Squinting in the shadowy twilight, Catherine regards the curved staircase, cloaked with powdery cobwebs. Feeling compelled to ascend, she cannot pull her gaze from the door at the top of the rotting wooden steps.
She has no choice but to investigate.
She alone occupies this dry and crumbling skeleton, yet this evening she can sense another presence. She is rigid with concentration. Her eardrums burn with the attempt to isolate any sound that might identify her intruder.
She pads up the dusty steps slowly, softly, careful to avoid the third step, which creaks. Her eyeballs are still locked on the closed door ahead. A sliver of moonlight escapes from beneath it, highlighting the shell of a dried-up spider, trapped in his own web. She stands outside the door, holding her breath. She hesitates for a moment before opening it. This room has been the scene of, and witness to, sudden and violent death. She knows she should have boarded it up years ago, after The Accident, when she stopped using it.
Apprehensively, she turns the knob.
The hairs on her arms rise in the cold. The dust-heavy nets float towards her, caught in the breeze between door and broken windowpanes.
Yes. There is definitely something in the room. Something of a different substance. The musty atmosphere is thick and heavy. The dust remains undisturbed on the windowsill. The corner of the rug is still flapped over, where he tripped on it in his haste, after The Accident. Behind the door the wardrobe with the faulty catch still gapes, exposing her dresses, his suits. The pots and jars on the dressing table coated with thick grime, the long mirror clouded with it.
When she sees it out of the corner of her eye, a chill ripples through her. The figure sits cross-legged on the wooden floor, facing the window with its back against the bed. It is not yet aware of her presence. Catherine could leave now, avoid a confrontation. But she is paralysed by fear, rooted to the spot.
The figure raises its head, startled.
Catherine’s curiosity overcomes her fear. She moves very slowly, never taking her eyes off the creature. Keeping close to the wall, she moves towards the window, where the light is better. The face is that of a young girl, pale in the slow-emerging moonlight, staring at her with an unfathomable expression that makes Catherine feel naked. After a few moments of intense eye contact, Catherine realises that the stranger’s expression is one of quiet fascination.
‘I was hoping you’d come…’ the intruder whispers.
‘Why?’ Catherine asks, swallowing hard, feeling threatened.
The girl replies simply,
‘I’ve never seen a ghost before.’
It was so obvious. Catherine wondered why she hadn’t realised straight away.
She was in the presence of a flesh-and-blood mortal.
The idea for this story (among others) was given to me by my sister Vanessa (long before the release of The Others or Sixth Sense!).