Short Story Central
by Lilian Tait
Copyright 2015 Lilian Tait
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Hello All! This is merely a brief introduction to this, my latest venture! A selection of short stories for you all to enjoy! They have been formulated in a unique way, but, like Sherlock, I am not prepared to reveal my methods! Suffice to say, if you enjoy this, you might want to check out my other stuff! There’s my Van Helsen series, of which I am very proud. That also started from a very simple idea! My smallish book of poetry, The Experiment if that’s your thing, and three memoirs, School Daze, Trivial Pursuits,and Here We Go Again! There are other things in the pipeline but this is good for the time being! So…are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin! Enjoy the ride, oh, and, any feedback would be greatly appreciated! That’s all, folks!
The car skidded violently. He struggled to regain control. Close to panic, he wrenched the steering wheel to the right. The almost torrential rain thudded relentlessly against the windscreen, and the windscreen wipers had a difficult job allowing for a clear view of the road ahead, and they squeaked protestingly in a vain attempt to hold back the worst of the effects of the storm.
As a sudden gust of wind caused the car to shift involuntarily across the treacherous, slippery country road, Graeme Garside swore under his breath as he tried to concentrate on the dark road ahead of him, which was illuminated solely by the two spots of light coming from the headlights of the five year old red Ford Fiesta, which had been a birthday present from his parents when he’d turned twenty one. And it was a double celebration because he’d passed his driving test only a few days before.
Now, he was twenty four years old, and, at present, travelling home towards Glasgow, after having attended a prestigious music festival, where there had been a competition, and he’d won, for his ‘truly passionate, and unique rendition’ of ABBA’s ‘Arrival’ (to quote the judges directly) on the bagpipes.
He smiled slightly as he recalled the moment when they had announced his name as the winner of the festival’s ‘Pipe Idol’ competition. He still couldn’t get his head around the fact that they had chosen him.
It was the trophy nestled in the back seat of the car that was irrefutable proof of his momentous musical achievement.
So, naturally, he had driven away from the venue, later that evening, in high spirits.
Graeme had decided that he would keep the news a surprise, and tell his parents when he got home. It was only about an hour’s drive away, and, besides, the sky was clear and he had no reason to believe that the weather could turn so violent, so quickly.
But…this was Scotland, and it had.
The storm had started suddenly, roughly twenty minutes into his journey from the venue and, for the past ten minutes, Graeme had been battling bravely with the elements, refusing doggedly to let something as trivial as a storm prevent him from reaching his destination. He tried to console himself with the fact that, according to his satellite navigation system, the main motorway wasn’t too far away, and, resolutely, he regained control of the wheel. He’d enjoyed his evening immensely, and his surprise victory.
Come Hell, or high water, he would get home.
But…it was neither Hell, nor high water that played the starring role in what happened next.
Suddenly, without warning, the satellite navigation system inexplicably cut out, and the screen went completely blank.
Momentarily distracted by this, Graeme stared incredulously at the blank screen and, keeping one hand on the steering wheel, smacked the side of the now inoperable satnav with his free hand, to coax some much needed life back into the machine.
However, in order to do this, he briefly took his eyes off the road, and, as a result, the car lurched to one side.
Realising that this was a pointless exercise, Graeme raised his grey eyes to the heavens, and swore profusely. Why did he never listen to his Grandfather whenever he mentioned those random proverbs of his? About balance and the meaning of the universe, or something like that. True, his Grandfather was something of an amateur philosopher, but he was getting on in years, and was a bit wandered, so, he never really paid any attention to his rambling and inane observations.
Trying not to worry too much about the fact that he was now, officially, hopelessly lost, Graeme once more tried to focus on the road ahead, but, at that precise moment, his car ran over what felt like a large speed bump, and the car turned on its side, skidding along the wet road like an errant curling stone across an ice rink.
As the car continued on its now unscheduled journey, Graeme closed his eyes, putting his arms in front of his face, bracing himself for the impact he was sure would come.
The car eventually came to a stop near a grassy verge, hitting a tree stump, causing him to hit his head against the steering wheel.
Then, he lost consciousness.
Some time later, Graeme awoke to the insistent drumming of the rain on the roof of the car, with an almost irritating headache, which felt like a herd of overweight elephants were at a disco and were using his head as a dancefloor.
Fortunately, he was still firmly strapped securely to his seat, thanks to his seatbelt.
Automatically, he searched his trouser pockets for his mobile phone, only to find that the front panel of the device had been damaged in the collision.
Violently, he threw it down, and immediately took stock of his somewhat unenviable situation.
As far as he could tell,aside from the sore head, Graeme was unhurt, but, he knew that he had to find somewhere to spend the remainder of the evening, where he would be able to contact his parents, and a garage, to get his beloved Ford Fiesta repaired, that is, if it needed repairing.
With an air of almost mutinous reluctance, Graeme carefully unfastened his seat belt, took the keys out of the ignition, and, moving his hand towards the door lock, opened the driver’s door, before easing himself out of the vehicle, cursing all the time as he did so.
But, at the same time, thanking God that he was a mere five foot five inches in height.
All his life he’d resented the fact that, for a man, he was small, but now, he was glad of it.
Within seconds of clambering out of his car, his thick, dark hair was plastered to his head as the rain continued to mercilessly beat down upon him.
He stood and surveyed the scene that lay before him;the car, resting on its side on the grassy embankment, resembled a piece of avant garde conceptual art that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Glasgow School of Art.
Or…the Tate Modern, possibly.
Sighing deeply, Graeme consulted his watch.
It was approaching midnight, he was literally stuck in the middle of nowhere, and he had absolutely no idea where he was.
But, Graeme thought resignedly, he was getting soaked, it was dark, and he had to find shelter of some description.
So, he set off down the road, but paused to look back at his car.
It had occurred to him that he really didn’t want to leave it behind, or, more to the point, he didn’t want to leave his bagpipes behind.
They were his pride and joy.
He loved them more than life itself.
Countless girlfriends had fallen by the wayside because Graeme had valued his bagpipes above everything else.
Bearing this in mind, he rummaged around in his pocket for the keys, and, locating the one that opened the boot, Graeme unlocked it, and reverently gazed upon his bagpipes before gently lifting them out, as if they were a new born baby.
Graeme then took the tarpaulin that he always kept in the boot, and wrapped it around the bagpipes, before closing the boot and walking down the dark and lonely road.
The storm had since lessened in its intensity, and a cold, wintry wind whipped across the countryside, which helped him to dry off a little.
As he walked along, thinking about another one of his Grandfather’s odd expressions, how the lord giveth and he taketh away, Graeme thought that he could make out a white stone building in the distance, and, instantly, he quickened his pace, as he was feeling quite cold, and the mere thought of a drink cheered him up.
Maybe the evening wouldn’t prove to be such a washout after all, he thought to himself, emitting a soft chuckle at this comical observation.
When he finally reached the building, Graeme saw that it was a small hotel, of about two storeys in height, the size of a large cottage, he guessed, and the few lights that were visible through its windows, combined with the sounds of muted laughter and music, were a clear indication that there were people inside.
And…where there were people, there would be help, Graeme reasoned, logically.
For the first time that evening, since his accident, he felt that his luck was finally changing for the better.
Briefly acknowledging the legend, ‘The Outpost’ above the entrance, in bold gold lettering, he precariously balanced his precious pipes in the crook of his elbow, and pushed open the heavy, dark stained, oak panelled door.
Upon entering, Graeme was assailed by the glorious, welcoming warmth coming from the central heating system and the sumptuous feel of the plush, red carpet with its grey diamond design, beneath his feet. Combined with the delicious aroma of home cooked food coming from the kitchen, he felt immediately revitalised and refreshed.
He took a moment to look around his new, comfortable surroundings, before he caught sight of the receptionist, who was seated behind an oak desk, and reading a novel, which, to Graeme’s surprise, was George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four.
It wasn’t so much the book that had surprised Graeme, but the person reading it.
The receptionist was a man in his late thirties, with long dark hair and round spectacles, dressed in a white suit and matching tie.
Graeme could have sworn that he looked like a pop star that his parents would have known, but, he couldn’t place him.
The receptionist looked up from his book, and regarded Graeme through his spectacles.
He didn’t look at all surprised at the sudden arrival of a twenty four year old of diminutive stature, who was soaked to the skin.
In fact, he calmly turned his attention to the hotel register in front of him, before meeting his gaze once more.
Graeme opened his mouth to speak, but the as yet unknown receptionist held up his hand to silence him.
‘Mr Garside? We’ve been expecting you.’ the man stated, matter of factly, in a strong Liverpudlian accent.
At this, Graeme’s mouth opened and closed involuntarily, like that of a distressed goldfish.
‘But…I don’t…how did you know I’d come here?’ he asked, temporarily robbed of the power of speech.
The receptionist continued, as if he hadn’t heard him.
‘My name is John, and, if you would like to go through there,’ he added, indicating the doors to the main bar, ‘they’re all waiting for you.’
‘What…who? But, I’m only here to use your phone. You do have a phone here, don’t you?’ Graeme prompted, still confused. He couldn’t help but think that he’d seen the receptionist somewhere before, and it annoyed him that he couldn’t remember where.
‘All in good time, Mr Garside. So, if you wouldn’t mind…’
John nodded towards the doors, and returned to his book, non verbally communicating to Graeme that the conversation was over.
Not quite knowing what to expect, Graeme entered the bar, which was packed to the rafters with people from all walks of life, some enjoying a drink, others conversing animatedly, and a few eating a bar meal.
The bar was alive with sound. Laughter, talking, hushed whispers, accompanied by the clinking of glasses, and the impenetrable cigarette smoke that filled the room.
To Graeme, it was an ordinary, run of the mill bar, similar to the one he’d been in earlier that night.
Still rather baffled and bemused, and cradling his bagpipes in his arms, he made his way to the bar.
Only to become even more baffled and bemused, when the barmaid turned round, and smiled at him, as if she’d known him for a very long time indeed.
Again, as Graeme took in her appearance, he thought he recognised her from somewhere.
She had long, dark hair, very strong facial features, a fair bit of make up on her face, and looked like she was in her late twenties.
On her name tag was the name Amy.
Graeme was about to ask her if she was who he thought she was, but, she greeted him warmly.
‘Oh, you’re here at last Mr Garside! I can’t wait for your performance! If the rumours are true, you’re very good. Can I get you a drink? Whisky and soda, right?’ She inquired, moving towards the optics situated behind the bar as she spoke.
‘Er…yes.’ Graeme replied distractedly, too stunned to say anything more in response.
Instead, he picked up a box of matches that was lying on the counter and fingered it with nerveless fingers.
What was happening here?
Was this a dream?
It didn’t feel like a dream, and, as Amy handed him his drink, he sipped it gratefully, basking in the warm feeling he experienced as the alcohol coursed through his bloodstream.
Then, there was an expectant hush among the patrons of the bar, as a man stepped on to a raised platform in the centre of the room, and tapped a microphone on a stand as a means of checking whether it was working.
There was no doubt now as to who had taken the stage.
As Graeme took in the flat cap, the man’s deadpan facial expression, the Scottish accent, and the joke about how he had fallen in the street, was asked if he had fallen, but said that he was trying to break a bar of chocolate in his back pocket, he choked violently on his drink, causing Amy to rush over from the other side of the bar and slap him hard on the back.
After a few minutes of banter and joke telling, the man in the flat cap made an announcement.
‘Now…ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you one of the finest musicians in the world today. So, please put your hands together for Mr Graeme Garside!’
He then made an elaborate bow, and a single spotlight shone on Graeme as he sat at the bar with his drink half way to his mouth, and a rabbit in the headlights expression on his face.
‘That’s you! You’re on!’ hissed Amy, taking the glass out of his hand and gently shaking him.
Very slowly, Graeme got up, and tentatively made his way towards the stage, feeling the eyes of everyone in the room upon him as he took his place on stage.
Once he was there, all of the nerves, anxiety, and confusion about this odd situation were pushed aside as Graeme Garside prepared to give the performance of his life.
The melodious notes floated through the air, and the bar was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
But, all Graeme could hear were the notes coming from the pipes, and the pounding of his heart as he played.
As he was lost in his performance, Graeme didn’t hear the loud tapping sound at first, coming from somewhere in the bar, but it gradually got louder, and louder.
Not wanting to let his audience down, he shook his head slightly in an attempt to remove the noise, but, it wouldn’t go away.
So, he closed his eyes, and, as he did, there was a blinding flash, and a searing pain in his head.
When he opened them again, Graeme couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.
He was in his car, which was still on its side, and it was daylight outside.
He winced, as he was made acutely aware of the dull, throbbing pain in his head.
The source of the tapping noise, he soon realised, came from a middle aged man with brown eyes, who was looking at him through the car window, tapping the glass to ascertain if the driver was alive, or not.
When he saw him, Graeme jumped involuntarily, his hand accidentally hitting the car horn, which made him jump again.
‘Are ye all right, son?’ the stranger asked. ‘It’s all right. Ah’ve phoned the AA, and I’ll drive ye up tae the pub up the road. Ye look like ye could dae wi’ a drink.’ he observed.
Graeme slowly turned his head towards the man.
He was exactly where he’d been the previous night, when he’d run his car off the road.
But, surely, the bar, the performance, the people who seemed to know him without possibly knowing who he was, couldn’t have been a dream.
There was one possible way of finding out.
Once he’d been helped out of his car, Graeme took his mobile phone out of his pocket.
As he’d expected, it was damaged.
But…what he didn’t expect was what he’d discovered when he unlocked the boot of his car.
He opened the boot, to find that his bagpipes had disappeared.
Graeme stared incredulously at the empty boot.
‘What…but…how?’ he uttered, stupefied.
‘Is something wrong, son?’ asked his rescuer.
‘My bagpipes! They’ve vanished! I was taking part in a competition last night, I locked them in the boot before I drove out here, then the storm came, and I crashed. I escaped unhurt, aside from my headache, and I walked for ages, in the rain. I came to a hotel called ‘The Outpost, and…’
Graeme stopped as the man shook his head.
‘The Outpost, laddie? But, that place has been gone near twenty years! Ah think ye’re concussed, and ye need a drink.’ insisted the man, gently guiding Graeme towards his waiting car.
As they travelled along the road, Graeme silently went over the events of the previous night.
He’d won the bagpipe competition.
He’d locked his bagpipes in the boot of his car.
Then, he’d started his journey home.
Events after the storm, however, had become rather hazy.
But, he had to know what had happened to The Outpost.
‘So…what’s the story behind The Outpost, Mr…’ Graeme started.
‘Call me Stuart, son. Well, it’s little more than a ruin now. It was destroyed by an electrical storm. That’s it ower there, son.’ Stuart said, pointing towards a ruined building on the right hand side of the road.
Graeme stared at the now derelict remains, and was eager to get a closer look at it.
‘Is it all right if I go out and take a look at it?’ he asked.
‘Sure, son. Ah’ll wait here.’ Stuart replied, bringing the car to a stop to allow Graeme to get out.
Getting out of the car, Graeme quickly strode towards the site of The Outpost, where he could have sworn blind he’d been performing in the previous night.
But…two things remained unexplained, and have done, to this day.
The first was, as Graeme walked around the ruins, he found something he’d never expected to find.
Lying there, in the middle of the remains of what was once The Outpost Hotel, was a familiar looking tarpaulin.
And…wrapped inside it were his instantly recognisable bagpipes.
The second was, while wondering how and why this had happened, he absently reached inside his back pocket.
And pulled out a box of matches.
Which had ‘The Outpost Hotel’ printed on it.
Turning the box over in his hands, Graeme took one last look at the dilapidated shell that had once been The Outpost Hotel, lifted his bagpipes, turned, and walked back towards the car.
Whether it had been a very vivid dream, or a real experience, Graeme couldn’t be sure.
But…he was sure of one thing.
He really needed a drink.
What a night!
I awoke to the sound of the birds singing merrily, the rattling of the letterbox as the morning post arrived,(accompanied by the cheerful whistling of the postman) and the less welcome noise created by the workmen who were digging up the road not far from my house.
Not the sort of thing you really want to hear when you’d had a night out on the tiles, as I had.
It was almost as if the workmen knew that I was feeling rough, and were deliberately using the noisiest machinery and tools they had at their disposal just to annoy me.
However, having had nights like these in the past, I knew what to do.
I had a contingency plan in place for such occasions, which I followed with military precision, to the letter.
So, I got out of bed, opened the curtains, and surveyed the scene that lay before me through the bedroom window, before I put on my dressing gown, and headed downstairs, to the kitchen.
And…coffee, toast, and three paracetamol later, I felt ready to take on the world again.
I told myself that the hangover that still hovered over me like a thundercloud that was threatening to burst and rain down upon me, was merely a figment of my imagination, and that it would miraculously disappear if I refused to acknowledge its existence.
I couldn’t, however, dismiss the events of the night before.
If only I could actually remember them.
I could safely say that I’d probably done something awful, or awfully embarrassing.
My best friend, Kelsey, was always telling me that I could never hold my drink.
Even if it was given to me in a plastic feeding cup that a toddler would use, with a handle on either side.
And that, the more alcohol I consumed, the braver I felt.
Bravery which resulted in me doing the most ridiculous things.
Some of which probably weren’t legal either.
But…it didn’t make me a bad person.
My inner monologue was interrupted when the doorbell rang, making me jump involuntarily.
Swearing under my breath, while keeping a tight hold on my coffee mug, I wandered into the hall and opened the front door.
To find two police officers standing on the doorstep.
At first, I thought that alcohol had a lot to answer for, and I made a silent promise to myself, that I would never drink again, at least, not until another suitable social occasion appeared on the calendar where it would have been termed as rude of me not to.
Keeping my facial expression neutral, I regarded the two male police officers standing before me.
The elder of the two cleared his throat, as if he were preparing to launch into a speech of some sort, like the best man at a wedding.
‘Good Morning.’ he started, his tone apologetic, ‘Sorry to bother you at such an early hour. Are you Miss Karen Steadman?’
Somewhat confused, I simply nodded in response.
‘Right…well…’ the senior police officer continued, fiddling awkwardly with the brim of his hat, which he’d removed to briefly scratch his head, ‘Your presence has been requested at the station, so, if you wouldn’t mind…’
Now I was really worried. What was going on?
‘Hold on, am I under arrest?’ I demanded.
‘Not exactly, Miss Steadman. We were given your name and address by someone we have in police custody, and you could help us in our inquiries. We’ll fill you in on the details at the station,if you wouldn’t mind coming with us…’
The older officer’s voice tailed off as he took in my just-got-out-of-bed look, while the other, younger police officer merely raised his eyebrows.
‘Okay…well, if you’d just let me step inside and get changed, I’ll join you in a few minutes.’ I said, indicating my current unsuitable ensemble.
‘That’s fine. We’ll wait in the car.’ the senior officer concluded, motioning to his uniformed companion to follow him to the panda car that was parked outside my house.
Watching them go, I sipped my now lukewarm coffee, wondering who had given the police my name and address. I sincerely hoped that it didn’t involve Kelsey, who was always getting into trouble, and expected me to bail her out.
If the police were involved, then she’d certainly excelled herself this time.
Turning to go back inside, I could see the net curtains of the living room window at number sixty five twitch slightly, and a pale, wrinkled face with pinched features stared at the police car parked outside the house.
That, no doubt, had to be Mrs Parker, aptly named, because she was nosy.
Shelley Parker was the local gossip, who was always sticking her nose into other people’s business.
She’d probably tell all of her friends at the bowling club about this, I thought, ruefully.
But, as I was in a mischievous mood, I stuck my tongue out at her, deriving some satisfaction from the way she stared back at me, her lips pursed, as if she’d been sucking a very sour lemon.
Satisfied that, this time, I had won this round, I went inside, closing the door behind me.
Hurriedly emerging from my house ten minutes later, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, a pair of trainers on my feet, complete with bag and jacket, I locked the front door and went out to the waiting police car.
I tactfully, and consciously, ignored the now feverish curtain twitching at number sixty five, and instead, got into the police car, and was driven away from the comfort and safety of my home, towards the local police station, and some unknown fate.
Presently, the police car had arrived at its destination, and the senior police officer cut the engine and removed the keys from the ignition.
After he and his younger colleague exited the vehicle, they both came round to the passenger door, opening it to allow me to step out into the bright, early morning sunshine.
Glancing briefly at my watch (and wishing that I’d had the foresight to bring my sunglasses with me)I noticed that it was just after 8am.
A criminal time of day for anyone to be up at, after a night out.
I smiled to myself at the joke I’d just made.
Then, remembering where I was, I quickly schooled my facial features into a much more appropriate, serious expression.
Despite my curiosity and inner anxiety, I had to look suitably concerned.
Once we were inside the station, the older officer spoke with the duty officer(a policewoman in her mid thirties, I guessed)who was manning the reception area, and passed him a leather bound book, which I was instructed to sign and date.
I raised a quizzical eyebrow at this request.
I mean, you’d think I was signing a visitor’s book at some tourist attraction, with an inane comment about how much I enjoyed the facilities and how helpful the staff were, providing a response on a scale of one to five, one being no help at all, five being so helpful they virtually stalked me, but, not in a creepy way.
I was tempted to write something like, ‘I really enjoyed my stay here and I’d recommend this this place to all of my friends.’
But, I decided against it.
I was then led down a long corridor by the younger of the two officers, who stopped outside a grey door on the left hand side.
‘In here, Miss Steadman. A detective will be along soon.’ he said, opening the door, and ushering me inside.
A few seconds later, the door closed behind me.
However, my curiosity and anxiety increased when I heard a key turning in the lock.
What the hell was going on around here? I thought.
I wasn’t under arrest, was I?
What did I do last night?
Was that why I had been brought here?
I had to stop asking myself such stupid questions.
Because, I felt nauseous, and my head hurt.
I wasn’t a genius at the best of times.
And, having a hangover didn’t help.
Looking around the room with its slate grey walls I saw that there were the usual posters
you’d expect to find in such an institution about reporting crimes and such, appealing to the more commendable members of society, who fancied themselves as the next Sherlock Holmes.
Who wasn’t someone I aspired to be.
Who had time for that kind of thing? I mused, seating myself at the formica topped table, and staring at the door, the fluorescent overhead lighting playing havoc with my eyes, causing me to close them briefly, before opening them again.
Not only had I had a bad night, but I was also having a bitch of a morning.
I prided myself on being a model citizen, a pillar of the community.
I lived my life without drawing too much attention to myself.
I didn’t need this.
True…I did have an unusual hobby.
One that could get me into a lot of trouble, if I was caught doing it.
But, I had been really careful.
And Kelsey was the only person who knew about it.
Sometimes, she even joined in the fun.
However, there was a catch.
Neither of us could do it sober.
Because…it was so crazy and it involved, potentially, death.
It was something we did under cover of darkness.
And we had to have a lot of alcohol in our systems beforehand.
Had my good luck finally run out?
Had someone seen me do it?
I hoped not.
I lived for the nights when I could go out and really enjoy myself.
My mind revisited the question of who had given the police my name and address.
Was it someone I knew?
Maybe, just this once, I’d been careless.
In a few moments time, I’d know.
Then, I heard the sound of the key turning in the lock, and the door opened to reveal the detective I’d been waiting for.
Who closed the door behind him, and advanced towards me.
Maybe, now I’d get some answers.
He introduced himself as DI Norton Houston.
And asked me the strangest question I’d ever been asked in my entire life to date, which was…’
The train had reached the end of the line, and Valerie Wilson closed the book she’d been reading.
And…just when things were starting to get interesting…
The cemetery was eerie at this time of night.
And Harvey knew it.
Because…he lived in it.
A strange contradiction of terms, but, he actually, literally, lived in it.
Well… in the old cemetery keeper’s cottage, which he’d bought when it came on the market, after the local council decided to sell off the property, which had fallen into disrepair, and enlist a caretaker and gravediggers to work during the day instead.
Not surprisingly, nobody had wanted to work nights, or even live in the cottage anymore, so, Harvey Church had bought it. He prided himself as being a man who had an eye for a bargain.
And Meddens cottage had been no exception.
Before he’d invested the royalties from his latest, hugely successful novel, Ouija Bored, into renovating the cottage, Harvey remembered the stunned look on the estate agent’s face, when he’d insisted upon rebuilding it from its original framework.
And his agent, and close personal friend, Xavier Richardson’s reaction.
(‘Are you insane, Harvey? Surely, you’d be better off demolishing it and using the land to create a new build instead.’ he’d advised).
But, determined to ‘retain the original integrity of the building’, as he’d put it, Harvey had stood his ground, and now, three months later, he had a home he was proud of, completely restored to its former glory.
It hadn’t been cheap, but the creative inspiration Harvey hoped that he would get from living there, would pay dividends.
As a forty year old novelist, who was something of a recluse, the media had put him on a pedestal.
The creator of a psychic mystery detective who was himself something of an enigma, with his dark, brooding, smouldering looks, had endless appeal, and, in part, had been a contributory factor for the worldwide acclaim he’d received for his novels.
He did, however, have one small problem.
The inspiration that he’d hoped would come about because of his decision to rebuild and take up residence in a cottage situated on the borders of the Meddens Cemetery hadn’t, as yet, presented itself to him.
So, Harvey had taken to walking around the cemetery every evening at midnight.
He enjoyed the solitude, and, even though the gates were locked by the council, every evening at 7pm, and 8pm during the Summer, Harvey had his own set of keys, so that he could come and go as he pleased. Meetings with his agent, book launchings and all sorts of other engagements, meant that he could never tell what time he’d arrive home of an evening.
But, despite everything, his midnight strolls around the cemetery grounds became a sacred ritual, to be strictly observed, and Harvey wasn’t fazed at all by the spooky atmosphere, and the silence that greeted him every night.
Because, he knew that he was truly alone, and that was the way he liked it.
His dog, a large German Shepherd named Schopenhauer, after the philosopher of the same name, who usually never turned down a chance for a walk, preferred to stay indoors, as opposed to accompanying his owner round a creepy cemetery at that time of night.
Harvey recalled the first time he’d tried to take Schopenhauer out for a midnight meander. He’d howled the place down, as if he were in a great deal of pain, so he took it as read that his dog, like a lot of people he knew, were easily spooked at the prospect of walking round a darkened cemetery at such an hour.
Night after night, Harvey would wander around, sometimes climbing on to the high, red brick wall, that enclosed the cemetery, and looking out towards the brightly lit town that lay below him.
But, try as he might, Harvey couldn’t seem to get any ideas for new stories to form in his mind, and Xavier had been, in his own way, pressing him to write another novel.
According to his agent, his fans were, ‘thirsty for more’, from his creation, Henry Harrington.
As the expression goes, ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’.
And, while Harvey was, undoubtedly, in the perfect place for an author who wrote the kind of books he did, it simply wasn’t happening.
But…all that would soon change.
On this particular night, something felt…different.
As usual, at midnight, Harvey had stepped out into the cool evening air, leaving a whining Schopenhauer in the living room dozing in front of the inglenook fireplace, with a fire burning merrily in the grate, clearly not at all keen on his master going out this evening, for some unfathomable reason.
After having put on his well worn green fishtail parka, and locking up, Harvey set off down the short, private drive that led towards the main cemetery footpath, the gravel crunching noisily beneath his feet.
At length, he stopped to look up at the tall statue that marked the boundary between the public property of the cemetery, and the small plot of land that exclusively belonged to the cottage.
The larger than life image of Christ upon the cross loomed above him, the sculpture imposing and intimidating. The face of Christ was frozen in an expression reminiscent of agonised horror and suffering, a poignant, but stark reminder to visitors to the cemetery of who humanity should thank for their lives.
The ultimate human being.
The supreme human being.
Harvey shivered involuntarily, as a cold cross wind swept across the path, making the statue sway precariously above his head, and the clouds parted to reveal a full moon, which illuminated the sculpted tribute to the crucifixion, with an eerie, almost ethereal glow.
He continued walking, but, for some strange reason, tonight, Harvey had the distinct impression that he wasn’t alone.
That he was being watched.
By unseen eyes.
Quickly dismissing such unsettling thoughts, with considerable effort, he pushed them to the back of his mind.
He’d made this peculiar nightly pilgrimage for a few weeks now, and never once had he felt as spooked as he felt at this moment in time.
Wrapping his parka tightly around him, hoping that the added warmth would restore some modicum of peace and calm to his mind, Harvey mentally rebuked himself.
He was probably just imagining things.
Which was the kind of behaviour expected of an author with a best selling series of books centred around supernatural mysteries.
Then, it happened.
One minute, he was casually walking along the white gravel path that wound its way between the gravestones.
The next, Harvey felt himself being forcibly knocked to the ground.
But…there was nobody there.
As he lay there, too stunned to move, Harvey thought about what had just happened.
He couldn’t be absolutely sure, but, he had a feeling that someone had pushed him.
And Harvey was six foot two, and of strong constitution.
So…how had he ended up on the ground?
He didn’t have time to think about that, as a frightened sounding male voice rang out in the night,
‘Help me! For the love of God, somebody help me!’
Harvey sprang up, and looked around him, but couldn’t see anybody.
Whoever it was, who had cried for help, was nowhere to be seen.
He swore under his breath, and broke into a run, as he tried to locate the source of the voice, searching the length and breadth of the cemetery, shouting,
‘Who are you? Where are you?’
But received no response.
At length, and, by now, out of breath, Harvey had to reluctantly admit defeat.
No matter where he looked, or how loudly he shouted, there wasn’t a living soul around.
Apart from himself, that is.
It seemed ironic, Harvey thought to himself, as he walked back to the cottage, that he was a writer of psychic detective mysteries, and now, he had the possible makings of one, right on his doorstep.
His fictional creation, Henry Harrington, would be rubbing his hands, and dusting down his ghost hunting equipment, eager to get started on solving this latest puzzle.
Harvey, on the other hand, wasn’t so keen on investigating this mystery.
After arriving back at the cottage, he poured himself a large measure of brandy, and settled himself down in his armchair, by the fire, with Schopenhauer lying at his feet.
As the alcohol surged through his bloodstream, Harvey thought about what had happened during the course of the evening.
Had he imagined being knocked over by an invisible force?
Or hearing that terrified voice?
Could it have been a student prank?
Or someone trying to scare him?
Harvey was determined not to let it bother him.
After all, Henry Harrington was the man who believed in ghosts.
And, like ghosts, he didn’t exist.
That is, in real life.
A good night’s sleep would set his world to rights, and the one advantage of owning a cottage located in a cemetery, was that the neighbours wouldn’t keep him awake.
The next day, Harvey had a busy schedule, with appointments and meetings to attend, so the events of the previous evening were set aside, amid a series of public appearances, and TV interviews.
When he arrived home in the early evening, it all came back to him in a rush.
Maybe, he thought, if he took another walk around the cemetery this evening, it would clear his head, help him get everything into perspective.
Harvey didn’t believe in ghosts, and believed that last night was just a random, one off encounter, a result of his overactive imagination.
The evening passed uneventfully, and, as the grandfather clock in the hall chimed twelve times, Harvey left the security of the cottage, and ventured out into the night once more, constantly telling himself that last night had never happened, and was well on his way to erasing it from his mind altogether.
Presently, he was on his familiar route through the cemetery, and he noticed that there had been two new graves added to the numerous ones that already occupied the cemetery, and he allowed himself a few moments to reflect upon the prospect of two more souls being given up to God.
Harvey may not have believed in ghosts, but he believed that people had souls, and he also believed in the existence of God.
He was about to move away, when he heard a familiar sound.
Or, more to the point, a familiar voice.
This time, however, it sounded muffled, stifled, but, the plea was still the same as before.
‘Help me! For the love of God, somebody help me!’
Harvey spun round, sensing that the mysterious voice was coming from somewhere, not far from where he was standing.
He didn’t have to look far to find out.
As there came, from one of the newly added graves, a thudding, pounding noise.
As if someone were still alive, and trying to fight their way out of…
Then, right before his eyes, the ground seemed to shake, enough to rock the very foundations of the earth.
And still, the voice continued to cry out,
‘Help me! For the love of God, somebody help me!’
Forgetting to be afraid, Harvey immediately knew what he had to do.
Racing towards the small building that the council workers used to store their tools and gardening equipment, he prayed that it wasn’t locked, and that there would be a spade or shovel he could use to rescue the unfortunate soul who had been accidentally buried alive.
‘Heaven forfend that such a thing should happen to me.’ Harvey muttered to himself, eventually reaching the maintenance building and swearing under his breath when he found that it was locked.
Then, he had a brainwave.
As he had a set of keys to the gates of the cemetery, it might just be possible that he’d have the key to the building too.
An option worth checking out, Harvey mused, taking his keys out of his coat pocket, searching for one that he probably never used.
By process of elimination, perhaps that key would open this door.
Taking a deep breath, he slid the key into the lock, and heaved a sigh of relief when it effortlessly turned in the lock, opening the door and allowing him access to the tools he so desperately needed.
It was dark inside, and it took him a few minutes for his eyes to get accustomed to the dark, before he found what he was looking for.
Having located a spade, Harvey picked it up, and ran out of the building, not bothering to lock the door behind him, because this was literally a matter of life and death.
Within seconds, Harvey was back where he had heard the voice pleading for help.
‘Where are you? Can you hear me?’ he called out into the darkness.
At first, there was nothing.
Then, the pitiful, fear filled voice rose up from the depths of the earth, in muffled tones,
‘Help me! For the love of God, somebody help me!’
Without stopping to think about what he was doing, or about to do, he stuck the spade into the soil of the grave closest to him, and frantically started digging.
It was a race against time, and Harvey kept on digging, with the moon providing some natural light, aiding him in his macabre Burke and Hare styled quest.
When he eventually reached the pine wood coffin, Harvey brushed off the soil that lay upon its surface, and was aware of two things.
One, that the coffin wasn’t moving, and no sound at all could be heard from within it.
And…two, the shock and surprise that registered in his mind when he heard a voice screaming at him,
‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ it inquired, angrily.
Harvey turned round slowly, to find a young woman, with long dark hair, dressed in a full length wool coat, staring at him with a horrified look on her face.
Harvey knew that it didn’t look good, exhuming a grave without good reason.
So, he turned the tables, to give him time to come up with one.
‘I could say the same about you.’ he countered. ‘How did you get in? The gates have been locked, and you’re tresspassing.’
‘Just because the gates are locked, doesn’t mean that I’m tresspassing, if it’s public property.’ The mystery woman returned, sounding like she was explaining something to a five year old. ‘Besides, at least I won’t go to jail. You, on the other hand…’
She let her voice tail off, so Harvey could draw his own conclusions.
‘What are you doing down there anyway?’ she went on, ‘A bit of late night gardening?’
Harvey chuckled to himself. Despite his predicament, he liked this woman’s sense of humour.
It was, Harvey observed, very like his own.
Perhaps, he could trust her.
‘Well…I suppose you’ll think I’m crazy, but…I heard a voice crying for help, and I thought someone had been buried alive, by accident, so I tried to dig them out.’ Harvey explained, sounding embarrassed.
To his surprise, and annoyance, the woman laughed.
‘Oh…that’ll be Percy Cavendish. He’s been haunting this place for years. He was murdered near this spot about forty years ago now. He was a God fearing man, and used to live in the Meddens Cottage. The story goes, that he accidentally came across a weird cult conducting an illegal human sacrifice ritual in the cemetery. He ran to alert the authorities, but was seen, and they chased him through the cemetery and he was captured. Then, they buried him alive. His last words were, ‘For God’s sake, somebody help me’. Because he experienced an unpleasant death, his spirit has never been at peace.’ the young woman concluded, her expression a mixture of sorrow and regret.
Harvey listened intently. Now he knew why the estate agent had been evasive when he’d asked about the history of the cottage, and its previous owners.
‘Now,’ the unknown woman said, standing up and dusting herself down, ‘While I believe your story, I doubt the police will, so, let me help you fill in that hole you’ve just made. I really don’t think we need any more restless souls doing the rounds here, do we?’
Once his mystery helper had returned from the maintenance building with another shovel, they set about their task, chatting about how they both enjoyed the solitude of the cemetery, and also discovered that they had a lot in common.
As a way of thanking the young woman, whose name, he later learned, was Sylvie, for her help in getting him out of a hole, so to speak, he invited her back to the cottage for a drink, and so that they could talk, in more comfortable surroundings.
And, they did, right into the early hours of the morning.
So… that night,Harvey found his much sought after inspiration.
But…that wasn’t all he’d found.
He’d also found his future wife.
They were married a few months later, and it was hailed as an event, in the eyes of the media.
There was, however, one more surprise in store.
When Sylvie signed her name on the marriage certificate.
Harvey had never thought to ask what her maiden name was, as he didn’t think it was all that important.
He loved her, and that was all that mattered.
As he read the name, Sylvie Cavendish, he smiled, remembering the often quoted expression, ‘You couldn’t write this.’
But, being a writer, Harvey could.
Three short stories just to keep you amused! Hope you enjoy them!