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Copyright © 2018 by Chris Norgate

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Printed in the United Kingdom

Mr Xanthic has reminded me to state that all characters within these

pages are fictional, even him.

Diary of Valentine Orphanet – Witch.

Play With Me

Good day dear reader.

If you delve further into these pages then I warn you now you'll really wish you'd read something else. Somethings, once read, cannot be unread.

Still reading? Well, if you weren't you wouldn't be the inquisitive soul I took you for. So, as we both know that more will be read I guess I'd better be straight with you. All things recorded within these pages are real. They may not fully tie up with any news coverage or accepted history but they are what I saw and what I heard and in my heart, I know my words to be true.

There are Others that walk among us in what we like to believe in our ignorance as our world. It is their world and has been for longer than we stopped swinging in trees. They do not all hide, you probably know some of them, have been taught by some of them or have sat next to them on the train. They most definitely pass you by as you walk without you realising they are so close they could reach out and touch you. I on the other hand do know they're there. I hear their presence, I hear their strength and their emotion flowing out of them as if the very air knows they are different. The aura-sonus, the sound of the heavens… or maybe not.

My name is Valentine Orphanet, I’m 19 and this is my diary. When you've finished with it please return to Mr Xanthic's antique and book shop. If you can.

Safe night.

Wednesday 14th November


I found myself walking up the gravel driveway with a deep sense of trepidation which was exasperated by the poor lighting hanging on rusted rings cast rich, fulsome shadows and signaled the evening winds passing through elongated creaks.

I was cold. It had nothing to do with the descending Winter temperatures but more to do with this night’s task which hung around my neck like a noose on the gallows.

Three solid weeks before this bleak night the phone had rung at Mr Xanthic’s antique and book shop. It was answered by Samantha who noted down details of the call as they arose and passed them to me when I arrived back from my rounds. At first, I thought it was a joke, a hoax from some group of teenagers who have a suggestion of what we do but no intelligence to process it.

The call was from a Mrs Deirdre Chesterton, formerly of this parish, who had found our number following a search for help. She had arrived on the doorstep of her childhood church and was not impressed with the young boy who claimed to be the vicar there. She reduced her already low opinion of him when he flatly refused to help her with her problem and instead scoffed when she told him she had inherited a haunted house. It was the old housekeeper who came out, after the door was shut fast, and slipped a thin piece of paper into Deirdre’s angrily shaking hand. On it was a number, no name or reason, just a number.

It was called and Samantha answered.

“So, is this something we do now?” asked Sam after I had read her note.

“I don’t think so, at least no one has told me it’s on out books.” I scratched my head in though and laughed when I realised I had done it as I believed it was only something they showed in movies to convey confusion. “I guess we’ll have to call the big guy and see.”

The call to Xanthic was placed at three something stupid in the morning due to the fact he was out with the lads on a hunt. I had sulked when he first told me, mostly because I was full of concern for some poor defenseless creature and a little because he was going on a boozy break. When he told me there was a fang-toothed Deathwheiller terrorising the Underfae and they were to hunt it on sewer sleds dragged by boar raised in the Victorian tunnels that flowed with the waste of the city above, I didn’t feel so strongly. He could happily keep that excursion for himself.

When I did get an answer from Xanthic it was as solid as a sugarcube in a tropical storm.

“So?” asked Samantha the next day over breakfast. “What did he say? Are we in the exorcism business or what?”

“It appears that way, although he never said so with anything remotely like a definitive yes.” I answered through a wide yawn. “He said he used to do them years ago in a less illuminated times.”

“I can just imagine him dressing up in a wimple and black shirt, pretending to be a vicar.” Sam said jovially.

“Nun’s wear wimples, vicar’s wear collars. And no, he didn’t. He just went in, made a lot of noise, drank all their wine and charged a fortune for the privilege. Apparently, ghosts don’t exist.”

Sam pursed her lips and considered this. “So why did he charge people to get rid of them?”

I didn’t answer but instead called home. Or the place I considered home above all other places and to my surprise I spoke directly with Melody, my intended conversationalist. She told me what I wanted to know or more to the point how to prepare for it.

Ghosts come in many different forms depending on supernatural strength, power of will, age and the circumstances of death. They are hard to locate in anyway other than emotional - how they make you feel when they are there - and are notorious for being camera shy. Melody had a solution for this.

“Get yourself a camera but make sure it’s mirrorless.” she told me and when I queried this by saying I knew cameras had a flash and I used a mirror before posing - where possible - I didn’t know they had one.

“It’s in the lens, so you see what the camera sees.” I was informed. “Ghosts are seen by the naked eye; the corner of your peripheral vision are where they linger but you only see them in mirrors in the movies.”

She listed several items I’d need and I wrote them down, each in a unique colour. With my quad tipped pen. Then I went shopping.

Each crunch of the gravel sent my trembling foot threateningly close to turning and sending me through the verging darkness. My faltering gait was not aided by my failing confidence in my ability to complete my task. I had received almost two solid weeks of intensive training in the recognition, appraisal and evaporation of the apparition effectively. Surprisingly there are a lot of very established text books on the subject dating back many centuries, written by eminent scholars and experts in the discipline. I was very surprised to learn many of them met grizzly ends, mostly through a mixture of overconfidence and under-ability.

My mood was set at odds to that of Samantha who had agreed to accompany me. She was dripping with excitement and enthusiasm for all things that go bump in the night. To cap it all, it started to rain.

The driveway ended where a series of worn marble steps started. The five off white slabs raised us both to the wide black door which held a goat headed brass knocker. Three raps, each sending deep retorts into the night that shook the door just as much as it shook my soul. It did its job and alerted the residents of the house to our presence and we soon heard footsteps echoing within until, with an ominous but not that unexpected creak, the door slowly parted from its frame.

“You are expected. Follow me.”

An old man, with long white hair everywhere apart from the apex of his thin-skinned head, led us a short way along the reception corridor, once decorated to impress it was now liberally trimmed with dust. A door was opened on the left and the old man seemed to want us to enter.

“Ah, my Dears. I am so pleased you came.”

Deidre was sat at a small writing table which held a few sheets of thin paper and a novelty Tiffany lamp in the shape of a tree. There was a little ornamental owl sat on a highly decorated branch. She saw me looking back at the old man who had closed the door behind us and made himself busy around the perimeter of the room.

“Don’t mind yourself with Geoffrey, he’s a trooper. Been part of the house practically since it was first built.”

“Looks Georgian.” said Samantha who had already commented about the grandeur of the building after we disembarked the taxi and bore witness to our home for the night.

“Victorian, but he is extremely old.” laughed our hostess. “You know, I rather think I remember him being here when I lived here as a child.”

Deidre relaxed and vocalised a rambling reminiscing of many decades before when her sister and she lived happily in the family house.

“Father had a penchant for a racy lifestyle and to cover costs we moved to smaller lodgings a couple of Counties over.”

“Women?” I asked.

“Gambling?” hazarded Samantha at the same time.

“If only it were as socially acceptable as that.” answered Deidre who rose from her seat and changed the subject by offering us drinks from a cut crystal decanter filled with a warm brown liquid.

“My dear sister couldn't believe it when she saw the old place on the market for such a deal. The house has its problems, neglect and all that, but what old building doesn't? Then when she sadly passed on I inherited it and moved right in.”

I could see the pain in her eyes, the hurt was still raw.

“Remind me once more about your ghost Mrs Chesterton.” I said changing the subject back to the evenings work. “How does it manifest itself and where does it normally appear?”

I knew the story, we had done our research into the history of the building - it wasn’t hard - there were hundreds of stories in local newspapers dating back for years and the ghost hunting blogs to fill out numerous short horror story complications. Over the last sixty years the ghost had been seen on no less than forty occasions, each time resulting in the current residents of the house leaving. Either leaving for pastures new or permanently being put under one.

“It’s all terribly exciting. I believe she is a little girl although no one has left a comprehensive description. The story goes she arrives before a death, banshee like, and reaches out to those about to those depart. I liked to romanticise it all and imagine she is there to Shepard the poor soul into the next life.” Deidre said softly before she tailed off. I picked up on one word, ‘liked’.

“It's all fun and games till someone gets hurt.” she continued when I pushed her on that point.

“Someone was hurt?” interjected Samantha just before I could, she used a much lighter tone that I would have opted for and this showed her easy-going nature.

Deidre visibly shrank and took to her chair once more.

“Florence was older than me but we were very close. Her death was a shocking as it was unexpected. She seemed ecstatic as we spoke on the phone and told me of an amazing discovery she had made so I made plans to come and visit. Before I could arrive, I was informed of her passing. Her heart apparently. And soon after the maid was stricken by her heart also.”

“It's the curse.” said Geoffrey gratingly. “All those who fail to observe due gravity do not deserve the protection of these walls.”

All our eyes fell on the elderly retainer who stopped sliding dust from one place to another with a cloth dirtier than the shelves he was cleaning.

“Nonsense Geoffrey! Florence was very happy here for months before…”

“No, Ma’am. She was not. The passing of her husband sat heavily on her and the house let her morn. I knew we would see the spirit as soon as I heard the laugh flow through the halls. I warned her and now I warn you. Do not make light of the spirit's despair or you won't see the light again.”

“You are so dower. I can't see how you've lasted being the butler in this house for so long with an attitude like that. You're dismissed for the night, go and do whatever it is you do and we'll talk very strongly about this in the morning. “

“As you wish, but it is this attitude that's kept me in this house when a great deal more have not. Good night Ma’am, ladies. I hope you all have a good night.”

As the bitter old man left I sincerely hoped I didn't hear him just chuckle.


Samantha was rocking backwards and forwards on an antique rocking horse, it was beginning to get on my nerves. We had set up our equipment in a store room on the second floor, it didn't take long as a camera, tape recorder and a thermometer didn't need a lot of preparation - especially as neither of us knew what we were doing. Packing crates acted as our tables and chairs as we waited to see how the night unfolded.

Shadows could create an ominous atmosphere, luckily the one bare lightbulb, hanging by its cord from the cracked plaster ceiling couldn't illuminate anything sufficiently to create any.

“So we just sit here waiting? I thought ghost hunting would be, you know, more fun.” said Samantha finally climbing off the rocking horse and joining me on my chaise-crate.

“We'll go for a walk or something after Deidre comes back with the cocoa, not that I fancy exploring a spooky mansion at night if this is as bright as it gets. Oi, careful.” this last comment was aimed to stop Sam from scuffing the chalk circle I'd inscribed across floorboards in line with Melody's basic training. The thermometer was there to inform of the cooling associated with apparitions, the tape recorder to generate white noise with which to provide the spirit with a conduit for communication and a camera to record it all - or failing that take selfies with. But the chalk was there for our protection in case it all went wrong. It was because Melody knew us so well that she had given us two sticks of the white stuff in case we lost one.

“You can wait if you like, I’ll just go and poke my nose into a few of the rooms and see.” Samantha said after kicking her heels around the small room looking for anything to engage her interest.

She picked up the camera and the tape player and made for the doorway with a rebellious smile on her face.

“If you must.” I called at her retreating back. “You can start with the attic, there’s a step ladder in the corner.”

“Uh, uh Sister. I ain’t going anywhere near that place on my own. Poking around a few old bedrooms is one thing, walking into the epicenter of all spooky movies is another. Besides, there might be spiders up there. Urrrrh! Those hairy legs really creep me out.” she turned on her toes almost balletic and flopped down onto a crate where she swung her legs impatiently. “Come on Valley, why won’t you come for just a little walk with me?”

I crumbled, placing down the chalk as I started the last set of well-practiced runes and stood up brushing the persistent dust off my hands and onto my jeans.

“Okay, she’s been twenty minutes so must be back soon. We’ll have a little look around with the gadgets and when we see her coming up the stairs with the drinks we’ll stop. Alright?”

Sam eagerly agreed, and laughing left the room.

“Oi, wait for me.” I called after her as she disappeared from view. I didn’t relish the thought of actively hunting for specters but I appreciated the idea of being left alone even less. I picked up the lonely thermometer, for all the good it would do, and followed Sam into the empty hallway. I was wrong, the hall wasn’t empty it was full of gloom.

At this height the old timber building creaked like a ship under full sail. Before me there was a choice of directions before me, one straight ahead which led to the stairs and then down into the reception room. To the left held a corridor hosting a string of doors terminating in an overly decorative window now fallen to the enemy of grime and neglect. The right was so steeped in shadow I could only make out the two closest doors.

As I edged towards the stairs, to see if Sam had walked down them or if Deidre was coming up, I detected movement in my peripheral vision. Thus, my choice was made and I headed left.

“Sam, slow down will you.” I called as I approached the far end of the corridor. A door on the left clicked into its frame and I quickened my step and reached for the ornate handle.

“Sam!” I declared walking into the dusty dark room but there was no one there. There was scant furniture with which to hide but I knew Sam well and expected her to leap out screaming jovially at any moment. I refused to be labeled a coward - or worse, a chicken - so I walked into the room and crept around the dust-sheet covered bed to catch Samantha unawares.

There was nothing.

The far wall was taken by a long row of built in wardrobes and cupboards so I tiptoed to the largest and flung the door back calling out “Aha!”

Apart from the moth reduced clothing hanging from wooden hangers the wardrobe was empty.

I closed the door as quietly as I could. It didn't work as the hinges squeaked so loud it could have woken a slumbering mountain, instantly alerting anyone to my presence.

I retraced my steps, kicking myself for going to the wrong door. I found my target and quietly depressed the handle. I reached my hand inside searching for the light switch. I did not find it, instead there was an old pull cord which I pulled. I wasn't rewarded with a burst of light but instead a broken cord was left hanging from my probing hand.

Fully expecting Samantha to jump out on me, I cautiously slipped into the room. It wasn't like the last. There was a fully made up bed and looked lived in. This wasn't the room of an old man nor that of a society lady, so I made the assumption this was the Maids room. The room where she stayed in life. I felt guilty now about being here guilty and cold as if I was trespassing on the recently dead.

“Samantha!” I called, now tied with the game. “Samantha come out here now.”

I heard laughing a soft little girls laugh and I could have sworn Samantha was in the centre of it. Before I left I could not help but scan the room to see what was here. On a battered bedside table were the meager possessions of a young girl in service. Nothing stood out as important. An assortment of makeup, lipstick and blusher, all cheap supermarket brands stood next to a simple light which I clicked on for the comfort of its light. It had one of those energy-saving bulbs which did little to illuminate more than just the immediate darkness.

I saw the Slim paperback diary bearing the legend ‘Anita's keep out’ in blue biro.

I tried to look away from the table but my hands had already picked up the slim volume and opened it to the front page. Written there in the same pen were the contact details for Anita and presumably her next of kin. One more name and number was heavily obscured, a boyfriend no longer in her heart?

A quick rifle through the pages found the last few written words in Anita’s hand. It was a childish, overly large script that held little in sophistication but was wholeheartedly honest. It laid bare frustrations about working so far away from home. She missed her family, this was clear and she complained about the long hours that she was forced to work, with the majority of these complaints aimed at the old man that treated her heavily. My heart went out to this poor girl in all things.

I turned the pages backwards now searching for anything in the recent past. I felt I needed to shed some light onto what did happen here, I sensed it was more than just the complaining of youth and that she had been made to feel miserable here.

When I got my eye accustomed to the pages I could flip through and see there was the same statement written over and over. At first it was just there amongst the daily chores or feelings of the girl but as time moved forwards it was often in capitals or boldly set as if she had gone over each letter numerous times. ‘You will not laugh, you will not smile. You will not enjoy your work.’ It didn’t take a great detective to dig a little deeper to where they started to find the culprit.

I found the passage that describe the passing of her former employer, the Lady of the house. It was short, no more than two paragraphs. There was no grief over the death. Instead, in cryptic prose which obviously meant more to Anita than it ever would to a casual reader, she wrote ‘it was her happiness that brought her sorrow.

I closed the book hard, I'm not sure why but thinking back reflecting on that moment I felt deep remorse that this young girl had lived such a short life and, at the end, had such a bleak outlook on life and I felt sure I knew the source. Unless there were more men here the diary laid the blame at a character identified only by.

There was movement behind the door. It seemed to open and close by itself. I put the book back where I found it and stormed off after Samantha assuming it was her deserting the room in jest.

“Sam. I'm being serious now,” I stated loudly across the corridor to quash this frivolous play.

But when I was standing in the corridor once more, of Sam there was no sign.

“Come on this isn't a game anymore, it’s not funny.”

I gripped the thermometer in my hand so hard my knuckles turned white but as my anger ebbed away I realised that they were white due to the cold.

“Valley, what are you doing?”

The voice carried itself across the floor buoyed up over the settling chill by its sweetness and innocence.

I saw Sam's head ascending the stairs. She was carrying a tray, which was carrying three cups, steaming poured off each as if they were miniature volcanoes ready to erupt. The steam was impressive here in the cold and as it visibly spread and dissipated it brought forth rich aromas chocolate and rum. I was delighted to also see slices of cake dripping in fresh cream.

My mouth sprang a well, being filled with saliva in anticipation of the treat.

Deirdre followed carrying scarves and a deerstalker hat.

“These were all I could find.” our host said handing out the knitted scarves. “This can be a dreadfully cold house and as the night is frightfully bitter I thought you may need some extra warmth.”

I thanked her and we were led back into the room where we started. The tray was set down on one of the packing crates and we all found a seat that made us as comfortable as we could.


“I don’t know why we can’t just sit downstairs in those big comfy chairs by the fire.” Sam moaned as she shifted her weight on the hard surface she was reclining against.

“Because,” I started not knowing how I was going to answer - she did have a really good point after all.

“I don’t believe the ghost has ever been seen on the ground floor.” added Deidre helpfully.

The hot chocolate was unbelievably good, sweet and silky and so heavenly I could easily have drunk all three cups to myself.

We were handed a slice of cake each. It was the finest homemade lemon drizzle I’d ever had the pleasure to eat - and trust me it was a pleasure to eat. - The sponge melted in my mouth and I thought such a cake could only oven made by a fairytale Cook, all fat and jolly, bustling around a kitchen with as much love for her work as she did for her numerous children. You could believe my surprise when Deirdre informed us that Geoffrey had made it only that morning. For all his complaining, she said, he was a faithful servant to my sister, God bless her, and he’s been in this house so long he's almost part of it. Oh, he has his moments, but in his fuss he does care in his own way. I wouldn't be without him now, he’s all I have in this world.

It was now that I ask Samantha what game she was playing, saying she scared me in there hiding.

“I don't know what you mean,” Sam replied. “I took the one look around the corridors and bottled it. So, I deserted downstairs to see if I could help Deirdre with the refreshments.”

Then who did I see running into that room?

I picked up the camera as a way of distracting my own overactive imagination from dwelling on that unspoken question. To my amazement there were more images in the memory than the selfies Sam and I took on the taxi ride here. Mostly they were of my hand or jeans as the camera hung from its shoulder strap but on closer inspection there were photos worthy of closer inspection.

“It’s set to a motion swingy thingy.” informed Sam. “It was put it on so everyone can laugh at us running away from a spider or something.”

I showed Deirdre a photo of the bedroom, which she confirmed as the maid’s. And then we looked at a few more with Deirdre commenting the dusting could be better. Then we saw one that made us stop.

It appeared to show in a fashion a long, old fashioned night dress just visible along one side.

“It could be anything.” hazarded Sam turning the camera over to change the perspective. “A coat or something hung over that door handle. You can see the door behind it.”

It would have been effortless to walk to the door to open it and look out across the hallway to see if there was anything hanging there but for some reason the three of us didn’t want to do this.

We drank and ate in silence and indeed we started talking as if to fill it.

“I am so glad you've come. I know I'm being silly, silly old woman but there's so many superstitions that come with houses like this, and what with one thing and another, I'm just hoping you don't find anything. I hope it just turns out that my imagination has been running away with me listening to stories Geoffrey told me.”

“Has Geoffrey told you anything else?” I asked thinking back to those words repeated like mantra. “I think I found Anita’s diary, it seemed to look as if she'd been given some strange instructions. She was not supposed to be merry about her work, almost as if the house had to remain somber or it was not done for the servants to appear happy. Is that a rule that your sister had?

“Oh dear no. My sister was the life and soul of the party. She hated to see anyone down in the dumps. I'm surprised she got on with Geoffrey so well but she seemed to be as amused by him as anyone. It was only in her grief for her husband’s passing that knocked her back. It took her years to get over him, and even then, I don't think she really was. The news that her youngest daughter was pregnant lifted her spirits so it's so sad she'll never see her first grandchild.”

Deidre needed a moment and in the passing seconds the house felt colder and absent.

“She phoned me so excitedly that night, telling me that she was going to be a grandmother and all the plans she'd made to show this young child all the love that she could give. That's what makes her sudden passing such a tragedy. We just learnt one life was coming into the world and without warning another left it.”

“How did you inherit the house?” I asked jumping into the conversation too quickly.

Deidre rallied and changed her look, passing on fact not memory.

“They lived abroad, my sister and her husband. They had cold bones and appreciated the warmer climate. Florence only moved back as she wanted to be close to family in the dusk of her life. She used to joke things were getting dark but at least now she had the time to appreciate the stars. But…”

The story tailed off as Deirdre lowered her gaze. “I’ve told you some of the stories that my sister told me. Some we found together, others were from Geoffrey. My Niece came out you know, she lasted twenty minutes before driving off. She instantly hated the house and had no love for it, she never had any history here so when the will was read we swapped around so she got the money and I got Geoffrey.

With refreshments finished I offered to carry the tray downstairs and to do some washing up. It was either that or the unappetising options of sitting here and waiting for morning or to explore the house once more. Sam and Deirdre seemed to hit it off like old friends reunited. They moved a couple of crates together and found in one of the bags a large tartan blanket with which they made something akin to a den. Underneath they were chatting happily like children on a sleepover.

I left, walking downstairs. As I did I laughed thinking how silly we were being, frightening ourselves with shadows and superstition. Then I saw her. Or to be more accurate I did not see her.

A small child, three or four years of age but dated decades before from the long, straight dress land and hair tied back in a bow. Her mouth, currently in a huge smile were this was at odds with her eyes which seemed to scream in despair.

I dropped the tray and the loud clattering alerted my companions. As they came out into the hallway they seem concerned. I pointed at the direction the girl had been but there was nothing there. Nothing but darkness and cobwebs.

Deirdre came up to me and motherly placed her hands on my shoulders. She enquired if I was alright which I answered that I was. I then told my tale and asked Sam to go and get the camera and the tape recorder. When she had retrieved them, we found the tape player had been left recording. I rewound the tape and pressed play. We all listened eagerly but heard nothing but the white static that we've grown used too with this type of antique machine.

I rewound the tape again to see if anymore could be gleamed from the tape and Sam busied herself picking up the cups and the pile of broken crockery.

“I think we should go back.”

“I think we should go home.” Sam replied to my comment. “Or downstairs at least. I like downstairs the front doors there.”

The dark, gloomy side of the house, which I was now thinking of as The West Wing, drew us away from our idle chatter as a sight that will haunt me to the day I die shocked us to the core. Geoffrey hobbled from his room wearing stained striped pyjamas.

“What have you done?” demanded the old retainer. “What have you seen? Tell me child. Have you seen her? I warned you all. I warned you, and now she has come. Her coming is like that of a banshee scream. Each time she appears it is afore a death in the house. I told you, I told you all.”

“Do stop this fuss right now.” Blustered Deirdre raising her voice. It obviously pained her to do so. “I put my foot down on this right now. Can't you see you're scaring the girls with all this talk. I've had enough of it.”

The dower old man bowed his head but I do not believe it was in shame or remorse.

“I will most definitely be speaking with you in the morning.”

“Sounds like the storms coming in.” said Sam turning as the wind rattled the windows in their frames.” Whether she was speaking her mind or using it to refocus our minds her words did just that.

We all looked at the door. For all the dust and aged appearance, it stood out from the rest of the rooms which had all been cleaned, used or gave the impression of being in some use.

“That’s where I saw her.” my voice quavered as I spoke.

“No one's been in there for a very, very long time. I can't even remember going in there myself.” replied Geoffrey who had changed his tone and sounded warmer like an old man reminiscing. “I've never once been asked to clean in there and none of the maids have ever stored anything there either. No idea why, it’s just always been an unspoken agreement between all who have stayed here.”

It was like we were scenery to a greater play, we stayed together shoulder to shoulder willing someone else to move first. When someone did move it wasn’t hesitant or in fear but with decisiveness of purpose. It took a few seconds before any of us made a move to stop Sam reaching the door and turning the handle.

The door did not open at first which filled me with hope it was locked. Geoffrey pushed Sam to one side and looked at the lock experimenting with twisting it this way and that. Then, after delicacy and finesse was rejected he bumped it hard and the door shuddered inwards.

A surprise sat within the small room. Once the scent of stillness hit us we edged in and saw a small bed, upon it were pale blue sheets heavily faded where a gap in the drawn curtains had allowed decades of sunlight to erode the dye in a straight line. Heavily laden with dust in the corner was a large, handcrafted doll's house. It had been expertly carved to resemble a large country house. Sam clapped with glee at the find and rushed forth to open the frontage to expose numerous little rooms filled with perfect replicas of a kitchen, ladders, sitting rooms and bedrooms. There was even an attic filled with boxes. Amongst the fantastic rooms sat an assortment or wooden, pipe cleaner limbed with Mother in the kitchen wearing a pinny and Father reading a paper on a chair. Residing in the top of the house was a small sheet cut with two eyes, a small ghost in the attic.

“Oh how cliché.” exclaimed Samantha reaching out to touch it but Deirdre stopped her.

“Don't dear. Leave it be.” she said in a soft voice.

The rest of the room was Like a museum to an age gone by. The few items of furniture were all solid wood with far too many trimmings for today's tastes. There were thinly framed watercolor pictures on the walls and more pictures across the chest of drawers. These were not delicate or artistic at all but thickly set with blurred colours that bled into each other with the over application of water. A myriad of coloured scribbles all done with joyful abandon adorned more paper which had been filled completely as if it had been a scarce resource. I picked up some sheets, holding them so the others could see. It looked to me like there was a family with two larger figures, one obviously male and one female in a triangular dress, standing each side of three children. One was middle sized and one was a babe in arms. The centre child was between the two with a beaming smile.

“Looks sweet.” Deirdre said, Geoffrey tutted at the comment. “Bless the cherub who drew it. I wonder why this room has been closed up for so long?”

No one answered her, I for one had nothing to say.

Deirdre went around the room taking in the sights and opened the drawers close to hand. It was her house and she was perfectly entitled to do so but watching her made me feel like I was intruding somewhere I should not be as if we had broken into this place and were searching through other people personal belongings.

On the side of the bed, tucked in as if asleep, was a little rag dolly.

“Oh my.” Deirdre said taking the soft toy up into her arms where she cradled it lovingly. “This is the very replica of one I had as a child. I loved it so, but I lost it years ago. I don't know where or when but is always been on my mind. Oh, what a surprise to see such a thing here. I guess back then there wasn't the abundance of toys and everybody had the same things.”

“It could be yours.” said Sam musingly. “You did live here before so you may have lost it before you went.”

“Yes, you could be right.” said Deirdre, “I guess I could have left it and some other child picked it up and put it here. I don't remember this room when I was young, although I was too young thinking about it now. It could have been loved by another after my time here or it could just be coincidence. There was only mother, father and my sister and I. I was the youngest so I don't remember to clearly.

The older woman laughed remembering her childhood, remembering the dolly which she clutched tightly to her chest. “This brings back so many memories, so many happy memories. I can't tell you how happy we were. My sister loved to chase me and…”

There was laughter outside the room. Not strong nor maniacal like that of some Hollywood villain but a gentle happy laughter. Sinister nonetheless.


We all looked at each other in the group, all aware that none of us were the cause of the laugh.

“She's here.” intoned Geoffrey in a high shriek. “This house is cursed. Cursed in happiness, cursed in good fortune. It is not a family place, it is not a happy place, it is just a place for melancholy and dejection. Why can't you have just left? Why couldn't the house have been bought by a young banker that was more interested in their love of money than the love of family?”

It was one hell of a speech, full of spittle flying fury and indignation but I'd had enough. If nothing was done now I’d always wonder what was the other side of the door but even with that knowledge now and not as some regret many years from now it was still a great shock to find myself propelling forward and stepping with automaton confidence back into the hallway.

There was nothing there. Well obviously, there were lots of things but these were as stage dressing to the emptiness that could have been.

It was, of course, Sam who noticed the change. Her eyes saw with an innocence I doubted I ever had.

“Look.” she said as I tried to see what it was she was referring to.

When we had all looked at her puzzled she became more specific. “At how new it all looks.”

He was right, gone were the cobwebs, the grime and aged years of growing old.

“Must have been my dusting.” snorted Geoffrey bitterly.

“Play with me.”

The words cut us all short, they were enough to send our hearts into our mouths. Three simple words said with sweetness and joy. So kindly, so imploringly and innocent were they that I had wished it'd been anything else. Even a cadaverous screaming of murderous death would have been preferable to those simple words.

Sam was the first to recover and once more she had vocalised the words I felt but could not say. “Let's, you know, um. Shall we leave? Please.”

I wanted to agree and to pack up and leave but on my shoulder sat a devil and his name was Xanthic. We had a job to do, for whatever reason we had come for we were here now to help this family with their own spirits and if we left I would forever have that sense of failure hanging over me. Failure is always an option but to never have tried is defeat in ultimate. Plus, we’d never hear the last of it from Xanthic when we went home.

“We can’t, we have a job to do. Sam, get everyone back to our stuff. Get them into our circle, I’ll get the recorder and see what’s on it.” I said this with confidence and our group galvanised to action. What I didn’t want to add was once we were cowering in the circle my plan was to either wait till morning and call in the big guns or hope something, anything more preferable presented itself to my tremulous mind. What I did hear myself saying was, “Call Melody, see if she has anything we can use for an exorcism.”

No plan ever survives contact with the enemy. No army has ever been dispatched and carried out all of its tasks exactly how they were drilled. No sports team have ever managed to do everything that coach asks of them. So, it should have come as no surprise that my own hastily constructed proposal went awry as soon as we stepped out of the room.

A girl, as solid as my thumping heart, came towards us. Instead of making it back to our base camp we crammed ourselves into the small bedroom where we slammed the door shut, hoping the aged wood would like to some kind of barrier between us and her.

“Good plan. What’re we going to do now?” asked Sam alarmingly. It was the question I was about to ask but as everyone was looking at me I felt that I couldn't do anything but answer it.

“We're going to sit tight. Have we got any of that chalk left? We can draw another circle of protection, one big enough for all of us and just sit in. We can take a picture or two as evidence, not that anyone would believe this.”

Sam turned out her pockets out and shrugged her shoulders.

Then look around, this is a child's room there may be chalk amongst the colours. Find anything, anything we can draw with. You never know charcoal might work, has anyone ever tried it before? You know Melody's never actually told us that we can’t draw an incantation with a yellow crayon.”

Sam looked confused. I really hope it was confusion because if she was scared I'd really be trembling in my knickers.

“Look it's the best I can think of right now, unless of course you want to go out there past the girl and down the stairs and out into the night.”

Sam flapped her hands against her side and huffed loudly. “And plan B is what, tie the sheets together and shin out the window?”

Geoffrey could have turned his face inside out if he put any more effort into his sneer. “You think I'll get out of that window then you're dafter than a dolly with a dingle.” he said.

“I expect you to start shifting this stuff to give us some space.”

“You want to trust to a what, a drawing on something? You've been watching too many films.” the old man sniffed deeply with mistrust.

“Play with me.”

The sound came through the walls as if there were speakers built into them.

The window eruptions with showers of glass and wood as the storm burst its way into the house. We quickly retreated to the opposite side of the room but this left us with our backs to the wall with the door, which opened silently.

There was a little girl standing in the dark, barring our way to the stairs.

An unnatural wind drove us from our refuge with gusts of freezing rain. I screamed out in shock and in pain as something struck me generating strobing lights before my eyes. Someone helped me away and towards our room, it wasn't Geoffrey who cackled out a laugh as dry and dusty as anything else in this part of the house.

“Play with me.”

Sweeping forwards, yet feet without not a single moving foot upon the floor, the girl moved towards us. We braced ourselves against whatever may come but it was Geoffrey that she reached first. Her arms reaching out forwards, reaching until they touched him and his back arched exaggeratedly. Then he seemed to fly towards the wall to land huddled in a tight ball. Heartened long and thin, hands clamped over his head.

I wouldn't have thought the sound possible but I knew I'd be haunted by it. Haunted more because I did not return to see if we can assist him in his plight. Samantha and Deirdre instead rushed us forward and shut us into the store room. Sam went to her den and called for us to join her. She pulled the blanket down over our heads so we were sat as if in a three-pointed teepee in the middle of the floor.

“What are we doing?” I asked.

“I don't know, I used to put the covers over my head as a child when I was scared of the bogeyman. Covers over your head mean you'll be safe.”

“I don't think that's going to work dear.” Deidre said maternally. “I'm so sorry for getting you involved, I should never have asked you to come. I should have just sold the house and moved on it was only the romance of moving back into my family home. The child inside of me brought me here. There was a reason my parents moved away. A reason why we went to so so far and now I think I know why.”

While Deirdre spoke, I had found some fragments of chalk. It had been trodden upon and was mostly powder on the floor but the bits that were still useable I had dragged across the circle to complete the protective spell.

“Oh, you don’t believe in all that, do you?” asked Deirdre extricating herself from under the blanket.

“I didn’t believe in ghosts until half an hour ago.” I said, “But what I do believe in is what I know, and I know that this circle will keep us safer than anything else that this world can provide right now. I’ll trust in it more than any big stick with a nail in the end, besides I’ve broken every nail and worn my fingertips to the bone drawing this, you think I’ll do that for the fun of it?”

Sam was fully out of the emblanketed fort first and had found another piece of chalk, she rushed to me and started adding her own sigils to the protection. She was rushed, fear spurring her actions and I noticed small mistakes creeping into the overall design. - It might not sound much to comment on the odd misplaced line here or over long sweep of chalk there, but when dealing with the occult these things could be as devastating as leaving out the fourth wall in a castle or putting the trigger at the end of the barrel of a gun.

“Too many cooks.” I commented. “I’’ do this, you get in with Deirdre and teach her that thing Melody taught us, the protective.”

Sam looked as blank as Deidre but in an instant recognition and understanding lit up her face. She took the older lady by the hand and pulled her within the circle and down so she sat crossed legged.

“It's a spell of protection.” Sam instructed. “From a book, THE book in fact. Imagine a golden circle around you like a giant hula hoop hovering around your tummy. It has to be big enough that when it starts to spin on its axis it goes over your head and under your legs. Stay calm and focus on the circle, it offers a protection. That’s it. Close your eyes and focus, forget everything except you and the circle spinning end over end around you. Follow it with your mind as it rotates. All the bad things trying to get you are outside, you are inside. Focus on the circle.”

Both women had their eyes closed but I could tell the older was not comfortable with the task as if she were placating a small child by pretending the brackish water from a sand pit kettle was a cup of tea. I knew Sam was familiar with the spell, I only hoped she was summoning something big enough to keep both safe if this went wrong.

On Deirdre’s lap was the dolly, she must have taken it in all the excitement. Next to her, scrunched as if clenched tightly in a fist, were a couple of the child’s art. The family of three with the parents and the house and one three girls or very much enjoying life.

“Why have you got those?” asked Sam shuffling into the middle of the circle. She barely had room enough to squat in. “And why did you make this thing so small, were you planning on being joined by pygmies?”

“I wasn't planning on being joined at all, ‘cept for you and I forgot. Look, it's the best I could do with what I had to had.” I commented.

We both stopped to look at Deirdre who was cascading the child's art across her lap.

“I really don't know, they just seemed to call out to me. I just had to pick them up, I just couldn't leave them there. They look so beautiful, so desperate to be seen. I don't know, I can't explain it any better but they just feel…”

“I think I know but we should have left them. We don't know who's there were.” I said trying to keep the panic out of my voice I don't think it worked.

The door opened slowly. Behind it but not touching it or obviously propelling it forward was the girl.

“Play with me.”

Arms, once at her side, lifted forward. Without the nuisance of actually moving her feet, she glided across the floor towards us.

“Believe in the circle.” I said, “It will protect us.”

And I genuinely hoped it would.

“No, no. I see.”

Deirdre got up and, to my horror, left the circle.

There was no time for us to get her back within the protection and neither of us had the power or experience to cast out spells further than they already were. I ground my teeth till they hurt watching the young girl round on us, her smile broad but colder than a Winter’s frost.

Sam leapt forward as the girl drew too close but her actions were slow, not dull like someone reacting after a momentous effort such as a hard spin class to then stand and open a knocked door but reduced in dramatic explosion as if she were raising herself through a thick viscous substance that weighted her actions.

The girl seemed to hold none of my friends’ restrictions in her movements. She was now a fingers reach away from our temporary employer and I struggled to think of a spell or defense that I could cast to help. I was helpless, but it was Deirdre who needed help. Would the fate of all those who died in this house befall the older woman and my dearest friend while I sat here struck dumb with fright?

“Play with me.”

Deirdre held up the picture in front of her, not as a shield or something to hide behind but in a tender, offering way. She pointed at the three girls at the front of the family with a shaking finger.

“Is one of these you?” she asked.

“Play with me.”

The ghost raised its arms wide and started an embrace. Sam managed to force her way into the gap between Deirdre and the child, a glow at her hand showed she was trying something to bring us through the night.

“This is your family. This is your house, this is all yours. Do you want us to leave, is that what it is you want? To be alone?”

“Play with me.”

“These people. Your Mum and Dad? They look like mine. I used to always draw my Father dressed like this, I got it from my sister who taught me how to draw a m for a hat. And my Mother, I got that from my sister too.”

Deirdre turned the paper and stared at the image deeply as if it were a great work of art. A tear slowly rolled across the wrinkles on her cheek, quickly followed my many more that caught in the valleys and covered her lower face with water.

“This just looks so familiar.” she said an age later.

And then she did something surprising. As if there were no threat from anything more than an exploring kitten, she kissed Sam on the head and said sorry so softly as if it were the last words she expected to say.

Deirdre stepped forward, her own arms outstretched and took the child into them.

“The night before Christmas, the doll. I remember it being given to me, I’ve always had it in the back of my mind and could see it when I was alone or scared.”

A flash of dark stole the room from my eyes and when I could see again brief moments later I was sat on a well upholstered sofa in the downstairs lounge. Breakfast was served on white china plates and Sam was sat cross legged on the floor by a low coffee table eagerly devouring hot buttered crumpets and pancakes. I don’t think I can recall a time I’ve ever seen her happier.

Deirdre came in with an ornamental teapot that looked more artists masterpiece than a receptacle for brewing hot water and refreshing leaves. She sat it down on a cloth covering a sideboard and took out three fine china cups and their saucers.

“I remembered.” she said as if continuing a conversation I had no memory of. “Three girls. It’s always been three, three presents under the tree, three stockings over the fire, I just didn’t think as I grew up. No one spoke of it, it wasn’t the thing people did back then, it’s hardly done now. There's always been something missing in my life but I couldn’t put a finger on it but last night it became so clear. We used to play games, Florence and I, tea parties and the like. She as the older sister would always be Mother and she’d insist on three seats around the table, three cups of tea, three slices of cake. I thought it was for a teddy or a doll, the spare place but I just followed the game as any small sister in awe of her older sibling would.”

Sam had finished her feast and wiped her buttery mouth with a long sweep of her arm.

“Yum.” she stated. “I could easily do that every morning.”

Then she plopped herself down heavily on the sofa which made me rise slightly in the air. A sheet of paper fluttered up and landed on my lap with her exertions. As I turned it over I saw it was the child’s picture from last night.

“That was me.” said Deirdre joining us on the sofa. “The little one. My sister loved me but she got sick, I don’t know with what. I remember all these men in hats like Father’s coming in and visiting her in her room and Mother crying as they talked to her and Father. I was never involved or informed, I was so young, but the gifting of the dolly, I was taken into Amelia’s room one day before Christmas and I remember her smiling at me but with cold eyes as if she were in a great deal of pain but did not want to show it in front of me. She gave me her favourite doll and I reached for it with my chubby little arms and held it close. As we grew, Florence and I, we played games, hide and seek was my favourite and we’d hide the doll anywhere we could and hunt it out with great delight. I think Amelia was always watching us through the doll or from wherever she was.”

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