THE CANDLE in the WINDOW (A Suburban Ghost Story)
By GLEN S PERRY - 1 Review
Part One – Number One, Oakwood Avenue
Number One, Oakwood Avenue had lain empty for some two long years now.
Once, its stunning geometrical, Art Deco style had been the talk of the town. The quiet town of Absholt. As typical an example of leafy suburbia – that peculiar non-county - as you will ever find, located virtually on the doorstep of London's great city sprawl.
In recent times, it was not unknown for many a passer-by to be held spellbound by the old house's inherent beauty.
But now it was a pale shadow of its former self.
Guttering looked in need of major repair, while here and there paint flaked away from its white, rendered facade to give the impression of scars to the very flesh of this once eye-catching abode.
I used to pass it every working day on my way to and from the local railway station. Some days I would hardly notice it though, as I scurried through the rain trying to keep dry. On others however, especially on one of those crisp Winter mornings or afternoons when the blue of the sky was streaked with a magnificent palette of colours that ranged from darkest purple to the palest of pinks, the old house was capable of capturing your full attention...yes!, even in its current state of disrepair!
No-one knew why the middle-aged couple who lived there suddenly moved out one day.
The first I knew about it was seeing a 'FOR SALE' sign in the always tidy front garden on my way home from work one day. I remember thinking how strange that had seemed.
I had never known the names of the occupants of Number One Oakwood Avenue, even though I had often wished them a casual 'Good morning' or 'Good afternoon', which was usually reciprocated cheerily.
Yet it struck me as somewhat peculiar that they would have ever dreamt of making such a moonlight flit (for that is exactly how it felt to me)...they had always seemed so happy.
As I say, that was some two years ago.
The property itself had certainly suffered since it had first gone on the market. True, two long weather-worn years with no-one around to fix it up had taken its toll. But the place somehow looked a lot worse than it should have done...like it had been abandoned for a far longer period of time.
I don't know if any prospective buyer ever came to view the property during the course of that 24-month period but I for one never witnessed them.
Even the postman had long since stopped any daily deliveries to the old house.
So you can imagine my extreme surprise one early January afternoon when I swear to any God of your choice that I spotted a light shining from one of the upper front windows.
Initially, it took a moment or two for it to register in my brain. But my first instinct was indeed correct. There was a light...the unmistakable light of a candle, beaming out from one of the upstairs windows!
Maybe someone was doing some decorating in there? The electricity would surely have been cut off long ago so they were working by candlelight?
That was possible but there was no tell-tale white van (or any other colour van for that matter) anywhere near the house.
So I just stood there looking up at that window. Was that the shadow of someone in there? Or was I just joining up the dots to draw a picture my mind could cope with?
I must have stayed fixed to that particular spot on the avenue for no more than a couple of minutes...but it felt longer...much longer!
I decided to continue my journey home. The Northerly wind suddenly seemed that extra bit colder now and I pulled my scarf tighter round my neck and made my way quickly home.
For a week or so nothing else out of the ordinary happened.
I made my way to and from work without any further sighting of lights inside Number One Oakwood Avenue.
But the incident still unnerved me. It played on my mind. Left me with a cold feeling deep down that I just couldn't shake off.
Then it happened again!
It was early February now though the weather was well and truly of a wintry nature. Heavy snow had fallen throughout the country that past week and getting to and from work had been tedious to say the least.
With all the havoc caused by the recent snowfall, I'd completely forgotten about, or managed to tuck away in a deep recess in my conciousness, the strange occurrence of the candle in the window of Number One Oakwood Avenue.
But then I was making my way along the avenue one night, ensconced in some article or other in the local newspaper I'd just picked up at the station on my way home from work, when I suddenly felt myself very abruptly and physically torn away from the object of my attention.
Something had grabbed me by the shirt-tails and was intent on showing at least part of its hand to me!
I looked up from my paper and I wasn't as surprised as I should have been to find myself staring up into the very same upstairs window in which I had first seen the candle.
And once more the unmistakable light of a single candle was shining like a beacon back out at me.
I stood motionless waiting for something, anything to happen. I could not move for I was transfixed to the very spot.
But even though nothing out of the ordinary happened, I knew something out of the ordinary was happening!
Then I saw the shadow again. Just a darkish misshape at first but the longer I stared at it, the shadowy apparition began to take on a more definite form.
To begin with I thought it could have been a child...but as time passed I began to clearly discern the features of a smallish...no! petite...woman.
From what I could make out, she had medium-length blonde hair and although her young face was flawless, there was somehow an icy malevolence about her smile.
So there was my answer! Someone must be in Number One carrying out some kind of work therein.
I was considered to be a fairly intelligent man and so my reasoning instantly sounded pretty lame to me. There were no obvious outward signs of anyone working at the property and my instincts told me that this was no ordinary woman looking out at me through the candlelit window.
If she saw me, she made no attempt to acknowledge my existence. But somehow I knew that she was well aware of me.
I don't know how long I was held captive by the shadowy woman at the window, for that is how strong an ordeal it was, but I eventually arrived home more than 30 minutes later than usual.
Sleep that night was impossible. She was everywhere I tried to hide!
Next morning I made a concerted effort to take a long detour around Number One in order to avoid the possibility of coming face to face with that woman again. I even missed my usual train and had to make some feeble excuse to my boss!
It's never an easy proposition being the object of someone's desire...for that is the overwhelming feeling that had impressed upon me since my last meeting with the woman.
I didn't know what this unnatural though otherwise stunningly attractive woman wanted with me. Who was she and why was she now residing in Number One Oakwood Avenue?
Several more days passed by without incident...but try as I did, I couldn't stop thinking about that place and that woman!
In the end curiosity (maybe something stronger than that?) brought me back to the very spot I had secretly vowed to avoid at all costs.
On that particular occasion though there was not the slightest sign of life at Number One Oakwood Avenue...nothing at all, not even the merest murmur of anything human or otherwise dwelling within its walls.
I noted though that the grand old house was looking even more dishevelled than it should have done.
There were now far larger bare patches to its off-white, rendered facade and virtually all the window frames too looked to be in a serious rotten state...yes even the one at that window!
But whatever stirred inside the confines of the house, for I was certain that something did, decided not to reveal any hint of itself to me.
Walking back home against a cold wind and a light spattering of Winter rain, I began to doubt that the whole episode of the woman at the window had ever taken place and that I was probably letting my imagination get the better of me.
However, deep down I knew that these doubts were just the scientific part of my mind doing its level best to combat the unscientific truth!
It was early Spring now and a degree of greenness had returned to the locale, although the trees in the garden at Number One Oakwood Avenue were as bare as they had been in the bleakest days of Winter.
Elsewhere Spring bulbs had bloomed into life to give an overwhelming air of renewal to the whole area.
So, with an unusual spring in my step, I set off for work as usual one morning in late February.
I had been taking an alternative route to the station these past few weeks but this morning I had made a concious decision to go via Oakwood Avenue.
Number One certainly looked in a bit of a state, I thought, as I turned into the avenue and to the layman it would have given the impression that no-one had stepped foot inside or out of the property for many years more than the going on three it had.
Much to my surprise there appeared to be some activity at the house.
Two men with clipboards seemed to be taking a great interest in the old place and, as I walked past, I overheard one mention that the new owners were keen on making full use of the large garden by installing a swimming pool.
Then, just as before, I was stopped dead in my tracks by something (someone?) pulling at my very soul.
I instantly looked straight up at the window in which I had first seen the candle...and right into those clear, blue eyes of the fair-haired woman.
She was beguiling in every way...and she knew it.
She held me in her gaze with a menacing ease and I was powerless to drag myself away.
Her hair was neither fair or blonde...it was golden. And her eyes were the clearest blue I had ever seen.
She smiled at me and her face lit up as if a hundred candles were shining upon her. Her pale skin had an almost waxen quality about it.
I tried to speak but she drew a slender finger to her mouth, as if to say that speech was not necessary for communication between us...she was in my mind!
I suddenly found myself watching her from a completely different viewpoint...one detached from reality though still a very real experience for me.
She was getting ready to go out for the night and she was brushing her hair nonchalantly, while seated at an exquisite burr walnut chest with a mirror attached.
Her hand suddenly rummaged around one of the chest's drawers and she duly retrieved a black velvet covered box from which a magnificent diamond necklace was pulled.
While she continued to ready herself, fiddling first with her make-up and then placing the necklace around her alabaster-white neck, I became increasingly uneasy and more and more aware of a large, dark shape on the bedroom floor.
My strength seemed to be ebbing and flowing and my vision was also becoming somewhat blurred at times but that shape on the floor was beginning to worry me.
Then in one lucid moment all was revealed!
The shape on the floor was a man. In his mid to late 50's I'd say. And his once-white dinner shirt was now stained a deep crimson-red.
A pool of sticky, red blood oozed out of his lifeless body and spread right across the patterned bedroom carpet towards the landing.
The bedspread too was covered in blood and lying atop it was a huge kitchen knife, the light from the candle in the window caught in reflection in its deadly, metallic blade.
I caught another glimpse of the woman. Still calmly getting ready for her night out...and she was smiling!
Smiling that insane smile of hers again. The smile of a madwoman!
In an instant I was aware of someone touching my right shoulder. And then a far away voice. It was one of the two men I had seen inspecting Number One.
After assuring him that I was OK and had just come over a little dizzy, I hastened to work with the cold brutality of that smile still haunting me.
Several weeks later I was in my front lounge one afternoon when a fire engine came hurtling past to abruptly interrupt the quiet of the area...followed moments later by another...then another!
I ran down to the gate at the front of my property and looked instinctively in the direction of Oakwood Avenue. There, climbing high into the sky, was a pall of black smoke.
Next day, on my way once again to work, I walked past the smouldering remains of Number One Oakwood Avenue.
There really wasn't that much of it left to be honest, just a tangled mess of rubble and still-hot timbers.
I guess the previous occupants had done a wise thing by moving out of that place when they did.
Presumably she had been there when they first took residence? When had she presented herself to them? Or if she hadn't, did the feeling of foreboding finally force their hand? So many questions still unanswered.
Anyway, hopefully that will be an end to it now. For me and the woman from Oakwood Avenue. Is she finally at peace? I truly hope so.
Though one must wonder what kind of peace can a murderess ever hope to find?
Part Two - The Further Haunting At Number One Oakwood Avenue
Six months had passed since Number One Oakwood Avenue had burned to the ground.
The conflagration had consumed everything...nothing of the grand old Art Deco property remained.
Fortunately for the new owners they had been more than amply insured and, being property developers, plans for a luxurious new dwelling on the site were now already at an advanced stage.
Though the 1930's grandeur of the former house would never be recaptured (or attempted to be recaptured), the new property was never-the-less going to be a modern masterpiece, just as architecturally innovative as its predecessor.
I'd noticed increased activity there over the past few weeks and earth movers had indeed by now razed the whole site in readiness for major work to begin.
The Winter of the fire had eventually given way to a pleasant enough Spring which in turn was followed by an agreeable, if somewhat unspectacular, Summer.
But as August ended with an unseasonal spell of wet and windy weather, the first few days of September were already hinting that the onset of Autumn was just around the corner.
Life had carried on as normal after the strange visions I'd witnessed and the eventual demise of Number One.
Routine had kicked in once again and my days were filled with the mundanity of office life and day-to-day travel 'in' to and 'out' of London.
Then one night, right out of nowhere, I dreamed of her again!
She looked so absolutely stunning. Standing there bathed in a silvery moonlight. I thought how ghostly she looked. Her flaxen hair just so. Her dazzling blue eyes sparkling brilliantly in their sockets as only they ever did. The waxen quality of her flawless complexion under the lunar light.
Then I remembered the horror of it all...she was a ghost...and a most demonic spectre at that...lest I ever forget!
She was wearing a sumptuous black velvet evening dress that set off her slender figure an absolute treat...and she was standing in the doorway of my bedroom!
Part of me, a large part of me, wanted to embrace this vision of icy beauty (and wholeheartedly so) but something held me back.
A half-remembering of something...something about this woman...something that was telling me to resist her at all cost.
She glided effortlessly across the floor towards me...the sky had clouded over now but the street light outside shining in through the curtains caught on something metal...I put my hands up in a defensive gesture to ward her off but...
A sudden ringing sound rescued me from, what I believed to be, impending doom. It was my alarm clock sounding off. A dream...just a dream. Time to get up! I was in no doubt that, on this occasion, work had been my salvation!
About two weeks later, on my way out of the railway station, I overheard some people talking about an incident late at night in Oakwood Avenue.
I could not believe what I had just heard so I made my way over to the small kiosk, on my way to the exit, to purchase a copy of the local newspaper.
And staring out at me in bold print was a headline that sent shivers down my spine without even reading the story.
'WORKMAN DIES IN ACCIDENT AT LOCAL HOUSE'
Apparently a middle-aged man was working alone on the site of the 'former magnificent Art Deco property' at Oakwood Avenue when he'd been electrocuted in a freak accident. He'd been found dead by a colleague just this morning, badly charred and with an electric cable wrapped constrictor-like around his throat.
If only I hadn't had that dream about that woman! Then I would have been willing to pass this incident off as an unfortunate coincidence. Bad things happened to people every day after all.
I none-the-less fairly hurried down Marsham Crescent to my house...I just wanted to be inside...away from this evil.
Troubled, I turned the key to my front door. Something instantly seemed different. I couldn't put my finger on it but different is how it very definitely seemed. Like something had just happened...or was about to happen.
I stumbled, for I was not quite myself, into the living room and reposing on one of my brown leather armchairs was the woman from Number One!
She was as maniacally beautiful as ever. Immaculately groomed. Only this time dressed all in white. She looked as pretty as a picture...and she was smiling...smiling that cruel, cruel smile of hers.
Her manifestation lasted for several minutes, during which time I was powerless to do anything...other than stare in complete awe at this most evil ghost.
She eventually faded from view...but the smell of her expensive cologne hung in the air for a long time afterwards.
Once again, sleep was impossible. The rational side of my brain told me that I could not have witnessed what had just taken place in the 'comfort' of my own living room...the other, more colourful, side came to the undeniable conclusion that I was now being haunted by the murderous spirit of the former occupant of Number One Oakwood Avenue!
I couldn't have fallen asleep for that long when I was suddenly wide awake again.
Something in my bedroom seemed to have changed...but what? A strange feeling gnawing away deep in the pit of my stomach...a slight fuzziness in my head...and then I saw it!
Out of the corner of my eye at first but something was very definitely beginning to take shape, slowly, ever so slowly, at the bottom end of my bed.
Just the vaguest of outlines to begin with but the longer time passed the unquestionable form of that woman again materialised right in front of my eyes.
But she was different this time...oh so very different!
Instead of her trademark golden tresses, bright orange flames raged from the very roots of her hair, or so it seemed to me.
Yet she appeared to be taking a kind of perverse pleasure from the pain these snakelike, writhing flames were undoubtedly causing.
And she was smiling that smile again...only this time she was laughing as well. A guttural laugh that filled my head. Indeed I had to put my hands over my ears to prevent any further penetration of this ghostly cacophony.
Then she looked right at me. Her mesmerising blue portals searching out my very soul.
I tried hard...yes! I tried very hard to resist her...but it was futile.
The next thing I remember was the sound of someone calling my name.
It took a while for me to register the fact that I was indeed inside an ambulance and the person calling my name was a female paramedic.
'We're just taking you into the hospital...to get you checked over' said her colleague
'You've breathed in quite a lot of smoke but don't worry we'll soon sort you out' added the first woman
The ambulance door suddenly swung open. It was another paramedic, I assumed it to be the driver, who mumbled something to his male colleague that I didn't hear and then disappeared in a rush.
Even though I was somewhat dazed and totally unsure of the circumstances leading up to my arrival in the back of the ambulance, I was still able to catch sight of what was going on outside.
To my horror, my house...the house I'd lived in for many happy years, was now well and truly ablaze!
Above the sounds of monitors and engines, I could quite clearly hear the crackling sound of the inferno that now held my little house in Marsham Crescent firmly in its death grip.
I think I saw a shadow...the shadow of a young woman dancing in the flames...but that was a ridiculous notion...wasn't it?
Part Three - The Marriage Of Alice Greenaway
Alice Greenaway was a very attractive woman. Everybody said so...and she knew it too!
That is why it was something of a surprise when Alice married Maurice Tomlinson.
At 54 years old, Maurice was some 22 years Alice's senior. He was rapidly losing his hair, somewhat overweight and very definitely nothing much to look at.
He was, however, a very astute businessman and was certainly worth a tidy penny or two.
Alice hadn't thought too long about it when, after a brief courtship, Maurice had proposed marriage.
For Maurice too this was a marriage of great convenience. Having the delightful Alice on his arm at the business dinners he regularly attended did his chances of future success no harm whatsoever, as well as being a big boost to an ego that didn't really need that much boosting.
They'd moved into the gorgeous Art Deco property at Number One Oakwood Avenue immediately after their honeymoon, to Egypt no less (Maurice was something of an amateur Egyptologist by all accounts), and had just as immediately set the tongues of the local inhabitants of the quiet suburban town of Absholt wagging.
Maurice often wondered why no-one else had snapped Alice up. She was without doubt quite a beauty. Surely she'd had a whole raft of potential suitors over the years?
He hadn't pressed too hard though when the couple had talked briefly about their respective pasts, he hadn't wanted to ruin his chances with her by seeming too invasive.
Alice was not a local girl though, as Maurice had been led to believe. She had lived with her parents in South London until she was 11.
But their sad death, in a tragic accident at their home, had resulted in Alice being brought up by her adoptive parents, George and Florence Greenaway in Absholt.
They too had long since passed away, leaving Alice residing alone at their large old house.
Alice had been left quite comfortably placed too, with enough money in the bank to live a reasonable existence without the desperate need to find work.
But she'd wanted more...much more. And that was why she had agreed to marry the undeniably loathsome Maurice Tomlinson.
Initially, Maurice got exactly what he'd hoped for.
After a long day of meetings, alcohol-fuelled lunches, more meetings and post-work drinks, he'd arrive at the door of his grand home to the welcoming sight of his lovely wife, who was always there to escort him into the drawing room, pour him his favourite tipple and soothe away any troubles he had.
The sex was good as well...very good as a matter of fact...and certainly far beyond the wildest dreams of many a man his age!
Yes! It would be fair to say that Maurice Tomlinson had a very comfortable and highly lucrative life.
Somehow Alice held the veneer together. She was, of course, secretly disgusted by her odious husband.
In intimate moments her flesh used to crawl but her coldness ensured she got through such unseemly episodes.
At evening business dinners or any of the wonderful parties she co-hosted at Number One Oakwood Avenue, Alice was the perfect wife.
Many was the man, or woman for that matter, who would look at Maurice and wonder how he had secured the affections of such a beautiful woman...one who seemed to dote on his every word.
Now, you would have thought that Maurice would have been satisfied with his lot in life, especially with the glamorous Alice at his right-hand side?
But, despite being a ruthless businessman, he was also a weak human being.
And when 19-year old Lucy Rawson, with her jet black hair, Elizabeth Taylor looks, and impossibly long legs started work at his office, his road to ruin was already mapped out.
Like Alice, Lucy was devious. She calculatedly, and quite coldly, reeled Maurice in and as those first flirtations turned into a full-blown affair, she began to demand more and more from poor, deluded Maurice.
Alice had been wildly in love once too. Her attraction to Patrick Lambert had been instantaneous...but it was a love that was destined not to last!
Patrick was a local lad, who worked as a labourer for the builders in the High Street. His movie star looks and bad-boy aura made him difficult for Alice to resist.
Alice had met him one day outside the local grocery shop, propped up on his motor scooter and in the midst of lighting a cigarette.
Within a few passionate weeks of that first meeting, when sparks had well and truly flown, she'd ridden pillion all the way to Cornwall with Patrick for a week's holiday she'd needed little persuasion to go on!
They'd gone for long scooter rides in the bracing West Country air, stopping off at various watering holes for lunch or dinner along the way and at night they'd certainly fulfilled their mutual sexual desires.
But Alice was a possessive little thing and events at the village of St Dornan saw her fledgling romance start to spectacularly unravel.
'The Smuggler's Ruin' pub was to be their stop over for the night. Alice had lingered in their little first floor room over the bar to finish unpacking and make sure she had everything to hand she needed for what would no doubt be another night of fiery passion between her and Patrick.
When Alice finally reached the bar area, she noticed Patrick deep in conversation...with an other young woman!
Not just any young woman either...a very beautiful, raven-haired one at that!
Her name was Rosie Penwarren, the daughter of Bernie Penwarren who was the landlord of 'The Smuggler's Ruin'.
Patrick's face was a picture when he felt Alice's steely-blue eyes boring into him. He'd been thoroughly enjoying flirting with the gorgeous Rosie and he knew he shouldn't have been enjoying it as much as he had. He was with Alice now...wasn't he?
The virtual silence between Alice and Patrick lasted over dinner and on until they returned to their room at an earlier than usual 10-30PM.
'I'm sorry' said Patrick
'Really sorry...but it didn't mean anything...we were just talking!' added a noticeably ruffled Patrick
Alice greeted Patrick's pathetic apology with the coldest of cold looks as she readied herself quickly for bed. His chance had come and had now gone she thought privately!
After a rare passionless night, and there hadn't been many since they had first become an item, Patrick had settled their bill with Bernie and, following a hastily consumed breakfast, they had set off for home. For home was where Alice told Patrick she had very definitely wanted to go!
Several miles along the coastal road back towards the main route home, Alice tugged on Patrick's black, leather jacket and asked him to pull over.
When the bike stopped, Alice held out an elegant, pale hand for Patrick to take hold of and the pair of them walked off down the narrow little path in the grass towards a weather-beaten wooden seat looking out over the bay just like any other romantically-involved couple.
It was such a lovely morning...quite the best they'd had so far!
A warm sun had gently burned away any traces of sea mist and a group of gulls circled majestically high above.
It was indeed a magnificent, crystal blue sky dominating overhead when Alice...forcibly pushed an unsuspecting Patrick Lambert over the cliff edge to his untimely death!
Of course everyone in Absholt had rallied round poor Alice in the weeks after her tearful return from a holiday cut short by such a tragic accident.
So, if you had really, truly known Alice, you would not have been as shocked as the residents of Oakwood Avenue were when she violently stabbed her husband Maurice to death in such a planned frenzy that awful, awful night.
She'd known about Maurice's dalliances with Lucy Rawson...he wasn't a clever enough man to fool her for any length of time!
And she'd spent the late afternoon/early evening bathing, manicuring, grooming and generally readying herself for the dinner her and Maurice had been invited to.
But when a flushed Maurice arrived home...later than he had said he would...Alice had felt his insipid lips on the nape of her lily-white neck for the last time.
While Maurice prattled unwittingly on about some business matter or other, Alice had calmly opened the little drawer to her bedroom chest, pulled out a gleaming, metal kitchen knife...and thrust its lengthy blade repeatedly into her husband's flabby chest.
She felt not the merest notion of remorse...this was how the wicked but oh! so beautiful Alice Greenaway dealt with matters that threatened her vision of perfection.
Then she just continued to get ready...as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Her next door neighbour came across the bizarre scene when they'd called round later on...and promptly ran back to the safety of their own home and called the police.
Of course there had been a whole host of 'others'. Other unfortunates that Alice had eliminated from her life...as easily as snuffing out a candle.
In addition to Maurice and Patrick Lambert, there was Alice's parents (Peter and Rhona), a baby son she had never got round to naming, her adoptive parents (George and Florence Greenaway)...and...'others'!
Peter and Rhona Portman had been found drowned at home in their own bath...an apparent suicide or freak accident according to those that mattered.
But there were those in the local constabulary who secretly questioned whether the demure Alice was somehow involved in the mysterious death of her parents.
How could such a lovely, young child, clearly grieving for her mother and father, and with such a sweet smile, be to blame? they had asked themselves.
However, without any physical evidence to back up any suspicions they may have held, their 'ridiculous' theories were dismissed, but their instincts were right!
The plethora of dead family pets was the trigger for Alice's parents to begin to seriously wonder about their little girl, before their worst fears were dramatically realised on a visit to a birthday party for one of Alice's school friends.
Nine-year old Billy Jarman, a mild-mannered young lad with not an ounce of harm in him, was one of Alice's 'others'.
He was discovered floating, face down and lifeless in the garden pond while his mother had temporarily been more concerned about whether she had enough jelly and ice cream to go round.
How the Jarmans had wept over the loss of their dear little boy.
'Why us?' they had asked their god.
Alice, unsurprisingly, had pushed poor Billy in! And she'd taken great pleasure out of watching the pathetic boy, thrash and struggle, before retreating to a viewpoint from where she could safely watch the outcome of her handiwork, without being held responsible for her first major despicable act.
Bragging to her disbelieving parents later that year about what she had done to Billy Jarman unfortunately signed their death warrant.
Burdened with the terrible truth that their daughter...the child they had yearned for, for so long...the child Rhona had lovingly nurtured for nine months in her own womb...dear, sweet Alice...was a murderer, they had taken one of their customary late afternoon joint baths, perhaps to take their minds off the whole horrible affair, perhaps to contemplate how best to deal with Alice's revelation.
If only they'd gone straight to the appropriate authorities. They may still be alive now!
Alice, though, had always hated the thought of her mother and father's naked bodies coming together in such a fashion. Now it was time to teach them a lesson!
Quite how Peter and Rhona Portman died is still a mystery to this day.
'Possible double suicide' was the first diagnosis. 'Something to do with carbon monoxide poisoning' was the official verdict...but only the sweet-smiling, demonic Alice really knew!
And, years later, when George and Florence Greenaway had outlived their use, Alice had carefully and quite slowly poisoned them.
'Probably a virus' said a hospital spokesperson, adding 'It can affect the elderly quite acutely'
And Alice hadn't pushed for a post mortem or anything nasty like that.
'They were a very religious couple' she'd said...and it went no further.
Then another of Alice's foolhardy flings, a one-night stand with a travelling salesman called Simon Devallier, resulted in a highly undesired pregnancy.
Fortunately she'd managed to cover up her blooming body and when she gave birth to her son all alone on the living room carpet...she ended his pitifully short life by thrusting a knitting needle into the poor mite's fragile, newborn skull. Disposing of his tiny body in secluded waste ground some 10 miles away.
Alice Tomlinson nee Greenaway (formerly Portman) was subsequently found guilty of the cold-blooded and calculated, First Degree murder of her husband, Maurice James Tomlinson.
At the tender age of 32 and looking as beautiful as ever,she was hanged for the final callous act of her short, spiteful life...and that was an end to it!
Part Four - The New House On Oakwood Avenue
Eighteen long months had passed since Alice Greenaway (or the maniacal ghost of Alice Greenaway) had tried to burn down my house in Marsham Crescent...with me inside if you remember?
I knew her name now. And all about her. People had talked to me. About the past. A past they clearly still preferred to forget!
Fortunately the reality of the situation, in the cold light of day, was much better than the nightmare scenario I thought I had witnessed from the back of the ambulance on that never-to-be-forgotten night.
My house wasn't as badly ravaged by fire as I initially feared and surely had seen with my own two eyes. And I was only mildly affected by the inhalation of smoke...yes!, there had been so much smoke hadn't there?
After a brief stay of some three days at the local hospital in Absholt, I'd completed my convalescence at the home of my cousin Jack and his wife Sarah just a few miles away in the neighbouring town of Graymere.
And while they had busied themselves with fussing over me, making me copious cups of tea and driving me here, there and everywhere, my house was completely redecorated from head to toe with the more than adequate insurance money I received.
Work had been very understanding as well and told me in no uncertain terms to 'take as long as you need'.
So life gradually returned to normal.
Eventually I went back to work and life carried on as it had always done...before the fire...before Alice Greenaway!
There were little reminders though, everywhere I went.
One week I'd had to work out of the Croydon office, which was one of those old government buildings in the ever-expanding town that had survived among the clamour for modernity.
It was truly an Art Deco relic in every way. From the sunburst windows to the black and green geometrically-tiled toilets. From the simplistically designed wall-clocks that wouldn't have looked out of place at the local train station in the 1930's to the period wooden bookcases.
Maurice Tomlinson would have loved this place, I thought, laughed out loud a little to myself, and then recoiled momentarily with the horror of it all!
Elsewhere, the current owners of Number One Oakwood Avenue had seen their dreams and blueprints finally come to fruition.
Where the beautiful Art Deco house had once stood...where the once-beautiful Art Deco house had stood...where the shell of the once-beautiful Art Deco house had stood...was a magnificent new property!
Like its predecessor it too exuded modernity from every pore and like its predecessor it too was finished off with a gleaming white render.
Almost everyone in the locale was delighted to see something good finally appear out of the ashes, especially after so much heartache.
The loss of the poor workman on the site, the horrendous fire that completely consumed the old house and my own personal misadventure.
All had been quiet...too quiet!
And then a sense of something began to stir again inside my mind. A feeling of apprehension began to build. An increasing feeling of dread began to creep over me, envelop me with the passing of each new day.
It was Winter once more in sleepy Absholt. This time it had roared in without so much as a warning. Snow blanketed the streets and houses...yes! that house too was covered in a natural blanket of the purest white.
The coldness of the weather seemed to add weight to my current mood. No matter what I did to ease my troubled mind, I couldn't shake off the ghost of Alice Greenaway.
She finally reappeared on the night of December 5th.
I'd gone to bed around half past 10. Read a little before drifting off to sleep. I hadn't even been overly thinking about her that day...I swear!
Her ghost manifested so violently this time that the vibration disturbed some books from the shelf in my bedroom and it was the sound of them crashing onto the floor that awakened me.
Looking even more sensationally beautiful than ever, her ice crystal-tinged blue eyes sought mine in a flash causing me to shudder with something far beyond simple dread and fear.
She was wearing an eye-catching crimson-red dress that impeccably hugged her slender figure.
Around her was an all-embracing shimmering silver aura. Wrapped around her spirit like one of the expensive fur wraps she would almost certainly have worn in her all too short life.
She was floating at least a couple of feet off the floor directly in front of me from what I could make out from the discomfort of my bed. Underneath, where her feet and shoes should have been, was a swirling white cloud of otherworldyness...like some kind of mini tornado!
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the flash of something metallic on my bed cover.
A huge kitchen knife!
'How did that get there?' I mouthed rhetorically.
Where had Alice gone? was the next question I asked myself.
In an instant I knew. A bony finger on my shoulder...too bony for any living person. Next, a skeletal full-hand push on my right shoulder...in the direction of that knife.
'Join me' Alice whispered breathily in my ear.
'Join me!' she implored again in a well-spoken far away voice that was tinged with such menace.
I was in no doubt that my very will was being manipulated by this most heinous of phantoms.
Pictures filled my head. Pictures of me and Alice Greenaway living happily in Number One
Oakwood Avenue. The glamorous Art Deco version of Number One Oakwood Avenue. As husband and wife!
More pictures invaded my mind. Pictures of me with that knife plunged firmly into my heart. A slender-wristed hand holding that knife. A slender-wristed hand with no flesh on it holding that knife!
Thank any god you like that my will was strong. Certainly stronger than I ever believed.
'I'd resisted her before and I could resist her now!' I thought inwardly but knew Alice could hear never-the-less.
Alice suddenly rose up in front of me again.
And at the same time as I ducked to avoid the rage in her eyes I was also aware of a glittering object just missing my head.
I turned around instinctively to see that knife still quivering in my wooden headboard!
Her mission unsuccessful, I waited for Alice's next move...but nothing happened.
The silence was shattered by the most unearthly of screams which reverberated around my small bedroom so loudly that more objects fell from shelves and cabinets...some to smash into a hundred pieces.
This ungodly sound was coming from Alice Greenaway who appeared to be being dragged backwards by something I couldn't at first decipher.
Invisible hands, at least to me, were pulling at her from all angles. But although she was swiping out at them with all her ghostly might, her backwards momentum continued unabated.
Through the soupy gloom of my bedroom I could just about discern the figure of a young man to Alice's left and that of an older man to her right. It was they who were pulling a writhing Alice into a slightly lighter circle that had manifested suddenly.
Above the screams I could also hear the sound of dogs snarling and barking viciously. They were also clearly visible to Alice who continued to thrash away at the ghostly police force that seemed determined to pull her into some kind of circular void and away from Oakwood Avenue for ever.
A sulphur-like smell filled the room. No scent of eau de cologne on this occasion.
And then she was gone!
On reflection, I think I know who one of the apparitions was. I'm sure I recognised the older man who helped haul the squirming, wailing spirit of Alice Greenaway away from Oakwood Avenue forever.
I also have a very good idea who the other might have been.
Anyway, she's finally gone now. Back to the abyss in which she and others like her dwell for all eternity.
I am definitely not the same Adam Penfold though...the man I used to be...before...before Alice Greenaway and her ghostly goings on. All I can do is hope and pray (and I am not a man of any religion) that my own very personal nightmare is over!
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