuge in the library.
Geoffrey waved his arms in the air, catching invisible objects and throwing them through the windows. Charlotte and Gracie watched bemused as his gathering strength quickly gained momentum, and the powerful moans of the house were lost in the screams of the departing spirits.
A sudden rush of wind carried a stream of tiny orbs through the window and the garden became a magical world of sparkling light.
Iris had located Alistair and was busy berating him for the chaos he'd caused for decades.
He brushed her aside and paced the hallway searching for a weakness in the energy field.
"I can see you," she spluttered "I don't know how you got here but you've been causing trouble for years. And who are they?" She waved an arm at a group of spirits emerging from the floor outside the library. Arms reached through the wooden floor with spindly fingers grabbing at the air, touching and feeling like spiders on a web.
Alistair's mouth fell open, distorted and twisted like a rubber band, and a loud groan echoed along the hallway.
Inside the library, Geoffrey lay slumped in a chair exhausted. His eyes flickered and his mouth swung open revealing a set of gapping teeth.
Olivia shuddered as the noise from the hallway filtered through the door.
Charlotte and Gracie watched in awe as a ribbon of colour swirled across the garden, barely touching the tips of exposed leaves and branches poking through the snow.
"I'm exhausted." Geoffrey whispered, "The house is full."
"They're leaving" said Gracie as the ribbon rose to the sky, fading gently into a white cloud.
David opened the door, peering into the hallway. Shadowy figures lurked and fingers circled the handle on the door dragging it open with a muffled creak.
Olivia whispered "What now?"
Geoffrey cracked open an eye "David will have to do it, I'm exhausted."
"David! How on earth is he supposed to do that?" Olivia panicked.
She was doubtful that anything would work. The walls were full of spooks and ghoulish beings rooted to the foundations. Asking David to throw any of them out was a recipe for disaster, but leaving the manor wasn't an option. The living were more important, and if the resident spooks didn't like it they could argue at a later date.
David was alarmed. He couldn't see a thing as he stepped out into the hallway.
The chilly air rasped at his throat and the touch of fingers reaching across his face sent a shiver down his spine. The hallway expanded into nothingness with doors opening into a dozen horrors.
He cringed as the floor began to creak and he was tempted to return to the library but Olivia would never forgive him, and the girls would be disappointed if the house remained stubbornly occupied by freakish little creatures.
He moved carefully across the floor until a door opened somewhere ahead.
He turned around sharply knocking an off centre picture frame to the floor.
A lone mouse eyed him curiously before scuttling into the shadows, and he found himself tip toeing through the house in search of ugly ghouls and Aunt Iris.
Alistair followed at a discreet distance, whilst Iris floated behind shouting abuse into his right ear.
David felt the breeze behind him and as he turned, a pair of bony hands grasped his head, pulling him backwards.
Black knotted fingers pulled at the skin across his face. They probed his nostrils, creeping through his hair to the nape of his neck and touching his shoulders.
"Right! That's it! Get out, the lot of you. You've been told now hop it!" David screamed.
Iris ducked as a spindly arm flew out of the wall followed by a spinning head with a short fat neck.
A pair of beady eyes flashed for a second and disappeared into a picture rail as Iris gingerly popped back up.
David's eyes had begun to play tricks, and the dusty corners of the house were now full of beady eyes eager to frighten intruders. With each footstep, the house became more hostile, and he was determined to find out why.
CHAPTER TWELVE - INTO THE LIGHT
The library door flew open and David stepped in to a sea of surprised faces.
"How do you contact spirits with that thing?" he asked pointing to the compass.
"You don't need to contact them; they're all over the house.
The positive energies politely left some time ago, it's the others that appear reluctant to leave." Geoffrey replied
"What are we going to do dad?" Gracie asked "I don't want to live in a creepy house, and we've got nowhere else to go."
Iris passed through the doorway, closely followed by a pair of crooked little arms which quickly retreated in silence. Outside the library, voices were distant but audible and the freakish ghouls crawled across the floor with bony limbs scraping glass and wood. Creeping and crawling like curious animals they grasped the door handle.
David pulled open the drawer in a writing desk.
He quickly scribbled on a piece of paper. Minutes later he announced he'd got it, the reason why the manor was haunted was due to nosiness and revenge.
"Nosiness!" The group chorused.
"Yes nosiness, they can't stand the thought of not knowing."
"Not knowing what?" Charlotte asked thoughtfully.
"What we're doing" David replied.
"And the revenge?" Olivia looked sheepish.
"Well, you've obviously done something Olivia."
"I haven't done anything." Olivia replied defensively.
"Unless it's a secret!" Gracie's eyes widened as a shadow passed across the floor.
Iris listened intently. Perhaps there was a secret. Alistair's anger wreaked havoc throughout the house and the freaks were refusing to leave. She twitched her nose and floated towards Gracie. She'd been meaning to pay her a visit, now was as good a time as any.
"He's a nuisance," she whispered "and it's all to do with your mother. Tell your father to stop messing around and throw him out with the freaks. I'm tired of tripping over them and they're spitting all over the floor!"
Gracie screamed in alarm "Aunt Iris says throw him out because he's a nuisance and the freaks are spitting all over the floor!"
"Aunt Iris!" Olivia swung around in surprise.
"She's shouting down my ear!"
"David, do something!" Olivia shrieked.
The door flew open and a mass of creeping arms slithered across the floor, groping at Olivia's feet. Charlotte grabbed a cushion, frantically beating the floor as the crown of a skull rose through the floorboards under a mass of unruly hair. It spilled across the carpet as the room filled with the smell of rotten eggs.
What a visitation!" Geoffrey exclaimed turning up his nose.
Gracie's eyes widened in alarm as a twisted face poked through the floor, its skin pale and drawn across a head too heavy for its skinny neck. The ghoul moved slowly as if it had no bones at all, slinking and oozing until it crouched awkwardly beside a bookcase. It studied Olivia with hollow eyes, before groaning through broken teeth.
There was stillness on both sides, then sudden movement with force in every blow.
"Try the iron!" Geoffrey yelled.
"It's in the kitchen" Olivia screamed.
"What good is an iron?" Charlotte swung the cushion violently at the ghoul.
"No, the poker iron!"
Geoffrey's confusion was apparent as Alistair appeared in the doorway surrounded by spectral figures.
"I'll bless some water." Geoffrey sounded helpful.
"Why don't you try some salt whilst you're at it, it works on every slug!" Olivia snapped.
David lunged towards a cabinet pulling open the doors. He scanned the shelves for the secret tipple and spotted a bottle of tonic water.
"That'll do." he muttered before spinning round open mouthed. "I've got some water!" he cried tossing the bottle to Geoffrey.
The room was alive with floating objects filing through the door. Amidst the chaos Iris floated sideways as a heavy book fell from the ceiling. The book narrowly missed Olivia as she frantically reached for the poker in the fireplace.
"Here!" Iris flicked her wrist and the poker lifted into the air, hovering above David's head.
"Now what?" Olivia watched as a confused array of books, shoes and saucepans danced across the ceiling.
Geoffrey's words packed a powerful punch. A sudden gust of wind threw the Bellamys to the floor.
They cowered as the ghoulish freaks were jettisoned through the walls, their hysterical cries lost in the sound of the wind. The force of the gust pushed Alistair forward, propelling him towards the window.
He passed through the glass in a scream of protest and disappeared in a smokey haze.
Iris was pinned to the wall, her body half in and half out of the manor with her hands and feet sticking out like knobbled coat hangers.
"What a disappointment!" she gasped "I'm stuck again."
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - A PERFECT CHRISTMAS
The winter mist hung heavy as the Bellamy's walked through the lych gate of St. Martin's church.
A small crowd had gathered inside the church, and there was an air of expectation as the family joined them inside.
Olivia flashed a satisfied smile at the congregation.
The manor had slipped into tranquillity and its dusty rooms opened out to welcome a new generation of visitors. The unruly inhabitants had gone, and one by one they rose to the sky in a flurry of stars and light. The gruesome spirits were nowhere to be seen, and the family breathed a sigh of relief as the Christmas festivities began.
Olivia had set the table for lunch and with the Christmas goose slowly roasting in the oven, the family had set out for morning mass.
Geoffrey Symington was relaxed as he took the first reading. It had been a peculiar month.
The blessing for rescued pets at the Church of Our Lady and the prayer for the dysfunctional goat had sprung out of nowhere; he had no idea how to address an issue with a goat! And the exploding church candle wasn't entirely welcomed either.
The pinnacle of success was the matter regarding the manor.
He hadn't received a calling like that for decades; he'd never known such a stubborn mob.
Geoffrey was looking forward to lunch; he was partial to a bit of goose. He hoped Olivia had a decent Christmas pudding too, not too much brandy but a nice bit of rum. He wasn't keen on nuts either; perhaps she made them without walnuts.
His mouth began to water and he swallowed noisily into the microphone.
His eyes scanned the congregation in the nave. Eager faces beamed up at him from wooden pews decorated with fresh greenery, and the flickering candle danced across the edges of the advent wreath in front of the pulpit.
The women's institute had done an excellent job.
Fresh greenery hung on every door, and pine boughs decorated the altar and window ledges. Candles and bright red poinsettias were dotted about the nave on tables, and a wooden nativity scene welcomed visitors.
The aroma of fresh pine and candlewax drifted on a gentle breeze as the heavy oak church door closed on the last arrivals. Geoffrey smiled in acknowledgement and continued with a prayer.
The service soon progressed to lively carolling with Ding Dong Merrily on High resounding against the stone walls, followed by The First Noel.
At twelve thirty, Geoffrey pulled Lizzie to a halt outside the manor.
The door opened to the aroma of orange and cinnamon, and the house sparkled from every corner.
The creaking door closed with a flourish as he stepped into the hallway.
The family portraits twinkled above the open fire and the polished floor gleamed beneath the tree by the window. Huge garlands hung from the staircase and a glistening chandelier threw shafts of delicate light across the walls.
The trick of the light seemed to reflect tiny faces in the baubles on the Christmas tree, but the idea of unwanted visitors was soon dismissed as he was shown into the dining room.
Ruskington Manor was dressed in winter white and silver with splashes of bright red and fresh foliage from the garden. The light through the windows hit the room at every angle and the glowing fire crackled merrily as David piled on extra logs.
The Bellamy's had already opened their presents and Gracie was setting up the new Echo whilst Charlotte shouted instructions at the speaker.
Empty boxes and discarded wrapping had been hastily removed leaving a small selection of tree presents. Amongst them was a very special gift for the vicar, an antique frame which David had found in a local shop. The neatly wrapped parcel lay undisturbed between two large baubles, hidden from inquisitive hands.
Olivia's perfect Christmas had been meticulously planned.
The rooms were dressed, the table laid, the gifts were flawless and dinner was a complete triumph.
No uninvited guests, no inhospitable hosts, the manor was theirs.
She watched as Geoffrey chewed every appreciative mouthful.
The girls helped themselves to more goose and Charlotte had an extra portion of roasted vegetables.
The manor had been a haven of peace since Geoffrey's visit.
No strange noises or bumps in the night, no moving objects, no ugly little freaks.
And no Aunt Iris, Olivia's prayers had been answered the night they met in a blizzard.
The gift was perfect, Geoffrey collected frames and it was ideal for the watercolour he had in his study.
It had been a peculiar year for everyone. Geoffrey's calling had been a strange but unexpected pleasure. He certainly hadn't lost his spiritual touch and a tiny bit of magic wouldn't harm anyone.
His mind drifted to the forgotten Christmas at the manor when the Dukes footman stumbled across a secret.
Geoffrey had been a young man the day he walked up the drive, and somehow the past had called him back to the place where it all began. He sipped at a glass of port and took a bite of the Christmas pudding. Olivia had triumphed, with lunch at least, and he sincerely hoped that the secret would remain as it was for everyone's sake.
David pulled the bolt across the door and turned the key.
Christmas had always been his favourite time of the year and he was filled with boyish excitement as soon as the mince pies hit the shelves in the supermarkets. By the time the baubles were out he was swept up in the festivities long before the big day. Their friendship with Geoffrey couldn't have come at a better time.
Sometimes life gets in the way and not every Christmas is the ideal Christmas, but there's something about a late winters day when you're decorating the tree and drinking hot chocolate that creates the perfect end to the day. And when the snow silently falls, the magic really begins.
Gathering round the tree on Christmas morning whilst the fire crackles in the fireplace, opening presents and burying the floor waist deep in wrapping paper is what Christmas all about, giving.
Upstairs, Gracie and Charlotte lay snuggled against the cold under heavy duvets.
Lulled into sleep by full stomachs and warm fires, the girls barely moved as their father walked along the hallway to the master bedroom.
Olivia was in the kitchen, checking all was in order for Boxing Day.
The day had been perfect, prefect presents, a perfect table and the perfect guest loved his perfect gift.
She took a last look around the kitchen before walking towards the stairs.
The manor was beautiful in the snow.
The twinkling lights turned it in to a magical wonderland instead of a stark, desolate building.
A flick of a switch threw the hall into darkness, with a dying flame from the fire the only source of light.
Olivia climbed the stairs to the bedrooms above.
The stairs turned at the second flight and as she placed her foot on the lower step, a door slammed somewhere near the music room.
Olivia's eyes opened in alarm and she held her breath as the sound of footsteps echoed down below.
She gasped in horror as she realised they were back.
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