Tale #103: Lavenham Ghost Story

My neighbour, Joyce Campbell, told me this story.

Her grandmother, a woman who went by the name Amanda Buckley, had reason to spend the night in Lavenham, a market town to the north of here.

She took a room in an inn, and from her window she could see the town square – which today is a car park but then was a bustling market during the day, and a meeting place in the evening.

As night fell, a mist began to settle, and soon there was a fog so thick Amanda couldn’t even see the lamps burning around the perimeter of the square. This cloud soon filled her room, mixing with the smoke from her hearth, and eventually the whole room fell into darkness.

Although she knew she was alone in her room, she soon felt as if she was accompanied by another, and soon enough her fears were confirmed when a hand placed itself upon her shoulder, and as she looked down she saw the fingers were as grey as candles. Then a voice, as grating as the sound of a shovel in dirt, whispered quietly in her ear.

Amanda Buckley, so Joyce Campbell said, would never repeat the words this voice spoke to her. But ever after she let it be known that although nearby Dedham – located half one side of the river and half the other, with one foot in Suffolk and the other in Essex – was the town which was supposed to straddle the line that separates the realms of the living and the dead, it was only in Lavenham that she had ever heard the dreams and the desires of the dead.

And, she said, she knew them as intimately if they were her own.

Nine months later she gave birth to a girl, her skin as soft as fog, her hair like wisps of smoke. Who the father was, Amanda would not say. But to claim it was a ghost was as good an excuse as any, I suppose.

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Notes:

1. Written in July 2019

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Tale #102: You Don’t Have To Read This, But I Hope You Do

Dear Sir,

I thought it best to contact you by mail, considering the events of this past week. You don’t have to read this, of course – I’m sure you are very busy, after all – but I hope that you do. Perhaps it will do you good to hear an explanation of events from another point of view.

After the events of Friday night – I’m sure I don’t have to explain that in detail – it seems a vital misunderstanding of the importance of our… tryst (shall we say)… has begun to blossom in your mind. Yes, I enjoyed myself very much – as I hope did you – but I thought a man in your position would have understood, as seemed clear to me, that this was simply an enjoyable dalliance rather than the precursor of something, indeed of anything, deeper, or more personally committing.

Now, it is possible this misunderstanding arose from the manner of my departure, which I admit was in haste, and taken without the necessary politenesses which such occasions surely warrant. So please forgive me for my sudden disappearance – although I should say that the hour was exceedingly late by then, and indeed not just you but most of your guests seemed slightly worse for wear by then. Indeed, even in my haste, I did still call out a ‘goodbye’ across the room to you, but it seems that my words did not rouse you suitably from your slumber for you to recognise it as my farewell.

It seems however, that my words did, indirectly, contribute to our misunderstandings this week, as apparently you were awakened enough by them to have subsequently watched my departure through the windows of your room, catching a glimpse of me fleeing through the front gates as if pursued, and I assume this is where your belief that I had been kidnapped, or was somehow being held in servitude, was formed.

In point of fact, I was simply hurrying to catch the final carriage of the evening, for it was a cold, wet, and very long walk home for me if I endeavoured to miss it, and I was very determined not to, not least because of the clothes I was wearing – I had not even brought a coat, nor boots, and the thought of my gown being ruined by a mile or more of walking through puddles and mud made me shiver in an anxiety probably unknown to those such as yourself, who have others to worry about such mundane matters as the washing of clothes.

Now, having laid out the facts of the evening in question, and having made clear that I accept some fault for the misunderstanding that has, evidently, occurred, I would like to turn to your behaviour in the week since.

It is of course very flattering to discover that you enjoyed the evident delights of my company so much that you’ve since been searching the city to find me – or ‘save me’, as you have reportedly been putting it – but that does not give you the right to barge uninvited into my home, insult my mother, accost my sisters, and accuse all and sundry of god knows what crimes and misdemeanours against me (‘an innocent’, as you kindly put it, although innocent of what I do not know).

My mother has been in tears ever since, and is simply inconsolable. To have someone of your power and standing insult her so brazenly, and with so little foundation, was deeply upsetting for a woman of her years (and long-avowed patriotism), and was, I believe, genuinely shocking to her on a spiritual level. If even half the things she alleges you said to her are true, then, well, I too am truly lost for words.

At least, if I am to search for small mercies, with my mother you were merely verbally abusive. Yet in your overzealous attempts to save me from my own family, you inflicted, beyond the spiteful insults towards their appearances, such grievous injuries on my two sisters that I fear it will be months before they can walk again. I have never seen injuries of such severity inflicted outside of a war, and even with months of rest I am not sure they will ever fully heal.

I am truly sorry I was not here when you called, as perhaps all this upset could have been avoided, although, in my darkest hours, I fear that in fact it would have been much worse. As it was, I happened to be working when you arrived – which is what you no doubt consider my servitude, but to the rest of us is known simply as employment. Now, not only do I have to continue to support myself and my mother on my meagre earnings, but my two crippled sisters, too.

So it seems, even if after all this I somehow decided to consent to attend another one of your parties, there is much less chance of me being able to find the time to attend. I suppose I should consider that at least an amusing irony of the whole affair, and one which presumably would have made me laugh if not for the horror and harm inflicted upon those I love in service of it.

Thank you for the return of my shoe. Please do not call at my house again.

Kind Regards

Cindi

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Notes:

1. Written on October 13th, 2019
2. I wrote another Cinderella tale before
3. Almost a hundred tales ago now

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Tale #101: A Story In The Afternoon

My niece was looking at all the things on my shelves. Not the books – although she liked to run her hands along the shelves and push any that were pulled out to the front back as far as they would go – but the assorted other ephemera that had accumulated there: dinosaurs, badges, watches, postcards, rocks, a moomin, two bags of go stones, all those little creatures we’d made out of plasticine the last time she was here and which were now all fuzzed with dust.

Six months ago is a long time when you’re 3 (not so much when you’re 41 and it feels like last week sometime), and by now she had forgotten she had even made them. Today on their re-discovery she had given them all new names, one by one – Berri, Captain Cat, Baby Jack, The Dragon Who Is On My Side, The Cyclops, David, Berri 2.

On the top shelf there was a framed print from a book of fairy tale illustrations. It was so high up she couldn’t see it properly, and so she asked me to take it down and show it to her.

“Who’s that, David?” she asked, pointing to the girl in the picture.

“It’s Little Red Riding Hood.”

“And what’s that?” she said.

“It’s the wolf.”

“He looks so grumpy!” she said, picking the picture up in both hands so she could get a closer look at him.

“Well, he is a bit,” I said. “You must have heard of Red Riding Hood before?”

She shook her head firmly.

“Is she one of your friends?”

“Well, no,” I said. “It’s an old fairy tale. Like, I don’t know, Snow White or something. Have you seen Snow White?”

She nodded her head.

“The prince had such a silly voice,” she said. “We couldn’t stop laughing when he started singing!”

She paused for a moment, her eyes fixed on the picture in her hands.

“I want to hear about Red Hiding Hood,” she said. “Can you tell me the story, David? Can you tell me all about her?”

“Okay,” I said. “But it’s a bit gruesome, you might not like it.”

“Grooosome,” she repeated, with her perfect child’s mimicry of the new and unheard. “What’s grooosome?”

“It means it’s… It means it isn’t very nice.”

“Oh,” she said. “Well make it nice, David. I want a nice story. Not a grooosome one.”

“Alright,” I said. “So, it goes like this…”

***

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, right out in the woods somewhere, there lived a little girl, who was just the sweetest, kindest child in the world. Wherever she went, she always wore her bright red coat, because it was her favourite coat (and her only coat), and she always pulled the hood up, even when it wasn’t raining, so her ears wouldn’t get cold.

She really hated getting cold ears.

Every Sunday morning, when she woke up, she’d bake a whole tray of cupcakes and cookies, and then after lunch, when they’d cooled down enough to touch, she’d pack them into her little picnic basket and take them round to her grandmother’s for afternoon tea.

Now, like I said, Little Red Riding Hood (which was what everyone called her), lived out in the woods, but her granny lived in the forest. Right out there in the deepest, darkest, furthest away place she could. It was the middle of winter, and there was snow on the ground, and the air felt like it was ice, and the sun was so low in the sky it might as well not have risen at all. It was so bleak

Not that this deterred Little Red Riding Hood, of course. She went out to her grandmother’s house with her cakes, just like she did every weekend, because she wasn’t merely the sweetest girl in the world, she was the bravest, too.

With every step up the path, the air got colder, and the snow got deeper. The trees grew taller, and thicker, and so close together that it slowly became darker, and darker, and darker, until at last it was so dark you’d have thought it was the dead of night. And then there would be a little red glow on the path ahead, and then another, as a series of little lanterns laid out especially for Little Red Riding Hood lit up the path all the way to granny’s front door.

She knocked on the door, but there was no answer. She knocked, and knocked again, and there was still no answer. But then the door swung open with a creak and Little Red Riding Hood stepped inside.

Now, she was such a good girl she remembered to take off her snowy, muddy, little red boots off by the door, and while she did she called out into the cold gloominess of granny’s house, “Oh Granny, oh Granny, I’m here, I’m here.”

There was no answer, so Little Red Riding Hood crept down the hall, and she pushed open the door to the living room, and said,” Granny, oh Granny, where are you?” but the room was dark as dusk, and just as cold, and there was no answer from there.

Then she pushed open the door to the kitchen, which was dark as night, and twice as cold, and called out,” Granny, oh Granny, where are you?” but there was no answer there, either.

Finally, she pushed open the door to granny’s bedroom. It was blacker than space, and three times as cold, but when she called out, “Granny, oh Granny, where are you?” a voice growled back, “I’m in here, my dear, waiting for you.”

“What are you doing in there, Granny?” Little Red Riding Hood asked, as she stepped over to the bedside and into the shadows. “It might be dark and cold, but it’s not yet time for bed.”

“I’m just resting, my dear,” growled out the voice. “While I waited for you.”

Little Red Riding Hood reached out in the dark, and put her hand on granny’s shoulder, and kissed her on the cheek, or where she thought her cheek would be, there in the dark, where she couldn’t see a thing.

“Oh Granny, you’re so furry!” Little Red Riding Hood laughed. “Why are you wearing your big winter coat and that nice thick scarf when you’re in bed?”

“I’m just keeping warm, my dear,” growled out the voice. “While I waited for you.”

Granny rolled over, and looked up at Little Red Riding Hood, her eyes as big and bright and red as lanterns.

“Oh, Granny, what big eyes you have!” Little Red Riding Hood, with a sly little smile.

“All the better for seeing you with, my dear,” growled out the voice.

“And Granny, what a big wet nose you’ve got!”

“All the better for smelling my dinner with!” growled out the voice with a lick of its lips.

“And oh Granny, what a big wide mouth you’ve got,” Little Red Riding Hood said. “with such big long sharp snapping teeth!”

“All the better,” growled the voice, as the wolf leapt up out of the bed and revealed himself. “For eating all your cupcakes with!”

“Oh Mr Wolf, what a waggly tail you’ve got,” she laughed, as he pushed his snout into the picnic basket and snaffled up all the treats with his long hungry tongue.

Well, not quite all the treats. Little Red Riding Hood made sure she kept one safe for when Granny came back in from the shops.

***

“Cupcakes!?” my niece snorted derisively. “Wolfs don’t eat cupcakes, David.”

“They might,” I said.

“Wolfs eat meat, David,” she said. She looked at the picture again, then back at me. “Was that the real story, David?”

“Well, it’s a story,” I said.

“Did you make it up?”

“Well, yeah,” I laughed. “Bits of it anyway. You told me to, remember.”

“But I don’t want a made up story, David. I want the real story.”

“You told me to make it nice. So I made it nice.”

“Well I want you to tell me the real story now,” she said, looking not at me but at the picture in her hands. She traced her fingers across the glass, letting them slide along the lines of her body, the contours of his mouth.

Then she turned and looked up at me. Looked straight into my eyes.

“I want you to make it as gruesome as can be.”

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Notes:

1. Written on and off over the last two years or so, but primarily in June and December 2019

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The New Brothers Grimm

Somehow my A Thousand And One fairy tales project has reached Tale #100 today, and to celebrate that I’ve decided to make some new tales explicitly out of old ones, rather than just sort of generally out of old ones.

And so, in The New Brothers Grimm, I take sentences, paragraphs, and fragments of original Brothers Grimm tales, and then re-assemble them into something new.

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Notes:

1. All of these were made in February and March 2020
2. They were all made using sentences from the Jack Zipes translations used in The Complete Fairy Tales collection, published in 2007 by Vintage.
3. Various minor changes to nouns, tenses, names, etc, were made to keep things consistent.
4. In a similar way to the In The Terminals Of Minraud trilogy of Burroughs cut-ups I made last year.
5. Which I thought might be interesting at the time
6. But which proved not to be interesting at all
7. To anyone
8. But me.

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Tale #100: Old Hope

My grandmother used to tell me a fairy story when she put me to bed. In it, a group of sisters lived all alone together on an island in the sea. There were seven of them, I think, and they each had their own little hut and their own little garden and their own little boat down by the sea.

And the youngest sister, who was much younger than her siblings, and who I always imagined as being the same age as me – as I was then, not as I am now – she went to stay with her oldest sister, who had been on the island the longest, and who had the longest hair, and who had the tallest flowers in her garden (but not necessarily the brightest).

And as this sister was tucking her into bed that night, the young girl looked up at her sister and said to her, “Why, dear sister, do you have your boat on the beach, yet never use it to sail out to sea in search of something better?”

And the old sister said, “Hope,” and the little sister said, “That’s not an answer.”

“Well, if you don’t like my answer,” her sister said, “Go and ask our next sister tomorrow, and see if you like what she says any better.”

And then she tucked the young girl into bed, kissed her on the head, and said, “Goodnight”.

So the next day, the youngest sister went to stay at the next sister’s house, and that evening, as she was being put to bed, the girl asked the same question, and her sister gave the same answer, just that one word, “Hope”.

And then she tucked the young girl into bed, kissed her on the head, and said, “Goodnight”.

The young girl didn’t like that, and she didn’t it like when all her other sisters said the same.

Finally she spoke to her youngest sister (the second youngest of the seven). While all her other sisters seemed like they were older than the stars and older than the sky and older even than the sea itself, this sister seemed almost as young as herself.

And she said, “Hope” just like all the others.

“But that’s not an answer.”

“Well, if you don’t like my answer,” her sister said. “You’ll have to ask yourself why you don’t use your boat and sail yourself off to sea in search of something better.”

And that was the end of the story.

Sometimes I would ask my grandmother, “so why didn’t they use the boat,” and of course she would say, “Hope,” with a smile, and tuck me into bed and say goodnight.

Once I said, “What is hope?” and my grandmother said, “I don’t know.” And once I said, “Do you think the boat was hope?” meaning, I think, that you can’t use hope, that you have to leave it where it is. That hope is potential, and once you use it it’s gone. Although of course I didn’t have the words to say that then. I don’t really have the words to say it now.

And my grandmother said, “What if it wasn’t the boat, but the island. The island and the sea and the sky and the whole wide world.”

And I said, “I think in the story it was the sisters who were hope,” and my grandmother said, “Or one of them at least,” and she tucked my into bed and kissed me on the forehead and wished me goodnight.

Some nights I dreamt the youngest sister spent the rest of the summer building a new hut, planting a new garden, building a new boat and taking it down to the seaside and waiting, waiting, waiting for a new sister of her own.

But other nights I dreamt of her climbing into her boat and sailing away across the sea. And where she went, what she saw, what she did, now that I will not say.

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If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon. Subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real. Thank you.