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.”
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.