The Bloomsbury Ghost: Part The Last

Why wait for Christmas?

Luke had arrived home from work, finished for the festive break.  He was skeptical about mention of ghosts, but he helped look for the box.

The walls were crowded not only with implements but high shelves, each packed with a formidably systematic storage system. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Luke sighed, and reached for the highest shelf.

Which is when he became uncomfortably aware that he was being watched.

He turned to the door and met the house’s ghostly resident for the first time. Any doubt about the existence of ghosts evaporated as he saw the strange luminescence at the door, and the two caverns in its face. The phantom watched, coldly furious, as the householders destroyed the system it had taken years, in life, to perfect.

Luke ‘s first instinct was to bolt: his heart hammered as he made out the dreadful pallid face and felt a wave of terror.

Steph turned and followed his gaze. She rolled her eyes and returned to her rummaging.

“Well,” she said tersely, “He’s not going to like it, is he? He’ll like it even less when I’ve found what I’m looking for.”

Luke opened his mouth: and then shut it again. The thing was blocking the door anyway.

With an iron effort of will, he turned his back on the apparition, and began searching the contents of the shelf. Unwatched by the living, the thing dematerialised irritably.

***

Emily could not sleep. Christmas was coming: it was just hours away.And that racket from Mum and Dad’s bedroom was not helping. She got up and padded along the corridor to see what was going on.

“Mum, what on earth are you doing?” she enquired boldly, hoping that an offensive strike might preclude questions over why she was out of bed at this time of night.

Her mother responded predictably. “Looking for a music box. Emily, where should you be?”

Emily adopted a crestfallen resignation which she had found most useful in past late-bed scenarios.

“Bed….” She trailed off, with a maestro’s rendering of abject longing.

And then something occurred to her. She turned back at the door. “Actually, I think I might have seen what you’re looking for.”

The adults stopped abruptly and glared at the child. Steph was the first to voice the question hanging in the room: “What do you mean, seen it? It’s been holed up here for more than a century, Emily!”

“I came to look at the secret room while you were cooking dinner. Thomas was asleep. I was bored. There were loads of things in here. I’m sorry. I just didn’t think you’d miss one little thing.  It’s a sort of treasure box with a lady in a ball gown inside.”

“Good God!”

No one had heard from Luke during this exchange. He was holding a book he had found on the shelf. It had fallen open at a page of fine-spaced copperplate writing. Luke’s face was ashen.

“This is his journal,” he told them. “He used to play the box while he – it’s described here. The ballet dancer is Marie Taglione, a famous dancer of the time. He liked her because she wore shorter skirts.”

Steph took a second to absorb the information. “Emily, go and fetch it, and then back to bed at once please, or you’ll have no energy for the lovely day we’ve got planned for tomorrow.”

Emily fetched the box: a large mahogany treasure, which, even though neglected, felt momentous and weighty in the hands. Steph opened it once her daughter had pottered off to bed.

The tiny porcelain figure in gorgeous hand-sewn skirts sprang up, its arms graceful and lithe. The pristine white gauze and miniscule intricate pink trim of her dress had not lost their colour, shut away in a mahogany box for two centuries.

It seemed almost to have a life of  its own.

The mechanism was old but intact: it could use a little oil but as she turned it, it ground into motion, and while Taglione danced it played a tune.

The waltz would have been charming under any other circumstances. But this little sonorous box seemed to bring with it a longing for what might have been: an inexorable melancholy. As she listened, Steph found tears streaming down her cheeks: for whom, she would never know. Luke walked closer. He put his hand on her shoulder.

They heard it to the end, and past the end. They sat, in the ensuing silence, mourning something neither of them could explain, for what seemed like a very long time.

 Hamish had crept in when Emily brought the box. He watched as the music played, and the lovely young walker awoke from somewhere beneath the floorboards and stood. She moved towards him: and had she been substance and not spirit her hands would have cradled the little four-legged guardian’s head as she stared intently into his eyes.

Hamish heaved a doggy sigh of relief.

The beautiful wraith moved to the half-present phantom who stood once again at the door. And as she stared at him she underwent a transformation: her face became fierce and cruel. Revenge had waited 200 years.

What shape does might and power take in the half-afterlife of  a ghost?

It has lost physical strength. Perhaps the strength of the emotions which drives it are the ruling force.

And this young woman’s anger, deprived of children, grandchildren and a long life, outweighed the cold self-centred detachment of a mere psychopath.

The she-ghost seized his arm with authority: and as they locked in combat the two gradually faded. Hamish watched the formerly debonair psychopath struggle, increasingly panicked, in her thrall. This would not end well for him: but it would all happen far away,  in an undiscovered country called Death.

The dog did not make a sound: his owners were silent too, stunned by strangers’ grief, carried in a tune from another century.

The Bloomsbury ghost was gone, forever.

37 thoughts on “The Bloomsbury Ghost: Part The Last

  1. What a great story, so concise and so much between the lines. I am left wanting to know more about the journal, what had the psychopath done 200 years ago? Absolutely raised the hair on my neck 3 days in a row, WOW!

    1. Thank you, Lou: with so few words to play with – I was aiming for 800 a day and went WAY over – I kept concrete detail about this bloke’s past to a minimum. As Phil and I discussed it, though (he is a plotline KING) we figured we were looking at an organised serial killer, who preferred to keep his conquests chillingly private. Glad it chilled the spine: and now for something completely different. About to post Big Al’s Christmas…

  2. Satisfying end to a wonderful tale! I couldn’t help but see the Shrewsdays in this . . . Phil, Kate, Maddie, Felix . . . and Macauley.

    But what about fair Kittie Cat? 😉

  3. Just caught up with part second, now this, and am, as always, amazed at your talent and imagination, Kate. I think I will print this out and save it for another Christmas Eve, to read aloud, for it must, you know, be given a human voice. I hope you, and Phil, had fun with this. Now, off I go, to see about an old music box.

    1. I’m glad you made that observation about reading aloud, Penny. This is just how I feel about each post: was it you who talked about Alasdair Cooke? My utter hero. Language is for listening to. May the story prove useful for terrifying friends at other Christmases…

  4. I agree with Lou. So much more here to expand this story into a full-fledged thriller. The characters were all interesting, and I love the revenge wrought with a lovely music box. Well done.

  5. Kate, I’ve said before I’m not sure about ghost stories; but it’s ok- youm write them and I’ll read them. Great stuff.

    Now I know why I’ve never liked music boxes.

  6. Oh no…it’s possible. It’s totally possible. The BG may not be a work of fiction. That clever Kate Shrewsday may be doing a fine job of having us believe it’s a “Bloomsbury” Ghost so we won’t think she has the heirloom…

    1. Selena, thank you 😀 Now its written I shall start looking at the possibilities. I’ve got quite attached to Hamish and the family. Not to mention that beautiful house just round the corner from the British Museum.

  7. Fabulous! It soothed my sense of fair play that the ghostly dancer got to have her long awaited revenge on the dastardly killer. I love her connection to the music box – such an elegant catalyst. I agree that this story could be expanded into a novel or novella. There’s tremendous backstory here…

    1. Elizabeth, I just might do that. Hate to leave all the untold stuff untold. And we are both such fans of Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black.What fun to write a book which would set the pulse racing in the same way.

  8. Oh… Kate, what a treat! Creepy and full of lovely ambiance – and wee Hamish! (I’m gushing, aren’t I?)

    Please say you’ll do more stories? Before next Christmas?

    1. I’m hoping to do a few more of the Red Riding Hood specials, that’s for sure, Cameron. What a amazing prompt: and it sparked so much off. Thank you for the seed which grew into a story.

  9. I’ve finally caught up with this, Kate. I loved it. Extremely well crafted and written.

    Looking forward to more of your fiction in 2012.

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