Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Halloween Short: The Haunted Dales

(I hope you enjoy today's short. It was such a fun and traditional haunted story, I thought I'd give myself a full hour to write it up and edit it. Admittedly, I just ran out of time to edit further, but I think it can stand on its own as it is. Enjoy!)

Jacob McCormick was used to travel, strange places, odd languages, and living from a suitcase. It was his choice, so he was willing to accept the consequences of having no real home. His life was a series of serendipitous events over the past six years. Had his wife Abigail and son Joey not died in a fiery car crash, he wouldn’t have started drinking. If he hadn’t started drinking, he wouldn’t have lost his job as a professor of English Literature at a prestigious New England University. Had he not lot his job at the university, he wouldn’t have sobered up. If he hadn’t sobered up, he wouldn’t have submitted his novel. If he hadn’t submitted his novel, he wouldn’t have skyrocketed to the #1 spot on the New York Times’ list. Had he not made the list, he wouldn’t have been afforded the option of hopping from location to location to write and avoid the eventual need to settle down in one place.

And so, here he was standing at a ridiculously postcard quaint cottage where he would write his fifth novel. The Yorkshire Dales were picturesque. He studied the rolling green hillsides, open and bare for miles, cut into by pock-marked limestone and limestone cliffs. It smelled fresh and yet ancient at the same time. He sighed as he put his suitcases down inside the cottage. It was everything he imagined a British cottage to be, ivy covered with well cared for petunias in the window boxes. He smiled at the note and fruit basket the owner had left behind for him asking for a free copy of his newest novel that he would write within these walls.

“One fan so far.” He smiled and tested one of the beautiful pears. Used to living alone at this point, Jacob tended to speak to himself in his little domiciles. This cottage begged for conversation. He liked to think Abby heard him.

“That reminds me, Abby, this cottage is located near,” he leaned out the open window and searched the dale in the sunset to see a slender stone structure atop a knoll, “an Abbey, Abby. From what the locals say, there’s a shrouded figure that paces before the window. I’ll have to look for her. Do you suppose her name is Abby?” He sighed. Of course, Abby never replied, but he felt that if she could, wherever she was, she would. He didn’t believe in God or heaven or afterlife, but Jacob liked to believe that so long as the living thought of the dead, they existed in those moments. It was either talk to her or drink and he refused to go back there.

He opened up his suitcase and began to set up his little nest in the musty little cottage. There was a fairly lengthy walk to the village, but he was determined to enjoy the visceral aspects of the location of his next novel. In Portugal, Australia, and Germany he had met up with locals immediately to establish characters, local Colloquialisms, and the sense of how they expressed their social intercourse. Admittedly, this would be his favorite location. He had always been a closet Anglophile.

One hour later, Jacob had met his first pleasant group at the local café. Sitting outside in the damp chill air, they all seemed to not feel the conditions. Jacob drew his sweater from over the chair onto his slender frame and laughed at something Chubbs said. Chubbs was a robust young man with bright red cheeks, yellow blonde thick hair, and pale icy gray eyes that twinkled perpetually. His friends adored him for his big heart, he was a bit effeminate, and obviously not comfortable with his position as gang representative but the ribbing from his people kept him in place as their spokesman.

“Jacob’s got more gumption than you do, Simon.” He nodded. “He’s staying in the Carrington Cottage.”

“Carrington Cottage?”

One of the women bobbed her head. She had joined the gang later in the evening and arrived with a handsome man half her age. “Darling, you don’t know about the place you’re staying in? That was Martin Carrington’s cottage.”

“Was he related to the owner?”

They all nodded briskly. The leader, Chubbs replied. “You see, back in the 1800s Martin Carrington had an ongoing affair with the nun in the abbey. They weren’t even trying to hide the fact. They openly met at his cottage. She got pregnant and died trying to give birth to the child in the Abbey. Martin was so devastated, he killed himself in the cottage. He’s haunted it ever since.”

The woman cut in again. “You missed the most important part. The nun paces in front of the window of the Abbey waiting for Martin to come for her and Martin remains imprisoned in the cottage and unable to reach her. Tragic, that.” She sighed.

Chubbs eagerly continued on. “It’s the limestone, you know?”

“The limestone?” Jacob was distracted by the tragic love story. Admittedly losing Abby had nearly destroyed him completely and the loss of Joey sent him into drinking, but to kill himself for the loss? He felt a flush of guilt that hadn’t ever occurred to him. He chose another kind of cowardly self destruction, in a bottle of Bourbon.

“Didn’t you notice around here? It’s all limestone pocked hillsides, limestone cliffs, limestone caves.” Chubbs elbowed him. “Limestone is a spirit stone, you know?”

“Spirit stone?”

The woman shook her head at Chubbs. “He’ll make a muck of explaining it. Limestone is a conduit for spirit activity. Spirits can make things move and toss things about because they have the energy of the limestone. It holds in their powers and can…express them.” She said in hushed tones.

“Poltergeists?” Jacob asked. He’d heard of these things but like God and heaven, he had no belief.

“Sometimes poltergeists, sometimes visions, other times voices. The Dales are damned active. Don’t expect a good night’s sleep,” the younger man chuckled.

Well, after the best night’s sleep of the past six years, Jacob doubted the stories from the café. He began to type up his character studies. One was based on Chubbs, another a beautiful aging woman fighting the clock by dating a 25-year-old young man, and a third character was based upon the tragic nun from the Abbey.

Determinedly, he worked for four hours precisely before he got up and took the stroll up to the knoll. The ancient Abbey was inviting and warm, built of none other than limestone. He stepped back and studied the pale stones.

“Magical, huh?” He might use that in his novel. Something about local superstitions.

He stepped inside to find a visitor’s book. He signed it and his hand hovered over the portion that asked for his hometown. He shrugged and wrote down Boston. It was a tall slender building and appeared to be dressed up for the many tourists to appreciate. The wood floors sounded under his heels. Jacob walked the length of it and back again, his eyes adjusting to the light coming through the front windows when he saw something blocking his view. He halted and looked around. He didn’t recall anyone coming inside with him. In fact, except for a couple of stray sheep, there was no sign of life in the whole area. A few steps closer to the outline and it seemed to turn, revealing a womanly shape shrouded in dark fabric. He opened his mouth to call out but it dissolved into the limestone walls nearby like an evaporating steam.

Jacob rushed forward and inspected the window and the floor before it. He looked back to where he had been standing, then paced the floor again to look at the spot once more from his earlier perspective. He could clearly see the green hillsides out the window with nothing obstructing it. He shook his head in wonder.

That evening, he’d finished meeting a few more of he gang at the café. A few more ghost stories later, he wandered up the winding narrow road to his cottage and tucked himself into the feather down bed, a fire crackling in the hearth. It was everything he imagined England to be, especially a countryside cottage. With a loud yawn, he turned over and completed his nightly ritual.

“Good night, Abby. I love you. Good night, Joey. I love you.” If word were wishes, his had floated the earth for six years awaiting some miracle.

Take me to her. Take me to her. Take me to her. My son, oh God! My son!”

Jacob sat up, body broken into a full sweat. The hearth was completely orange embers in the middle of the night and the man’s voice ringing in his head made him clench his belly in terror. The anguish in his voice. The intention of his pleas.

“Martin Carrington, no doubt.” He ran a hand through his hair.

Get me to her.”

Jacob knew that wasn’t his voice. It echoed deep within the cottage near the bed, but it made no sense. The windows were closed, there were no other buildings nearby. He sat up and plunged his feet into his slippers, threw a log onto the fire, and crept over to the windows to cautiously look into the inky blackness.

Up the hillside at the Abby a small blue light glowed. It moved back and forth and back again in a small space. He squinted and rubbed his eyes, trying to adjust to the severe darkness of a moonless night and the dancing blue light. It was round-shaped and hazy. He considered heading up there, but he was more interested in the voice he’d heard.

“Obviously, I wasn’t full awake.” He told himself. He went and poured some water for tea. It was nearing sunrise according to the clock and he knew he’d never fall asleep again. The man’s voice not only sounded desperate, but he could feel the man’s emotions, like a clawing, sinking, cold thing. He had felt that in his belly when he took to the bottle.

The teapot whistled and he poured the hot brew into a cup.

My son. Please let me see my son.”

Jacob dropped the tin pot and walked back through the narrow little hall that led to the bathroom. He studied the room and then the window and checked the seal. He walked over to his bed and tested the springs. Perhaps one had come loose and sounded like a voice? Desperate for answers, he raced back to the kitchen area.

I never got to see him. Take me to them. Please, take me to them.

Jacob swung around, tea splashing from his cup. The man was in the room. There was no doubt about it. He studied the now glowing corners with dancing firelight illuminating them.

“Who are you?” He called out.

A mumbled word and then clearly, “Carrington.”

“Martin Carrington? You’re telling me you’re Martin Carrington?” He called out to the corner near the bed.

Yes. I must get to them. Take me to them.”

“The nun and your baby?” He asked. Was this a local prank to scare the American writer? He stormed over to the corner and threw back the curtain to the window to feel the seal. He studied the empty bedside table and underneath it. He played with the lamp and turned it on. Had someone planted a recorder to play the sounds, it certainly couldn’t answer specific questions.

“Do you know my name?” He asked.

Abby. Joey.” The voice responded in a melancholy tone.

A shiver raced up his spine and he stepped back in horror.

Take me to them.”


I try and I try. I cannot make it to them.” The voice wavered in fright.

The man’s tone of voice gut punched Jacob. He knew the desperation. He felt it too. This…man (if he was to believe it was a spirit) was separated in eternity. What if he couldn’t find Abby and Joey? Sweat beaded on his forehead and Jacob stepped into the room closer to where he assumed the voice originated.

“You want to go to the Abbey?”

Abbey.” The man echoed, his voice sounding weaker, more faint.

“I don’t know about spirit things.” He voiced out loud. What had the woman at the pub said? Something about limestone holding the powers and setting them into action?

Three hours later, Jacob had found a few of the strays in the village. Excited for a new and fun activity, they called on the rest of the gang. Within five hours from the voice speaking to him, Jacob supervised a strange bunch of two dozen locals to do something he had no idea would work.

“It’s pulverized limestone.” Chubbs explained as the men with a 1950s pickup truck pulled into the gravel driveway of the cottage. “We have an unlimited supply. Joseph’s family has a mine. This is the debris. We’ll get a couple trucks coming back and forth.” He vowed.

“You really believe me?” Jacob asked him.

Chubbs nodded briskly and slammed him on the back with one beefy hand. “My friend, you’re the first one to come up with a possible solution. Sometimes, it take an outsider to see what those close by can’t see, you know?”

The group gathered around, shovels in hand.

“Do you think the owner will be upset?” Jacob asked.

Stewart chuckled. “Old Man Carrington will be damned glad. You’re the first one to rent the haunted cottage in a good 25 years!”

Chubbs took over as the foreman, directing the group to empty out the truck’s limestone shavings and create a long thin line of the debris to make a trail up to the Abbey. Within two hours, the trail had made it a third of the way up the hillside. The least he could do was drive to the village and order a few boxes of sandwiches and provide them to the helpful group. Watching them work as a team on the words of a stranger and without pay humbled Jacob. For the first time in six years, he felt a part of the human race, a participant, interacting not just for a writer’s observations but actually making a connection. A part of him wanted to stay and settle here. Perhaps it was the hysteria of trying to help a man make contact with his wife and son.

“You’re a brave man, Jacob. I think I’d have ducked under the covers and begged for mercy.” Stewart admitted as they stood side by side with shovels casting the flecks of sandstone in a fine white line.

“It scared me all right. I’ve never believed in ghosts.” He admitted.

Stewart leaned on his shovel and observed him. “I didn’t know it was a choice. They’re not a belief, my man. They are simply a fact of life.”

That made Jacob smile.

Two more hours later, the line had made its way up to the door of the limestone Abbey.

“Whatcha say we see what happens tonight?” Chubbs offered. “You report back to us and we’ll decide where to go from there, my man.” He slapped him on the back again.

The darkness enfolded the hidden cottage and Jacob paced before the hearth, fire blazing, muscles aching.

“Are you here? Martin?” He called out.

Get me to them.” The man echoed from the corner.

“I have a path for you to take.” Jacob strode over to the door and swung it open, grasping a handful of limestone, he streamed it from the path and into the room. “Follow it, Martin. Join them.”

A rush of cold air blasted against Jacob and he fell back hard against the door. Goosebumps cropped up over his entire body sending him into shaking rigors. He stared out into the darkness to see the blue light at the Abbey. He squinted as he watched another light beside it. The two lights blended into one brilliant white light. He shivered as he stepped back into the cottage and looked down at the pathway. If he left the limestone, there would be a constant pathway wouldn’t there? He kicked away the rubble to cut the ties to the cottage. The limestone of the Abbey would hold them in forever.

Before he settled for the night, he called out. “Martin?” After several attempts, he gave up, realizing the man had well and truly bolted. He might not be with Abby and Joey, but he carried them with him. Knowing he could help a man make the connection in the afterlife let something tight in his chest unfurl. He smiled and looked around the cottage, dropping a handful of the limestone across the floor.

“Good night, Abby. I love you. Good night, Joey. I love you.”

He climbed into the bed and wiped the limestone debris from his socked feet. Just as he turned over to sleep contentedly by his good efforts, clearly and softly he heard from the corner.

Good night, Jacob,” and “Good night, daddy.


  1. Wow-I loved this one Autumnforest-a new fave for me-although the clown story was also very original and intriguing!! I like how you keep putting things from you own research in these -haha-in the one-one story i have going -i put some actual thoughts i really would have had in it -perhaps controversial-and i thank you for getting the idea to go all the way with the idea-i am one of the characters -i didnt even disguise my name.
    I was nervous when you said you had an hour to work on this -i know what you can do in 15 minutes!
    Great and beautiful story all the way round Autumnforest!! I think any ghost hunter who is able to financially -should travel to the UK -I think-it is just a hunch that it is the most haunted real estaste on planet earth per square mile -beautiful people there and scenery too!!
    best to you as always and I will look at the post below-hope i can help!!

  2. Dev;
    I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I really liked this one because traditional haunting stories intrigue me so much and putting myself in that setting with that character just seemed to make the story seem very possible. I can't wait to read your fictional work--get it on your blog asap! I agree about travel. When I finally take my writing more seriously and pursue getting my novels submitted, I hope to be able to go to locations. I can always write better when I know how it smells, sounds, and feels.

  3. that was a beautiful story, autumnforest! i loved it!

  4. Libby;
    I'm so glad you liked it. I thought it was a pretty traditional ghost story and those are always so "haunting" Check it out tomorrow-I'll have the Mad Lib up with your wonderful idea in it.

  5. loved this - i'm a little behind on your stories - so, i'm catching up now. this was so cool.