Almost there. My new home by the sea. Watching the fog roll across the bay, I vowed I’d put the past behind me.
You’re new in town?
The old man next to me smirked over his book. Haunted Coast: Maritime Ghost Stories. I shuddered. As I looked away, a shadow rippled in the mist.
There was one taxi at the station.
White Gables Hotel please.
My phone buzzed. I glanced down. 5 missed calls. My fingers hovered, but no. Fresh start.
The driver sneered in his mirror.
The latest tenant, ha! Good luck lassie!
He refused to bring my bags in. Alone, I turned the key.
Inside the sickly smell of mould hit me. In the gloom, my footsteps echoed back at me from the peeling walls and vaulted ceilings.
I heaved open a window sash to let the sea air in. Somewhere upstairs a door slammed. Just the breeze, surely? I looked round, sensing something…
Silence. I looked around at the doors to ‘spacious reception rooms’ of the estate agent’s promise. All stood open. My gaze fell on the ornate carved staircase to the first floor. Was that where the door had slammed?
I made for the stairs.
Shattering the stillness, my phone rang.
My heart leapt. Physical pain. I grabbed at my phone, hands shaking. The estate agent’s number made me curse my stupidity. Might have known it wouldn’t be…
After a routine reminder about meter readings, I turned back to my new home. Floorboards creaked as I headed for the kitchen.
I’d ordered a supermarket delivery, to be left at the kitchen door. No sign of it. My stomach growled at the sight of empty cupboards. The village pub, I thought, served food. I locked the door, set off on the coast path under a flood of stormy sunset. Should be there by dark.
The path led along the cliff top, above a crescent of golden sand. The view was lovely, but my stomach growled.
Nearing the village, I struck inland, over a stile. Chimneys and a church tower beyond the trees, the smell of chips urging me on.
You! Where do you think you’re headed?
A barking dog straining on its lead, its owner glaring as he limped towards me.
This is a public footpath, right? Still hungry, my tone was curt. Face to face, we glared. Dark eyes in a lined face.
Aye, well, folks round here know this field, my crops…
He looked down. I pushed past.
The half empty pub fell silent when I walked in. I ordered, chose a corner table, opened my book, to sly whispering:
New tenant… out at White Gables…
Alone? Gone by next week I reckon. They never last.
I ate, staring grimly at my book.
I looked up, into a pair of dark eyes.
My face felt hot.
I didn’t damage your crops.
I know. I was suspicious. We don’t see many strangers.
No? I thought White Gables had a steady stream of tenants?
That’s where you’re staying? All alone?
I nodded. Dark eyes frowned.
Look, that house. You should know…
His voice tailed off.
White Gables? What about it?
He seemed to steel himself to speak.
Reckon you should hold your tongue now, lad.
The barman’s voice cut across the room. Every face in the pub was staring, unsmiling.
You best get home too now, girl. Tricky after dark, that cliff path. Know what I mean?
I paid my bill in silence. The barman smirked as he returned my card.
Take care up on that cliff, Miss. Have a peaceful night.
The sky was clear, the moon, full. On the cliff, the path stretched ahead of me, colourless in the moonlight. A footstep crunched behind me. I swung round.
Moonlight sparkled on dark eyes.
I’m walking the same way, if you want company?
I nodded. His dog pushed its wet nose against my hand, its tail twitching, a timid half-wag.
We crunched along the gravel path in silence. Only the waves crashing far below.
I wanted to tell you about…
About White Gables? Let me guess, it’s haunted?
I strode ahead, swiping at brambles.
Seriously, the unfriendly villagers and spooky mansion? I’m not daft. Some local is mad I’m renting the place, right?
His limp was making him fall behind, his breathing shallow. I stopped to wait.
Are you always this suspicious? he wheezed, a faint smile in the darkness.
Am I? I wondered.
These days, yes. Look, that big lonely house is perfect for me. I’m not falling for the locals’ Scooby Doo routine. I’ll get home by myself. Goodnight.
I felt him watching as I walked away.
White Gables gleamed cold in the darkness as I approached. I fumbled the key into the unfamiliar lock. Inside, my torch beam fell on cobwebs in corners. There was a rush of movement upstairs. Bats, of course.
I found my sleeping bag. This first night I’d sleep downstairs.
I settled in a corner of what was once a sitting room. An empty fireplace, the blackest point in the shadowy room. A sea-facing window gave a glimpse of moonlit water.
I clicked off the torch, pulled the sleeping bag close. For the first time all day, I was alone with my thoughts.
Thoughts blurred with dreams. I woke repeatedly to the imagined bleep of messages that would never come, the feeling of being watched by a room full of unsmiling faces.
The night was getting old, when I sat bolt upright, my heart pounding. Someone – something – was in the room.
The moon had set, the room darker than ever. My eyes scanned the shadows, searching – for what?
Silence. Even to breathe would shatter it. As if the room was listening too, watching me. I reached to check my phone, expecting something cold to grasp my wrist. 3:31am. No messages.
The phone’s rectangle of light burned against my eyes in the darkness. I exhaled slowly. There was nothing in the shadows. I was alone. Maybe that was the scariest thing of all.
I awoke, hours later, to warm sunshine. A dreamcatcher, not there last night, swayed at the window. A rush of panic propelled me out of my sleeping bag and over to the window. The dreamcatcher hung, its soft feathers swaying lightly in the morning sunshine, from a rusty nail on the inside of the frame.
I stared at it, and then looked around. The door to the hallway stood ajar.
I stepped into the shadowy hall. In the moment’s blindness as my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I caught a blur of movement on the stairs. Somewhere on the upper storey a floorboard creaked.
I felt a surge of anger. Some local trying to spook me. I ascended the stairs, heart racing.
I heard you up there!
Dark and quiet. The upstairs windows were covered. Dust specks danced in a thin shaft of sunlight through a crack in a shutter. I moved forward, aware that this was the first time I’d been upstairs.
Come out! My voice shook.
Behind me, a door opened. Dread chilled me. Again, the sense of being watched. I turned towards the sound of the creaking door.
There, at the end of the landing, a room beckoned me, its door ajar.
Enough of this bullshit!
I strode forwards. A cold rush of air hit me at the threshold. A cry. Then – darkness.
Shadows loomed around me. A pulse pounding in my ears, I couldn’t move, or see. A rush of disconnected images – the dreamcatcher swaying in the sunshine, a moonlit footpath, rusty nail, a message icon flashing on a phone screen – like a drowning man, I fought, gasping, toward the surface.
Wake up. C’mon.
The soft voice was familiar. But where? Head pounding, I realised I was lying on bare floorboards in a dimly lit room. A warm hand patted my face. Dark eyes scanning mine anxiously.
I scrambled upright, the room lurching around me.
How the hell did you get in?
I pulled myself away from him, onto my knees. We eyed each other, frowning.
Did you hang that dream catcher?
He looked blank. Unconvinced, I rose and headed for the stairs. Light creeping into the room from a part-open shutter showed footprints in the dust. Mine? His? Or neither?
I think you did hang it.
I pushed past him. He shook his head, hurrying after me, his leg dragging.
I was walking Bob, I heard a scream. Forced the door…
At the foot of the stairs, the dog’s tail thumped the floor. Sunlight flooded the hall from the front door, now swinging open.
So where is this dreamcatcher?
He seemed sincere. I motioned to the room where it hung and he went to check. Returning, he shook his head, shrugging:
Someone hung it while I was sleeping. Then I heard footsteps upstairs.
His eyes wandered, fearful, to the staircase.
I found you out cold. Must’ve fainted after you screamed.
I didn’t scream. There was someone up there. I yelled at them to come out.
He grinned: That figures.
Suddenly it struck me. Footprints – in the dust. If there was someone…
His eyes lit up. Of course! There’ll be footprints.
Those are mine, there – going across the landing.
And that’s where I came upstairs and found you.
We traced tracks in dust, his dog’s paw prints adding to the chaos, but found nothing suspicious. In his company, my dread faded. He forced open the shutters and the sun flooded in.
He left, promising me dinner in the pub later. I spent the day clearing out old furniture and sweeping cobwebs. I didn’t look at the dream catcher.
As evening approached, I went upstairs to change. On the dusty landing floor, a fresh set of footprints, clearly visible.
I ran all the way to the village. My hands were still shaking as I pushed open the pub door. Ignoring the sudden hush, I flung myself down at his table.
He listened then bought me a drink. The barman smirked. Ignoring him, I leaned forward.
What do you know about White Gables?
His dark eyes flicked round the pub. Following his glance, I saw people pretending not to listen. He turned back to me, defiance hardening his face.
It’s a long story
The sound of broken glass stopped him. A grey-haired woman stood up, her face twisted in fear.
You were told. Stop.
His chair scraped the floor as he stood up, glaring at her.
No. I won’t be part of this anymore.
Then get out – now. The landlord came round the bar and stood beside her.
Every face in the pub watching, we headed out into the night. The woman shouted after us:
You ARE part of this!
Despite his limp, he stormed away from the pub. I hurried after him. At the clifftop, he paused for breath.
What was all that about?
He shook his head, eyes cloudy.
This place. Charades, smoke and mirrors. I’m sick of it.
I waited. Staring out to sea, he began:
Ok. There was a child… 40 years ago White Gables was a smart hotel. Owned by a widow with a little boy.
She remarried, and rumour had it, new husband didn’t get on with the son. Difficult lad, bit of a rebel. Before long, step dad was on his case. Could hear the rows a mile off.
I knew him. In those days people didn’t interfere. No phoning social workers like now. Would have been a blessing if someone had stepped in though.
What happened? I felt sick.
Nobody knows for sure. He used to run off, only go home for food, then there’d be another huge row. Then one day…
He sighed again.
The lad was found dead. No sign of foul play, police said, but you got to wonder. The mother and husband moved away not long after. But even now…
The house has got a reputation?
I tried to think calmly. Rumours, tricks of the mind. Just what I was trying to escape.
I’m glad you told me. But I’m going back there.
Yes. I need a place to sleep! And don’t offer – I barely know you.
He walked me home, watched me go in.
My torch light danced on the ground at the door, picking out a bent, rusty nail. A memory half stirred at the sight.
I closed the front door, shutting out the moonlight and the soft sound of waves. Enveloped in darkness, and the cloying smell of mould, I heard – I thought – a whispering sound from the upper floor. Bats again.
I can do this.
I headed upstairs, to the room I’d chosen as a bedroom.
The bats – was it bats? – fell silent as I went upstairs. I’d made a bed in a room overlooking the cliff. I opened the window to hear the sea and set my phone alarm for morning.
The lack of message alerts on its screen stung my eyes. I turned my face to the darkness and slept.
I was restless, my back aching on the thin camp bed. Half dozing, I thought I heard footsteps on the stairs. Forcing myself awake to empty silence, and drifting back into sleep, dreaming of a face I’d never see again. Over and over as the night wore on.
Suddenly I was wide awake.
I wasn’t sure what had woken me. Had I heard footsteps again? I reached for my phone. 3.31am. I shone it around the room, throwing its colourless light into the corners. The room was empty.
As I fell back to sleep, I heard – very faintly – the sound of a door closing downstairs.
Over the coming days I scrubbed mouldy walls with bleach. Assembled flat pack furniture – ignoring the laughter in dark eyes when I bodged instructions and bashed my thumbs. Unpacked clothes and books, bought food and flowers.
My days were full, creating my new home. But at night…
By night my new home seemed occupied by something other than me. I would wake in darkness, convinced I’d heard footsteps or crying. Sometimes a distant echo from elsewhere in the house, sometimes close by. More than once, I found footprints in the dust, and a rusty nail nearby.
Ghost stories had never moved me. Broken sleep was due to a troubled mind, the creaking doors – a sea breeze rattling through a draughty house.
Why won’t you admit there’s something about the place? my dark-eyed neighbour sounded impressed.
I laughed. But in truth I was afraid. I hadn’t dared move the dream catcher. It hung at the window, like a warning, in a room I avoided after dark.
He was fascinated by it.
A dream catcher… funny coincidence.
No big deal. Some local weirdo, trying to scare me.
He ran his fingers over its faded feathers, lost in thought.
Stop gawping at that thing. I should take it down.
But you can’t, can you?
Look, let’s take Bob for a walk.
I didn’t want to talk about it, but he persisted.
Thing is…the lad who died. I’ve been remembering stuff. He had bad nightmares. And he had a dream catcher a bit like this. I’d forgotten about it until I saw this.
He stroked the dream catcher, his eyes full of memories.
We were at school together. He never went on trips, sleepovers – avoided them you know? Because of the nightmares. But this woman in the village – she said a dreamcatcher would help. I don’t know if it helped. He never said, I just remember seeing it in his bedroom one time, after school.
I waited, sensing his need to say more. The sky was grey but he screwed up his eyes, as though against the sun’s glare.
The last time he ran away, he slept in our barn. He told me he wasn’t ever going back
He turned away, hiding his face from my eyes.
Said he’d had enough of his step dad. Showed me the bruises.
Without thinking, I reached out and squeezed his hand.
Bastard found him. Dragged him home, screaming, next morning. Never saw him again.
I looked around the room, sickened by the pictures I’d hung and the flowers at the window. Pitiful attempts at home making in a charnel house. What hell had these peeling walls witnessed?
Did nobody in the village say anything? Do anything?
Dark eyes sparkling, he shook his head.
I should have stopped him… his voice broke and he buried his face in his hands. I leaned forward.
You couldn’t have. You were a child too.
He looked up, shock in his face. A second later, I knew why.
Did you hear that?
I nodded, my heart racing.
The sound of child… sobbing. Upstairs.
Of all the sick practical jokes! Who the hell is up there?
I stormed up the stairs, not waiting as he limped after me. I could still hear crying. Getting louder as I reached the top.
A door I knew I’d left open was closed. Behind it, somebody was sobbing.
I reached for the handle.
Wait! He’d reached the top of the stairs.
What, don’t want me finding out who else is in on this stupid prank?
I seized the door handle. It was icy. He hurried forward.
Do I look like I’m pranking?
The crying persisted. His face the colour of chalk. Unmoved, I turned the handle.
The door gave way slowly, as if a strong wind were forcing it back. The child’s sobs intensified. I faltered, but his warm hand closed over mine. Our eyes met.
Come on. I want to know what’s going on, same as you.
We stepped inside. The room was freezing. The curtains were closed.
The crying ceased. I looked round, expecting to see a villager, perhaps the barman, grinning spitefully in a corner. The room was empty.
There was someone here, I heard them.
He nodded, staring in confusion at blank walls.
There’s no other door to this room? And the window?
I strode to the window and pulled back the curtains to a sudden shaft of sunlight. The window was closed, and outside a sheer drop to the ground.
On the window ledge something caught my eye. I bent to look closer. Three rusty nails, and a pale brown feather, brittle with age. I picked them up. Turned towards him, my hand outstretched.
I’m sure these weren’t here before.
That feather… He frowned. Like a dream catcher’s.
But much older than the one downstairs.
I think you shouldn’t stay here alone. He took my hand. Just until we figure this out.
I’ll show you the spare room. He was awkward. Sorry about the mess.
I’d known untidy men before, but this was different. Something sad lingered in piles of unopened post and damp stained walls.
In the yard, the dog barked. Through the window, I saw a grey-haired woman approaching.
As she approached I recognised something harsh in her face. The woman who had shouted at us in the pub, my second night.
Wait here. I’ll talk to her.
He left me in the kitchen and went outside. I strained to catch their voices. Though the window, I saw her gesturing angrily.
I followed him outside. They fell silent as I opened the door. Her face twisted in a sneering smile:
You’ve moved out of the old hotel then?
I shrugged. Maybe.
For the best, I reckon. Full of nightmares, it is. You’ll be leaving soon I daresay?
The triumph in her eyes stung me.
Not at all. I’ll be back at White Gables tomorrow.
Her triumph turned to shock. I turned on my heel and went inside. Moments later he rejoined me.
Why d’you tell her that?
I’m not having her and the rest of the village laughing at me, with their stupid tricks.
He shook his head.
You still think this is some prank don’t you? He sounded almost angry. Even after that crying? The feather? You know what you saw!
I didn’t know what to think, who to trust, anymore. I sat down at the table, my head in my hands. Something she’d said felt wrong. I thought back.
Suddenly it hit me: full of nightmares. Had he told her about the noises that plagued White Gables?
Funny, that thing she said about nightmares though…
I was watching his reaction.
I didn’t hear… what was it?
Full of nightmares. Almost like she knew something.
He sat down opposite me at the table. Sweeping a pile of paperwork to one side, he rested his head in his hands for a moment.
Some people here you don’t want to get on the wrong side. She’s one of them.
I gathered that.
She runs that shop off the high street. The occult bookshop.
I knew the shop, although I’d never been inside. One of those identikit alternative shops, with incense and crystals… A jigsaw piece slotted into place in my mind.
It sells dreamcatchers, doesn’t it?
I’d seen them in the window. He nodded.
She was the one who said it would help. If it was anyone else, you’d think it was harmless. A kind gesture, that might have helped. But her… his face creased with dislike. She liked scaring us as kids. None of us dared go in her shop.
His jaw tensed.
He must have been bloody desperate to take that dreamcatcher from her.
A windchime clinked and the smell of incense hit me as I opened the shop door. In the mood to take the fight to the enemy.
She was stooped behind a stack of books on the counter. If she was shocked to see me, she didn’t show it.
Looking for something? She scowled.
Yes. Answers. There’s a dreamcatcher like that in my house. I motioned to one hanging behind the counter. Wondered if you knew how it got there?
What do you think?
I looked her straight in the eye.
I think it came from this shop. I know you provided one for someone who lived there before.
She stood up. I flinched, as though she’d taken a step towards me. She hadn’t moved, but her eyes were fixed on mine.
Some nightmares are too powerful even for dreamcatchers. It’s not me giving you bad dreams dearie.
Leaning forward, I whispered:
Stay away from White Gables.
Heart pounding, furious at her veiled threats, I headed back to White Gables. Reaching the cliff path I slowed down. A mist was rolling in across the bay.
Below me the waves were crashing, and the path veered close to the cliff edge. As the fog closed around me, I stumbled.
A loose stone under my foot had thrown me off balance. As I regained my footing, it rolled over the cliff edge. I could barely see 10 paces ahead through the fog. I inched forwards, one step at a time.
Was that someone approaching? I strained my eyes at a shadow in the mist.
I could hear him – it sounded male – although I could see nobody. The footsteps were heavy, the pace brisk. And getting closer.
I came to a stop. The path, close to the edge, was narrow and rocky. I waited. The footsteps drew ever nearer. They were upon me – closer – then gone.
I swung round, straining my eyes in the direction of the footsteps fading into the mist. Whoever it was had come from the direction of White Gables
I reached my front door. The sound of waves on the beach below filled my ears. As I opened the door, I saw a letter on the mat.
The room darkened as evening fell. My hands were still shaking. The envelope lay unopened on the kitchen table before me; the familiar handwriting which I’d thought never to see again remained branded on my eyelids even when I looked away.
I had only one thought.
He’d followed me.
At last I tore it open. Memories rushing back. The coldness in his eyes that morning we’d said goodbye. Unfolding the sheet of paper, I steeled myself:
It won’t be what I want to hear. It never is.
A brief message, unsigned, its tone impossible to read:
I’m staying at the pub.
I slid into the chair opposite him. Ignoring the usual stares from the locals at the bar. Hoping he couldn’t hear my heart pounding. A smile flickered across his mouth. His eyes – unreadable as ever.
Good to see you babe. You settling in? New place ok?
What are you doing here?
He glanced round at the unsmiling, watchful faces.
I heard something that worried me. Thought I should tell you.
I allowed myself to look at him. At the face that had once been my whole world. There was so much I wanted to say, after all this time. But I was expected to listen.
He leaned towards me, lowering his voice. I felt a stab of longing – but his expression gave nothing away.
Has anyone told you about – the history of that old hotel?
Longing turned to impatience. Was that it? After all these months? A second-hand ghost story I’d already heard?
You’ve had a wasted trip I snapped. I’m living in the place. I know the score.
He shrugged, trying to smile.
Quite the detective. As always.
Yeah, look where that got me. Finding out your little secrets.
He wouldn’t meet my eyes.
What did you expect? I didn’t promise you anything.
I couldn’t look at him any longer. I stood up.
What will you do? Find somewhere else round here?
I’m good. I’ve handled worse than things that go bump in the night.
He looked alarmed.
It’s not safe though – I’ve seen the maps. You can’t stay there.
I laughed and walked away.
There was something calming in the steady throb of waves against the cliffs beyond White Gables that night. I drifted into sleep, letting my anger slip away. He hadn’t changed. But my heart ached.
I awoke hours later, in darkness. I knew the time, before I even checked: 3:31am.
I’d woken at this time too often to be surprised. Tonight, the house’s restless memories seemed to echo my own sadness back at me, the wind moaning at the windows like a sobbing child.
I hear you I whispered to the night.
I sat up with a sudden thought.
What did he mean about maps?
I walked to the pub next morning. The barman’s face broke into his usual sneering smile.
Your friend’s not here. Checked out before breakfast.
Did he say anything before he left? Leave any messages?
I knew the answer. The barman’s pitying smile told me all I needed to know.
It wasn’t the unanswered question he’d left, but I felt a weight of sadness settle inside me. I knew I’d never see him again.
Long way to come for a night. Something important?
Yes. He came to warn me. Mentioned a map. Know what he meant?
The landlord’s eyes widened in shock.
I left the pub, my feet turning automatically towards the cliff path. A friendly bark and a wet nose pushing against my hand stopped me short.
‘Lo Bob – I bent to stroke the dog’s ears while he sniffed my face eagerly. His dark eyed owner came into view, leaning on his stick.
Bob bounded ahead as we walked together, towards the coastal path.
You had a visitor last night?
How did you…?
Her at the occult shop. Never misses a chance to spread rumours. Old friend was it?
I caught his sidelong glance.
Ancient history. He didn’t stay. But he said something…
I paused at a stile to let him catch up. He winced with the effort of climbing over. As he straightened up, I continued:
Something about White Gables not being safe.
He’s heard the ghost stories then?
No – I don’t think so. He said something about a map.
He looked away quickly.
I felt a flicker of suspicion at his casual tone.
Don’t know. I was thinking I should buy a map, see if I can figure out what he meant.
You got Google Maps on your phone? That would tell you as much as anything.
Before I could say any more, he’d changed the subject.
I made my excuses, quickened my pace, and left him behind. I needed time to think.
Maps… the hint of warning was inexplicable. I returned to White Gables, packed a bag with some food and set off again. I’d long planned to walk the coastal path around the bay – today was the day.
The day was warm and still. I headed north, away from the village. I’d not yet explored this path. It led across a rocky common, hugging the cliff edge, surrounded by the smell of gorse, and the buzzing of bees.
The furtive look in those dark eyes troubled me. What was he hiding?
As the sun reached its zenith, the day grew hotter. The sea shimmered in the haze. Not a breath of wind. I pushed my pace until my calves burned, but as midday approached I chose a rocky outcrop, to rest and eat.
My eye was drawn to graffiti carved in the rock. Tony & Dan 1978
Dan… my dark eyed friend. In 1978 he’d have been, I guessed, 10 or 11. The age for carving his name. I wondered.
From here I could see the whole bay. Sea and sky blurring together in the humid air. The cliffs less sheer, tussocks of grass on sandy earth sloping down to the beach.
I leaned back against the sun-warmed rock. There was something drowsy in the stillness. Bees buzzing softly around me, I slept.
The first fat drops of rain woke me. I sat up. Still warm, but the air was thick and the sky wore a gloomy tinge. I heard a roll of far-off thunder.
I pulled on my coat, looking around. No shelter nearby. But the tide was out. Walking along the beach below the cliffs might be less exposed.
I made my way down to the shore. The uneven ground grew greasy in the gathering rain. I skidded on bare earth, turned my ankle and fell…
The wet earth turned treacherous, lending speed to my fall. Gorse tore at my hands as I reached for something, anything to break my fall but I could do nothing before the ground levelled.
I lay for a moment, face down, winded. Gingerly I sat up, felt my ankle and winced.
A weather-beaten sign lay half hidden under a nearby gorse bush. Its faded, peeling letters just visible.
Footpath closed. No Access to Beach.
Too late telling me now I thought. I tried to stand, but felt a searing pain in my leg. As the rain intensified I began to shiver.
To be continued…