What’s this? Another teaser? Surely not. This is from a short, honest to goodness ghost story. Whooo, ghoulies and ghosties, and things that go bump in the night. Scary eh? No? Oh well. As always, I’ll get round to finishing it one day…
She’d scared him when he was a child. She’d scared him when he was a teenager. And now, over twenty years later and in his early forties, she still scared him – even though she was now dead and about to be buried. Standing at the edge of the grave, he peered down at her coffin, the polished wood gleaming in the bright summer sun. It was such a glorious day that even six feet down in the cool earth he could imagine that she’d be cursing the heat. That said, if it had been ten below and snowing she would have been cursing the cold. She had cursed everything, had Aunt Sylvia.
She wasn’t his proper aunt – as far as he had been able to ascertain she hadn’t been related to anyone in his family, either directly or indirectly. She had favoured bright white blouses with stiffly starched collars and ruffles down the front. Long flowing skirts of a single, dark colour – red, blue, brown, purple, green – you name it, no doubt she’d have a skirt in the darkest shade possible of that colour. Stout black boots and a black walking cane with a silver duck’s head for a handle completed her usual ensemble. She had always dressed the same, and had always looked the same. As a small boy he’d imagined she must be ancient, with her grey hair, deep wrinkles and toothless mouth. So, that means she must have been at least two hundred by the time she’d died.
Jake smiled to himself. He wouldn’t have put it past her to have lived that long. His sister had told him once that Aunt Sylvia was a witch, and in all the years that he had known her she had done absolutely nothing to dispel that image. A slight breeze blew across the churchyard and, despite the warmth of the day, Jake shivered. Did witches really die? Or did their spirits float around looking for a new, younger body to inhabit? Don’t be so soft, he told himself. She was just a harmless, lonely old lady. He smiled again. The brain said be sensible, but the imagination… well, that had always had a life of it’s own. Writing horror stories for a living didn’t help matters either.
Aunt Sylvia hadn’t really been scary, and he chided himself for carrying on with such childish thoughts. Yes, he hadn’t liked being kissed by her dry lips whenever his parents had made them visit her. Yes, he hadn’t liked her bony, arthritic hands tussling his hair, or the stale smell of pipe smoke that always surrounded her like an invisible cloud. A pipe, of all things! An old lady smoking a pipe had to be a witch, surely? All those things made a big impression on a very impressionable young boy, and they had stayed with him ever since. Sudden melancholia swept over him, a sadness for things lost, never to be regained, and he blinked away unexpected tears self-consciously.
The Reverend Bywater finished his sermon with a loud Amen, and the small crowd of mourners began to drift away. Jake stayed where he was, lost in thoughts of the past. This was his first visit to Penrith in almost ten years, and nothing had changed. A small, historic market town, it hadn’t altered much over the centuries, he guessed. Businesses and people may have come and gone, but the buildings had stayed the same. Born and raised here, he had left in his early twenties to pursue his journalistic ambitions, and had rarely visited since. He absently watched a small beetle scurry over Aunt Sylvia’s coffin lid as he wondered why this was so. His journalism career hadn’t taken off but there was no shame in that, no reason to stay away, as less than a year later he had sold his first book and had been making a good living off the back of his writing ever since.
“Hey, Jakey boy! That you? Woof woof! How’s it going, you old dog you?” Sighing, Jake silently questioned, not for the first time, the wisdom of parents with the surname Russell calling their son Jake. Turning around, he saw Trev, alcoholic brother of an old school friend staggering towards him, beer can in hand. Maybe here was one of the reasons for not returning to his home town more often.
As always, that shallot.