by Bill West
Sam has always seen the dead. If he could have a drink they might go away.
It is a dank October evening and already the streets of Wellington are shadowed with ghosts. Not many, just a few drifting in their aimless way towards the Spiritualists’ church. Sam follows them.
The long low building with the corrugated roof is like a home away from home for Sam, a point of contact with his past. His own home was sold eighteen months ago, after the accident. Jean and Alice, mown down by a drunk driver outside school. A P.T.A. meeting he couldn’t make. Little Alice, his daughter, taken from him, only eleven, and Jean, his wife, his rock.
It is warm and muggy in the hall. The metal chairs are in neat rows, far too many of them for the handful of people sitting quietly. The shadowy dead cluster at the back of the hall, waiting to be heard.
“Samuel.” Timothy Street, portly and forty, approaches and pumps Sam’s arm. “I didn’t know you were back.” He drops his voice. “How are you?”
“I’m off the booze.” Sam knuckles his brow and strokes his face, rough bristles scratching. “I must look a sight.”
“We have all prayed for you. And look, our prayers are answered; you are back with us again. Have you been to the hospital to visit Tom?”
Sam is shocked, “Tom! What’s happened to him, is it serious?”
“I’m sorry Samuel; I assumed that was why you were back. Tom was attacked by something. He is in hospital, being treated for a severe stroke, and of course his poor arm, which was badly injured. Wait until after the service and I will take you to him.”
“What happened?” Sam demands.
“Your brother has worked hard at developing his psychic skills. He envies your natural gifts. When you started drinking, well, you can imagine the gap you left. He was undertaking a project of his own, a haunting at Holy Tree Farm. He has been living there, with the owner’s permission. Samuel, this is very strange but a week ago Tom said he had seen the spirit of poor little Alice. We all told him that it couldn’t be but...”
Sam jumps up, knocking the chair, which clatters to the ground. His head swims and he staggers, arms stretched before him as if he is wading through water. Only one thought, to see Alice, the reason he has stopped drinking. Alcohol impairs his vision, stops him seeing the dead. But now, he feels that the dead are all there is left for him.
* * *
The moon is chased by rags. Sam is tired. Two hours’ walking have brought him to this ancient avenue of elms. Flurries of leaves wheel towards him. The wet leaves slap against his chest and legs.
He reaches the house. A decrepit Tudor farmhouse almost enveloped by an ancient, stag-headed, oak. Sam sees the cross carved in the bark revealing the grey wood beneath: Holy Oak.
The crooked door is half open with leaves in drifts across the threshold. Pushing his way in, he finds an oil lamp and matches. He lights the lamp. As the yellow flame wavers, it throws monstrous shadows about the hall that flee upwards along the banistered stairs.
Oak panelled walls, stone flagged floors and the stairs are grey with the dust of ages.
To his left he sees a parlour with evidence of Tom’s stay, the floor swept, a camp bed and sleeping bag. Beside the bed is a Bible.
Sam is drawn past this room, deeper into the house, towards the stairs by feelings of both certainty and foreboding. This house, or something in it, is watching him.
“Daddy...” a young girl’s call like a sigh. Sam pauses, and then carries on up the stairs. “Daddy...” the sound comes again but this time Sam recognises Alice’s voice. Still he does not respond. There is a rushing sound and a soft giggle. The lamp flame wavers and then settles.
Sam reaches a landing. A door rattles as if battered by a wind but Sam detects no wind. Turning, Sam puts out his hand towards the door. The temperature is plummeting. Sam’s breath forms a nimbus about his head. He pushes. The door opens.
Sam is puzzled; the lamplight does not penetrate the darkened room. The door frame wavers in the lamplight but it frames utter blackness.
Sam feels the hairs on the back of his neck rise. He sees an eerie glow form deep inside the room and a faint movement like fireflies spiralling in dance. He blinks and in that second Alice is there, standing with her back to him, her brown hair, school blazer, grey skirt, black tights, and her shoes in deep shadow. He reaches out. It is as if he floats towards her, or is she floating towards him? He notices a strange twitch to her head that causes her hair to sway.
“Alice?” His hand settles on her shoulder.
He sees Alice’s small left hand appear beside his hand and settle on his wrist. Sam screams in agony. Ice needles of pain race up his arm and he thrashes around but Alice and the hand are immovable.
“Daddy ...” but this time a deep hollow voice full of mockery. Alice’s body does not move but the head rotates until, impossibly, it faces him. Something is wrong. The face twitches and writhes beneath the brown fringe of hair. There are no eyes, no mouth, just holes in a mask, a twitching crawling lacework of tiny grey spiders. Sam screams again.
* * *
Sam lies in a hospital bed. He cannot hear; he cannot speak. Sam has always seen the dead. If he could have a drink they might go away.
Copyright © 2007 by Bill West