An attempt to write a 1930’s style ghost story.
WOMAN IN BLACK
I find it strange how people, often very likeable and affable people, can disappear for months or years and others never notice them missing. What made me realise it, was meeting Harry Soams in the high street. I've known Harry for years, so we stopped and chatted about mundane things for a while. I was about to go on my way when he asked. "Have you seen Peter Farraday lately?"
"No, but come to think of it, I haven't seen him for some months. Have you seen him?"
"Yes." Harry answered, rubbing his chin. "Look, have you got time for a coffee? Peter had a strange tale to tell, and I'd like your opinion on what he told me."
Once we were seated and drinking our coffees in a cafopposite the abbey, Harry repeated what Peter had told him.
As you know, being an architect, I have to work to tight schedules. I had been pushing myself for weeks to finish the latest project and felt exhausted. A short touring break in the Welsh Marches, seemed a good idea. Time to wind down and relax.
My first day, I came across a rather remote old coaching inn, located somewhere between Welshpool and Newtown. It seemed to have the quiet and peacefulness I needed.
I was right in my assumption. The landlord was a genial old fellow with big hands and a rosy glow to his cheeks. He introduced me to his staff which comprised three young women and a chap he called his night manager.
I asked for a rear room, fearing any traffic noise would keep me awake. The room allocated to me overlooked a wood. From the window, I noticed a pathway leading into the wood and asked the girl who shown me to my room where it led. She explained it led to the local village, but it wasn't much used, as locals preferred to use the main road.
In the evening after an excellent dinner, I thought I would walk to the village for a bit of exercise. A walk along the path through the woods would make for a pleasant evening stroll, but as I was about to put a foot on the path, the night manager approached and warned me about not using it after dark. When I asked him why, he shook his head and muttered something about it being unsafe at night.
I thanked him for his warning and set out. There was still a good two hours of sunshine left in the day, and I felt both my body and mind in perfect harmony, as I walked.
It was a surprise to find the pathway had lighting. The number of lamp posts were few, and I didn't know if they were functional. If they worked, there would still be lots of dark shadows, but enough light to walk in reasonable safely.
Later, leaving the village, I noticed the pathway lights working, and it being one of those warm velvety evenings, I thought to chance the walk.
Half way back to the inn, I came across someone sitting on a bench. I was in a pool of light from a lamp, so it was hard to make out whether it was a male or female figure.
I drew closer and realised it was a woman dressed from head to foot in black and wearing a veil. As I got nearer, she turned her head away from me.
"Sorry if I frightened you." I tried to reassure her as I passed.
She never acknowledged me, and her body remained in the same position, but I could not resist looking over my shoulder. I felt a strange urgency to see her face, but resisted it and carried on back to the inn.
The night manager met me at the end of the path. "Everything alright sir?" He asked, with a troubled frown on his face.
"I came across a woman, as I walked back. Do you believe she'll be safe out there on her own?"
The night managers face paled. "You're one who can see her, not all can. Sir, you must promise me you will not walk that path again."
"Why shouldn't I, and what about that woman sitting alone?"
"Come sir, I'll explain everything." He led me into the closed bar and poured two large brandies. "I have a story to tell you sir, and you must listen. Your life could depend on it."
I considered he was being melodramatic, but agreed.
The Night Manager's Tale
In the early sixteen hundred, the owner of this establishment, a fellow called Geraint, fell in love with Morag, the local squire's daughter, and she with him. The squire being a haughty man would not sanction her marriage to a low born fellow, and that was the end of it. He married her off to one of the local gentry, who she despised. In fact, she hated her husband so much, she had affairs with all his friends. The upshot of it all was he divorced her.
She now found herself back with her father who kept her in impoverished conditions, so she took to the bottle. One night while lying drunk in her bed, she knocked over a candle. The fire caught quickly, but in her inebriation, she felt nothing. The servants raised the alarm, and dragged her out of her room, but too late. Her once beautiful face was horribly burnt and disfigured.
Her father knew it would be an onerous task trying to marry her off, but thought to ask her first love Geraint if he would still consider marrying his daughter. Even though he was a haughty man, he was honest, and resolved that Geraint should see his daughter's face before deciding.
They agreed, Geraint and Morag would meet where nobody would see or overhear them. And, it was settled, it would be on the path you walked tonight. Her parents waited for her in the inn, and Geraint set off to find her.
In a short time, Geraint returned, but said nothing, which the squire took as a no, so off he went to find his daughter. He found her sitting motionless where he had left her. She was dead, and near her hand, he found a small green bottle with a skull and cross-bones label. She had decided to die, rather than live.
Well from that day to this, certain people have seen her sitting in the wood, and all became desperate to see her face. All who did, died shortly after or ended their lives in lunatic asylums. So, do not walk that path again, I beg you.
After the night manager's tale, I retired for the night, but could not sleep. The desperate urge to look upon her face was still with me, but in time I fell into a slumber, or thought I did.
I awoke dressed and walking along the path. I tried to return to the inn, but something inside me, urged me on.
Sweating and anxious, I kept on walking, knowing no good would come from my venture. Whatever my brain said, my body would not respond, and so I went onward.
Dread wrapped its icy fingers around my heart, but I had to see the face nobody should look upon.
She was there, sitting where I last saw her. Her head moved in a slow, almost mechanical manner toward me. My mind screamed run, run for your life, but my feet trudged towards the unholy creature God had refused to accept.
Tears of foreboding, ran down my cheeks, as I reached out and plucked the veil from her face. There was just a blackness where her face should have been, and as I stared into the hell-black void, I felt my soul being sucked from my body.
The smell of sulphur and brimstone was choking the life from me, and no matter how I struggled I breathed in great gasps of it.
My body was sagging to the floor when a pair of strong hands gripped my shoulders and pulled me away from the bench and the hellish apparition possessing it.
I passed out and didn't revive until I was in the bar of the inn, having brandy trickled into my mouth.
With a cough, I became aware once more and found myself staring into the eyes of the night manager. "You were lucky that on my rounds, I saw your door open and you missing." He said.
The following morning, I started my ablutions and chanced to look in the mirror, and what a shock it gave me. My hair had turned snow-white and my features had aged a good twenty years.
I didn't stop for breakfast, wanting to be away from that place as fast as possible. After leaving the night manager a substantial gratuity, I left the place, swearing never to return.
"Did he say nothing more?" I asked of Harry.
"No, no more, he stood and without a farewell left me." Harry sat pensive for a moment before speaking again. "He did mumble something or other, but I didn't catch all of what he said."
"What did you catch?"
"Something about cheating the devil, of his soul."
"Strange." I answered, as I looked over Harry's shoulder. On the opposite table, a man was reading the sports page of the local evening paper, so I had a good view of the front-page headline.
LOCAL ARCHITECT HANGS HIMSELF IN HALLOWED ABBEY CHLOISTERS.
Something else caught my eye. Across the road, a woman dressed in black and wearing a full veil sat unmoving, as though waiting for someone to leave the abbey.
Without mentioning the headline, I pointed her out to Harry, but by the time he looked, she'd gone.
"Anyway, if I hear anymore of Peter, I'll let you know." Harry shook my hand and made ready to leave.
I was about tell Harry about the headline, but became distracted. The woman in the black veil was back, sitting in the same position. The urge to look upon her face was becoming irresistible. By the time my wits returned Harry had left.
It was only as I walked home that part of Peter's story returned to me.
You're one who can see her, not all can.
I felt a sudden panic, as I realised, I was not walking home, but back to the abbey. Back to that ghoulish apparition in the black veil.
The abbey came into sight, and she was sitting waiting. My hands became clammy and hair on the nape of my neck bristled. No matter how terrified I became, I could not resist the morbid compulsion to stare into the face of the woman at the abbey! I just had to do it.
Please God send somebody to help me!