Rest in Peace
By John Pilling
Robert Ford was a writer of detective stories starring his own personal creation, Inspector Terence Alljoy. Unfortunately, the reading public refused to share his enthusiasm for the renowned detective with the result that the finding of the monthly rent on his bedsit had become a nightmare. It was therefore with feelings of joy that he listened to the solicitor.
“A cottage?” He said, “My great aunt has left me a cottage?”
“Indeed Mr Ford. Under the will of Miss Letitia Ledson, now unfortunately deceased, you inherit the property known as Blackthorn cottage here in Fordham.”
“Well bless her,” said Robert, “what a lovely thing to do.”
“Mmm… do you know the property at all?”
“No… I don’t know much about my great aunt either, she never bothered with the family.”
“Certainly she was a very private lady,” the solicitor said “perhaps a little eccentric in some ways. Are you thinking of moving into the cottage?”
“Would there be any problem?”
“No… not really,” the solicitor said slowly, “it’s rather an old fashioned place of course… somewhat isolated. However, your aunt did mention one rather unusual aspect…”
“Yes… I understand that… occasionally,” the solicitor said even more cautiously, “very occasionally… there may be some sort of slight manifestation… an atmosphere. Your aunt however was sure that a naturally cheerful young man such as yourself would not be affected. She was most anxious to stress that she had lived there for many happy years.”
“I’m sure it will be fine.” Robert said.
* * * *
A few days later, Robert realised why the solicitor had been cautious.
Overlooking woods and fields, its untended gardens full of wild flowers, the little cottage should have been the perfect writer’s retreat, but it had a most uncomfortable atmosphere of sadness and unrest. It was worse at night, shadows seeming to move of their own accord, drawing odd shapes against the wall. Several times he awoke convinced he had heard the sound of a woman crying.
One afternoon, restless and unable to concentrate on his writing, he found a tiny staircase hidden behind a cupboard in the darkest corner of the kitchen. The door at the top of the stairs was closed and, as he pushed it open, he knew immediately that he had found the source of the problem. The door opened into a loft room lit by two heavily barred windows set into the thatch of the roof, at one end was a small fireplace, at the other an old fashioned wooden bedstead pushed against the wall. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, wondering about the bars when he heard a scraping noise and looked round to see the door slowly swinging closed.
Suddenly afraid, he tried to rise but the air seemed to thicken around him, holding him down. Gradually the room changed, becoming darker and colder, and he stared helplessly at the scene which gradually formed before him… a young woman being savagely beaten… sound crashed into his mind… her pitiful screams and pleas… the short panting breaths of her attacker… he watched in horror the final blow that brought death, the sudden terror of her killer and his desperate attempts to hide his guilt.
Slowly the scene faded away and, as he felt the strength flow back into his body, he stood up and made his way shakily through the now open door and back down the stairs to the kitchen and the blessed normality of a cup of tea.
After a time, as his breathing steadied and his mind assimilated what he had seen, he felt the sadness drifting round him stronger than ever. A wave of pity and compassion filled his mind and without thinking he lifted his head and spoke to the empty air.
“What can I do?” he asked, “what is it you want of me?” There was no reply, but almost immediately the air seemed to fill with the scent of flowers, and a soft breeze seemed to pass through the kitchen.
“I think I understand.” he said quietly.
The following morning, Robert drove to the nearest market town where he bought a hammer, a stone chisel, a large packet of wild flower seeds and a double sheet of the finest Irish linen he could find.
Back at the cottage, he went up to the little loft room and, after spreading the sheet on the bed, began to carefully chisel into the wall by the side of the fireplace. A few minutes later he was rewarded by several bricks collapsing outwards revealing a recess containing a huddle of bones. Carefully he removed more bricks until he could reach into the recess and with infinite gentleness remove the bones, which he wrapped in the linen and carried downstairs to a grassy bank in the corner of the garden. There he dug a small grave and lowered the sheet and its contents into the ground scattering the flower seeds as he replaced the earth.
* * * *
The ghost story that launched the successful literary career of Robert Ford, acclaimed writer of stories of the occult, was written at a table in the loft room of Blackthorn cottage. Lit by windows, from which the bars had long been removed, it was a place of extraordinary peace and serenity only to be matched by a certain bank in a corner of the garden where the wild flowers nodded and swayed to the breeze.