Since it's that time of year for ghosts, ghouls and goblins, I thought I'd share an excerpt from SOULS DRYFT. Hope it will get you in the mood!
The taxi bounced slowly down the rutted lane, the driver’s face grim as he contemplated the high grassy tufts, tall angry thistles and deep gullies. He kept asking if I was sure this was the right road. I sat forward, gripping his headrest, searching for landmarks. It was much more overgrown than the last time I visited, but finally I saw the flint and pebble wall, where Marian and I had practiced handstands, and the elaborate, rusty iron gates that seemed too grand and ornate for the house.
"There it is!"
The driver pulled over, peering doubtfully through his windscreen. "You sure you don’t want me to wait?"
I told him I’d be fine. I could always walk to the village from here. It was no more than a ten minute stroll as far as I remembered. Marian and I used to walk there on fine days to buy sweets and comics. When he drove away, I did suffer a twinge of second-thought, but it passed when I pushed on the gate. The warbling shudder of the old hinges, the deceptively complacent sound, perfectly mimicked the call of a wood pigeon. Whenever I heard the five-note coo of those birds on a lazy summer afternoon, I thought of Souls Dryft.
The blossom was in full glory; the air was sickly sweet, blown around the side of the house from the old orchard. I took a great breath of it, drinking it down greedily, and then I opened my eyes.
The house was always falling down. Not toppling over, but sinking slowly into the earth. It was a bulky, unprepossessing creature, lurking there in the grass like a toad, waiting for unsuspecting insects to pass within striking distance of its sly, quick tongue. My mother, who didn’t have much time for the picturesque, thought the best thing to be done with Uncle Bob’s house was to level it and start again. But when Marian and I spent those idyllic summer weeks there, the precarious, leaning walls, creaky stairs and uneven floors all added to the charm and adventure. Surrounding the yard, there were several buildings. The smallest one, Aunt Rose had referred to as, "the necessary". We loved going outside to use it, preferring the novelty of an ice-cold toilet seat and wind whipping under the door, to that fancy indoor plumbing we could use any day of the week at home.
I still remembered Aunt Rose’s voice— soft and creamy, all the vowels melting slowly off her tongue. She laughed a great deal and was never angry, even when Uncle Bob played tricks on her; like the time he told her that her budgie had laid an egg and, for weeks, she watched over the smooth, white, pebble-shaped object, telling everyone about it, marveling over the miracle about to hatch. Finally she took it to the vet in the village, where she was informed that her budgie’s egg was, in fact, an Imperial Mint.
I smiled sadly at my reflection in the window, thinking of Uncle Bob sitting there alone all those years, with only the voices in his head for company. The window was left ajar and when I pushed it with my fingers, it swung open all the way. Caught up in the adventure, I crawled over the stone ledge and into the house, scraping my knee in the process. I hadn’t felt this much excitement since I was twelve and Marian fell out of a rowboat.
The ground floor was converted, some time ago, from one large room into three, with a small pantry and an added on bathroom beyond that. Uncle Bob rarely used the other rooms, preferring this one that looked out toward the gate. After Aunt Rose died he said he was looking for her to come back, as if she’d just nipped out to the shop in the village for a packet of custard creams. Today the windows were filthy. I didn’t remember them being that bad before, but at home our mother had kept everything so spotless, it was a relief to go to Aunt Rose’s house and wallow in a little dirt. These days a woman called Mrs. Tuke came up from the village three times a week to "see to" Uncle Bob, which meant she gave the place a rough going over with a broom and did his laundry. Apparently, Mrs. Tuke didn’t do windows. As I studied the small, crooked glass panes, I realized the marks I’d mistaken for random fingerprints in the grime were letters written on the outside.
emoc sah ynneG
I stared at the window. Above me the wooden beams creaked and stretched in the warm air. Or were they footsteps passing up and down in the rooms above?
At the foot of the staircase, there was a door meant to keep out those drafts that still found their way in, even with all the windows and chimneys closed. It was warped and rotted, the paintwork chipped, a large portion of wood missing from the bottom, as if an extremely hungry dog once had a go at it. The door still creaked, just the way I remembered, and the whisper of a breeze tumbled down the tilting stairs, disturbing the fragile remnants of a cobweb above my head. Out of respect for the house’s unseen residents, I tiptoed upstairs and onto the narrow, musty landing. Each bedroom door had a rusty, iron latch with a loop that hung down. It was once a favorite game of ours to run along the hall, setting all the latches rocking.
Then, one day, the latches stopped, all at the same time – some midswing – before they suddenly began rocking back the other way, even faster. After that, Marian, being a wimp, would never go upstairs alone again.
Our old bedroom door required several shoulder thumps to open, and the cloud of stagnant air was so thick I could bite it. Clearly no one had been inside for some time; yet, when I went to open the window, there was an apple core on the ledge and it was still white, as if someone just took their last bite before setting it down.
I sat on the bed, resting my hand on the pillow. Of course, it must have been the sun that made it so warm, as if another soul just rose from it.
"You took your time coming to me."
Waves of sun moved in a gentle ebb and flow around the room, just like the voices. It lifted me, held my spirit and warmed it.
"I came when I could, I do have other things to do with my day."
"For Pity’s Sake, ‘tis only a little wound."
"Like recognizes like."
The sunlight dimmed. Someone shouted up from below, "Hello! Is anyone there?"
I jumped. Whoever entered the house, uninvited, they weren’t shy about trespassing on our property. I called down from the landing, "This is my great uncle’s house. What are you doing here?"
He appeared at the foot of the stairs. "Grace?"
So this is where he was heading on that train. "How did you get in?" I demanded, stomping down the stairs.
Looking over his shoulder toward the door and then back to me, my torn jeans and scraped knee, he said, "It wasn’t locked. I suppose you didn’t try it first."
"How did you get here and…what…what are you doing here, Downing?"
"I got here from Norwich in a hired car and as for the second part of your question – I think I should ask you the same. This is private property."
Immediately, my hackles were raised. "I beg your pardon?"
"This house belongs to my family," he replied, faintly bemused.
"This is our house. Souls Dryft belongs to us."
"You mean, Saul’s Drift."
Angry pride coursed through me. "I know what it’s called, because it belongs to my family."
He thought I was joking again. I was sickened by the idea of that lovely old place falling into his mercenary, pirate hands. "My great uncle’s wife was given this house as a wedding gift from a relative when they married."
His eyes narrowed, protecting that plush cobalt from the melting heat of my wrath. "The house belongs to me, and I have the documents to prove it. The people who lived here were only tenants."
My fingers curled around the banister. What did he know about anything? He was only a figment of my imagination.
"I’ll probably have it torn down," he added. "We could fit four or five homes on the land." Then he said, "Your mouth’s hanging open."
My ribs pressed on my heart. "This house belongs to my family."
He shook his head. "I assure you, it’s mine."
"Uncle Bob said…"
"You mean the old guy that lived here? Aren’t they sending him to the nuthouse?"
"Off his proverbial rocker," he added.
"And you’re qualified to diagnose that because…?"
His lips tightened, while he considered whether the sticky-faced child before him was old enough to be told. "He was found sitting in the lane, in a pair of underpants."
"At least he had something on."
"Pity they weren’t his underpants."
"They belonged to the woman who comes in to clean for him three times a week. They were her underpants."
No one told me that, of course, yet pompous Richard knew. And he meant to take that house away – the house poor Uncle Bob loved and entrusted to me. To me.
I took a deep breath. "For your information, Uncle Bob died last night."
He winced, inhaling sharply. "I’m… sorry. That explains why you’re so emotional."
I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation with a construct of my own imagination. Of course, he took things that didn’t truly belong to him. Dress it up all you like with fancy names like ‘property developer’, but he was a pirate and that was what pirates did.
"Where are you going?" he asked, as I pushed by, storming out into the yard. My gaze was fixed on the way ahead, to the castle ruins at the end of the lane. I couldn’t get this straight in my overcrowded head, and I needed time alone, to think.
SOULS DRYFT available here: