A winter ghost story

A winter ghost story

„If I hear that noise again, I’ll complain,“ vowed Nina as she snuggled deeper under the sweetly-smelling duvet.
It was a raw night. The New Year had arrived with a crashing and banging of roof tiles, as a gale force wind with its trail of blistering hail-stones swept mercilessly across the county.
„I was born in during a storm like this, so I shouldn’t be unnerved by strange noises in the night, “ she decided. „But I’m glad I found somewhere to shelter from it, all the same“.
It had been pitch black as she stopped her little car at the bottom of the long pebbly drive leading up to the manor house. The rumble of thunder was getting nearer by the minute and Nina had decided she was too tired to battle against the elements.
Nina’s twin sister Sonja had gone down a dark tortured road of her own, and after years of trying to comfort and placate her confused and angry soul, Nina had been forced to admit that it was a hopeless task. Sonja was taken to a caring environment where her schizophrenia could be controlled by drugs and her „good“ days cheered by group activities and entertainments. She would be safer and happier in that environment, away from the troubles of everyday living, which caused her so much irrational distress. Two years later her condition had improved and Nina had reason to believe that her sister would one day be able to return to some kind of normality.
Today had been a long distressing day for Nina. The strain of getting up at the crack of dawn, driving at break-neck speed along icy country roads, finding her sister resentful because Nina’s visits seemed so few and far between. Nina could not argue with Sonja because she knew that her sister’s notion of time and distance were unreal. How she wished she could take her home, show her their favourite childhood places, remind her of the happier past. But she knew in her heart that it would end in disaster, and so she had again gone through the gruelling ritual of parting at the end of the long day, only this time it had been more difficult than ever because it was also their birthday.
Staying the night en route was a new experience for Nina. Driving cross country between the motorway and her own country town, she had often wondered what the old house near Dorkington Village was like inside. A national trust house protected from demolition but not from rack and ruin, it had been converted into a hotel, and its beautiful setting had helped to make it a tourist attraction and in Nina’s case a welcome shelter from the brewing storm.
Nina could never shake off the feeling that part of her own self was also locked in Sonja’s mental prison. After all, they were identical twins, and all through their growing years they had been inseparable. Until that fateful day when… Nina’s thoughts evaporated as another image took shape in her mind. It was then that she heard the noise again.
„If it were a ghost, there would be clanking of chains and maybe even footsteps,“ she said aloud, throwing back the duvet and swinging her feet onto the carpeted floor. „I’d better check that the windows are closed and bolted“.
A shaft of silver light swept through the room, cutting through the darkness like the beam of a powerful torch. Nina felt compelled to stand up and stretch her hand out towards it. A current of cold air swirled around her, making her shiver.
„Help me“, someone seemed to whisper, and she swung round to where she thought the voice had come from.
„I’m coming, Sonja“, Nina cried involuntarily. She opened the French doors leading from her ground floor room and stepped out unhesitatingly into the night.
The storm had abated and a wan moon shed its light over the landscape. Nina’s long pastel nightgown reflected its light as she ran barefoot down the long winding drive.
The only witness to Nina’s movements was a solitary figure watching her from one of the upstairs windows. Whatever he might think about the disappearing figure, he remained transfixed by the strangeness of the scene.

After Nina’s departure, Sonja had to be given a sedative. She was, as usual, distraught that her sister had left her behind. She would not leave her room. She refused to eat supper with everybody else. And yet the sedative seemed to have no affect on her restiveness.
That night, when all the inmates and most of the staff were in bed, Sonja left her room unseen and fled. Barefooted and clad only in a nightdress she stole out of the clinic and finding one of the doctors’ cars unlocked and with the key in the ignition, drove swiftly out of the grounds and swung unerringly onto the highway in the direction of hers and Nina’s family home. Seemingly unaware of the freezing cold, she raced at full throttle along the route her sister had taken only a few hours earlier. Too late did she see the approaching figure in the moonlight. Too late did she realize that the road was as slippery as an ice-rink. Too late did she realize that the car was out of control.

Nobody had missed Nina, but the police were already searching for Sonja when the man at the window heard the crash followed by terrible screams coming from the road beyond the driveway.
When the paramedics arrived, they found the body of a young woman on the ground very near the driver’s seat. The car was straddled across the road and the driver’s door was wide open. The woman’s body was twisted and she a severe gash on her forehead, from which a quantity of blood had issued onto her nightdress.
She was dead.

The clinic authorities identified the woman as their patient, Sonja. There was no reason to believe that she had wanted to do anything other than go home as fast as possible, spurred on by the memory of her sister’s visit. She had lost control of the vehicle at high speed, and because she had not been wearing her seat belt, had been thrown out on impact. The police were satisfied, as was the coroner next morning. A verdict of accidental death was recorded.

Meanwhile, the woman known as Nina had found her way back through the French window into the old house and lain down in the bed, wrapping the duvet tightly round her like a cocoon. Next day she paid the bill in cash and left very early for home.

If Nina’s behaviour was a little strange after she had been to see her sister, it was nothing new to her neighbours. They sympathised with her and always left her alone to recover from the journey. If Nina’s behaviour continued to cause a little anxiety, it was because all the villagers had heard of Sonja’s car accident. It is true that her behaviour at the funeral of her sister, the last remaining relative, did seem a little casual, even light-hearted, but everyone has their way of getting over grief and sorrow, so who could question another’s reactions to such a tragedy.

But soon people began to exchange glances when the family was mentioned. Strange things were happening these days. You could sometimes hear voices from within the house, even though everyone knew that Nina lived there alone. Laughter, music, even loud voices would emanate late at night. Sometimes Nina would stand in the garden and cry „I’m free, I’m free!“ Then she would run around the grounds calling „Here I am!“
„It’s not normal,“ the neighbours began to comment. „She’s behaving like her sister used to.“
Then there were days when everything was quiet. Nina would go shopping in the village, talk to people, exchange the time of day, accept their sympathy, and all would be well in their minds. No matter if her shopping basket was as empty on the way home as it had been when she set out. No matter if she did seem thinly clad for February.
„I don’t feel the cold,“ was all she would say, smiling gently.

A winter ghost story

Faith Puleston

Herdecke, Germany

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

I wrote this story some years ago. I’m scared of anything creepy. I don’t know what I would do if I really saw a ghost. On the other hand, I may already have done so without knowing. I’ve certainly had some strange experiences, including one in South Africa, where I was on tour some 40 years ago. A group of us stayed in chalets at an artificial lake, which turned out to be the cooling water from a power station (I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time). I had a terrible cold and was lying wrapped up in my bed when my room mate announced that someone was standing next to me. I was terrified, but curious. What does he look like, I stuttered, and she proceeded to describe my father, whom she had never met (we met only just before the tour and my father had been dead for about 4 years). “I think he’s looking after you” she told me. I’m so sorry now that I didn’t have the courage to look. I had never talked to her about my father. I don’t even know if she knew he was dead. When things are really bad, I remember that night and hope she was right.

Having just reread the story, I realise that there are a number of open questions. At the time of writing, the story must have seems logical. I’m careful about that. But I’ve obviously moved on in the 15 years or so since writing the story. For example. How did the woman get home next morning if the woman who died was in Nina’s car? Who actually got back home? Who is alive and who is dead? Of course, a ghost or mystery story can leave room for speculation. I have decided not to change anything……

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