had started with a dream. The kind of dream Lillian thought she'd
long left behind her. It spoke of hidden things, of a grand staircase
with polished maple banisters, of sharp blue eyes, and screams
that pierced a long-forgotten night.
all right, Lillian?"
heart still racing, she opened her eyes and saw her schoolmate
Felicity at her bedside. The girl was half asleep, and night still
huddled around them.
were tossing in the covers like it was nobody's business. Here,
you're not going barmy again, are you?" said Felicity.
took a deep breath and rubbed her temple.
a nightmare. Go back to sleep."
slid back into her bunk and was comatose in no time. But Lillian
wasn't afforded the luxury. She couldn't stop thinking of the
dream and its portent. She knew it was linked some way to Time
Peeler, but try as she might she couldn't get in touch with her
mysterious ethereal friend. Her only consolation was the unfamiliarity
of what she'd seen. Tomorrow she would return home for the summer
break. Her house didn't even have a staircase, for a start.
morning, she'd convinced herself there was nothing to worry about.
She said goodbye to the friends she'd made since Time Peeler's
last visit, and took one last look at the emptying school. She
remembered the despair she felt upon arrival, now a distant memory.
wasn't until she was riding home on the train that her thoughts
returned to the dream. House after house flew past the window
of the carriage. How many harboured secrets? More to the point,
how many had two storeys? She turned away and tried to read a
* * *
going where?" she said, not five minutes after she
Inn," said her father.
thought you'd be pleased, Lillian," said her mother. "Since
your remarkable improvement, your father and I decided you deserved
to get out of the house."
I've only just got in the house. I've been away for six months!"
by the seaside; you always liked the seaside, didn't you, Lil?"
sighed, and stared at the well-meaning looks on her parents' faces.
It was useless arguing, and even less use refusing to go. It was
Time Peeler's work again. A subtle prod from the aether had set
things in motion, and now she was bound to her fate like oxen
to a grindstone.
her rucksack and suitcase, she trudged wordlessly to her room,
which was untouched since she'd left it. Seeing it again made
her realise just how different she'd been six months ago. It was
like walking into a the den of a juvenile delinquent, except the
delinquent was her.
stood on the threshold and surveyed the mess her life had been,
then picked a path through junk and discarded clothing to the
duvet. Well that can go for a start.
tossed all the clothes onto the bed, then wrapped them up in the
duvet and dropped it in a corner. The junk she kicked into a pile
beside it. Satisfied, she flopped down on the bed and remembered
how nice it was.
length her gaze through the fog of memory settled on her dresser.
She went to it and opened the bottom drawer. There, hidden beneath
her socks and jumpers, was her scrapbook. She brought it to the
bed and flipped through it. Inside were drawings she'd made when
she was seven, based on things Time Peeler had shown her. One
of the more striking images was her best friend's kitchen strung
with sides of beef.
skipped ahead to drawings made after her mental evaluation. She'd
tried to record as accurately as possible the things she'd seen
in the hospital cellar and coal-scuttle. The eerie cells of former
patients, the imposing door, the bones...
great number of pages were still blank, but on the last one used
was a newspaper clipping. The headline read: 'Young Girl Discovers
Remains In Asylum Coal-Cellar.' Her parents hadn't allowed her
name or picture to be used, but she'd stuck a photo of herself
next to the clipping. A seven-year-old Lillian smiled proudly
out at her from the page. She smiled back.
went to her rucksack and took out another clipping. This one was
six months old, and detailed her 'discovery' of the bones of a
missing boy murdered at her school many years ago. This time the
papers had used her picture. She stood in her uniform, gravely
holding the bugle that had led her to the grave. In truth it hadn't
solely been the bugle, but it was only prudent not to speak of
voices in her head.
taped the clipping into the book next to the other and admired
her work. It was then she heard footsteps, so returned the book
to its place and resumed tidying.
said her mother.
Your room looks much better already, dear. I've made some lunch;
are you hungry?"
smiled and nodded.
on, then. And bring that laundry and I'll wash it for you."
went to grab the duvet.
it's good to have you back, Lillian. Really back, I mean."
good to be back, Mum."
* * *
the comforting surroundings, her night was again uneasy. The dream
returned; a melange of brief impressions, centering around the
old and stately staircase. It was no less intense, yet she soon
found peaceful sleep again and woke to a bright clear morning.
Colchester Inn was like wandering into history. It was a large
stone building with leaden roofing, a well-kept garden, and a
stark setting befitting an Agatha Christie novel. Yes, it was
by the seaside, but the sea itself was thirty feet below the rounded
rolling cliffs the Inn was perched upon. Only one detail mattered
to Lillian as the car wound its way up the drive: Colchester Inn
had two storeys.
closed her eyes and probed her subconscious for any stirrings.
Nothing surfaced. Dappled sunlight fell across her face as the
car pulled into the tree-shaded parking space. Two storeys of
grey stone now seemed like four.
a charming place, eh, Angela?" said her Dad.
do you think, Lillian?"
great," she managed.
look a bit pale, dear... Are you sure you're all right?"
a bit car-sick, that's all."
your time then, love, and we'll check-in."
parents went inside, and she sat in the car for a moment with
a heaviness pressing down on her. The click of the car door was
like the pealing of a dull bell, the crunch of gravel like a cascade
of boulders. She looked up at the Inn. Pieces of it had been made
cheery and bright by modern workmanship, but nothing could hide
old, weary, and above all menacing.
took another look at the shaded car-park. Some renovators were
parked down the far end, and the only other cars were bright and
shiny, the kind owned by well-to-do's and businessmen.
lobby was a little dingy, but cheerful enough. Her parents were
still chatting with the Innkeeper, and somewhere a football match
blared from a radio. Walls were white with black trim, and decked
with mementos and framed photographs. High above the lobby desk
was an elk's head that looked like it had been there since time
immemorialor since elks had existed, at any rate.
going further she examined the bulletin-board to the left of the
doorway. Held in place by myriad pins, shaped like peanuts, were
flyers for local events and businesses. Dominating the board,
however, was a poster proclaiming:
Colchester Inn. Experience the centuries-old charm of this former
manor, built in seventeen fifty-two for Lord Garret Oliver."
was a portrait of Lord Oliver, and he did not look a pleasant
man. So much so that his scowling visage made her uneasy.
eyes drifted over the subsequent text and were drawn inexorably
to the word 'haunted.' Adrenaline shot into her system as she
read of the various phenomena experienced by guests of the Inn.
The usual fare: bumps in the night, strange noises and sensations.
"Be one of the lucky few," it said, "to see the
lady on the staircase."
love," came a voice which startled her. "Sorry, I didn't
mean to make you jump. I'm Mr. Pembrose, the Innkeeper here. Been
reading about our ghosts, have you?"
Pembrose was a grizzled man of about sixty. He had sharp blue
lady on the staircase," said Lillian. "Do you know who
can't say as I do. Nor have I seen her, and I run the place,"
he said with a grin. "But there are those say they have,
and there's no arguing with that."
Innkeeper studied her face.
look that ghost right in the eye without so much as a whimper,
am I right?"
come on up and see the room," called her father.
Innkeeper laughed. "I've waylaid you long enough, young lady.
Best be following your father upstairs."
word 'upstairs' fell heavy in her ears. Mr. Pembrose disappeared
behind the counter, leaving a cold void. Step by step she edged
forward, until polished banisters were visible beyond the foyer
wall. The sight conjured up flashes of her dream, or was this
the dream? So vivid were both that it wasn't until the entire
staircase was visible that reality
stabilized and she stood looking at something real and tangible.
Her parents were halfway up, waving her to follow them up the
faded carpet treads. She put her hand on the banister. It was
a staircase, nothing more.
the time she reached the top, she wondered what all the fuss had
been about. Time Peeler still hadn't made contact, and she hadn't
seen any ladiesghostly or otherwise. The view from her room
became a welcome distraction. The sea was out there, beyond the
green monster-like humps of the point, a slab of grey which undulated
from an offshore breeze.
don't think swimming will be much fun with that wind blowing,"
said her dad. "But who's for a picnic on the shore?"
* * *
succeeded in forgetting her troubles until evening. She knew she
wouldn't get any sleep, nor did she want to. There was a mystery
to solve, and she was determined to do it with or without Time
waited until well after midnight, when the sounds of the well-run
Inn had taken their leave, and slipped out of bed. She armed herself
with a flashlight, opened her door and made a quick sweep of the
hall. She listened at the door to her parent's room; all was silent
silence comforted her, but made it hard to be stealthy on the
old creaky floors. She wore socks on her feet, and did the best
she could, but at every creak she expected to be discovered. She
wasn't, however, and it made her wonder just how many of the ghostly
noises here were simply the settling of wood and stone.
that noise, just now.
stood stock still. The creak had been too far behind to be her
doing. A minute passed, and there were no further sounds, nor
could she see anything there in the light of her flashlight. She
started off again, and could see the top of the staircase now
in front of her.
are you, Time Peeler?
was another creak, and as she stopped to listen this time another
followed. Someone, or something, was moving down the hallway towards
her. Her flashlight again revealed nothing, yet the footsteps
it was Time Peeler's voice at last, but strained and distant.
saw a brief flash of golden light from the stairwell. The disembodied
footsteps had almost reached her. She hurried down the stairs
to the first landing, and almost tripped when a misty shape formed
in her path.
us! said Time Peeler, loud and clear now.
walls and ceiling shimmered as lanterns flared from the distant
past. The shape solidified into a woman: a servant in period clothes.
came a terrible voice from the top of the stairs.
whirled to see none other than Lord Oliver standing there.
Your Lordship?" said the servant, and Lillian realised it
was she whom the Lord addressed.
you to run away? Where else will a wretch like you find work?"
Oliver hurried down the stairs, and Lillian shrank back against
know not," said the servant. "But I shall not work another
day in this household for such a cruel man as you!"
woman's voice, thought Lillian. Surely it's not...?
was a loud slap as Lord Oliver, in a rage, struck the girl across
the face. Time slowed and the girl fell backwards. Her neck broke
as she impacted with the stair. Time jumped forward until she
lay lifeless at the bottom, His Lordship bending over her with
not an ounce of pity on his rugged face. With extreme annoyance
he picked up the corpse, and dragged it into the cupboard beneath
light dimmed, and the woman's image reappeared beside Lillian,
bathed in a golden glow.
I was she, said Time Peeler. We are safe for now; he relives
had thought him dead and gone, but his spirit is a stubborn one.
It lay silent in the stone until a week ago, when workmen came
at last to renovate his former rooms. The torment of his hateful
spirit was too much for me to bear, or else I would not have brought
must I do?"
cupboard door opened and Lord Oliver reappeared. He wiped mortar
from his face, and gazed upward with a sinful twinkle in his eye.
is a false wall. My... remnants lay behind it.
felt a slight warmth as Time Peeler caressed her face.
is time to say goodbye, Lillian. Thank you for all you have done.
shed a tear as her spirit friend turned and flowed quickly downstairs.
She followed, no longer afraid, and saw the two spirits collide.
Their gossamer bodies twisted and distorted with increasing frenzy
and Lord Oliver growled and snarled like a beast for his freedom.
Lillian! I will hold him as long as I can.
by was a tool-chest left by one of the workmen. She flung it open
and took up a hammer. There was a scream of protest from Lord
Oliver as she entered the cupboard and swung at the wall within.
each blow the spectres' cries and wild struggle faded. Fragments
of ancient brick, plaster, and mortar flew like sparks as the
light dimmed to blackness. With one last blow, Lillian said her
in blazes is going on down here?" said a voice.
covered in dust, cheeks smeared, found herself looking up into
two sharp blue eyes.
* * *
days later, the excitement had died down and Colchester Inn had
much more to boast about on its crowded message-board. Lillian
looked forward to a proper rest at home before her return to school
in a few weeks' time. She made sure she was first down the stairs
with her suitcase. The Innkeeper met her by the door.
you're off, I see," he said cheerfully.
again, Mr. Pembrose, for keeping my secret."
at all, love. It's I that should be thanking you, for helping
that poor woman find peace at last... not to mention a little
fame besides. I saved this for you."
handed her a piece of newspaper. She unfolded it and beheld an
article from the local paper. It spoke of the Innkeeper's grim
discovery of a murdered servant-girl's remains bricked up beneath
the staircase. It went on to mention that although this almost
certainly meant an end to sightings of her apparition, the ghost
of her murderer had also
been seen by at least one guest.
had to give you some credit," he said with wink.
smiled, and headed out to the car.
back sometime, won't you?"
will," she said.
stood in the shade and looked up at the pallid stone walls. If
she squinted just so, she could see the Inn as it once was: free
from creeping ivy, lichen, and gaudy signs. But no less menacing,
for a man like Lord Oliver seeped into all he surveyed. She saw
him now, at the window of an upper room, and poked out her tongue
to spite him. He seethed silently and tramped away.
smiled. Thanks for the gift, Time Peeler, wherever you are.