Time's Fool

By Alys Earl

A novel for M R James fans who sometimes want something a little more modern and edgy from their weird fiction

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The first ghost story I ever made...

Over on Twitter and Facebook, I'm trying to post something at least half interesting every day until the release of Time's Fool. I won't share them all on here but this one is a bit special. I've often said that Time's Fool is my love song to the Gothic: I grew up on ghost stories, from books, from family members, my next door neighbours - wherever I could get them. And what I longed for was to be able to replicate power that they had over me, to hold other people as rapt, thrilled and frightened as I was held listening.

At first, I just retold the stories I had heard, but below is what I can remember of my first attempt to put together something of my own. I never wrote it down, simply retold it at campfires and sleepovers, polishing and embellishing it as it grew. So, here it is:

My First Ghost Story

One night, a young man was walking home by himself and he met a young woman by the side of the road. It was winter and she seemed both cold and lost, so he asked her if she was alright.
"I'm cold," she said.
So he gave her his coat and offered to walk her home.
Soon, they were chatting away, and because the girl seemed so friendly, and the young man was so handsome and kind, it wasn't long before they were falling in love.
They walked off the road and in to a field.
"Where's your house?" he asked.
"It's just along here," she said, and led him deeper in to the field.
But it was cold and it was dark and he said, "There isn't a house along here."
"There is," she said, "just a bit further along."
So, they went a bit further along until she said, "I'm home."
"But there's nothing here."
"Don't worry about that," she said, "Give me a kiss."
And he kissed her, and her lips were cold.

The next morning, they found his body under the thick ice of a frozen pond in the middle of a field. They dug him out and buried him and mourned him, and that was that.

Until the next winter, on the very same night when the ice on the pond froze again, the young man's younger sister heard a tapping at her bedroom window.
She could have sworn it was her brother's voice she heard, "I'm cold, I'm cold, let me in!"
The next morning, her window was wide open and, search though they might, they could not find her. Not until someone thought to look in the pond where her brother had died. And there she was, blue and dead and underneath the ice.

The next year, on the very same night, the pond had frozen over once more and their younger brother heard the tapping on his window, heard his elder siblings whispering, "We're cold, we're cold, let us in!"
And in the morning, his window was wide open and he was nowhere to be found - again, until they looked beneath the ice of the pond, where he too was frozen and blue and dead.

The young man had only one sibling left, his littlest sister, everybody's pet. The next winter, on that same night, when the pond was frozen, she was so happy to hear her brothers and sister calling her, "We're cold, we're cold, let us in!"
And they did look so very cold, with their pale skin and the frost in their hair, so she opened her window to them and climbed in to their arms. They carried her out in to the night and took her with them, underneath the ice of the frozen pond.

In the morning, her parents were distraught. They went to the pond, dreading what they would find. And there she was, beneath the ice, stiff and cold and blue, but... her mouth and nose were free of the pond, and she was still breathing. Carefully, her parent's freed her from the ice and picked her up, looking around for some way to call for help until, at the edge of the field, they saw a light. Running towards it, they found a cottage, set back from the road, with an early light burning at the window. Desperate, they hammered at the door until it was opened by an old, frail man. He let them in, ran a bath of cold water to revive the child with, and let them use his phone to call an ambulance.

And while they were waiting, the old man said, "You found her in the pond?"
"Yes!" said her mother.
The old man nodded sadly, "My daughter drowned in that pond twenty years ago this very night. She had been walking home late and fell through the ice. I found her in the morning."
Just then, they saw the blue and red lights of the ambulance, and the old man said, "You'll have to meet them at the end of the road. They'll never get up the trackway to the house."
So, out went the parents with their last child, still breathing and alive.

The little girl was taken to hospital, and all she would say about what happened was, "It was my brother. It was my big brother that saved me."
But the parents told the police everything that had happened, and everything they had heard from the old man at the cottage. So, the police went out to take his statement, but all they found was a ruin: no-one had lived there for twenty years at least. And as they walked past the frozen pond on their way back, they saw something beneath the ice - the body of a young woman, frostburned and blackened, but otherwise well preserved, and still wrapped in the coat the young man had given her.

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