Authors: Charles Christian
Charles Christian’s writing:
“Christian’s strength is the abandon with which he brings together the fantastic and the mundane.”
“Christian delivers the goods economically, effectively and with immense dignity and compassion. In a nutshell: the man can write!”
Dave Kelso-Mitchell, Paraphilia Magazine
“Christian’s style is sparse and urgent and makes me, for one, wish he would now tackle a crime novel. Norfolk noir anyone?”
Trevor Heaton, EDP Weekend supplement
“Christian’s style is far from hard, drawing the reader in with an easygoing narrative, plenty of dialogue and buckets of wry humour. But what I found most was heart.”
Wayne Simmons, author
“What I will say is I love the way Christian writes. It is smooth and elegant without being overly literary. Sometimes it feels as though literary authors can be shoving how clever they are down your throat, but Christian eases you along and makes it very difficult to put the book down.”
R B Harkess, author
Charles Christian is a former barrister and Reuters correspondent turned award-winning technology journalist, newsletter publisher, blogger, new media maven, science fiction author, storyteller and keynote speaker.
His dystopian sci-fi and urban fantasy stories are Gothic tales for the 21st century – with a sense of humour and a topical twist.
Charles lives in Norfolk with his wife, Jane, three dogs and a horse.
Oak Lodge, Darrow Green Road, Denton, Norfolk, IP20 0AY
© copyright Charles Christian 2014
The right of Charles Christian to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s/author’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
For Jane, who made it all possible!
The blonde standing at my front door is wearing a pretty smile, a long, black fustian cassock and a white clerical dog-collar. She is my local parish’s latest vicar.
It was inevitable the new vicar would come a-calling. They always do. They are drawn to me like moths to a flame. Though maybe a more apt metaphor is like missionaries to a cannibal’s cooking pot.
It seems to be a particular problem in this parish. Don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with living in a tucked-away backwater in rural Suffolk where nothing ever happens. It’s just that this is a tucked away backwater in rural Suffolk where nothing ever happens.
For any man or woman of the cloth with ambition, a posting here is not so much a career setback as career suicide. There is a distinct chance of being forgotten by the diocese and left to moulder in their own churchyards with only Christmas, Easter, Harvest Festival plus sundry hatchings, matchings and dispatchings to occupy the empty hours. Outside of high-days and holidays, I’ve seen how parish life can slip into an endless round of fund raising coffee mornings, jumble sales and beetle-drives.
And then they discover me. Alexis Byter... the local demonologist. At least that’s how I’ve heard myself described, which is kind of ironic as I’m actually on the side of the angels and spend a lot of my time doing the things the church once used to do for its parishioners. I’m not sure whether it’s because these meddlesome priests are curious to see what I look like, which must be a disappointment as I’m blandly normal, or whether they are hoping to convert me and bring me back into the fold.
The knock at the door comes while I’m replacing the strings on my old Fender Telecaster. My finger-tips are soft, I need lighter-gauge strings these days. Besides, business is slow at the moment, so I’m allowing myself the luxury of wallowing in nostalgia. Remembering another life I used to lead a long, long time ago. The Fender is one of my few remaining links to that era.
But let’s get back to the blonde. Standing in the shade of the porch, she introduces herself as the Reverend Ursula Southill, the recently installed rector for the parishes in this area of the county.
“I hope I’m not intruding,” she says, “as I see you are not alone, but I was wondering whether I could invite you to a getting-to-know-you parish supper we’re planning for people who aren’t regular churchgoers?”
I’m tempted to reply such a supper would be my idea of Hell but I’m more intrigued by her remark about me not being alone. “Forgive me for asking but what exactly did you mean by ‘You see I’m not alone?’ There are only two people at this cottage today and we’re currently facing each other.”
My question catches her off guard and she stammers an explanation that she thought she saw a woman looking out of an open upstairs window as she drove up to the cottage.
“What did she look like?” I ask.
“Early middle-aged, blondish hair pinned up in a bun. She was wearing a long black dress and she was smiling.”
“Ah, that’s all right then, it’s just the ghost who haunts this cottage. I’m impressed you saw her, not everyone who comes here has that ability.”
Far from reassuring my visitor, my words have the opposite effect. The colour drains from her and, ashen faced, she staggers forward as if about to faint. I catch her up in my arms and help her into the house, walking her through to the kitchen and sitting her down on the large chintz-covered armchair I keep there. Chintz, I hasten to add, is not my scene, the chair is a relic left by a former girlfriend – a poet – who was heavily into shabby-chic but, like the Fender, that is a story for another day.
“You look flustered,” I say, “you’d better sit still and I’ll make you a cup of tea. Or would you prefer something stronger? A glass of wine? I’ve got some
rosé in the fridge.”
“Er, tea please,” she replies, “it’s a little early in the day for wine for me.”
“Don’t tell me,” I say, as I switch on the kettle and then pull the wine bottle from the fridge and unscrew its cap (it’s not too early in the day for me) “that was your first face-to-face encounter with the supernatural?” She nods her head and I slowly shake mine in mock disbelief. “What do they teach people at priest school these days.”
She smiles wanly. “I think that after all I do need something a little stronger than tea,” she replies, “is that offer of wine still open?”
It is and I pour us both a glass.
She takes a large swig, then breathes in deeply. “So, you live here alone at the end of a track in Foxburrow Wood with only a ghost for company. One of the churchwardens warned me you were a little strange but I didn’t realise how strange!” She gives me a distinctly arch look before asking “Go on, what do you know about it, I mean her?”
“Not a lot,” I reply. “The ghost was already in occupation when I moved in. I’ve done some research but there is no record of a woman ever dying in this cottage. I’m guessing she must be the shade of someone who once stayed here or visited regularly. Going by the style of her hair and dress, maybe Victorian or Edwardian era? Maybe she took her summer holidays here.”
The vicar nods in agreement, adding “Perhaps she came here to take a cure beside the sea. They were keen on the restorative benefits of ozone, bracing East Coast sea breezes, sunshine and all that back in those days.”
“They still are,” I reply. Then, before I can button my lip, I add “Of course it’s a classic Type Two haunting.”
“What? You have categories for ghosts now!”
“Sorry,” I say, “I forget not everyone has the same fascination with the occult as me. OK, here’s your absolute beginners 101 guide to ghosts and hauntings. There are four categories of ghost. The Type One is an intelligent haunting, where the ghost seems to be conscious of its surroundings and may try to interact with the people or place it haunts. This is the spook or
you encounter in ghost stories from Dickens’
and the M R James tales through to movies like
The Woman in Black
. Despite their high profile in fiction, in the real world, well at least in my world, they are relatively rare. Though that doesn’t stop them from being unpleasant, malevolent, scary and annoying. The sort that tug at your bedclothes in the middle of the night with skeletal hands.”
The Reverend Ursula shudders and takes another sip of wine.
“The second sort, the Type Two ghost we have here, is a residual or imprint haunting. These are the most frequent type of ghost sighting, where the spirit is oblivious to its surroundings, and anyone present, and just keeps living out the same set of past events over and over again. You can’t communicate with this type of ghost. In fact there is a suggestion, known as the
theory, that they are not so much spectral beings but a playback, like a video, of an event in the ghost’s past life that was so powerfully emotional it left an imprint or recording in the surrounding fabric of a building or landscape. That’s why you get reports of ghost sightings at the scenes of murders, fatal accidents and battles. But they can also occur where a ghost had enjoyed feelings of great happiness during its life.”
The Reverend Ursula nods her head and absent-mindedly taps the foot of her wine glass on the tabletop. “That makes sense,” she says. “And these ghosts can also be seen during the daylight, like the one I saw?”