Tuesday, 8 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - G is For Gift, Elizabeth Gaskell & Sir Fulke Greville

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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On to G already! And today, you can find out what I mean by the word gift, and I'll also be sharing my appreciation for author, Elizabeth Gaskell and the ghosts of Warwick Castle, in particular, Sir Fulke Greville, an owner of the grand chateau in the 17th Century.

G is for Gift

The gift I'm talking about today is that moment in any story when the reader and protagonist both, receive something that seems like a boon, yet the question must be asked, 'What is it really?' There's an old saying, never look a gift-horse in the mouth. Now, the meaning is, don't be ungrateful when you receive a gift, but I've always looked a bit deeper, cynic that I am, and there's a warning here as well, I think, that presents can be dodgy. This is especially pertinent when writing a spooky tale or two, since objects quite often come with a curse, or a ghost, or both in this genre. ;P

I'm going to use M. R. James' Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You, My Lad, as an example again, because, the master of the ghost stories presents us with just such a gift in this story. In this case, our professor finds a whistle in an old cemetery he is investigating and, of course, he blows it. Therein lies his doom!

These kinds of gifts do not always spell disaster, though. Although caution should be advised to all protagonists on finding a mysterious object, some can be revelatory. They can be bearers of information, like the cards and letters and papers in The Woman In Black, which reveal the history of Eel Marsh House and its residents.

There's a gift waiting for Tris in this part of The Burning Web, but I'm not going to tell you what it means, you'll have to find out with him. :)
by Sophie Duncan

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There was no-one in the kitchen when Tris wandered through, so he kept on going. He avoided the butler's pantry, since he did not want to tempt fate on his uncontrollable brain for the time being, but there was one more door on the way down the back corridor on the inner wall this time. They'd skirted past it on Saturday's tour, in fact, Tris hadn't really noticed it then, but he stopped this time and tried the handle. It turned reluctantly in his hand, but a simple lean on the door had little effect, although Tris did feel it begin to give.

"Don't want to go down there," Bill's voice interrupted him and Tris let go of the handle, feeling strangely like he'd been caught out of bounds at school.

He looked left to see Bill watching him from the end of the corridor where it opened out into the hallway. As soon as he was acknowledged, Bill came forward and continued, "That's the cellar. Par full of water and not somewhere for you to be going till my boys can make it safe."

Bill glanced down at Tris' stick and he got the message. He stepped away from the door.

"We'll get to it once the mains is in," Bill informed him flatly, "no use till then though, there's a leaky pipe down there."

Tris nodded and, shaking off the naughty boy feeling, started again.

"Morning, Bill. I don't want to get in your way, I just came to look around and think about some of the colour schemes for the rooms," he said, patting his small backpack of brochures, and not sure if the look he was being given was annoyed at his presence or not.

"Then you best start upstairs," Bill replied, giving nothing away either. "Craig and John are dealing with the water pipes and heating system down here and Mikey is going to be working in that pantry of yours on the wires for the new fuse box. Dust and dirt everywhere."

Tris nodded, which satisfied Bill, who stepped out his way and, offering a watery smile, Tris retreated from the work areas. Bill's advice hadn't been for fun, there were bits of plumbing and old radiators propped up against walls in the large square hallway that made up the centre of the house, and Tris picked his way carefully to the stairs. He nodded cordially to Craig, who had been the other worker on Saturday and came in through the now open front door carrying a bundle of shiny new pipe. He was given a nod back. But then, he headed on up to the first floor.

The bare boards creaked under his feet, giving a slightly uneasy feeling from his ability to scare himself, but, as he turned the one-eighty to the second half flight, the light, what there was of it, was coming in through large, curtainless windows behind him and he looked left and right down a large, airy corridor that ran down between the six bedrooms and two bathrooms that he'd seen that weekend. The place was huge, like nothing Tris had ever encountered domestically before, and he stood there at the top of the stairs for a moment, taking it all in and trying to believe that it was all theirs.

He drew in a deep breath and then followed his instincts, he went right and began to think about a light blue for the inner corridor, one with those light-reflecting particles, as he walked towards the rooms. To be honest, after the building costs and basics like plaster repairs to patch all the holes that had and were still being made, there wasn't going to be much left for decorating, not by Tris' calculations, anyway, and since he was a practical kind of guy, paint that he and Xander could put up themselves seemed like a good idea. Based on his short experience of decorating their flat, Tris began to do some estimating of how many pots the long space would need. His head was full of figures, having viewed the ceiling, when he looked back down again to the two doors that almost met each other at the corner of the house.

Abdi stared back at him, face passive, yet accusing, from just inside the corner bedroom. In shock, Tris froze and closed his eyes. He didn't want to open them again, but his carefree day was being ruined by his damned illness, and that annoyed him, so he forced himself to look. Of course, there was nothing there, no ghost boy, just his own conscience, and that flared the ire to proper anger. It had been an accident, the law and eventually the media (for fear of being sued) had agreed with that, but that didn't help Tris. Only action was going to banish his demons, so, growling to himself, Tris stalked towards the corner bedroom, damned if he was going to let his own psyche put him off.

When he'd stomped into it, the room appeared to be remarkably ordinary. A box room, not one of the master bedrooms, but still nicely proportioned for guests, or even a study, or playroom. That thought buoyed his spirits again and Tris ignored the many lines of broken plaster where old cables had been ripped out. Instead, he focused on the inner wall parallel to the hallway and looked at how the light played on what was left of a yellowing flock wallpaper. It being a corner room, there were windows on two sides, so, although, being at the front of the house it faced North, there was plenty of light and the walls would be able to take a darker colour.

Tris slipped off his backpack and bent down to reach in for the colour charts there. As he did so, he listened absently to the clang of pipes and calls of workmen that sounded like they were in another world, not just downstairs. Their echoes were oddly comforting, something domestic, which was why when he heard the swish of crinoline, it sounded so alien. On its own, Tris would have dismissed it as his overactive senses, but a shadow crossed the doorway at the edge of his vision and he straightened up in alarm, scanning the space. Instantly, little dots of light began exploding in front of his eyes and the scene in front of him shifted so violently that everything blurred into one. Whether something was moving in front of him, or the world was just spinning became irrelevant as Tris' balance gave up and he lurched sideways towards the wall. He put out his hand to steady himself and hit rough slats of wood where plaster had once been secured. These crumbled under his hand and he fell another few inches into the wall. His fingers contacted with something that was bulbous and startlingly cold and Tris reeled away. Given his lack of balance and the sparks in his vision, he had no hope of controlling his movements, and, stomach churning, Tris hit the deck. Plaster tumbled after him and he threw up his arm as a large lump thumped into it and then bounced away in a cloud of white.

Tris gasped the dust into his lungs, coughed and shuddered away the scare he'd given himself. He swore under his breath, but did not try to move, having done this often enough to wait until the world stopped going round so dramatically. Balance went along with everything else that was not always perfect, but it didn't stop him feeling embarrassed when he heard work boots thundering up the stairs. He tried to push himself up, far too early for his spinning senses, so he did not so much see Bill when he came running in to the room as he did recognise the man's size. Someone else was behind him too, which just made Tris feel worse, but he couldn't get up, so he just had to blink up through the plaster dust at the alarmed look on Bill's face that slowly righted itself in his vision.

"What the hell happened?" Bill asked with more emotion than Tris had experienced from him before.

"Lost my balance," Tris coughed back as matter-of-factly as he could manage, but he could hear a slight tremor in his voice.

"Are you alright?" the foreman checked, closing in on Tris and offering out his hands.

Tris took them and was hauled to his feet. His balance threatened to slip again at the change in attitude, so he put his hand out to the wall, more gingerly this time, and managed to steady himself.

"Alright?" Craig asked from behind Bill.

The boss nodded and the workman disappeared, which made Tris calm down a bit more and he looked at the bigger hole in the wall a foot or so away from where his hand was now resting. It had been a dark recess, but where the plaster had fallen away the light was now getting into the space below, and he saw wood, varnished wood reflecting the light dimly.

"I put my hand through the wall," Tris explained as Bill looked over his shoulder at the mess. "There's something back here."

Bill came round him and took hold of the ragged edge of plaster Tris' accident had left. The man glanced back at him for permission and Tris nodded. One large tug and the rest of that piece of boarding came away in another cloud of dust. Tris took a careful step back, since his lungs had already had a fair dose of the plaster, and waited for it to clear. Thus, Bill was already reaching into the gap when he blinked away the debris. It took him a moment to work out what his companion was reaching for, but then he recognised the door of a small, recessed cupboard, the handle of which had to have been the cold nodule he had touched. He laughed at his overreaction and closed back in as Bill took hold of the knob and pulled. The little door opened easily, looking like a toy under Bill's large hand, and then both men peered inside.

 The interior was pristine, no cobwebs and very little dust, just a small alcove made of a bright wood that had had no opportunity to fade in the sun and within, a pile of folded paper. Bill stepped aside and gave Tris the lead, so he reached in and drew out the hidden cupboard's contents. A quick look told him he was holding letters, carefully folded and wrapped with a blue ribbon.

The unfortunate route to the discovery swiftly fading away, Tris glanced up at Bill and offered, "Fancy a cup of tea and a look at these?"

Bill bent down and picked up Tris' stick. Handing it to him, he just nodded.

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Author Info: Elizabeth Gaskell

I'm familiar with Elizabeth Gaskell thanks to adaptations of her books, Cranford, North & South and Wives & Daughters on TV, so I was very happy when I found her ghost story, The Old Nurse's Story. This is a study in class as well as a study in ghosts, as we hear from an old nursemaid as she tells her story to the child of little girl she used to nurse. The little girl lost her parents at a young age and was sent to live with a spinster aunt in a grand old house. The setting is familiar, a locked wing, dramatic halls, an old lady and her companion out of step with time and their three servants, all of whom are keeping a secret that gradually reveals itself.

What makes this story a cut above some other gothic horrors of its time is the observation of domestic life. The young nursemaid is aware of her position both in the household and specifically among the servants. She is also devoted to her young charge and is torn by her loyalty to the little girl and to her wish to leave when events start to overtake her. Phantom organ-playing is only the start of this slow-burning story as fear becomes threat and slowly the nursemaid learns the truth of what is happening.

This is not a terrifying story, at least, I did not find it so, but it does have moments when I felt uneasy and at others I was glued to the page due to the drama unfolding in the words. It's well worth a read.

British Hauntings: Sir Fulke Greville

Sir Fulke Greville was a 17th Century owner of the great Warwick Castle. The tale goes that he was murdered by his servant, Heywood when the man discovered he had been left out of his master's will. This happened in a room known as 'The Bogey Room', which is said by many to have an uncomfortable atmosphere. In the half-light, one might also catch a glimpse of a strange mist hovering in the air like smoke, but with a distinct chill to its presence.

Greville is not the only ghost in Warwick Castle, you may meet Moll Boxham, dairymaid, but more importantly, witch, who cheated and cursed her way through life until she cheated the Earl once too often and was faced three militant priests to get rid of her. Her ghost is said to be trapped in the waters of the weir, but sometimes she also walks abroad.

I'd love to hear your own spooky stories, add them to the blog comments. :)

A few of us discovered that we all had supernatural themes for the AtoZ so we got together and did a mini list. If you also have a supernatural theme (ghosts, monsters, witches, spells etc), please feel free to add yourself to the list.

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  1. A cursed item is a lot of fun to put in a story! It's fun to watch the protag research it, find out where it comes from, why it's haunted, and how to lift the curse. Then comes the exciting stuff where nothing goes as expected!
    Lexa Cain’s Blog

  2. Great post. Loved reading it!

  3. I didn't know that about Warwick Castle - the dairymaid sounds rather nasty. :) Great post as ever, dear sis.

    1. She does sound like a rather unpleasant woman!

  4. G is for Gosh, that was a Good Ghost Gala. :) Thanks

  5. I am going to have to read the Old Nurse's Story. I love Gothic fiction.
    Thanks for the heads up on it!

    Timothy S. Brannan
    The Other Side, April Blog Challenge: The A to Z of Witches

  6. Oh, a witch that was actually a witch? Interesting :) thanks for the great stories, as usual :)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Tales of colors
    MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...

    1. Yup, apparently this one was not just a lonely old lady with too many cats.

  7. I've only had a handful of encounters I couldn't explain, despite living in the "old world." I think it had a lot to do with my inability to go out. My parents had a strict hold on me when I was little. So when we lived in Germany and England, I couldn't explore on my own. I was stuck. But there have been a couple of instances at my last house where the only explanation was "paranormal". Once, when my son was about 2 or 3, he kept looking out the window of his bedroom and said, "Man. Hat. Red." When my husband came home and looked around....nothing, no footprints or anything suspicious. The only thing we could guess was that my uncle had come to check up on us and see my son. :) Another time, same house, I saw a little girl, maybe 7 or 8 in her nightgown go from my son's bedroom across the hall to the bathroom and then out to the kitchen. Hubs saw it too more than I did, but he was up late at night with insomnia more than I was. That we attribute to an imprint, not a haunting. :)
    Thanks for sharing! <3 ghost stories!
    Jamie Dement (LadyJai)
    My A to Z
    Caring for My Veteran

    1. Children do often see more than adults :) The little girl in the nightgown would have unnerved me, especially if she was a frequent visitor. Although, if she's an imprint, then maybe not so scary? Did you just get used to her?

      Thanks for telling me your ghost stories. :)

    2. I pretty much got used to her. TheHubs, being more vulnerable because of his depression and PTSD, saw her more often. It really got to him as he's experienced far more than I and he doesn't like the paranormal. I find it fascinating. For me, I brushed her off. But that house was bad for us emotionally. Once we moved, we started feeling better. So who knows what that was all about. :)

    3. I find the paranormal fascinating, but it still bothers me. It's good that you moved if the place was bad for you. Places can hold onto atmosphere, maybe there was something that happened in the past that just didn't sit well with you there.

  8. It is amazing to me how many people don't know who Elizabeth Gaskell is. Granted, she's not in league with Austen (at least to me), but I do rank her higher than the Brontes (although they rank third for me...or at least Charlotte does). Austen's stories were a bit light hearted and romantic whereas the Brontes were dark and moody. Gaskell was happily situated square in the middle...like the best of both worlds. Thanks for recognizing her!

    1. Elizabeth Gaskell has a good observational eye. She's definitely up there, and yeah, I agree, just below Austen. :)

  9. i loved wives and daughters on a&e. I just had to read the book. it took me two months of breakfast reading to finish it, but it was well worth it. I will now have to find the other one.

    awesome post.

  10. Terrific writing! Tthese intriguing tales will hold my attention, and probably give goosebumps, but they're suppose to. On to H then!

  11. Interesting excerpt. There's a nice build up in the story. Everything seemed ordinary until they found the letters and then I started wondering who they belonged to, what they were about, where the writers were..

  12. I'm learning all kinds of interesting tidbits from your posts! :)

  13. I love stories with cursed objects. Way back in the 80s/90s there was a show called Friday the Thirteenth the series where they had to retrieve cursed objects. Great excerpt.

    1. They keep rerunning that on our horror channel, I've seen a couple of eps :) Glad you liked the excerpt :)

  14. I'm liking that I'm three posts behind, that way I get to read more of The Burning Web in one go. ;) Loved the introduction of the hidden cupboard with the letters. Another part to add to the storyline. :)


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