A Hallowe’en story.
Victoria Colquhoun was a fine upstanding Scotswoman, a pillar of the church, who brooked no nonsense. She didn’t read ghost stories and didn’t believe in ghosts; never had and never would, she always maintained until that day.
That day she was alone in the house. Evening had come early, it had been a grey day anyway. She turned up the lights in the parlour and drew the heavy velvet curtains against the incoming night. She sat down to read but for some reason she couldn’t settle. Even the cat didn’t want to sit on her lap, which was unusual for the cat rarely missed the opportunity of an empty lap. She closed the book and sat there in silence, listening to the gas flames hissing in the old fireplace. She closed her eyes in order to listen more attentively to the hissing and popping of the old fire. But it wasn’t just hissing and popping that she could hear. It sounded for all the world as if there were voices coming from behind the wainscoting. There couldn’t be, she reasoned to herself. The house was detached and there was no else in the house. She stood up and approached the wall, cupping her hand against it in order to try and concentrate on the sound. The voices seemed to be having an argument. She resumed her seat in the armchair and idly glanced round the room. She had never paid much attention to the photographs hanging on the walls. They had inherited the house from a distant relative of her husband’s and had simply moved in and continued their lives as if they had always lived there. The photographs were small and, for the most part, dark and somewhat grimy after years of semi-neglect. The heavy gilded frames only served to make them smaller and darker. They were pictures of dim and distant families whose names she neither knew nor cared enough about to ask. She got up again and walked slowly round the room looking more closely at the paintings. One in particular caught her attention …. It was a picture of a couple on their wedding day. There was no date and no clue as to their identity.
Her curiosity piqued she decided she would have to ask Lewis if he knew anything about the old photographs.
Eventually hunger pangs and the need to prepare the evening meal drove her into the kitchen where she spent the best part of an hour re-heating the soup and chopping vegetables for the mutton stew. When the stew was safely bubbling on top of the stove she returned to the parlour. This time the voices were even louder. She hesitated outside the door, reluctant to enter. She put her eye to the keyhole and peeped through. She stifled an exclamation at what she saw. A man and a woman were standing in her parlour, facing each other angrily across the hearth. The couple were wearing costumes that had long gone out of fashion and the colours seemed to be very muted. It was as if the couple were there but not really there. Modern parlance would have described it as like looking at a hologram but holograms hadn’t been invented then. “You looked in my diary” the woman accused. The man hung his head in an admission of guilt. “How could you” she pursued. “When you gave it to me you promised you would never look in it”. It was true, he had promised her that and now he was bitterly regretting that he had ever given it to her in the first place for what he had read there changed everything. He regretted that his work had taken him away from her and that she had been forced to spend so much time alone in a strange house with no friends or family close by to help her in her grief. Victoria gently opened the door but the small sound had averted the couple and they slowly dimmed into nothingness. When Lewis returned later that evening she didn’t say anything to him about her strange encounter but resolved to try and find out more about the couple.
Next day while Lewis was at work she climbed the stairs to the attic. Although they had now been living in the house for some months she had never had any reason to go into the attic and had only given it a cursory glance when they had moved in, simply registering the fact that there was an attic in the old house. With her pulse beating faster than usual she opened the door. She expected to find the attic dusty and hung with cobwebs but the light coming through the small skylight revealed an attic that was spotlessly clean. A dress had been left draped over the back of a gilded armchair. She picked it up curiously, the fabric slipping beneath her fingers. The dress was old and looked vaguely familiar. With a start she realized it was the dress she had seen the woman wearing the previous day. It was a faded pale pink with a corsage of pale purple velvet violets pinned to one shoulder. On the table next to the armchair was a diary with a heavily chased clasp. Her hands shook slightly as she picked it up, hesitated then opened the diary. She never intended to read it but she sat down and started to read. With a growing sense of unease she realized it must have belonged to the woman she had seen in her parlour. As she read she was filled with an awful sense of foreboding. Three quarters of the way through the entries ended with one last poignant page. It was addressed “to the daughter I will never see again”. When she had finished reading it, she replaced the book on the side table and sat with tears pouring down her face. Now she knew what the man and woman had been arguing about. She carefully removed the little corsage and took it downstairs where she put it in a small cut glass vase on the top of her bureau in a shadowy corner of the room as a reminder of her glimpse into the past.