Congratulations to Catherine Parry-Richards for winning our Ghost Story Competition. Here is her story. Enjoy!
The Strange Tale of Samuel Smithson
Samuel Smithson was aged forty-two years and four months and he had grown old in the city. Every morning he hunched his way along the stained and grimy pavements. Every evening he hurried home passed the bellowing newspaper boys on each corner. At night he slept, his fingers ground down into his ears, drowning out the noise from the street below. Samuel was tired, his head ached and it was with no heavy heart that, one damp and dreary morning, he cleared his desk at the banking company where he was employed in the position of Senior Clerk and headed for Kings Cross station.
Some years ago he had delighted in the discovery of a quaint old market town snuggled inside the Welsh borders and it was to this place that he now returned. He took a small, stone cottage halfway up the mountainside above the town and, to the hum of bees and chirrup of birds, happily began to make this his home.
It was a cold and crisp December afternoon, not many weeks later, that he was making the walk back up the mountain from the town, laden with groceries and a rather heavy fruit cake given to him with a wink by the Baker’s daughter. He was whistling a little tune and, as he turned into the cottage gate, he noticed a white cat sitting patiently beneath the branches of the apple tree in the garden.
“Well, hello Mr Blackpaw,” said Samuel by way of greeting, for the cat did indeed have one black paw. “Where have you come from?”
The cat blinked.
“You don’t live with the Farmer Pugh,” said Samuel, thinking of his nearest neighbour a quarter of a mile along the lane. “Their’s is a rather fat tabby.”
The cat blinked again and stretched out his black paw.
“In any case you had better come in and share some supper,”
decided Samuel. “It’s cold out and I have some milk and fresh kippers from the fishmonger.”
So it was that Samuel Smithson and Mr Blackpaw lived together at the cottage over the passing days. On the fourth day, Samuel took his walk down the mountain. He asked amongst the townsfolk if they knew to whom the white cat with the one black paw belonged but to no avail. On returning home that day, Samuel unwrapped his parcel of fish and called for Mr Blackpaw. When the cat did not come Samuel went in search of the creature and found him sitting on the top stair, his yellow-green eyes fixed intently up at the ceiling.
“What’s the matter, Mr Blackpaw?” he asked, following the cat’s stare to a hatch above. “Something in the attic?”
Now everyone knows that attics are dark, eerie places, home to either treasures or ghosts and Samuel shivered as he knew this better than most. Every book he had ever read as a young child told him so. Every boyish pirate-gold dream or grotesque nightmare had told him the same.
“You want me to go up, eh?” he said.
The cat blinked.
Shaking himself over, Samuel took a light and climbed up through the hatch. The attic was empty apart from the spider-brown cobwebs that hung overhead and an old black trunk in the furthest corner. Samuel crept carefully over and pushed on the trunk. It creaked open. Nothing here, he thought but as he was closing the lid, something at the very bottom caught his eye. He reached a hand inside and pulled out an old photograph. It was of a young man and woman in old-fashioned dress, standing happily together at the old cottage gate.
“No treasure here I’m afraid, Mr Blackpaw,” chuckled Samuel, climbing down. “Only a couple of ghosts, perhaps.” He placed the photograph into his pocket.
On his next visit to the town, Samuel Smithson showed the photograph to the townsfolk.
“That’ll be Tomos and Mary Lloyd,” nodded the Vicar. “Had that cottage built over a hundred years ago. Pass by the churchyard, they lie beneath the row of ancient yews.”
After some searching, Samuel did indeed find the grave. The crumbling, old tombstone poked out from the weeds that smothered the resting place of the forgotten couple. How sad, thought Samuel, nobody to remember them. Dusk soon fell and the church bell sounded five o’ clock. Samuel began to make his way up the mountain. On arriving at the cottage, he put the kettle to boil and laid out some kippers for Mr Blackpaw. He called out yet once again the cat did not appear. This time he found the creature in the garden, pawing away at the ground beneath the apple tree.
“What’s the matter, Mr Blackpaw,” he asked. “Looking for more treasure?” The cat continued to paw the ground.
“You want me to dig, eh?” he said.
The cat blinked.
Samuel sighed and fetched his spade. It was hard work. The ground was frozen solid and his hands were quickly cold. Nothing here, he thought and was just on the point of retiring when his spade struck something hard. He dug deeper and uncovered a rectangular oak box. Samuel brushed away the clods of earth with his frozen fingers and read aloud the carved lettering on top.
William, the most beloved cat of Tomos and Mary.
In death never parted.
Samuel slowly reached for the old attic photograph still in the pocket of his jacket. He peered at it more closely then scratched his head, rubbed his eyes and peered some more. There, in the very background, sitting contentedly on a patch of land where the apple tree now grew, was a white cat with one black paw. Samuel stared at the photograph for a long, long time and finally looked back toward the tree. He called out, barely a whisper, just once and just to be sure. “In death never parted,” he thought, smiling a half-sad smile. “Indeed, Mr Blackpaw, indeed.”
That night, Samuel Smithson returned to the churchyard, his spade in one hand, the oak box in the other. There, beneath the moonlight, at the side of the forgotten grave, he buried the little casket. And if you ever pass through the town, go by the churchyard and visit the grave. The tombstone bears an added inscription and is easy to find as it is now the best kept of any. Samuel Smithson himself is long since dead but the townsfolk have never forgotten the strange tale he told of Mr William Blackpaw.
Alison Kent is the second winner of our Ghost Story competition. Here is her story:
If I could paint you a picture, I’d use a crisp white canvas, smothered in multitudes of the rainbow: red, yellow, pink, green, orange, purple and blue. Then vigorously splash paint as black as dripping tar.
Painting is therapeutic they say, it soothes the pain, ripping at my soul like sharp thorns. I’m not sure how far I agree with art therapy. I am beyond disturbed.
Nothing can prepare you for fear, but once you’ve lived it, you either carry on or you need help. I opted for the latter, not by choice but necessity.
It senses your fear. I’ve felt its presence. And I still do, everyday. It can smell the sweat trickling down your forehead. It can see your body freeze. It can taste your screams. It can hear deep, into your dark unconscious anxieties.
“That one who goes on stilts” also known as, the clown.
I’m an over thinker. My therapist tells me this all the time. My upbringing had always been fairly simple, a fussy mother, a father who worked all the time and plain old me. Just the three of us; no pets, no sibling to bully or be bullied by. My parents were always concerned about me.
“You’re unique and different to those other boring kids” almost in reassurance that they hadn’t conceived an absolute freak. I always hate the word different, but I guess I’m special.
My persistent fear of the ‘thing’ on stilts affected my everyday life; perhaps this is why I was special. I was a bit of a loner in school, no one understood me, which is such a typical cliché. But none of the other kids seemed to have any worries. Did that make me normal and the other kids abnormal? I never quite got it. They say phobias are caused by neutral, unconditioned, and conditioned stimuli which trigger either conditioned or unconditioned responses. This never made sense to me. I went through my childhood knowing and fearing ‘it’ was out to get me. You never know what hides beneath that painted mask.
My earliest memory still provokes me. It happened in a dark bedroom, the nursery. The walls plastered in vibrant pictures of animals, my name printed in block letters of shiny yellow above my cot and toys cluttered over the soft carpeted floor. I remember waking up past my bedtime, so early in the morning, so late in the night. I could hear a creaking in the back of the room. My window ajar and a cool breeze floated through the air. I could see its face grinning at me. Or could I? I just remember it so lucidly, its painted visage edging me to come and play; it’s bright orange wig, large red feet and shiny red nose.
I bawled and screamed, salty tears smothering my flustered crimson cheeks, until my mother frantically ran into the room. I remember her face. She didn’t see ‘it’, only I did. That was the problem; it was either all in my head or real? I used to hear stories about paedophiles dressed as clowns hiding in young kid’s bedrooms ready to make their attack. I never told her, my mother.
I remember the night, June 12th, 1998.
Back to the present. I want to take you on my journey, to where I am now. In this white room, with bars on the metal door and windows. I asked for a pen and paper, they say it helps to get through the trauma, part of this art therapy nonsense. But I’m still living it. It’s here now, I can see it. Leave me alone.
My nightmare begins, in a house, my house. I’ll never quite distinguish what compelled me to go for a walk that day, in that ‘dream’, perhaps my inner anxieties were telling me to get out of the house and clear my head, filled to the brim with apprehension, like an over-poured glass of water.
Early autumn. As I soon departed home, the sun was starting to set; I love that time of night. Houses over-shadowed by the blazing orange circle that dominates our world. The gleaming rays semi-blinded me momentarily, making it difficult to see what was in front of me, like the rays were hiding what the future held.
Pacing, pacing, pacing. Far away from my house, I could now sense my urgency for freedom. I wouldn’t call it loneliness, just a need to escape. I always think a walk clears your head, cleanses the worries that constantly occupy a person’s thoughts. Then I saw it, suddenly dominating the walk before me.
The warehouse: old, isolated, derelict. I hadn’t recognised this place before; it was the unknown to me. I wondered who could have worked here. Long-forgotten labourers, playing with used boxes and operating their work-load. I crept in further. The windows were smashed; some of them were boarded up with planks of old worn out wood. I went towards the white door, encrusted with graffiti; brown bold writing inscribed ‘NO ENTRY!’ coated with thick raw blood. I recall the stench, of rotten food, stale cigarettes, sweat and damp wood. A sharp concoction enticed my nostrils and caused my eyes to stream. I wiped them with my left sleeve to enable full vision again.
I ignored the warning and pushed the door open. It creaked, typically. I was inside. The building echoed loudly, by the piercing slam of the door behind me. Why didn’t I just turn back? I was terrified, but curious. I can’t remember it being particularly cold that evening, but an intense icy sensation grew upon me: freezing, shivering. I carried on. It wanted me to carry on. The dust floating in the air coated my tongue in a thick layer, like felt.
I hadn’t walked too far inside but somehow I could no longer see the gritty door through which I entered not so far behind. The walls looked identical; granular, dirty and carelessly damaged. The door was camouflaged, I couldn’t see it anywhere. I was trapped.
I tried to scream. Not a shriek even left my mouth.
Night terrors they call it. A ‘parasomnia disorder’ characterized by extreme terror and a temporary inability to regain full consciousness. I still get the terrors now.
I’d be here forever. I’d deteriorate - a long, slow, painful death. The type of death you hear about in murder stories, in newspapers: victim left for days. I kept telling myself, this is it, you’re dead now. My rotting body will disintegrate into nothing, soulless. I froze.
The walls were coated with a dark misty shadow. Creeping along the walls, surrounding me. I was facing my fear. My heart pounding, lub-dub, lub-dub. Murmuring with immediate pace, like the swish of water flowing through a hose.
There was nowhere to go. The multicoloured wig, red, yellow, pink, green, orange, purple, blue. Every colour of the rainbow. I could hear distant voices of little children echoing throughout the depot of debris, giggles of excitement, mixed with fainted screams and clapping.
Its pallid face as pale as encrusted snow in an isolated pathway. Its big red nose like an overgrown tomato.
It found me. The thing in my room on June 12th, 1998. The thing that followed my unconscious fears throughout my tainted adolescence. Smiling at me, like I was the person it needed. A cold white face, grinning at me through the prevailing darkness. The contrast of the whitest white against the blackest black besieged me more. Was my imagination playing tricks on me or was this reality?
I was now in complete darkness. Waiting for my time to come. Immense plastic flowers and fairground music. I was now in ‘it’s’ twisted playground. The giggling, the clapping - assorted with distant screams and cries were a lot louder now. I understood where I was. I was it’s next victim. It didn’t talk, taking me in its arms. We float deep below the ground.
There was a pit, covered in blood-filled balloons. Bursting. Spitting the dark burgundy substance over the ground of skeleton bones.
It swiftly drifted away. Where was it going? I waited. For answers, for help. To perish.
I woke up.
The day after my ordeal, my nightmare, I died. Not in reality, but my soul died. You see, I’m writing this from the recovery unit in The Abbey, an “asylum” they call it. On June 12th 2008.
It’s nice here. I use the term “nice” loosely. Everyone speaks to me so calmly like I’m a child. I’m 21 years old and a severe Coulrophobe, I fear the thing on stilts.
I can hear my doctor coming. He opens the door, it creaks.
“No. Leave me alone.” I can’t bear to see anyone today.
“Now now sweetheart, time to eat something.” He’s speaking to me like I’m a kid again.
“If I have to.” I don’t want to.
I have to go.
I’m hoping he doesn’t dress up as a clown again today.