Chapter Two

Walk a Crooked Road

Maggie

Liverpool. A new life.

Day 2

I like Liverpool. It’s a vibrant city with friendly, outgoing people. Maggie Taylor is my new name by the way. I left the old one in Dublin which is where it will stay. Finding a job here has been fairly easy despite the Covid pandemic. Anyone with degrees in advance maths as well as psychology will not be unemployed for long and the University of Liverpool welcomed me into their maths department where they offer a range of BSc (Hons) courses. I also teach in their psychology department but most of my work is with maths students.

   I found a spacious and well-appointed apartment in the Ropewalks area. I like living in the city centre. It’s a pleasant change from the suburbs of Dublin. City dwellers are a different breed from the snobbishness and self-seeking that so often pervades the suburbs, with all it’s curtain-twitching and masquerading. There is none of that among us flat dwellers. Most of us are professionals, busy people who do not have time for such nonsense. I can also walk to work which is an added bonus.

   My colleagues in the maths department are a diverse bunch and I was given a cautious welcome by the majority after the mandatory PCR tests which came back negative. I would not have expected anything else quite honestly; the new kid on the block is always an unknown quantity. There was just one man who was openly hostile for reasons that escaped me other than he appeared to think that good looks do not equate with the teaching of maths. What utter nonsense! I suppose I should consider it a back-handed complement. I noticed one or two other male colleagues suppress smiles. They obviously do not have a problem with my appearance.

   I have no intention of changing anyway. I will continue dressing casually and brightly and if people want to admire me, so be it. In the first few weeks I have been here I have noticed my lectures are always well-attended. I would like to think that it is my enthusiasm for my subject rather than my looks is the reason.

   One of the things I have noticed is the preponderance of Chinese students. I would estimate that at least twenty percent are Chinese, and I understand it is the same in all the science- based subjects. Interesting. I wonder why?

   By the way, I must apologise if I startled you with my rather brusque statement that I had decided to murder my husband. I did not intend to shock, and I am sure that you will understand why it had become necessary. I really had no alternative. If I had gone to the police over my poisoning, he would almost certainly have got off because of lack of proof. He would have labelled me as neurotic, and no doubt explained away the theft of money from my account saying that he had my permission. It would have been his word against mine. He is not a literary agent for nothing!

  One thing I am absolutely certain about is that it would not have stopped him. Quite simply, he could not afford for me to divorce him. In time, he would have found other, possibly more exotic ways to finish me off. What you must understand is that Graeme was fundamentally a very lazy man and the thought of having to find a new source of income instead of the relatively relaxed and esoteric life of a literary agent must have been anathema to him.

   In fact, once I had made the decision it did not take long for me to make the appropriate arrangements. My biggest potential problem was arranging my ‘death’ and for that I needed to find a body. In fact, he or rather they, made it easy for me. I had a suspicion that he invited one of his girlfriends to the house when I was in downtown Dublin. So, one day, I waited in my car to see if anyone turned up. I actually smiled when I saw her. She was almost a carbon copy of me. I suppose I should have been flattered really.

   Graeme had brought home a bottle of Rioja the night before, no doubt intending to share it with this lady whose name, I later discovered, was Maggie Taylor. Yes, that’s right. I have become her.

   I found a quantity of Rohypnol at the back of the cupboard. I have no idea how it got there. I can only assume it was Graeme’s. I would not have put it past him to use a date rape drug. What I do know about it is that it is just about the most powerful sedative there is, about ten times more powerful than Valium. Anyway, I injected enough of the stuff into the bottle to knock out a horse. I decided to wait three hours once she arrived. That would give them enough time to polish off the bottle.

   I half expected them to be in bed when I entered the house. There was a strange silence. I at least expected music to be playing but there was nothing. I found Graeme on the floor in the kitchen. He was naked from the waist down. There was blood on the floor where he must have banged his head. It looks like he crawled there and then lost consciousness.

   She was on the sofa, naked. It looks like they had sex and were overcome shortly after. I studied her. She was the same build as me and the likeness was uncanny. It was a shame really that she had to die as well. Her handbag was on the table. I took anything that could identify her and replaced it all with the contents of my bag, including my cards and driving licence. I put my wedding ring on her finger and the engraved bracelet on her wrist. I left her on the sofa, legs apart as though Graeme had just finished with her. I am glad I have her driving licence. The photo will easily pass for me. All I needed then was her passport and birth certificate.

   My next task was to stoke up the fire so that a good flame was burning and then I went into the kitchen stepping over Graeme in the process. I had previously examined the gas connection to the cooker. The hose was attached with a jubilee clip. I loosened it slightly until I could smell gas escaping. It would not take long for the volume of gas to become critical. They would know nothing about it when the place explodes.

   I had already booked a flight to Liverpool the previous day. I drove her car to the furnished flat she rented and cleared out all her personal possessions. I found her passport and birth certificate with other papers which I stored away then I cancelled the tenancy and paid any outstanding rent. I also rang the trendy fashion shop she worked in and said that she has moved to Canada. There was just one more action I had to take and that was to transfer nearly all my money out of my account. I used Graeme’s name when making the transfer so when police make enquiries, which of course they will, it will look like Graeme had decided to steal the cash and then murder me, but then it had all gone wrong. The bank manager will back that up. They will not be able to trace the money because it all went into Wirex, a crypto currency. I will transfer it into my new bank account at some point. There’s no hurry.

   I was in my room in Liverpool’s Adelphi Hotel when the house blew up. I stayed there while I was searching for an apartment. It wasn’t big news in Liverpool obviously. A gas explosion in a house on the outskirts of Dublin was only worth a couple of paragraphs even if two bodies were found.

   It is time for me to deliver a Zoom lecture on calculus to second year students. If you really are interested, it is about reduction formulae: Techniques of sketching conics: Reflection properties of conics, rotation of axes and second-degree equations.

   They can admire my figure as much as they like while I’m explaining the intricacies of differential calculus. I wonder what they would all think if they knew I had just murdered my husband and his lover.

   I can’t help smiling.

*The next chapter of A Walk on the Wilder side will be published on Monday and every Monday thereafter.

Walk a Crooked Road

Part One

Chapter One

Maggie Tailor

February 2021

Day 1

I am quite enjoying being ‘dead.’ I have started a new life with a clean slate. I have no guilt, no regrets, no baggage. My life in Dublin has ended and there is no looking back. Roisin  Doyle is dead. RIP.

   Having said that, I was naturally interested in what people had to say about me shortly after my ‘death.’ Naturally, a house inferno in which the charred remains of two people were discovered was certain to attract media interest and indeed it did, with stories in the papers and local TV. An enterprising photographer had even managed to get a picture of my mangled, charred, corpse lying on the sofa in front of the fire. My husband’s body, also much charred, was found in an adjacent room.

   The story went into some detail saying how the police had no difficulty identifying me, saying how my wedding ring and a bracelet with my name engraved inside was found in the ashes. They also discovered my handbag which had been in the hall with my cards, driving licence and other ID inside. It had escaped the conflagration because the explosion propelled it out into the garden. If they needed any convincing about the identity of my corpse, that certainly would have clinched it.

   There was also no difficulty identifying the cause of the blaze. A gas leak in the kitchen was set alight by the coal fire in the sitting room causing a fireball and explosion. It was all an unfortunate accident, the stories said.

   Naturally, police talked to our neighbours in Harold’s Cross Road in what the papers described as a close knit community who told them how we were a lovely, popular, couple. Why do the newspapers always call it a close-knit community? That was nonsense. It was anything but. It is a very wealthy area. The police were told how Graeme Doyle was a successful literary agent and I an academic at Trinity College. When asked what I taught, they would no doubt have looked uncertain.

   It would not have taken them long to discover that I was 36 and Graeme 52. I read with some amusement how the neighbours described me as attractive with long copper hair down to my shoulders and how we were ‘devoted’ and how everyone was ‘shocked’ at the tragedy. I snorted with laughter when I heard how Graeme’s family were ‘grieving’ and there was more grim amusement when I imagined them attempting to locate my family. They won’t find any because there is nobody… alive.

   All that was three months ago. None of it was even close to the truth, apart from what I do for a living. I am, or rather was, a lecturer in applied maths and psychology at Trinity. That may appear to be a curious combination but as with all sciences, psychology is partially based on a mathematical foundation. Hypotheses need to be tested, and statistical analysis provides a means of determining whether treatments appear to be effective or not.

   But I digress. The truth is that Graeme’s family despised him because he treated them with contempt and as for us being a ‘devoted’ couple, nothing could be further from the truth. The image of us being loving and caring was an act, a façade for the benefit of his literary and showbiz glitterati as well as the neighbours.

   In fact, ‘loving and caring’ Graeme was a total bastard. He lived a Walter Mitty life in which people were simply pawns to be manipulated. And as for being loving, maybe he was, but it wasn’t with me. A bout of pure stupidity must have beset me not to have realised sooner what he was up to. I am almost embarrassed to admit that it took a while for the realisation to sink in. I think I was simply reluctant to confront the truth of what kind of man I was married to. Once I discovered, I simply didn’t care.

   It was later that I discovered just how extensive his cheating was. No, I don’t just mean that kind of cheating – I had become quite indifferent to his sordid and squalid affairs. He could have slept with whomever he liked as far as I was concerned. No, his guilt was far more venal; he had been systematically stealing from me for months, no doubt to finance his affairs. At first, I didn’t notice because I am a reasonably wealthy women thanks to a bequest after my dad died and I wasn’t in the habit of going through my bank statements every month. Well, who does?

   It was a routine meeting with my bank manager that brought it to light when he casually mentioned that my expenditure would appear to have risen quite considerably of late. That stopped me and when we studied my statements it became clear that hundreds of euros had been leaving my account every month, withdrawals I knew nothing about. The manager wanted to call the police because it was a clear case of theft, but I prevailed upon him not to and that I would deal with it.

   The following day when Graeme and I had our habitual pre-evening meal drink, he was full of false bonhomie, throwing out meaningless complements and other small talk which I had wearily become accustomed to. I really wasn’t interested in how successful his clients were or what book was heading for the best-seller lists. I knew it was all a smoke screen. Well, I decided I had listened to enough of his garbage and it was time to confront him. I fixed him with a gimlet stare and a thin smile. That should have put him on guard, but it didn’t. He continued with the stream of ineffectual nonsense until I interrupted by quietly asking him how long he had been stealing from me.

   That did, at least, stop the flow of verbiage. He stared at me with a pained, puzzled, expression and I knew he was about to vehemently deny it and so before he could, I told him that the bank manager wanted to call the police and that I stopped him. A smile of relief on his face was about to be accompanied by bluster but I cut it short by telling him that all my bank details have been changed and he will longer have access to it.

   He cleared his throat noisily and started telling me that his agency had been experiencing financial problems which is why he did it. I knew that was pure boloney and I told him that if the agency was that broke, he should close the doors and look for a job. I could tell from his expression that it was not a prospect he relished. No doubt the probability of his sex life suddenly vanishing was also something that was uppermost in his thoughts as he stared at me, confusion and contrition slowly becoming replaced by anger.

   I stared at him, amused. If he thought that shouting and gesticulating could disguise the fact that he was a crook, he was bananas. Did he really think I would go on financing his agency when it was no doubt his profligacy that had led to its problems? I decided that now was the right time to deliver the coup de grâce. I stood up and told him, in measured tones, that I wanted a divorce and then walked slowly out of the room. As I was about to leave, I said that it might be better if he found somewhere else to live.

   He greeted that announcement with a look of disbelief but did not respond. He may have thought I would change my mind. If that really is what he thought, he was wrong. I didn’t.

   After that, he behaved as though nothing had changed. Neither of us walked out. We still lived under the same roof but not the same bed. We still had a communal meal of an evening, albeit in a stony, charged silence until I decided to play music – loudly! I was aware of him casting furtive looks at me from time-to-time, but I made a point of ignoring him. It was a toxic atmosphere and then it became toxic in a very different way.

   I think it was perhaps two or three weeks later that I began to feel unwell and wanting to sleep all the time. At first, I thought I had caught one of the bugs doing the rounds. I was fairly certain it wasn’t Covid because I had both jabs a few months ago and, in any case, I had none of the symptoms. I just felt ill, so decided to see my GP. He examined me thoroughly and put it down to food poisoning and suggested I monitor what I ate and drank and amend it to see what effect it has.

   So, I did, and it took a couple of days for me to smell a rat, in a metaphorical sense, of course. The ‘rat’ turned out to be the bourbon Graeme poured me as a nightcap every night. It was a process of elimination that led me to the discovery. He rarely makes any meals but pours me a drink of an evening, something he still did despite our estrangement. Maybe he thought that the problem would just go away if he ignored it and continued as before.

   It was a process of elimination really. Leaving out coffee at home made no difference and I switched our plates at meal times now and then which made no difference either, but pouring the bourbon away of an evening did. I began to feel much better after a couple of days, but I let him think I was still drinking it and pretended to be ill.

   It was then that the realisation hit me. You can accuse me of me of being a bit slow on the uptake if you like but to admit that your husband is slowly poisoning you is not something you would expect to have to do.

   So that was how Graeme intended to solve the problem of a troublesome wife, was it? I suppose I should have considered myself lucky he did not resort to more violent solutions. I realised I had to do something. I could have gone to the police, I suppose, but the evidence would have been weak, and he would probably have walked.

   There was only one answer. I knew I had to murder him.

*The next chapter of A Walk on the Wilder side will be published on Monday and every Monday thereafter.

Magic Mirror on the Wall…

My fourth ghost story which will eventually be part of an anthology

By Mike Rickett

It is half hidden behind a chest of drawers when I first spot it. It is the ornate carved mahogany surround to the mirror that catches my eye. I can only see a corner but there is something about it that impels me to try and drag it out but it is completely jammed by the heavy Victorian drawers which I simply cannot move. I look for the shop owner and at first there does not appear to be any sign of him or her.

   I wander around the shop calling out, but there is no reply. Eventually, I come a across a Chesterfield high-backed armchair in the style of Queen Anne. I almost walk past it until I spot an elbow resting on one of the arms.

   I walk around it to see an elderly man with an untidy mop of grey hair and extensive side whiskers staring at me through a pair of old -fashioned wire spectacles.

   ‘Are you the shop owner?’ I ask. He just nods. ‘I have seen something I would like to take a closer look at,’ I say. ‘But it is jammed behind a chest of drawers. Could you give me a hand to move it please?’

   He hoists himself up and I see, with some amusement, that he looks like an antique himself with his black waistcoat and Prince Albert chain and grubby-looking shirt with wing collars and a spotted bow tie. He is also quite short, just coming up to my shoulder. He looks at me grimly and wanders off in the direction of the chest of drawers. For some reason he reminds me of Mr Pickwick. How does he know what I was looking at, I think to myself and slowly follow him?

   I have always had a fascination for junk shops. I was brought up on a farm in mid-Wales and there was a shop in the village a quarter of a mile away where I spent many hours talking to the owner. To me it was an Old Curiosity Shop with all its treasures. At the time I thought the owner was quite old but that was from the perspective of a small boy who thought that anybody grown up was old. Looking back, he was probably only in his early forties. He would regale me with tales connected to the items in his shop. He somehow managed to make a Welsh Dresser sound exciting by telling me how it was made and all the people who may have owned it and what their lives would have been like.

   Ever since then I have never been able to resist the temptation to browse antique and junk shops. I now live in Liverpool and I know where most of them are. Strangely perhaps, I was quite unaware that the shop I am now in, on Renshaw Street in the city centre, even existed despite travelling down the road regularly.

   I follow the shop owner and we arrive at the chest of drawers. I point to the mirror and he looks at me, grimaces and shakes his head. ‘Are ye sure lad?’ he mutters reaching for the back of the drawers and wrenching it away from the wall with apparent ease. He is evidently stronger than he looks. He bends down and pulls the mirror out. It is covered in cobwebs and grime. He places it on top of the drawers and wipes his hand on a cloth.

   The mirror is oval, almost two feet long and the surround has figures carved into it which I can’t make out because of all the grime.

   ‘How much do you want for it?’ I ask.

   ‘There be a better un over yonder,’ he replies pointing to the opposite wall.

   ‘No, I like this one. I’ll give you a fiver for it.’ I offer him a note. He stares at it as though he has never seen one before.

   ‘Some mirrs are better not lookd at,’ he says fixing me with a piercing stare. He takes the note and shuffles off.

   I wipe the worst of the grime off and am about to thank him for his help but he has vanished. I shrug and make my way to the door. I hail a taxi and give the driver my address on the outskirts of the city.

   I have not long moved into the three-bed terrace house with my wife Amy. My name, by the way, is Dominic Burridge and I am a reporter with the Press Association. My brief is to cover the Northwest of England so I do a great deal of travelling but my ‘office’ is our front room, something many people have had to get accustomed to during the Covid pandemic.

   Amy and I have been slowly buying furniture and fittings as and when we have any spare cash. I found a nice dining room table in an Oxfam shop and a set of six chairs at a local Barnardo’s. I am sure Amy will like the mirror which will look good in the hall once I have cleaned it up.

   I get home and immediately take it to the sink. Amy joins me. ‘Where did you get that?’ she says staring at it. ‘It’s filthy. What’s the betting it is riddled with woodworm too. You should just dump it in the nearest skip.’

   ‘It’s mahogany,’ I call after her. ‘It will be really nice when I’ve cleaned it up. You wait and see. It will look good in the hall.’ There is no answer. I press on, first wiping all the grime off the glass. The mirror is perfect and cleans up well. Next, I use soapy water to clean all the dirt off the surround. The wood responds and gleams and for the first time I notice there are figures carved into it. I decide to let it dry and polish it up later. I rest it on the kitchen divider with a cloth covering it.

   I return to the kitchen a few hours later and the cloth is on the floor. I assume Amy must have had a look and the cloth must have slipped off. I examine the surround which is now quite dry and decide to rub in wax to preserve the wood.

   While I am doing it, I study the figures which at first glance look like dancing people but then, on closer inspection, I realise they are not people at all but are more like the grotesque gargoyles you see on medieval churches. That is rather odd and it probably points to the mirror being a great older than I at first thought. I know that commercial mirrors have been around since the 17th century so I speculate that perhaps that is when our mirror dates from. If that is so it is a good find for £5! I feel rather pleased with myself

   I lean it up against the wall and look at my own reflection. Suddenly, I see Amy’s reflection behind me wearing an odd white cap. She is staring at me unsmiling. I turn around but there is nobody there. I look at the mirror again but it is just my face that stares back at me. I must have imagined it. I finish waxing the wood and hang it in the hall. I feel oddly unsettled.

   I don’t see Amy until later in the day when she has finished work at the Central Library on William Brown Street opposite the iconic St Georges Hall.

   ‘I see you have hung that wretched mirror in the hall,’ she says. ‘I’m not sure I like it. There is something about it that makes me feel uneasy.’

   I decide that it would not be a good time to mention the strange reflection I think I saw. Instead, I laugh it off and tell her that I have good reason for thinking it may be 17th century. ‘It’s a genuine antique,’ I tell her enthusiastically. She looks at me doubtfully and swiftly changes the subject suggesting we have a takeaway for our evening meal.

   It is about 2:00 am when I am woken by the sound of footsteps on the stairs. They are measured, heavy footsteps like those made by boots and they gradually get louder as they ascend the stairs. I can feel the hair rising at the back of my neck. I look at Amy who is snoring softly and quite oblivious to it. I know I must investigate despite a desire to hide somewhere. I swing my legs out of bed and listen as the steps continue along the landing and then abruptly stop outside our bedroom door.

   I am scared. Who could it possibly be? What could he want? A burglar would hardly announce himself like this. And why have the footsteps just stopped. There is an old walking stick with a silver knob that belonged to my grandfather in the corner. I grab it and reach for my dressing gown, slip it on and silently walk to the door and listen. I can hear nothing. I slowly turn the handle.

   I yank the door open with all the force I can muster, raising the stick threateningly with my other hand. There is nobody there. I reach for the light switch and turn the landing lights on. I stare down the blackness of the stair well. Do I see something moving or am I imagining it?

   I can’t turn on the hall light from the landing. There is a switch but for some reason it doesn’t work. I am going to have to go down the stairs in the dark. ‘Who’s there,’ I shout stepping carefully and staring into the void.

   I am about halfway down and there is a dim light from the window above the front door. The streetlight outside is casting a yellow beam on the front half of the hall.

   I have reached the bottom of the stairs. There is a sepulchral stillness as though I am being watched by somebody or something. I quickly walk from room to room but everything is as it should be. I return to the hall and glance at the mirror. I am about to walk past it but I stop. Something is wrong. I stand in front of it but there is no image of me. There is just the hall with the door to the sitting room behind me. I move around but I am still not reflected.

   How can a mirror not reflect your image? I look at it again and I realise that while I can see the hall, it not the hall as it is now. It is a much older hall with heavy Victorian wallpaper and the doors are painted a horrible brown so loved by the Victorians. I must be going mad. First, footsteps on the stairs and now this.

   I climb the stairs and return to bed. The hall has become an alien place. Amy is still asleep and was obviously not disturbed by my shouting. That is also strange because she is normally a light sleeper and the slightest noise will waken her.

   I must have dozed off because Amy is shaking me. ‘Dom, Dom, wake up. What’s the matter with you?’ she is saying. I blink as consciousness gradually returns. I sit and stare at her.

   ‘Didn’t you say you had to go to Birkenhead for 9.30 this morning?’ she says. ‘It’s 8.30 now. You had better get moving.’

   She is right. I head for the shower. I debate whether to tell her about last night as the hot water revives my senses. I decide not to. It would only scare her but I think I will get rid of the mirror which appears to be the cause of all the weird events.

   Over breakfast I tell her that I will return it to the shop when I get back from Birkenhead. ‘Oh no, don’t do that,’ she says. ‘I like it. I get a good feeling when I look at it and you have done such an excellent job of cleaning it up.’

   ‘Are you serious. You hated it when I brought it home.’

   ‘Well, I don’t anymore. You leave it alone. I’ll clean it and polish it.’ I am lost for words. What could have brought about such a change of heart. I wait until she has left for work and take the mirror down and put it under the stairs. With any luck she won’t notice and tomorrow I will take it back to the shop and just return it to the weird old man whether he wants it or not!

   I have a particularly gruesome murder to cover in Birkenhead’s Hamilton Square where a man went berserk with an axe and hacked his wife and two children to death. I am going to do some doorstepping and get some background on him. The killer is in police custody and they will also be making a statement later in the morning.

   I arrive home a little later than expected. I have a story to write which I then must file and so I go immediately to the front room with my laptop and get to work. Amy is already in and I call out saying I could murder a coffee. There is no answer. At first, I think nothing of it and carry on working.

   Fifteen minutes later I pause because there is an unnatural silence. Amy usually has music playing when she is busy at home making a meal or anything else really. She is not a person who likes a stillness. I work for a little while longer until I have completed the killings story and file it, then I go and investigate with the primary intention of making a much-needed coffee.

   I walk into the sitting room and Amy is sprawled on the sofa. At first, I think she is simply asleep but then I stop in my tracks when I glimpse her face. It is one of the grotesque gargoyles from the mirror surround. It is the face of a harpy, half woman, half bird, the mouth wide open exposing a tongue which lolls through jagged teeth.

   I gasp and step back in terror until I reach the door. I turn and glance at the hallway. The mirror is back on the wall. Amy must have found it.

   ‘You must need a coffee,’ says Amy’s voice. I turn and look at the sofa and she is standing up, yawning. ‘I must have dozed off for a while,’ she says, walking over and giving me a hug. I must stop myself shrinking back. What is happening. Am I going mad?

   ‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ she asks as I continue to stare at her. How can I tell her that she briefly had the face of a gargoyle and, while I am at it, the footsteps I heard in the middle of the night and the mirror that did not reflect me?

   I slump on the sofa and bury my head in my hands. ‘What’s the matter?’ she says, sitting next to me and putting a comforting arm around my shoulders.

   ‘It’s the mirror,’ I mutter. ‘Did you find it and replace it?’

   ‘What do mean?’

   ‘I took it off the wall and put it under the stairs,’

    She stares at me, puzzled, concerned. ‘You must have been dreaming,’ she says. ‘It was on the wall when I came home from work.

   What am I to do? She is not going to believe me whatever I say. There is only one solution and that is to get rid of it once and for all.

   ‘I am going to take it back to the shop,’ I say standing up. She shrugs, shakes her head and smiles demurely.

   ‘If you must, you must,’ she says disappearing into the kitchen. I walk to the hall and look in the mirror. My face is reflected but as I look it changes and my image begins to laugh tauntingly, sneeringly, gradually fading, leaving just a view of the hall behind me. I rub my eyes. Am I really seeing this or is it all in my mind?

   How did the mirror find its way back to the hall? Amy must have found it under the stairs. How else could it have got back?

   We eat our meal in a strained silence until I ask her if she is feeling all right. She looks surprised. ‘Never better, why do you ask?’

   ‘Well, you don’t normally fall into such a deep sleep this early in the evening,’ I say and then, half-jokingly: ‘I think you’ve been looking in that mirror too much. You know that old fairy-tale line: Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all.’ I say it wearing a big grin. ‘If you aren’t careful the seven dwarfs will come after you.’ I chuckle disarmingly.

    She glares at me and slams her knife down on the table. ‘You are talking nonsense Dom as usual. ‘Yes, I admit looking in the mirror. I feel at peace with myself when I do. I don’t know why. There is just something about it.’

   She stalks out into the kitchen taking the dirty plates with her. Twenty minutes later she is still there. I decide to go to the pub and call out saying I will be a couple of hours. There is no reply.

   Three pints later I return to an empty house. I look in the mirror but all I see is myself. I go to all three rooms but there is no sign of Amy. Has she gone out as well? I sit in an armchair and stare at the blank TV. There is an odd atmosphere I can’t quite put my finger on, almost as though something is about to happen. I hear a slight sound in the hall and glance to see the door slowly open of its own accord to reveal the mirror. There is a silvery light emanating from it.

   My first reaction is to stay away from it; I have had quite enough of the horrors that emanate from it but then I know I must look because whatever is happening is obviously intended for me.

   I walk slowly to the sitting room door and shield my eyes from the bright light which slowly dims to reveal Amy’s face but not the face I know and love. The face that stares back at me malevolently is more gargoyle than Amy. Her mouth opens to reveal jagged teeth with blood dripping from them.

   ‘Fancy giving me a kiss,’ says the apparition in a low guttural voice. I back away and slam the door and lean on it to prevent it opening. Behind it is raucous, harsh laughing.

   I decide to spend the night in the spare room. I place a chair under the door handle. I doubt I will be able to sleep and I decide to keep the light on. I lie on the bed with all my clothes on and settle into a fitful doze.

   I wake with a start. I can hear voices downstairs. Coarse, guttural voices; the sound of movement and then, interspersed, the sound of Amy’s tinkling laugh. At one point I can see my bedroom door handle turning but I press the chair even more firmly against it. There is a mocking, scornful snigger and then there is a heavy silence.

   I return to the bed and come to a decision. I know what I must do.

It is morning and I am on my way to a DIY store on the outskirts of Liverpool. Before I attempted to go to sleep last night, I went online on my phone. I wanted to find out what the melting point of glass is. Modern glass melts at around 2,500C and can mostly only be done in a kiln but older glass will often melt at around 900C.

   I quite quickly find what I am looking for: a blowtorch and a mask, together with a canister of gas. I put it all in the car boot and hurry on to my first assignment of the day which is to Southport to cover a story of a man who says he has figured out a way to make his car work on water. Probably a crackpot unless he has found a way of making hydrolysis work to split hydrogen from water. Crackpot or not, people are going to take notice.

   I return home a little earlier than expected. Amy is also home which is a complication I hadn’t expected but I am determined to press on with my plan come what may. I say hello to her and bend over to kiss her on the cheek. She looks at me with a strange, unnatural stare as though I am stranger. Hopefully, what I am about to do will release her from whatever or whoever has possessed her.

   I tell her that I have work to do in the back yard and I hurry through with my bag. I have a larger bag as well. I wait until Amy goes upstairs to the toilet before going to the hall and taking down the mirror and covering it with the bag. I am careful not to look at it. I close the kitchen door firmly behind me and place the mirror face down on a slab of concrete at the end of the yard.

   The back of the mirror is covered with a thin sheet of wood. The first job is to reduce all the wood to ash, especially the surround with all their grotesque carvings so I light the torch and cover my face with the mask. I get to work on the backing.

   At first, the backing smoulders and then bursts into flame, so then I direct the torch to the surround moving it a few inches at a time. It is then that I notice the smell. It is the stench of rotting flesh. I hold a hand to the mask, pressing it to my face and continue playing the flame as the wood begins to blacken.

   I keep my eyes fixed on it despite the smell which is making me gag. I am determined it must be reduced to ashes. As I look, I see dark shapes writhing in the flames. They are grotesque, horrible, and I can hear screams of agony as the flames gradually devour them. I continue remorselessly until all that is left is smouldering ashes.

   Now, it is time to deal with the mirror itself. The backing has been scorched by the flames so I brush the ashes aside. I suspect that the reflective surface has a film of mercury which would have been used in the Middle Ages. I also know that when I begin work with the torch it will very likely give off toxic fumes, so I make sure the mask is securely fastened covering my nose and mouth.

   After a few minutes, the glass begins to become slightly translucent and I notice that a black cloud has formed around me and that in it is a darker outline of what looks like the head of some sort of horned beast. I ignore it and concentrate on the glass which is now beginning to glow a dull red.

   Suddenly, there is an ear-piercing screech. I glance up and standing a few feet away is Amy, her face contorted into a snarl, her teeth bared and her eyes glowing a bright red. She is clutching a large kitchen knife and pointing it at me.

   A guttural growl comes from her and a deep male voice commands me to stop. I ignore it and keep my eyes fixed on the mirror which is now beginning to glow a deep red. I expect the knife to be plunged into my throat imminently but nothing happens. I glance up and Amy is still there. Suddenly, her head tilts back and she screams, dropping the knife and she collapses in a heap. I want to go and help her but I know I must continue.

   The mirror begins to melt, forming little glowing puddles on the concrete. I break it up into even smaller globules with a stick. Finally, I can switch off the torch and remove my mask. I go over to Amy and carry her into the sitting room, laying on the sofa. I pour a small brandy and cradle her head with my right arm and rub a little brandy on her lips. She coughs and her eyes open, staring at me.

   ‘I have been having really bad dreams,’ she whispers. ‘It’s the mirror Dom. It’s evil.’

   ‘I know,’ I say. ‘I have destroyed it and it will trouble us no more.’ She bursts into tears and we sit there, side by side, for what feels like eternity, safe at last.

It is a week later when I find myself in Renshaw Street once more. The trauma of that day when I melted the mirror is still with me. I can still smell the rotting flesh and see the terrifying image in the black cloud. When the bubbles of glass cooled, I swept them up and poured them in the wheelie bin which was emptied the following day.

   The house is at peace now and Amy is once more the carefree girl I married, although just occasionally I catch her glancing nervously in the direction of the hall.

   I find a parking space on Renshaw Street and walk up the road in the direction of the junk shop where I bought the mirror. I want to find out where it came from.

   I can’t find the shop. I remember which block it was on but there is no junk shop. This is impossible. The shop was here just a week or two ago. I cannot be mistaken. Instead, there is a small gallery and curio shop with pictures of old Liverpool in the window. I glance at them.

   I am about to turn away and walk down the road just in case I am mistaken about where the shop was when one of the pictures in the window catches my eye.

   It is a faded black and white photo of the junk shop with, standing outside, his arms folded over his chest, the elderly man with grey hair and side whiskers staring at the camera through wire spectacles. I look at the photo more closely. He has a sneering smile on his face.

   The caption says Hob’s Curios, Renshaw Street, 1895.

The Haunting of Dr Jacobs

A ghost story for Christmas

I haven’t, in truth, known Dr Irwin Jacobs for very long. I would stop short at calling him a friend because I don’t honestly believe he has anyone he could apply that title too. While appearing outwardly friendly, in reality, he struck me as a very self-contained person; a very private man who only very reluctantly reveals anything about himself.

   I first met him in Llandudno in North Wales at a conference on The Study of Personality Disorder. It was organised by SANE, the mental health charity and was attended largely by medics and psychiatrists and others involved in the provision of mental health services. I was there as a freelance journalist with an interest in mental health, having written on many occasions about how destructive it can be to families and relationships.

   I literally bumped into him at the hotel bar where he was sitting on a stool staring gloomily into a gin and tonic. I rather clumsily managed to spill his drink which he was about to sip. I naturally apologised profusely and immediately offered to buy him another, but he waved the offer away.

   Dr Jacobs has a rather Teutonic face; startling blue eyes, a square jaw and a firm mouth that is not given to smiling. His thinning grey hair sits above a furrowed brow and a sallow face. We shook hands and I apologised again.

   I sat on a stool next to him and introduced myself. I am Dominic Howard, quite well known in my chosen field by mental health professionals, even if I do say so with a degree of modesty! After we concluded the introductions, I asked him about his practice. He immediately became quite animated and went into some detail about the problems some of his patients present. It was, however, punctuated by nervous glances around the room, his eyes flickering from side-to side as though expecting a friend or colleague. I looked around but there were just other delegates standing in small groups in earnest discussion.

   ‘Are you expecting someone,’ I said, standing up, preparing to leave.

   ‘No, No,’ he said, placing a hand on my arm with a look that invited me to sit. I did so. ‘I thought I saw a cat,’ he muttered, almost under his breath.

   I stared at him. ‘A cat?’ I repeated looking around the bar.

   ‘I’m allergic to them,’ he said by way of explanation, looking around furtively. For some reason I did not believe him but why would he lie about something like that? Our conversation then turned to topics to do with matters of the mind. It ended with us exchanging contact details. As a journalist I have always found it useful to collect people who are experts in their fields and for all his odd behaviour, Dr Jacobs did appear to be highly knowledgeable. We shook hands and parted.

   That was a month ago and I have been busy writing a feature on stress at the workplace, a subject close to my heart, when I routinely look at my email queue and there is one from Dr Jacobs inviting me to call round for supper. To say that I am surprised would be an understatement.

   I note that Dr Jacobs lives at Bedford Square, which is not that far from my apartment at Ridgemount Gardens, near the University of London. I reply saying that I would be happy to call round. I am curious, more than anything else, to see what life is like at Bedford Square. I note his address is not an apartment!

   The door is opened by a man formally dressed. He asks me to identify myself and ushers me into a small but comfortable room to the left of the front door. I take it he must be a butler or manservant. I am astonished that they still exist in the 21st century.

   Five minutes later he returns and invites me to follow him to a plush, but rather austere lounge. Jacobs is standing near an open coal fire. He steps forward and we shake hands. He treats me to a rather watery smile and waves me into an expansive easy chair. The Butler, who he addresses as James, is standing nearby awaiting instructions. Jacobs orders two whiskies.

   I gaze around the room. It is slightly Edwardian; not quite Victorian but fussy in that everything obviously has its place. Along one wall are shelves full of tomes. I am always fascinated by bookshelves; what treasures are hidden away there, I wonder, and I am sorely tempted to explore, but I don’t. Instead, I look at Jacobs who is staring around the room furtively.

   ‘Do you hear anything?’ he asks softly.

   I listen. There is just a heavy silence which is interrupted by James bringing our whiskies. I stare at him. His face could be made of stone. It is set and expressionless as he sets our drinks down on occasional tables.

   ‘I am informed by cook Sir, that dinner will be served in 30 minutes,’ he announces in a monotone. Jacobs nods in acknowledgement and James glides out of the room.

   ‘I didn’t hear anything,’ I inform Jacobs, ‘apart from the occasional car passing outside.’

   ‘You didn’t hear a laugh,’ he asks, looking at me closely. I shake my head, puzzled, and enquire why he asked.

   He stares at a corner of the room. This is a strange house,’ he says. ‘Once the servants have left, I can’t help feeling that there are other people here. I can hear them. Mutterings and laughing, sometimes all night long. There is a cat too. I have no idea how it got in here but I see it every night, lurking in corners.’

   I look around the room and then say breezily that there is no sign of any cats now and then ask him how long he has lived at Bedford Square.

   ‘It was bought by my grandfather,’ he says, relaxing a little. ‘We have lived here for three generations. Both my father and grandfather were medical men. I am the only one to practise psychiatry.’

   ‘Did you never marry,’ I ask a little hesitantly wondering if he might be offended by such a personal question.

   He frowns and replies that he did but that his wife died suddenly just two years after they were wed.  ‘It was toxic shock. She died in just two days of the bacteria taking hold,’ he says quietly. I have been alone ever since.’

   Suddenly, James appears to announce that dinner is served so we follow him into another spacious room with a dining table in the middle with seats for ten people. There are two place settings at one end. The room is mostly lit by candles, two candelabra on the table and two meagre wall lamps which together manage to cast ominous silhouettes on the walls.

   Dinner passes in a gloomy silence and it is with some relief that we eventually rise to leave the maid to clear away the dishes. We return to the lounge which is also poorly lit with just two small wall lights.

   Jacobs walks over to a cabinet and holds up a bottle of Martell. I nod and he pours two large measures and returns to his seat by the fire. He begins a conversation about psychiatry and the unusual symptoms displayed by his patients. I listen with interest as he describes Clinical Lycanthropy.

   His patient involves a delusion that he can transform into an animal. It is often associated with turning into a wolf or werewolf; the name of the syndrome originates from the mythical condition of lycanthropy or shapeshifting into wolves.

   ‘The patient genuinely believes he can take the form of any particular animal and during delusional periods he can act like the animal.’

   He goes on to talk about another patient who suffers from Alien Hand Syndrome which is characterized by the belief that one’s hand has its own life. Individuals experiencing the syndrome have normal sensations but feel their hand is a separate entity: The affected hand has its own agenda. This syndrome may occur in individuals who have damage to the corpus callosum, which connects the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain.

   All very interesting but I notice that while he is talking, he is casting nervous glances around the room. He notices that I have almost finished my brandy and offers a refill and when I accept, walks over to the cabinet which is in a half light.

   As he uncorks the bottle, I fancy I see a shadow to his right which appears to be bending over him. He suddenly starts and shouts ‘No, no, go away, damn you,’ waving his arms wildly. He steps back and glances in my direction.

   ‘Forgive me,’ he says. ‘That was not intended for you.’

   ‘I thought I saw a shadow,’ I say looking around the room. ‘But it may have just been a trick of the light.’ I smile a little uncertainly.

   ‘She is plaguing me,’ he mutters taking a large gulp of brandy.

   ‘Who is?’ I ask.

   ‘A patient of mine who died about a year ago. In fact, she committed suicide,’ he says with a finality I find rather strange.

   I begin to think of what excuses I can conjure up to escape from this place with its sepulchral atmosphere. Did I imagine that shadow? Did he? Has this gloomy dump somehow infected his subconscious into making him believe he is haunted?

   Just then there are measured footsteps in the corridor outside, becoming louder as they approach the door. We both stare at it, and then they stop just as suddenly as they started. The door handle turns slowly twice and then stops.

   ‘Is that the butler?’ I ask, but his face is white. ‘Why doesn’t he come in?’

   ‘The servants have gone home,’ he replies quietly twisting his fingers around in his lap.

   I stand up and walk quickly to the door and wrench it open. There is nobody there but for some reason my eyes are drawn to a dark patch by an occasional table with phone directories on top. I can see two yellow eyes staring at me malevolently. They become larger and larger and begin moving towards me and I swiftly return into the room and slam the door behind me. I lean against it and then slowly walk back to my chair and sit down.

   ‘What did you see?’ he asks softly.

   ‘I thought I saw a cat,’ I say, shaking my head. ‘I have no idea who the footsteps belonged to though because there was nobody there.’

   I decide it is time to go. I stand up and thank him for his hospitality. He also stands and we both walk to the door, a little warily in my case. The hall is eerily silent as we walk down its length. He opens the front door and I step outside. I turn and thank him again but just before I walk away, I ask. ‘Are you going to be alright?’  He doesn’t reply. He just closes the door silently.

 

It is two weeks since my eerie supper with Dr Jacobs and I have managed to put him to the back of my mind. I am about to file a story for the Telegraph when I feel my mobile phone vibrating. I stare at the screen. It is Dr Jacobs. Why on earth is he ringing me? I click answer and am about to ask how he is when he asks me if I could round to Bedford Square later. He sounds strange. His voice has a rasping quality and is slightly tremulous. I reluctantly agree.

   I ring the bell and wait. Nothing happens. I ring it again. There is still no sign of life. I am about to walk away when the door half opens slowly revealing Jacobs. I stare at him in astonishment. He is unshaven, his jacket is open, his shirt half undone but it is his face that startles me. It is gaunt. His eyes are bloodshot.

   He slowly opens the door wider and I walk in with some trepidation. When in the hall I ask him where the butler is.

   ‘He left,’ he says. ‘He said he could no longer tolerate the things that go on here and just walked out’

   I am about to say that I could hardly blame him but don’t. Instead, I follow him into the lounge where the curtains have been drawn back to fill the gloomy room with daylight. It looks no more inviting than it did at night. He walks over to the drinks cabinet and offers me a whisky. I decline with a shake of my head. It is just 10.00am.

   ‘What has happened to you?’ I ask indicating his open shirt and generally unkempt appearance.

   ‘I can’t sleep,’ he says. ‘It won’t let me. I get no peace, none at all.’ He glares around the room. ‘Very soon I imagine cook will leave and then God help me. I have no idea what I will do.’

   It is on the tip of my tongue to say that he will have to do what most other single men do; cook for themselves or eat out, but I don’t.

   As he talks, I find myself looking at the door. I have no idea why. It might have been a movement that caught my attention, I’m not sure, but then as I look, the door handle begins to turn very slowly in one direction and then in the other. I stare at it in dreadful anticipation at what might be on the other side but the door remains closed.

   Jacobs has walked over to the window and is staring at the street outside. ‘Is there anyone else in the house?’ I ask.

   ‘No, just us,’ he says, turning around. ‘Why do you ask?’

   ‘I thought I saw the door handle turning,’ I say. He simply shrugs and turns back to the window. ‘Why have you asked me here Dr Jacobs?’

   ‘You have some idea of what I am going through,’ he says. ‘You know it is not the result of a fevered imagination or hallucinations. I just want someone to record what I am going through.’

   ‘There must be a cause though,’ I say. ‘Do you have no idea why you are being persecuted. There has to be a reason.’

   ‘I think it may be the result of a fixation my former patient entertained about me,’ he says staring at the other end of the room. I follow his gaze and there just by the door is a large black cat, its yellow eyes staring, unblinking. There is something malevolent about it.

   ‘Get away from me,’ he yells, throwing a book at it. But the cat has vanished.

   ‘It is always here,’ he growls. ‘It watches me day and night. There is no respite. I can hear it growling wherever I go.’

   I am standing a little way into the room near the fireplace which is unmade. There are half-burned documents in the grate. Jacobs has resumed staring out of the window so I bend down and grasp the two pieces of paper. I hastily stuff them in my pocket and as I do, I hear a dry chuckle in my right ear. I start backwards and almost fall over an occasional table. He turns around and asks if I am alright. I tell him I lost my balance.

   ‘All I would ask you do is to make a record of what you have heard and seen here,’ he says. ‘My colleagues in the profession will be interested that my experiences have been verified by an independent witness.’

   ‘Surely they will be interested in the likely cause as well,’ I say. He turns back to the window.

   ‘That will be a matter of some debate I imagine,’ he says quietly.

   I take my leave of him. He doesn’t offer to show me out so I make my way down the hall half expecting some horror to emerge from the shadows, but there is just an ominous silence.

   I cross the road and look back at the house. I can see Jacobs in the window staring gloomily at the sky and then I look more closely. Standing behind him and slightly to his left is another figure, the figure of a woman, an old woman with a pinched face and a shawl around her shoulders. She is staring at him malignantly. I continue staring for perhaps a minute or two until the figure gradually fades from view. I make my way out of the square back to Ridgemount Gardens.

   I had forgotten about the pieces of paper I found in Jacobs’ grate. I take them out of my coat pocket and lay them out on the table. The top halves are unburnt and one appears to be a bank statement belonging to a Catharine Bancroft. There are just three items visible, all withdrawals totalling £100,000. The other is a letter addressed to Jacobs saying that he had been granted Lasting Power of Attorney for Ms Catherine Bancroft. The rest of the letter is burnt. I assume she is or was a patient of his. Why, I wonder, has he attempted to destroy them in the grate? Then, another thought occurs. Could she be the patient he referred to?

   I decide to go online and see what a Google search reveals. The first is a news story in which police are appealing for information about Catharine Bancroft, aged 78, who vanished a year ago. I read the story. It seems she told a neighbour she was going to a local shop in south London and was never seen again. The neighbour is later quoted as saying she was devoted to her cat which had also disappeared. It was, apparently, a large black cat which she doted on. It was always with her. I stare at the photograph. There is no doubt about it. She is the spectral figure I saw standing behind Jacobs. And the cat I saw was no doubt hers too.

   The second news story that comes up is five years earlier in the Daily Mail saying the actress Catherine Bancroft was retiring from the stage after a lifetime in the theatre. It seems she was a regular in West End productions. It goes on to list many of the shows she appeared in.

   So why would she be haunting Jacobs, if indeed it was her I saw? And why did he say she committed suicide, if indeed it was Miss Bancroft he was referring to? The inescapable conclusion, given the documents I found, is that Jacobs was somehow involved in her disappearance but I find that difficult to believe. He may be a little odd but an eminent psychiatrist like him murdering and stealing from a patient is difficult to believe. Surely not. There must be another explanation.

   But if she weren’t murdered, what could have happened to her? Suicide is simply out of the question. A well-known actress like her taking her own life would have been certain to have made the headlines.

   I scroll through the other news items in which Catherine was mentioned but the headlines get smaller and the stories shorter as time goes on and there is no trace of her. There is only one story in which Jacobs is mentioned and that was when he revealed that she had been a patient of his for some time. No significance appears to have been attached to that.

   I decide that I can do no more but I write up my research and file it away thinking that if Catherine does re-appear there will be story in it. I put Jacobs out of my mind and immerse myself in more pressing matters.

   It is just a week later when I am sitting in a coffee shop sipping a cappuccino reading the Guardian when my mobile rings. I sigh and am minded to ignore it. I value my thinking time and interruptions are annoying. I glance at the screen which is saying ‘Dr Jacobs’. I really do not want to visit him again in that creepy house of his but I decide to answer and make an excuse, if indeed that is what he wants.

   I click on it and listen but all I can hear is an odd subdued, whispered, muttering. I keep saying ‘Dr Jacobs, are you there’ but there is no answer, just the muttering and a strange, rather eery rustling sound.

   Then, suddenly, there is scream which is so loud I almost fall off my chair. The two people sitting at the next table glance at me curiously as I hold the phone away from my ear. When I listen again there is just absolute, total, silence. Then I hear a sound that chills me to the bone; it is a sound I last heard in a butcher’s, the unmistakable sound of flesh being sliced. I rush outside and hail a cab, telling the driver to take me to Bedford Square.

   I stand looking uncertainly at the door. What am I going to find behind it? Perhaps I should have rung the police first, but then if nothing gruesome has happened despite the scream, I would look foolish. For all I know Jacobs might have just been having a fit of hysterics. Having said that my instinct is telling me otherwise.

   There is no movement in the windows; no lights are shining; they just stare down at me ominously. I press the bell and wait. There is no response. I press it again and notice that the door appears to be very slightly open. I push it gently and it swings open very slowly as though by an invisible hand, revealing the cavernous, dinghy hall.

   I stare into its gloomy space. There is no movement, no sign of life. I suddenly have an almost overwhelming urge to walk away from this place but I know I must enter; something is compelling me to.

   I walk slowly, fearfully, down the hall. I call out to Dr Jacobs several times; there is no answer, just an oppressive, brooding silence. I reach the lounge and stare at the door. I want to turn back; what will I find in there?

   As I stand there transfixed, the door gradually opens of its own accord. I step hesitatingly into the room which is in partial darkness due to the curtains being slightly open. At first, I can see nothing in the gloom. I was expecting to see Jacobs in his armchair asleep but the two chairs are empty.

   It is only then I notice the smell. It is a sickeningly dry, sweet metallic scent on the verge of being pungent and slightly suffocating, mixed with the odour of burning.

   It is only when I walk past the first armchair that I see it. At first, my senses cannot interpret the scene that confronts me. I stare in open-mouthed horror at the carnage that lies before me. Bile rises up and I rush to a plant in the corner and throw up. I leave the room trembling, the scene etched into my mind.

   Jacobs, or what is left of him, was lying in the hearth in front of the fire which had been lit and which was casting a red glow on the room.

   Embers from the fire had somehow fallen on his chest and burned their way into him exposing a few ribs. He is lying in a pool of blood, but the most horrific sight is his face which has been shredded as if by a claw. One eyeball has been forced out of its socket and hanging down his cheek.

   I stumble to the end of the hall into the kitchen and pour myself a tumbler of water. I sit on a chair until my breathing returns to normal and my heart stops its wild beating. Something is telling me to return to the room. I walk to the doorway and there, in the centre of the room, is an elderly woman. I know immediately it is Catherine Bancroft. She is staring at me, tears trickling down her cheeks. At her side is her cat, also staring at me, its eyes no longer glowing. She raises an arm and points to the floor and they both slowly disappear.

It is two weeks later that police discover a body in the cellar. It was quickly identified as that of Catherine Bancroft. I had some difficulty persuading them to search the cellar without revealing that it was Catherine herself who pointed it out. The half-burned documents I produced persuaded them that it was a possibility that Ms Bancroft had been murdered.

   At the inquest, forensic scientists were unable to satisfactorily explain how Jacobs sustained such horrific injuries. An open verdict was recorded.

   Just two days later, I found myself wide wake at 2.00am. I glance at the window. I always leave the curtains half drawn to let in light. The moon’s rays cast a sombre light on the opposite wall. I stare at the windowsill.

   A cat is sitting there.

The ‘Sixties in retrospect

Steam and the ‘Sixties is published as an eBook on Amazon today.

It is a stop gap until the finished and enlarged book is published in hardback, probably early next year and gives potential readers the opportunity to decide whether they like it or not and if they want to own the physical volume. It only costs £2.99 from Amazon ASIN: B09KVFKVBT

In the book, Liverpool artist and journalist Mike Rickett takes a personal journey through Britain in the 60s, witnessing the end of steam in the North West of England as well as York, Chester and North Wales.

He also reflects on the mistakes of the 1950s when the government felt that the railways were obsolete and refused to invest in them, followed in the 1960s by the vandalism of the Beeching report which closed hundreds of stations and branch lines. Something that has been debated ever since.

Mike also has a lifelong interest in photography as well as railways and the industrial scene and he took many pictures which have never been published before.

He witnessed and recorded the closure of Liverpool’s historic south docks which became derelict and overgrown as well as the final days of city street trams as generations of Britons knew them.

This is a personal and reflective journey through an age when the face of Britain changed forever. 

More Steam and the ‘Sixties

These are two pages from Steam and the ‘Sixties. Unfortunately the published pages are much darker than shown here obscuring a lot of detail and I am not pleased with the result so while it is available from Lulu, I would advise interested poeple to wait until I publish it on Amazon. It will then have an extra 20 pages detailing every heritage railway in the UK.

Steam and the ‘Sixties

This is my latest non-fiction book. It is a personal memoir of the 1960s and which I both loved and hated at the same time. It is also a record of the demise of the steam locomotive in the UK during that period. There are also chapters on Liverpool’s iconic dock system, as well as areas in the north of England where steam made its final stand.

Apart from that it is a personal and reflective journey through an age when the face of Britain changed forever.

This edition is published by Lulu. It is just about 50 pages but a longer (and probably cheaper) version will be available from Amazon in the near future.

The Clock

A short story

There is something about the hallway when I first step through the door, something I can’t quite put my finger on, something brooding, almost as though it is studying me. I feel unsettled and ill-at ease which is not how you are supposed to feel at the start of a holiday.

   I have just arrived with my wife, baby boy and in-laws at what at first glance appears to be a picturesque cottage at Pembroke Ferry in Southwest Wales, a short drive from Milford Haven on the River Avon before it becomes the Bristol Channel.

   It is just a hamlet really. On one side of the narrow road is a group of cottages with just fields on the other and at the end is a wharf and a pub with a small shop and that’s it!

   Nobody else appears to notice the melancholy atmosphere in the hallway. They are oblivious and just all pile in with our luggage and set about exploring the place which takes a bit of explaining.

   When you open the front door, you enter a corridor which has no windows, just three doors opening onto two bedrooms and a bathroom. Leading off the corridor is a staircase which leads down to a sitting room with a third bedroom at the back with just one small window at pavement level. From the sitting room at the other end is a kitchen with door to a sprawling garden and the river with gorgeous views of Milford Haven. So, while you are technically in the basement in the sitting room and kitchen, you are actually level with the river. You get the picture, I’m sure.

   There is no way I am going to sleep in one of the bedrooms upstairs because of the prospect of having to creep around in that hallway or landing, lit by just one rather dim shaded bulb, so I insist on saying that my wife Brenda and I will sleep in the downstairs room. I say, by way of an explanation, that it has more room for the baby, and it is not far to go to organise his feeds. It also has an en-suite bathroom and a toilet. There is no cot but there is a large antique chest of drawers and I pull one out and we decide to use it as a cot!

   I decide to put my ‘feelings’ to the back of my mind and to forget about the landing as we get on with the business of organising ourselves and exploring the possibilities of the kitchen. I tell myself that I am being foolish. It is just a landing. There is nothing there. Just the two doors and the stairs and that’s it.

   We decide to go to the pub for our evening meal. We will have to go to Pembroke Dock in the morning to do a shop. There are certain to be supermarkets somewhere there.

   I should explain that I am Michael Wells, an ambitious 28-year-old journalist, married to 26-year-old Brenda, a teacher and we have a nine-month-old son Sam with us on our first holiday as a family. True, we do have our in-laws with us but as in-laws go, they are OK. There is Brenda’s dad Charles and her mother Lorna who is inclined to fuss over me, which is quite nice because there has been little of that in my largely troubled upbringing due to my dad deserting my mother almost as soon as I was born. It meant that I had a rather lonely childhood but one benefit of that was to make me independent at an early age. For a journalist that is a positive thing in that I am not dependent on anyone else.

   I don’t think Brenda quite knew what to make of me when we first met. She comes from a quite a large family – a brother and a sister – so has never had to deal with a loner like me.

   But all that is forgotten as we stroll along the lane to the pub at the end of the road. It’s a very welcoming place, obviously well accustomed to tourists, there being few locals in the handful of cottages that makes up the community.

   My father-in-law, Charles, is inclined to be avuncular in social situations and within minutes he is chatting to the landlord as though he had known him for years.

   ‘So, you are in number nine, are you?’ says the landlord, eyeing us up, referring to our cottage. ‘You have a grand view of the river out the back as I daresay you have seen already. Old Sian Roberts used to sit out in the back garden for hours. It was her place before she died,’ he says by way of explanation.

   ‘When was that?’ asks Charles.

   ‘Just last year,’ he replies. ‘She was found in the river at the end of the garden.’ He begins pulling a couple of pints for Charles and me. Brenda and Lorna already have their large glasses of white wine.

   ‘That’s awful,’ says Charles. ‘How sad. Poor woman. How did it happen?’

   ‘Nobody really knows,’ says the landlord. ‘It was all a bit strange, but you don’t want to be thinking about all that. You came here to enjoy yourselves. I daresay you are going to explore. There’s plenty see around here.’ He hands four menus to Charles and we sit silently seeing what is on offer. It’s a limited menu which in my opinion is a particularly good thing because it invariably means that local ingredients have been used and everything is cooked fresh. Beware restaurants with vast menus. Little Sam is blissfully asleep in his buggy.

   Brenda and I decide on local brown trout and Charles goes for the steak and kidney pie while Lorna goes for a vegetarian option.

   While we wait, we discuss plans for tomorrow which includes a visit to Tenby and some sunbathing on the beach.

   The meals are superb. Fresh in-season vegetables and trout which was baked whole and which just fell apart. The time flew by and another two pints later, it is time to return to the cottage.

   Brenda settles Sam down for the night in his drawer and we decide to have a few drinks and play a few hands of whist. We leave the door open just in case he gets fractious.

   It is getting on for 11.00 pm when we decide to turn in. Brenda and I don’t have far to go, just a few feet away to our bedroom door. I decide to have a read for a while and leave my bedside light on, but Brenda turns hers off and is asleep almost immediately.

   I must have been reading longer than I intended because I hear the chimes of a clock striking midnight. They are faint but quite distinct as though in another room. I think it a bit odd because I don’t recall seeing a chiming clock anywhere. I decide it may be in the kitchen or one of the bedrooms and switch my light off.

   Sleep, however, evades me. I toss and turn and half expect Brenda to complain but she is in a deep slumber. I try to think of the universe which usually does the trick, but instead I see a horrible, contorted face leering at me. I sit up and look around. A shaft of moonlight is shining through the window above our heads onto the wall opposite. I am tempted to get out of bed but then I hear the clock chiming 1.00 am. This is ridiculous, I think, I am going to be wasted tomorrow if I don’t get some sleep.

   I must have dozed off, but I am awake again in time to hear the clock strike 2.00 am. I must finally have fallen into a deep sleep because Brenda is shaking me, telling me it is 8.30am and the baby needs feeding.

   I rub my eyes and mutter something about needing a shower. There is one in our bathroom, just about. It is a rudimentary affair with rubber pipes attached to the taps, but I don’t care. I need something to erase the disturbing image of the face which is beginning to fade like photo-sensitive paper exposed to the light.

   Over breakfast, I casually ask if anyone heard the chimes of a clock last night. They look at each other and shake their heads.

   ‘Too much booze,’ laughs Charles. ‘You’ll be seeing little green men next.’

   ‘You did knock it back a bit,’ says Brenda reprovingly. ‘It’s a fallacy that alcohol gives you a good night’s sleep. It doesn’t. It’s to do with enzymes in your liver becoming activated and making you toss and turn.’

   I decide it is probably not a good idea to mention the tortured face I saw. While the breakfast dishes are being washed, I decide to go into every room in the house to see if I can see a clock. There is no sign of one anywhere downstairs, so I venture up to the landing which makes me feel ill-at-ease as soon as I reach the top of the stairs. Its gloom has a menacing feel to it now, so I open a bedroom door to let light into the space. I quickly go into both bedrooms and the bathroom and there is no sign of a clock, large or small, anywhere.

   The day passes uneventfully and enjoyably. The weather is sunny and warm and we spend it on the beach with a little swimming, a little sunbathing followed by a really good pub lunch. Charles was driving so I did not have to worry about alcohol. The clock was not mentioned and I managed to put it to the back of my mind.

   It was only when we returned to the cottage that it returns like a bad dream. Our next-door neighbour, a matronly woman in her sixties I would guess, is cleaning her windows as we climb out of the car and walk to the front door. We exchange greetings cheerily and then, just as I am about to follow everyone else in, I pause and say to her in an enquiring tone: ‘Do you happen to know if anyone in these cottages has a chiming clock?’

   She stares at me warily and says in a heavily Welsh accent: ‘There are no such clocks here. Mae’n lwc drwg clywed cywion.’ And with that she disappears into her cottage, closing the door firmly behind her. It is much later when I find a Welsh dictionary on a shelf that I discover what that means. A rough translation would be: ‘It’s bad luck to hear chimes.’ Why did she say that? It implies that she somehow knew I had heard chimes. It is all very strange.

   That evening, Brenda and Lorna decide they are going to make a meal. We had bought a chicken and some fresh vegetables from a market on the way back together with fresh strawberries and ice cream. While they are doing that Charles and I decide to go to the pub with strict instructions to be back by 7.00pm.

   The landlord, whose name it turns out is Marty, gave us the hale fellow, well met, treatment again. We sit on stools at the bar and share a couple of packets of crisps while comparing the comparative fortunes of Liverpool and Everton football clubs.

   I should perhaps have said earlier that we all live in Liverpool and in that city, you are either ‘red’ or ‘blue’. I had decided when I first met Charles that I would be ‘blue’ meaning an Everton supporter, just to be perverse because he is an ardent ‘red’. It has given rise to many arguments, usually in pubs, ever since.

   It gets to about 6.40pm when we are finishing our third pint when we decide to call it a day. Charles has vanished in the direction of the toilets and I have just taken a final gulp when a thought occurs.

   ‘I don’t suppose you happen to know if anyone near our cottage has a chiming clock?’ I ask Marty. He was in the process of wiping glasses and suddenly stops, his back to me.

   ‘Why do you ask that?’ he says.

   ‘I thought I heard chimes coming from something like a grandfather clock last night,’ I say.

   He turns around with an odd look on his face, the bonhomie completely absent. ‘You must have been mistaken. There is nothing like that around here. The countryside is full of strange sounds of a night. You city dwellers have police sirens and cars. We have owls, ferrets and foxes. Have you ever heard a fox scream? It would turn your blood cold.’

   Just then, Charles returns and we thank him and head for the door. Just as I am walking out, I glance behind and see him staring at me.

   The rest of the evening passes predictably with a game of cards. By 10.00pm I announce that I have had enough and that I am going to turn in. They all decide to watch a little TV, so I go to our bedroom and I fall into a deep, dreamless, sleep almost immediately.

   I have no idea why I am awake, but I am suddenly sharply alert. I was not aware of Brenda coming to bed, but she is gently snoring by my side so it must have been a while ago. I look at my watch on the bedside table and it is 11.55pm. There are no shafts of moonlight tonight, just vague ochre shadows on the wall opposite from the streetlight outside the cottage.

   I turn on my side and try my usual trick of trying to visualise the eternity of the universe; the multitude of galaxies stretching out into infinity. It doesn’t work and then, suddenly, I hear it. The first chime of midnight, quite clearly, but distant. I wait until it strikes five and then I get out of bed, find a torch on the shelf of my bedside table and pad soundlessly to the bedroom door and open it.

   The sixth chime is a little louder and coming from upstairs. I walk over to the door leading to the stairs and open it. There is no doubt; it is coming from the landing. I pause with the door open and stare at the gloom of the stairs and the darkness of the landing above. Is it my imagination or can I see a shadow moving? Despite my fear I know I must find out why I have been selected to hear the chimes. As the seventh chime sounds, my beathing becomes shallower and I feel dread taking hold in the pit of my stomach.

   Another chime, the eighth, and I slowly begin mounting the stairs shining the torch ahead of me. I have taken three steps and then the ninth sounds, louder, the circle of the torch’s beam ahead of me picking out the bare walls. Another three steps and then the tenth, sounding much nearer. I am near the top now and then the eleventh sounds. I finally reach the top in time to hear the twelfth, this time almost deafening, as if right next to me. I jump and drop the torch which clatters down the stairs. It has become cold. Very cold. I am in a stygian blackness. I feel for the banister to steady myself and stand still attempting to get my bearings. I can’t remember where the light switch is. I know that one wrong step in this shroud-like darkness and I could be at the bottom of the stairs with a broken neck.

   As I stare into the blackness. Am I imagining a faint clock face? I am frozen where I stand. It seems to be showing 4.15 but it also has a face within it, a contorted woman’s face full of contempt and then it fades from view. And then there is a pregnant stillness as though something is expected of me.

   I begin backing slowly down the stairs until I reach the bottom step, then I sit on it and bury my head in my hands. I feel around and find the torch. I am surprised the sound of it clattering down the stairs hasn’t woken the others.

   I climb into bed and am asleep almost immediately. The following morning, I decide not to mention my nocturnal activities and nobody appears to have been woken by the torch thank goodness. I shiver as I recall the horror of the face in the clock. What was the significance of the time it showed, I wonder – 4.15? There is no way of no way of knowing whether that was AM or PM.

   It is overcast outside with black clouds scudding overhead promising rain, or at the very least showers. We decide to go to Pembroke Dock, the nearest town of any size and do a little shopping. There is certain to be a large supermarket there somewhere. As I clear the breakfast dishes away, I walk past a rectangle on the carpet in the sitting room. It is lighter than the surrounding carpet as though something had been there for some time and then moved. I haven’t seen many grandfather clocks, but I somehow know that this is where it would have stood. But then, why are the chimes coming from the landing? Another puzzle.

   The rest the day passes happily enough. After shopping we visit the fading glamour of the old Dockyard buildings, medieval towers and historic buildings that are everywhere. Then after lunch we wander along the waterfront with its gun towers on Front Street and also Fort Road that have resisted the waters of Milford Haven for nearly two hundred years.

   Back at our cottage, Charles and Lorna decide they are going to visit friends and Brenda is busy with Sam so I decide to go to the pub to see if I can extract more information from Marty.

   He greets me cheerily enough and for a while we talk about Liverpool; it seems his parents live there and he was brought up in the city. It was while he was pulling my second pint that he asks, almost jokily, if I have heard any bells lately.

   I tell him I heard them last night and that there seems to be some significance in the time of 4.15. That stops him in his tracks. He stares at me and then he leans over the counter and tells me that it was the time she died according to the coroner.

   I ask him what sort of lady she was.

   ‘Sian Roberts was a kindly soul,’ he says rather sadly. ‘We are a very close-knit community here and she was popular with everyone. That’s why I was a bit suspicious when I heard you asking about her. She was immensely proud of her grandfather clock. It had been handed down through the generations and she spent hours cleaning and polishing it.’

   ‘Do you happen to know where she kept it?’ I ask.

   ‘In her sitting room. That’s where I saw it when I went round with a meal for her one time when she was ill.’ That explains the space I saw on the carpet.

   ‘I wonder why I keep hearing it on the landing then,’ I say, puzzled.

   He leans over the bar, lowering his voice. ‘That was her son, a local councillor. He had it moved there for some reason. Nobody knows why, especially since Sian hardly ever went upstairs. She slept in the downstairs bedroom.’

   ‘That’s where my wife and I are sleeping,’ I say. ‘She must have been upset by that if she couldn’t be near her clock.’ He nods in affirmation and goes to serve other customers. When he returns, I ask him what happened to it when Sian died.

   ‘He lost no time in flogging it,’ he says. ‘An antique dealer in the Dock bought it. He must have got a few thousand for it I would have thought.’

   I am back at the cottage. Brenda is watching something on TV, so I get my laptop out and type in ‘Sian Roberts’ on the search feed on the South Wales Echo website. Two stories come up. One is an announcement about her body being found in the river and the second is an inquest at which an Open Verdict is recorded because a post-mortem could not establish a definite cause of death because animals had nibbled at her body, especially her face and neck. It was said, however, that it was unlikely she had drowned.

   I close my laptop and give my little son a cuddle and we both settle him down in his drawer. We decide not to wait up for Charles and Lorna and we decide to have a cuddle ourselves while peace and quiet reigns.

   I fall asleep almost immediately and wake up at 7:00 am completely refreshed. There had been no chimes during the night, or if there had, I had not heard them. I wonder why? Brenda is still asleep, so I walk to the kitchen and make myself a cup of tea. I look out at the garden. It’s somewhat overgrown but I can imagine Sian Roberts sitting out in the sun enjoying the view over Milford Haven. My thoughts turn again to the clock and why her son moved it to the landing. It appears to be a spiteful thing to have done considering how much the old lady enjoyed having it near her.

   It is 7:30 am and I take a cup of tea to Brenda who has just woken up. She peers at me blearily and hoists herself up in bed. She sips and looks concerned. ‘I thought I heard mum crying last night,’ she says quietly. ‘Did you hear it?’ I shake my head. ‘I will have a word with her later and ask if everything is alright,’ she says.

   We decide to visit the Talyllyn Railway today and make a day of it. It’s a bit of a drive up the coast and I will share the driving with Charles. It is when we stop for coffee half-way there that I get an opportunity to ask Brenda if she managed to have a word with Lorna. She tells me she did but that she too heard weeping and thought it was her! So that’s another mystery. In a way I’m glad that other people have heard something supernatural because I was beginning to think it was just me. True, Sian’s spirit – if that is what it was – does appear to have selected me for some reason. I have never thought of myself as being psychic, although I do occasionally ‘see’ things that are about to happen. I think they call it precognition. It takes the form of a flash for a fraction of a second and then it is gone. Indeed, there are times when I think I have just imagined it.

   We are back at the cottage now. Talyllyn was fun and it was an enjoyable day, if I long one, so we decide to have a pub meal. We are all a bit too tired to cook.

   We all decide to have an early night. The two women are still disconcerted by the sounds of weeping last night after they discovered it was neither of them. I tell Brenda to wake me up if she hears it again. Mind you, I’m not sure what I could do about it other than comfort and reassure her.

   I am suddenly awake. I am lying on my left side and I can feel a cold hand on my right shoulder. I open my eyes gradually thinking it is Brenda, but she is in front of me in bed so it cannot possibly be her. I feel the first trickling of fear creeping down my spine. I am afraid to turn over, but I know I must. I slowly sit up. The feeling of the hand has gone. There is a shaft of moonlight from the window above our bed gleaming onto the wall opposite. I stare at it and slowly, a shadow is silhouetted. It is the shadow of a woman, slightly stooped, and it is moving from left to right towards the door and as it does, a strange luminescent light appears under the door. The shadow turns towards me, and the door opens slowly and silently to reveal an unearthly luminosity in the sitting room. At first, I think it is the moon shining from the kitchen but that is impossible because it is shining from the opposite side of the house.

   I am obviously intended to walk through. I try to wake Brenda but despite me shaking her, she does not stir. I am trembling but something is compelling me to walk to the door. It is as if I am no longer able to control my limbs.

   I am standing in the doorway and staring at a room I do not recognise. There is a big Victorian armchair in front of a blazing fire with a coal scuttle in front of it and to one side a small dining table with three chairs arranged around it. Then, with a start, I see taking pride of place on the opposite wall, a tall grandfather clock exactly in the empty place I had noticed earlier.

   I slowly walk into the room. I am cold. Very cold, despite the blazing fire. I head slowly to the clock which is showing the time of 4.15. As I stare at it bemused, a panel opens near the bottom of the casing. I look inside and see papers. I stoop down and take them out. They appear to show figures.

   The light in the room fades and I am back in the present with just the moonlight from our bedroom shining through the door. I see a movement out of the corner of my eye and turn to face the kitchen door. The shadow has returned and as I look, it turns to face me as the kitchen door slowly opens. The light in the kitchen is dim but I can make out the figure of a tall man. He is in his shirt sleeves and is standing in the middle of the room grasping a serrated knife. It is covered in blood which is dripping onto the floor. He stares at it and drops it on the tiles by his feet and turns to look behind him at the outside door which is wide open.

   He walks outside and I follow. A short distance away is what looks like a body. He bends down and gathers it up in his arms and carries on walking until he reaches the river. He wades in and drops it into the water. It makes hardly any sound. Just a few ripples as though it is welcoming a newcomer. He stares at it for a while and then heads back to the kitchen. I go to the edge of the water. A face is looking up at me, dead eyes staring back through the water and lit by the moon. It is the face of an elderly lady and as I look, tears roll down her cheeks. How can that be? I find myself thinking. How can there be tears under water?  

   And then she slowly fades from view, and I am standing in the darkness in my pyjamas at the edge of the river. I walk back to the kitchen which is in darkness. I look at the place where he had dropped the knife on to a tile which looks different to the others. I decide to take another look in the morning. With a start, I realise I am still holding papers in my right hand. I had forgotten about them. How could that be? How can I be holding papers from a clock that isn’t there? I shake my head. Nobody is going to believe any of this. I get into bed. I am freezing and Brenda moves away from me muttering in her sleep.

   I say nothing at breakfast, not even when Brenda asks me, a little irritably, if I had got out of bed in the middle of the night. I lie and say I had to go to the loo. We decide we are going to have a stay-at-home day and go for walks locally later. Charles goes up the lane to the little shop by the pub and arrives back with a couple of newspapers.

   Back in the bedroom. I look at my bedside table and there are two sheets of crumpled paper there. I am startled. They are still there. I really hadn’t imagined it all. I smooth them out and study them. The handwriting is in blue ink and shaky. I have no doubt written by the lady whose body I ‘saw’ last night.

   It is a list of numbers with occasional pound signs and each one has two letters after it – the same two letters. Could they be initials I wonder? I decide to call up the inquest again on my laptop and there, in the South Wales Echo, is a picture of a tall, gaunt, man who the accompanying story reveals is Idris Roberts, the son of Sian Roberts. I stare at the photo. It is the man I ‘saw’ last night and his initials are the ones on the paper after each of the figures. I add up the amounts and it comes to over £10,000. Was the old lady really murdered for her money and by her own son? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

   I decide to go to the kitchen. The Terracotta tiles are quite large and one looks cleaner than the rest. It looks like it may have been recently moved. I find a screwdriver in a drawer and begin to loosen it, finally lifting it to reveal loose gravel underneath. I dig into it with the screwdriver and unearth a serrated knife. I am careful not to touch it but find a plastic bag in a drawer and ease it out. It is dirty but underneath part of it is a rusty looking substance on the blade. It looks like it might be dried blood.

   I return to the bedroom and sit on the side of the bed. What should I do? Brenda comes in and sits beside me, staring wide-eyed at the knife in the bag. I decide to come clean and tell her about the events of last night. I show her the sheets of paper. She shakes her head looking from the papers to the knife. She says that if it weren’t for them, she would think I had lost the plot. She says I must go the police at Pembroke Dock. We decide I must leave out the supernatural part and simply say that these were found accidentally.

South Wales Echo

A man has appeared in court charged with the murder of a woman in Pembrokeshire. He is Idris Roberts, 52, who appeared in Swansea Crown Court charged with the wilful murder of Sian Roberts, 79, of Pembroke Ferry in October last year. He pleaded guilty.

The body of Sian Roberts was discovered in the River Cleddau near the garden of her cottage in Pembroke Ferry.

The court was told that Roberts, a solicitor and Pembroke councillor, also admitted to stealing cash from his mother, estimated to be in excess of £10,000.

An earlier inquest had recorded an Open Verdict on Sian Robert’s death due to the lack of evidence concerning the cause of death.

New evidence was presented to police which pointed to Sian having been fatally stabbed and then dumped in the river.

Judge Iorwerth Hughes passed down a sentence of 25 years telling Roberts that he had acted despicably and that his evil deeds had been motivated purely by greed. He said that he would serve 25 years as a minimum term.

I drop the newspaper down on the table. At last, justice has been done and the old lady will be happy that at long last people will know how and why she died in such terrible circumstances. I glance at the wall opposite where the grandfather clock stands.

   I found it at an antique shop in Pembroke Ferry and just ‘knew’ it was Sian’s. It cost me £1,500 which I could not really afford. Brenda thought I had lost my marbles, but I don’t care. I know it sounds strange, but it seems to emanate a feeling of good will and wellbeing and I like having it in the room. I find myself talking to it occasionally.

   It chimes every hour, especially at night, but I don’t mind. It is somehow comforting.

   It is 4.15.

Naomi

A new female cult figure

Naomi

February can be an odd month these days; odd in the sense that you never quite know what to expect as far as the weather is concerned. Take today, for example. It is the middle of the month and yet the sun is shining brightly, and it should have felt warm outside but there is a cold, merciless wind blowing from the north and everyone is wrapped up in their fur-lined coats. Yesterday by contrast, threatening clouds loomed overhead which in past years would have almost certainly been a portend of snow but there was nothing but cold rain that seeped through to your bones. When I was a little girl, I would have been certain to be building a snowman with my dad this time of year. Maybe there is something to all the climate change furore after all.

I am Naomi Richards and I am an artist and psychic but before you snigger or move on to something else I should say in my own defence that I tend to play down my psychic abilities because people are inclined to think I am either slightly bonkers or a charlatan. And I assure you I am neither.

Also, art is something I have toyed with all my life in an amateur way; something I did almost as a means of self-expression; a way of formalising my feelings about people and life in general, especially during the uncertainties of my teenage years. It was only after my painful divorce that I decided to take it seriously by spending six years in university winding up with a Masters. I sell a canvas now and then and people appear to like my work but, sadly, not enough to pay the bills for my apartment on Liverpool’s Rodney Street, a fashionable address in consultant land in the city centre with the majestic Anglican cathedral just down the road. Not that I am on the expensive ground floor you understand. No, I reside on the first floor which is two flights up but that’s OK. It’s still a good address from which to run my other business which is my psychic consultancy. Sounds rather posh and pretentious doesn’t it? But I assure you it isn’t. I just help people if I can; people who are bereaved or in pain or who are lonely or troubled.

You may be tempted to think that I am eerie old lady with a moustache, wearing a pointy hat with a broomstick in the corner and, of course, the mandatory black cat. But I have none of those, not even the cat and especially not the moustache. I am actually in my late twenties (28 if you really must know) with light brown hair combed back in a bushy ponytail that hangs half-way down my back. People have been known to remark on my eyes having a magnetic quality. I wouldn’t know about that. I just know they are grey. I’m not a large lady either, nor am I skinny. I think I have a pretty good figure actually; not one you would perhaps associate with the dark arts. (Whatever they are!).

I find it difficult to explain my psychic abilities to people because it is something I have lived with all my life. When I was little, I was terrified by the voices I heard and the things and images I saw. At first, I thought it was something that happened to everyone but then when I told my mum what I was seeing or hearing she would stare at me warily with a very worried look on her face. She dragged me off to our GP and then to a variety of consultants who all declared that they could find nothing wrong with me. It was then I realised that it was just me seeing and hearing things. After that, I learned to keep my mouth shut. As I grew older though I began to realise that I should not be frightened and that I could use my abilities. I knew instantly who I could trust and who I could not, for example. I knew my husband was cheating on me long before I dragged it out of him. And I very often know when something is about to happen. They happen as images in my mind – I call them flashes – which last for perhaps a second or two – and then they are gone. It would then be a day or two later that the event or events would happen. These days I am sometimes called in by the local Police when a person, especially a child, goes missing and sometimes I can help locate them and sometimes I can’t.

Anyway, I am gazing out of the window of a south Liverpool pub watching all the activity as shoppers hurry past in the cold February sunshine with heavy bags from the nearby shopping centre. I am sitting at my usual table by a window with the sunshine casting a golden glow on the table in front of me. It is one of the monthly psychic sessions I do here, and I have a full list as usual. Most of them will be my ‘regulars’, mostly elderly ladies but by no means exclusively so. I do get men too wanting to know how what their careers have in store for them and girls wanting an insight into the latest or prospective boyfriend. It’s a mixed bag and it greatly helps to pay the rent!

The sessions are organised by Sid Driscoll, a man with a colourful background which a bent nose and a cauliflower ear testify to. He is not a man to get on the wrong side of but he’s an asset at these sessions in that he is more than able to deal with any trouble-makers. I call him Sid the Fixer! Not that it is a potential problem here, but it can be when we hold sessions in the city centre when drunks come in ‘for a lark’.

My first customer is Betty, an 85-year-old regular who lost her husband almost 20 years ago. I think she is basically lonely and comes in for a chat apart from getting in touch with her husband. It always brings tears to her eyes and Sid invariably brings her a cup of tea when I give him the nod. He will chat to her and by the time she leaves she will be laughing.

The rest of the evening goes smoothly as it usually does until an unexpected client suddenly appears in front of me. I am reading a few notes and am about to pack up when I look up and there she is. I look at my list and I have seen everyone on it. Sid must have taken on a latecomer without telling me. I shake my head a little impatiently and look at the woman who is gazing at me in an odd way, almost as though she is looking through me. With eyes that do not blink. I can feel a shiver along my spine. She is probably in her 50s with iron grey hair, a deeply lined face and a threadbare brown coat. I clear my throat rather noisily and ask how I can help her. She doesn’t reply but instead lifts an ancient handbag and pulls out a cutting on a yellowed paper. She slides it across the table to me and I stare at the headline which says. Housewife vanishes. And then, underneath Mother of two goes for a walk and is never seen again.

I am about to read the story underneath but instead I look up intending to ask why she has brought it to me but there is nobody there. I look around the room at the other tables, but they have all packed up and left. There is just me and Sid, sitting on a stool at the far end of the bar, enjoying a pint. I put the cutting in my bag and walk over to him. ‘Fancy a pint,’ he says, grinning, displaying a row of uneven teeth.

‘No thanks Sid. Some other time. ‘Who was the latecomer you sent over without telling me,’ I say, a little annoyed.

His brow furrows and he stares at me as if I’m mad. ‘Eh! I didn’t send anyone over luv. I would have asked you first, you know that.’

‘Well a middle-aged woman appeared at my table, didn’t say a word, just handed me a cutting and then disappeared.’

He shrugs. ‘I didn’t see anyone. Last I looked at your table you were on your own, reading something by the looks of it. I wouldn’t worry about it. Sure, you don’t want a drink?’ I shake my head and sigh. ‘Thanks anyway Sid. I’m tired. See you soon.’

I walk down the road to the bus stop and within minutes I am on my way to Rodney Street. I slowly start to climb the two flights of steps at number 18 but as I do so, I can hear steps on the stairs behind me. I stop and look down the stairs but there is nobody there. I must have imagined it. I carry on up and open my door and switch the lights on. My first action is to put the heating on. It is freezing outside and not much warmer in here. I leave my coat on until it warms up a little. I make a coffee and settle into my favourite chair and switch the TV news on. I feel unsettled and I don’t know why. I look around the room, but it looks the same although is it my imagination or does the corner opposite the windows look darker than usual? Is that a rustling sound can hear? I shake my head and decide it is all in my imagination and then I remember the cutting the strange lady gave me. I dig around in my bag and look at it under the lamp alongside my chair. The paper is yellowed so it is obviously at least five years I would say. Maybe even older. I read the story. It seems the missing woman’s name was Nancy Derebohn and her husband is quoted as saying she left the house one night saying she was going to visit her sister a few streets away, but she never arrived. A search of the neighbourhood revealed nothing.

I decide to Google her name to see what comes up and I discover that Mrs Derebohn vanished fifteen years ago which explains the age of the cutting. There were no sightings of her and while the Police suspected foul play no body was ever found. Later reports said that her husband Roy was questioned but released. It seems she is still officially a missing person. It is then I come across the picture of Mrs Derebohn. It is the lady who came to see me. No doubt about it. Was she a spirit? Although spirits hold no fear for me, I am feeling slightly uneasy. I shiver.

It is late so I decide to turn in. I walk over to the windows and gaze down at Rodney Street. The old-fashioned gas lamps, now electric, bathe late night pub and club goers in pools of frosty light. Very soon, even Rodney Street will be still and silent. I draw the blinds and head for my bedroom where I partially draw the curtains. I have never really liked a totally dark bedroom and I like the shafts of light from the streetlamps below. It stems from when I was a little girl when I was constantly afraid of what I might see in the dark.

I take a hot water bottle to bed with me and soon its warmth has suffused its heat under my duvet, and I snuggle down and lull myself to sleep thinking about my latest canvas.

It must be 2am when I awake with a start. I sit up in bed rubbing my eyes. Was it a noise or something else that woke me? The shafts of light are shining through my window and it is quiet – too quiet. Silence can come in many forms I find – it can be menacing, suffocating or it can be welcoming or comforting but this silence is different. It has an expectancy about it. All my instincts tell me that something is about to happen. I look around my room. It is then that my eyes are drawn to a dark corner by the door where there is an even deeper darkness, beyond the shafts of light from the street lamps. There is something there; it begins to coalesce into a vague amorphous shape; transparent and very slightly glowing. As I watch, it gradually takes shape and glides slowly towards me until it reaches the foot of my bed. It is the lady who appeared at the readings yesterday; Nancy Derebohn. Once again, her eyes bore into me. I ask her softly what she wants of me and then, after the silence continues, how I can help her. By way of an answer, in my mind I see a street; a row of terraced houses and then a front door, No 92. I know she wants me to go there. I am about to ask her why when a feeling of terror and desolation hits me like a wave, and I hear a howl of anguish. It is so strong I gasp and close my eyes. Something terrible happened to her. I know it. I can feel it. I open my eyes and she has gone. I decide to get up and make a cup of tea. I cannot sleep after that experience.

I cradle the hot cup in my hands and search for the cutting that Nancy gave me. I know the number of her house and I know it is in Liverpool, but I don’t know which street. I look at the cutting again and eventually I find it – Freshfield Road. I find it on Google maps and discover it is not far from the pub I give readings in. I shall pay it a visit tomorrow.

As it happens the following day is bright and sunny and I am busy with things artistic, which includes looking at a studio I am considering renting, so by the time I get back to Rodney Street it is early evening and the shadows are getting ominously longer on the

buildings opposite.

I have a hurried egg and chips with a couple of slices of ham with a large mug of tea. I really don’t care if it isn’t trendy. It’s filling and its cheap and that’s all that matters. I get the bus at the bottom of my road and head for south Liverpool. By the time I am walking past the pub on my way to Freshfield Road it is getting dark and the street lights are beginning to switch on.

I reach number 92 and it looks very dilapidated, dirty windows, peeling paint and a general uncared-for appearance. I wonder if, in fact, anybody lives there and how I explain my presence if anybody does come to the door. I really can’t say that I saw a ghost last night who told me to come here because I’m sure the door would be very swiftly slammed in my face. I decide I will simply ask for Mrs Derebohn and see what response I get. I have just realised there is something strange about the street. There is no sign of life. There are no lights and no cars either. All very odd.

I climb a couple of steps and look for a bell. There isn’t one so I knock. I can hear the sound echoing around inside. I wait but there is no response. I decide to knock once more and to leave if there is still no response.

I knock again, louder this time, and just as I am about to bang the door again, it opens slightly. I stare at it and push it open revealing a blackness. I call asking if anyone is there but there is just a stony silence. I look up and down the street, but it is empty. The lights glimmer dimly, and it is now getting dark. I stare at the stygian blackness in what I suppose is the hall. I can feel the hair at the back of my neck rising. I don’t want to enter but I also know I must. I leave the front door wide open to give at least a little light. I tread warily into the hall, feeling my way. The silence is absolute and oppressive. There is a doorway on my right which I decide to ignore and then, in front me is the stairs. To the right is another door which I push open and gingerly tread my way into what I assume is the sitting room. Something brushes my face and I put my hand to my mouth to stop myself screaming.

A little light from the window shines grimly into the room. I can hear a voice, a man’s voice, faint but growing louder. Then, suddenly standing in front of me, is a tall, gaunt, heavy-set, unshaven man, his teeth bared. He is calling me a slut, a whore, he raises his hand and I flinch as it passes through me. His face is contorted in fury, flecks of white at the corners of his mouth. He bends down towards the fireplace and is now holding a poker which he brings down on my head, once, twice, three times.  I look down at the floor and there is a body of a woman, her face looking up at me. It is Nancy.

Now I know why she wanted me to come here.

I run out of the house, tears streaming down my cheeks. I run up the road until I reach the end and suddenly there are lights, traffic, people walking; people talking; people laughing. I stop and lean against a wall and bury my face in my hands.

‘Are you alright luv,’ says a kindly lady who stops, a concerned look on her face. I nod, smile wanly and assure her that I am and that I will be fine in just a minute or two. She looks uncertain and walks on.

As I walk, I begin to wonder if all that was a dream. The house and indeed the entire street for that matter. I doubt very much whether either are really like that at all so what have I just experienced? Some sort of elaborate psychic message? Was it all in my mind? Indeed, did it happen at all? I am tempted to turn back to see if the street has changed but I decide to go home. I am tired and feel completely drained.

Surprisingly, I slept undisturbed and woke feeling refreshed. As I sit at my table sipping my morning cup of tea, munching toast and marmalade, I find myself thinking about Nancy Derebohn and her anguish which I can now understand. She was brutally murdered by her husband and her body hidden somewhere. That must be why she has shown herself to me. I gaze out of my window at the patch of azure sky I can see above Rodney Street. I know I must go back and see the house as it is today. I make my mind up. I will go this morning after I have done a brief shop for necessities. My fridge is forlornly empty, and I have even run out of staples like bread and soup. On the rare occasion I see my brother who lives in Snowdonia, he keeps telling me I have lost weight. Maybe I have. It is just that sometimes I am just too busy to eat. Yes, I know I should make a point of having at least one good meal a day and I do try.

The bus takes me within walking distance of Freshfield Road, this time in broad daylight with a blue sky and a gleaming sun shining down. No macabre visions this time surely?

The road could not be more different to the one I walked down last night. There are cars lining one side; people are walking; people are talking; it is all bustle.  I smile and then when I am within sight of number 92, I stop in my tracks. What do I say to whoever opens the door? I hadn’t thought of that. I can’t tell the whole story; not at first anyway because the occupants will think I’m mad. I think for a few moments and decide on my approach.

When I reach the house, it could not be more different. It is brightly painted with modern double glazing and curtains at the windows. And there is a bell.

I hesitate and then, my mind made up, I press it a couple of times. There is no response, although I think I can detect movement. I stand there undecided. Should I just go? I have turned on my heel when the door is suddenly opened and a flustered-looking woman in her early 20s looks at me enquiringly. I clear my throat and say that I am sorry to bother her, but I wonder if I might have ten minutes of her time. When she looks at me blankly, I plough on and say that it is about a woman who used to live at this house by the name of Nancy Derebohn and that she might be able to help solve a mystery.

She frowns as if trying to decide if I am for real or not. She asks me who I am, so I tell her but leaving out my psychic abilities…for now anyway.

She opens the door wider and ushers me into the sitting room which is bright, cheerful with a couple of comfortable armchairs and a sofa. So different from my last visit.

‘I have just put the baby down,’ she says smiling. I fervently hope she means the baby is asleep and not dead. ‘Mornings are always a bit hectic, especially when I’m working. I am Alice Worthington by the way,’ she says holding out her hand. We shake, smiling. ‘Now, how can I help you,’ she says. ‘You mentioned Nancy Derebohn. I know she and her husband used to live here.’ I nod. ‘And then, apparently, one day she just vanished.’

‘I think she was murdered,’ I say, deciding to take the plunge. ‘And I suspect it was her husband who killed her, here in this house.’

She stares at me, a look of horror on her face. ‘Here,’ she whispers, looking around.

‘Quite possibly in this room,’ I continue sighing. She puts her hand to her mouth and then a perplexed look crosses her face.

‘Can I tell you something,’ she says. I nod. ‘You must promise you won’t laugh though,’ I tell her I won’t and look at her expectantly.

‘I think this house is haunted,’ she says. ‘There are quite often rappings on the wall behind you when there is nobody in the next room and things have disappeared and very often, I can feel as though there is somebody here.’

‘Yes, I can feel it now,’ I say.

‘You can?’ I nod.

‘A few months ago, I friend of mine was here staying the night and she saw a grey lady who she said looked very sad.’

‘I saw her yesterday,’ I say, coming to a decision. ‘What I haven’t told you is that I came here yesterday but neither the house nor indeed the road looks like they do today. I’m still puzzled by it quite honestly.’ She stares at me, her eyes wide.

Then I told her about how I saw Nancy’s murder being enacted in this very room.

‘Oh my God,’ mutters Alice, looking around again.

I put my hand on her shoulder. ‘It’s OK,’ I tell her. ‘You have nothing to be afraid of. Nancy wants justice. That’s why she is haunting this place and that’s why she has appeared to me several times.’

Lucy stares at me. ‘Would you like a coffee?’ I nod and she disappears into the kitchen and I can hear the kettle being put on and mugs being arranged.

When she returns, she hands me a piping hot mug. ‘How do you know all this?’ she says. I explain that I am a psychic investigator and that Nancy first appeared to me at a pub reading not far away.

When I have finished recounting the chain of events that led to me coming here, she leans back in her chair and then suddenly stands up and says she wants to show me something. We walk over to the window and she points to a well-kept lawn outside.

‘Do you see the flowers,’ she says. I look at the lawn and there is a yellow rectangle of buttercups in the centre. ‘They are pretty,’ I say. ‘We never planted them,’ she says. ‘They are always there, whatever the weather. Really strange.’

I ask if we can walk outside and when I look down at the flowers I know, without any doubt that is where we will find Nancy Derebohn.

I tell Alice and she stares at the buttercups, tears in her eyes. She looks at me. What do we do?’ she asks.

‘We tell the Police,’ I say getting out my mobile.

Two days later a forensic team with an imagining scanner arrive at the house. Within hours they had established that there was something buried in the garden. Alice Worthington and her family were moved out to a hotel for a week while a tent was erected in the garden. At first, there had been scepticism at Admiral Street Police Station following Naomi’s call. But then, her track record had persuaded Inspector Salisbury that it was worth an initial investigation, especially if it had any chance of closing the file on Nancy Derebohn.

At the end of the week they issued a statement saying that the remains of Mrs Derebohn had been recovered and that her husband Roy was helping Police with their enquiries.

At Liverpool Crown Court today, the case of missing housewife Nancy Derebohn was finally closed when her husband, Roy Arthur Derebohn, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years jail.

Mrs Derebohn, of Freshfield Road, Wavertree, inexplicably vanished 15 years ago after telling her husband she was going to visit her sister a few streets away, but she never arrived.

Extensive searches of the area failed to produce any clues as to her whereabouts and a fingertip search by Police of nearby Wavertree Park, known locally as ‘The Mystery’ also failed to shine any light on her disappearance.

Her body was discovered buried in the garden of their home on Freshfield Road after Police used imaging technology to conduct a search.

The court was told by the prosecution that Derebohn had bludgeoned his wife to death after returning home in a drunken rage and that it was not until the following morning that he had buried her body in the garden.

 Trial Judge Rupert Trenholme QC, when sentencing Derebohn, described him as callous and totally devoid of human feelings and that the savagery of his crime was beyond belief.

Detective Inspector Ken Salisbury, in welcoming the sentence, refused to confirm that it was the intervention of a psychic that had led to the discovery.