Monday, 16 February 2009

The Empty House: A Ghost Story for February

I can still remember that night in the empty house. I was asleep, then suddenly started into wakefulness, with a feeling of disquiet. Alone, in my bed, in the darkness, every sound had a strange and sinister quality. There was a creak of timbers, adjusting to the change in the air, the cold wind howling past outside the window, and the odd rattle of the window pane. Every so often, the wind would gust, and the bare, finger like, branches of the nearby elm trees would scratch softly against the glass.

Then I thought I heard, almost below the level of hearing, a soft, muffled, whisper; a voice, speaking faintly, so quietly that the words were all but inaudible, but sounded like a human voice, trying to talk. I could not tell where it came from, it seemed all around, sometimes from far away in the dark recess of a distant wall, and sometimes close to hand, a hissing by the ear. Was it a voice, a trick of hearing in the silence? We are here, it seemed to say, we are here and we are waiting, waiting, waiting. We are here.

There seemed the sound of footsteps, softly, as of slippered feet, moving across the carpet; then at the bottom of the bed, a weight, first sudden, at the foot, then moving slowly up, on top of me, nearer and nearer to my face.

I was now awake in terror, alive to all sensations - the scraping branches like fingers, scratching on the window pane, the muffled whispered voices far and near, and the soft weight slowly moving up the bed.

A white and shadowy shape took form in my dazed, blinking eyes, peering into the gloom, and hoping against hope that I would see nothing. Then it become more distinct, more solid, and I saw that it was only a cat, a large white, long haired cat, come to keep me company, and comfort me throughout this night of horrors.

Now the horrors receded from my sight, I was not alone, because I had the company of a warm and friendly cat to share the night. I was so relieved, so happy at this sight. I reached out to pat the lovely animal. But my hand touched only empty air, it, reaching only a cold, mist like wraith, that moved to embrace me in its icy grip. Then everything vanished into a whirlpool of darkness, and I knew no more.

When I awoke, the sun was shining, and the room was full of the colours of the day. The ordeal was over. Had I imagined what I saw? The ghostly cat upon the bed, the whispered voices, the trees rattling against the window pane. It all seemed so far away, now I looked out of the bed, to see the leafless branches of those elms.

But Dutch elm disease had long left its mark; only the bare stumps remained to mark their spot. Not a single branch remained.

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