Posted in Blog Posts, Fiction

A Christmas Ghost Story

pub-inner

‘Know whit’s traditional at Christmas?’ he said. ‘Ghost stories. Everybiddy loves a Ghost story’

I swirled the beer at the bottom of my glass and smiled. ‘Load a shite, in’t it?’

‘Naw, naw. Look at Dickens and A Christmas Carol. Classic ghost story that.’

I raised an eyebrow. ‘Name another then.’

‘Well, they don’t need to be set at Christmas, dae they? Take that MR James bloke. He wrote hundreds a ghost stories and used to invite his work pals tae his office, get them drunk and scare the living shite oot of them. And wis there no a series of ghost stories oan the telly at Christmas? Oanyway,’ he paused to take a swig of his beer, ‘it’s a tradition. Nothing else to say aboot it.’

‘Dae ye think they’re real? Ghosts?’

‘Naw! Gie us a brek! See me? Man o science. If ah cannae see it and ah cannae touch it, it’s no real.’

‘Whit aboot they ghost hunter programmes oan the telly wi’ that wummin frae Blue Peter? They claim to hiv evidence o ghosts. Whit dae ye make o that then?’

‘That’s aw a set up. Yon Scouse bugger, Derek Ah’ll-Con-ya, he’s a right chancer. Him and his American Indian guide. How come nae bugger has a Glesga Jakey as his guide? Efter aw, who’s got mair spirits in them than Malky the Alky?’ Laughter made him double over and a coughing fit rendered him speechless.

‘Right, ah’m away hame,’ I said. ‘Thanks for the craic and hiv a good Christmas when it comes.’

‘Aye, lad. You annaw.’

He walked me to the pub door and slapped my back as he sent me on my way. Ghosts, I thought and laughed to myself. I pulled my collar up against the cold and turned back for a last look at the pub before turning the corner and disappearing into bricks of the old factory walls.

Posted in Blog Posts, Fiction, Friday Flash

Witch- A Flash Fiction

staffordshire-witch

Dad called my mother’s mother a witch.

He said she saw a dancing sprite weaving in and out of flames, cast like a shadow on her bedroom wall, the night before a fire stole her middle child. The green curtains that hung on his bedroom wall were deemed to be the cause, she said, everyone knew green curtains were unlucky, and all the drapery was blue thereafter.

She routinely cast salt over her left shoulder to blind the devil and interpreted the patterns in tea leaves for all who dared to take a cup with her. She’d brew it in a steel pot atop the stove, boiling until the tea was dark and strong and tasted as though the metal had bled into the liquid, an alchemy of fortune, good or bad. My dad insisted on a strainer and never let her near his cup.

During thunderstorms we were all called to cover every mirror, every reflective surface. The walls were hung with cardigans and pillowcases and compacts were shut inside a darkened drawer. I asked her once why we performed this storm-induced ritual. She took my hand in hers and said, “It’s only during a storm that Beelzebub himself can enter our world and even then, only through a mirror.” Her skin was paper thin, a parchment shroud for her shrinking body, and it moved and creased as her fingers tapped against my palm. “You never want to look inside a mirror when the room is lit by lightning and the thunder drowns out the beat of your own heart. That’s when Satan will come in.”

My dad, a rational man, laughed and lifted up the wrap that stood between our living room and hell and said he saw himself and nothing more.

Next day at dinner, gran threw salt into my father’s eyes.

Posted in Blog Posts, Fiction

The Perfect Family

In the best traditions of Christmas, I’ve written a ghost story. The subject matter is very delicate so I think it only fair to issue some trigger warnings.

If you have suffered from infertility, miscarriage or SIDS, you may find the following distressing.

EmptyCrib1

 

The Perfect Family

Joe had left her after the second baby. Two kids under three could be a handful, she acknowledged that. But being pregnant was so wonderful; to feel another being growing inside you, to watch your body change over the months, to experience the awe and magic when the baby arrived. Besides, being a mother was all that she knew how to do. It’s all she ever wanted.

While other girls at school dreamed of their futures they’d mention pop stars and actors, but they’d also talk about work – Carly wanted to go into medicine, Viv wanted to be a vet nurse, Hannah saw herself as a police officer. Grace usually kept quiet, ashamed that all she ever wanted was a family of her own.

Marrying Joe had seemed like the start of the life Grace had always wanted. They bought a small 2 bedroom semi in a child-safe cul-de-sac and Grace got a job in the local supermarket, a job she’d immediately resign from as soon as the little pink line appeared on her pregnancy test. She was happy and hopeful and saw the future in a rosy hue.

Then they’d found out she couldn’t have children.

They both grieved for a while, each in their own way. Joe had started staying later at work, Grace continued to knit for the baby she’d never have.

After a few months, Grace’s periods stopped. She said nothing at first, assuming she was stressed, her body reacting to the disappointment. Then her belly started to swell. Slowly at first, not more than a gentle rounding. But as the weeks passed her abdomen expanded and her breasts became larger, areolas darkening, veins becoming more prominent.

Joe took her to hospital where they gave her an ultrasound and there, in the cavern of her uterus, they found… nothing.

A phantom pregnancy, they said, not uncommon, and told Joe to take her home with reassurances that now she knew she wasn’t pregnant, the symptoms would disappear.

But her belly didn’t shrink. In fact, it continued to grow and she told Joe she could feel their child move inside her. Joe didn’t know what to and retreated to work and the pub.

One night, when Joe was out, contractions started, so sudden and fierce that Grace fell to the floor.  The pains came faster and faster and after an hour or more, she recognised a need to push. Grace kneeled on the carpeted living room floor, straining and forcing and pushing with all the effort she could muster. After what seemed like an age she felt a head push out between her thighs, followed shortly after by soft shoulders and a wet, long-limbed body.

Instinctively she brought the baby to her breast where it began to suckle, hungrily, and she gently sang to him, for it was a boy. She was still sitting there, back against the sofa, when Joe came home. He saw his wife, nightgown opened, arms loosely crossed in front of her, cooing to nothing as her arms were empty.

Despite his protests, Joe could not stop his wife from taking care of her imaginary baby. She’d wake in the night, claiming to hear his cries and change his nappies every few hours. One night he awoke to find his wife gone and sleepily stumbled to the nursery where, for just a moment, he thought he saw a small wriggling creature attached to Grace’s nipple. He blinked and the apparition disappeared.

The doctor gave her anti-depressants and sent her for counselling. Grace listened to their advice and learned to give them the answers they were looking for so she could get home to her baby.

A few months passed and Grace began to feel the tell-tale signs again. Her breasts engorged, butterflies danced in her expanded belly and another trip to hospital once more showed darkness where her baby should be.

The doctors offered more counselling and increased the dosage of her anti-depressants. Grace agreed to take the pills but each morning she flushed a tablet down the loo lest the drug damage her unborn child.

This time Joe was there when she gave birth. He watched her strain, heard her scream and stood in shock as she smiled down at the new babe at her chest. As he stared at the woman he thought he knew, a baby, smeared in blood and meconium appeared to flicker in and out of existence.

Joe packed a bag and left without looking back.

That was 18 months ago and now, at Christmastime, Grace knew she was ready to have her third child. She smiled as she watched her first two, playing on the rug with a wooden train set. They didn’t have much, but somehow, they managed. The boys seemed to thrive despite not eating and never seemed to miss not going out to play with other children. They had each other and they had Grace and that was enough.

Secretly, Grace hoped for a girl this time but really, she wasn’t different from any other mother: so long as the baby was healthy, she’d be happy. And she somehow knew that was something she’d never have to worry about with her children.