Christmas story winner Jack Horne: A ghostly visitation
PUBLISHED: 10:03 19 December 2016 | UPDATED: 11:22 19 December 2016
For our December issue Devon Life invited local writers to come up with a Christmas ghost story. Here is the winning entry from Jack Horne, 47, of Plymouth. Jack works in a shop and café and has enjoyed writing for as long as he can remember.
Quite a few of his short stories and poems have been published in magazines, newspapers and online and he has had two novels published as ebooks. Jack is a member of Plymouth’s Waterfront Writers’ Group. So, are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…
The crackling of the fire was the only sound in the wood-panelled lounge. They all waited for my story. Annie squeezed my hand as I looked up at the five shadowy faces opposite, and cleared my throat.
“Well,” I began, “I have a true story.”
“Awesome,” Annie’s carrot-haired nephew said. “Hope it’s a scary one, Bob. Scarier than anything we’ve heard so far.”
“Shhh, Jamie,” his mother said, “or you’ll go to bed. I’m not sure ten-year-olds should be listening to ghost stories anyway, whatever your father says.”
“Okay, I’ll be quiet, Mum.”
No-one else spoke.
I took a deep breath, encouraged by more hand squeezing. “It first happened when I was around Jamie’s age. My parents and I went to stay with a relative in Berry Pomeroy…”
“Oh, wow. Did you see the ghost of the White Lady at the castle?”
“Jamie, one more squeak out of you and you go straight to bed.” His mother again.
“Just listen to the story, buddy.” His father that time.
“Children should be seen and not heard,” added his thin-lipped grandmother.
“Is he going to get on with the story? Or I’m going to bed, myself” – this time it was his bearded grandfather.
“Shhhh,” uttered Jamie.
I smiled. I was fond of the boy, even if the rest of Annie’s family got on my nerves. “No, this isn’t about the castle.” A sudden thought occurred to me and I shuddered. Annie pulled her small hand away and I realised I’d crushed it in my grasp. “Sorry, hun.” I patted her knee and felt her parents’ disapproving eyes on me. “No, this isn’t about the castle,” I said, feeling for Annie’s hand again, “but it started there.”
Not even Jamie spoke as I collected my thoughts. “Yes, it all began there…”
My memories may have become jumbled with time, but I believe I recalled every detail of the moonlit evening, when my cousin and I crept from our beds to visit the castle. I described the feeling of being watched as John and I had stumbled through the dark, dark woods, a weak torch in my trembling hand. John had tripped on a tree root and smashed his glasses. Then I cried out as an owl suddenly hooted. We both thought we heard laughter. The feeling of unfriendly eyes was so intense that we spun round, expecting to see someone standing there; but there was no one. “Shall we go back?” I asked. “I mean, I don’t mind if you’re scared.”
“I’m not afraid.” John’s teeth chattered.
We walked at a faster pace towards the fence with the No Trespassers’ sign. “You go first,” I said. “You’ve been here before.”
I quickly followed John over the fence and then we made our way uphill through more trees, until we glimpsed the castle ruins. We stood looking up at the tower and then John raced towards it. John was wearing his cracked glasses and I’ve often wondered if he even saw the cliff edge.
I was brought from my memories as Annie gasped and pulled her hand from mine again. Through tears and the sweat dripping into my eyes, I saw her wriggling her fingers and knew I’d squeezed too hard once more. “Sorry,” I managed, my voice a croak.
“Your cousin fell over the cliff?” Annie whispered.
“Did he die?” Jamie asked.
I nodded again.
“And you saw this boy’s ghost?” Annie’s father demanded.
I shook my head and gulped down a whisky.
“That’s it?” Annie’s mother said. “All very sad, but boys will be boys and accidents happen. Hardly a ghost story, young man. My charnel house story was much better, I think.”
Annie’s father grunted. “My ghost in the graveyard was more interesting - and that could be true, for all we know. You’ll be here again as our son-in-law by next Christmas Eve, I suppose, so you’ve got a year to think of something.”
“He hasn’t finished,” Jamie said. “What happened next, Bob?”
“Yes, love,” Annie said softly. “Tell us what happened.”
I thought back to the knocking sounds I’d heard every night for months afterwards. “Three distinct raps,” I said. “And then the feeling that someone was in my room. I often woke and asked, who’s there?”
“Did anyone ever answer?” Jamie asked.
His father laughed. “No, it was just in Bobby’s imagination. A guilt-based reaction to seeing the other boy die.”
Annie snapped. “You always think you know everything. Ever since we were kids, you believed you knew best. Well, you know nothing.” She turned to me, her dark eyes reflecting the firelight. “Do you think it was the ghost of your cousin?”
“No, I could feel the menace in that presence. I’ve only just realised tonight…it was the same as that in the woods at Berry Pomeroy. Something followed me back to my aunt’s house that night and then back to my own home.”
Again, flames were the only sound. We all jumped as a log shifted in the grate.
“I always wondered why John had run. I just ran after him. But now I know: He was running from something.” I studied each of the wide-eyed fire-lit faces. “People around me started to die or have accidents. An elderly neighbour said he’d seen a creature with red glowing eyes and he’d been powerless to move as a truck drove towards him. Old Tom was known as a drinker, so no one took his story seriously. And they thought he was hallucinating, because he died of his injuries ten minutes or so later.”
I felt Annie shudder as she snuggled closer to me. “Did the incidents stop in the end?”
My scalp prickling, I nodded. “Although it flares up again if I think about it. I know things are going to happen when I hear those three distinct rapping noises.”
No-one spoke or moved for several minutes. I was the only one who didn’t jump, when I heard: RAP-RAP-RAP…