Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Books at Christmas - 2016


Books for Christmas - 2016

Ideally, there should be snow.  Not enough to make the way treacherous, for again, ideally, we’ll be walking, but enough to sugar dust the holly bushes and dance in the street light’s glow.  The windows of our destination should be atmospherically lit and, not unlike those of a sweet shop, designed and arranged with an artist’s eye to colour and shape.  We should linger there in the falling snow before we reach for the door.
  
There should be a bell on the door.  It should announce our arrival, not with the harsh clank of a cow’s pendant, but with a sound more akin to a fairy’s laugh.  There should be wooden floors, old and weathered wooden floors on which decades of shoppers have wandered through the aisles lost in contented concentration.  We should come up on a sleeping dog in a niche behind non-fiction and a large Persian cat should brush against our leg in cookery. 

The proprietor should be older, slightly mussed, with half-moon glasses perched on his nose and his knitted waistcoat haphazardly buttoned.  He should greet us warmly, though a tad absentmindedly.  He should also, like a soothsayer, know instinctively if we are in need of the perfect suggestion.
  
There should not be a cafe, nor should music be played over some tinny central speaker.  There should be a small radio underneath the counter, softly playing Bach, so softly the music seems to come from our own heads, unheard by others, the soundtrack to our own serenity.

And the books we find should be perfect.  So many that we start a small stack on the counter, the bespectacled owner nodding to himself each time we add another.   There should be books to teach and remind.  Books to lose oneself inside.  Books to take us on journeys impossible without the written word, with power to spirit us back in time, witnesses to history.  Their words should help us stand like a tree in the troubled present.  Through them, we should dream, we should remember, we should escape.
  
Each book should be wrapped in brown paper, tied with a red and white string, and placed in two large paper sacks.  The proprietor should give us a peppermint as we leave.   We should wish each other the compliments of the season.  The sound of fairy’s laughter should ring in our ears as we close the door behind us and head through the falling snow to the cafe on the corner where we would meet someone handsome and bearded for a hot chocolate and a bit of holiday cheer. 

Ideally, this should be Christmas shopping.
Right?

Here’s a list of recommendations for 2016. 
Some of these I’ve read, some I’ve yet to read. 
Some are older, some just published. 
Some are perfect for gifts, some are to keep for yourself. 
 And one I wrote myself. 
 The first line of each is included and, as always, 
click on the book to find out more.
Happy shopping! 
xo

1.  Commonwealth
by Ann Patchett
“The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.”


2.  Being a Dog:
Following the Dog Into a World of Smell
by Alexandra Horowitz
“Finnegan’s is ebony black, moist and dappled, two cavernous bass clefs at its front.”


3.  Edward Speaks at Midnight
by Pamela Terry
“It was Christmas Eve and Edward, the big white dog, was underneath the piano, his head resting atop his furry paws.”


4.  English Houses
by Ben Pentreath
“Charlie and I live above the trees in an ancient, leafy London square.”


5.  The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.”


6.  Upstream
by Mary Oliver
“In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed.”


7.   Cecil Beaton At Home
by Andrew Ginger
“Taste breaks out of all rules; as soon as it is pigeon-holed it is dead.”


8.  The Moon Before Morning
by W. S. Merwin
“The sky said I am watching
to see what you 
can make out of nothing.”


9.  The Road to Character
by David Brooks
“On Sunday evenings my local NPR stations rebroadcasts old radio programs.”


10.  Nutshell
by Ian McEwan
“So here I am, upside down in a woman.”


11.  Hitler: Volume I: Ascent 1889-1939
by Volker Ullrich
“The fellow is a catastrophe, but that’s no reason not to find him interesting as a personality and destiny” wrote Thomas Mann in his essay, Brother Hitler, adding that no none should feel ‘above dealing with this murky figure.”


12.  Faithful
by Alice Hoffman
“In February, when the snow comes down hard,  little globes of light are left along Route 110, on the side of the road that slopes off when a driver least expects it.”



13.  The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
“Jockey’s birthday only came once or twice a year.”



14.  H is for Hawk
by Helen MacDonald
“Forty-five minutes northeast of Cambridge is a landscape I’ve come to love very much.”



15.  Mad Enchantment
Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies
by Ross King
"Where is Clemenceau?"



16.  Wanderlust
by Michelle Nussbaumer and Hutton Wilkinson 
“When my husband asked my father for my hand in marriage, my father said yes, but with a caveat, ‘as long as you don’t ever take my daughter away.”


17.  The Outrun
by Amy Liptrot
“On my first day back I shelter beside an old freezer, down by some stinging nettles, and watch the weather approach over the sea.”



 18.  Literary Wonderlands: 
A Journey Through the Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created
by Laura Miller, Lev Grossman,  John Sutherland and Tom Shippey



19.  Bedtime Stories
from Everyman's Pocket Classics
“There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in a forest.”




20.  A Christmas Memory
by Truman Capote
“Imagine a morning in late November.”


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Handmade Life


Eoghain and Pamela, In the hills above Elgol, Isle of Skye, Scotland

A Handmade Life

The journey here (for journey is what one must call it) takes about an hour and a half, and though the scenery is stunning (stunning is the only word) I am questioned repeatedly about the veracity of my directions.  Mountains rise before us, craggy and imposing, their steep sides plunging into lochs and sea.  We drive through drizzle, rain, and sunshine all in the span of an hour.  As we near the edge of the island I spot a small sign and we turn, pointing our car upwards where, looking down, we spot a tiny cluster of white houses clinging to a hillside overlooking the sea.  We see a gate and I hop out to open it.  The Songwriter drives through, I close the gate and climb back inside.  There is a tiny car park underneath berry-laden bushes.  We make our way down a vertical drive and turn the corner to spot three hobbit-sized cottages, one of which bears the sign we’ve been looking for:  Skye Weavers. 

In this remote place, far removed from everything commerce is expected to require, we find some of the most gorgeous woven goods one could imagine, all created by a man on a bicycle.  Roger gets up each morning, leaves his lovely cottage and walks several feet into his loom shed where he climbs aboard the bicycle that powers his handmade loom and from this perch he creates some glorious things, pedaling all the day.  Shawls and scarves, blankets and gentlemen’s ties - each one a temptation impossible to resist.  Roger’s wife, Andrea, designs these treasures with a artist’s eye for colour and Roger weaves them, expertly.  Another tiny shed serves as the shop, a textural candy store where stacks of beautifully coloured items are arranged and displayed.  

“We inherited the cottage”, says Roger.  “It was our dream to make a living doing what we loved, but we didn’t know if that was possible this far away from everything.  But believe it or not, we’re doing alright.  The internet helps, of course.  It’s kind of amazing how many people find us out here.”

After making several needful purchases and being allowed to “drive” the loom for awhile - a thrill - we reluctantly left Roger and his wife on their idyllic hillside.  But their story has stayed with me, underlined as it was by other couples we met in the Scottish Hebrides this past September.  

Meet Clare and Iain, proprietors of our favorite tiny inn on Skye, Coruisk House.  Both successful lawyers in London, they followed their dream to one of the most glorious spots on earth several years ago, rescued an old house and transformed it into a lovely destination.  Here Iain indulges his guests with incredible meals each night and Clare bakes irresistible bread, watches the details and makes everyone welcome.  Along with their black lab, Reggie, they are intoxicatingly happy, one can tell.

There are the weavers on the Isle of Harris, each one an artist of the highest order.  From garden sheds and back rooms dotted all over the island they weave their intricately beautiful fabrics for internationally known Harris Tweed.  There is the couple who own Skye Pies, a tiny whitewashed cottage on the north end of the Isle of Skye where the line for lunch stretches halfway through the garden before they even open and where you can eat, truly, the most delectable pie you could possibly imagine, sweet or savoury.  All around the cafe are baskets of knitting and tools for embroidery for diners to pick up and continue.  The place positively crackles with creativity.  Then there are our good friends, Francis and Eoghain, living in paradise on a hillside on Skye, with no television or computer and no desire for either.  Each night they climb the hill to look out over the Black Cullins towards Loch Coruisk where, as Eoghain whispered to me when he took me up there, “The mountains are ebony and the water is silver.”  (See the photo above.)

 Since retuning home from Scotland I have thought a lot about the life these people have fashioned for themselves.  Hard work, really hard work, is no stranger to these people.  But each of them radiates utter peace and contentment, qualities so often elusive to modern life.  Their values run counter to the values most commonly prized; none of them would wish for a golden tower.  But oh, what bliss they’ve created.  What joy to be found in the handmade quality of their lives.

It is disconcerting that one of the most beautiful of words, Thanksgiving, is this week to be followed by that most mercenary of sobriquets, Black Friday.  Let others fill the shopping malls and crowd the highway lanes.  I may not live on a Scottish hillside, yet, but as best I can, I have molded my own handmade life right here at The House of Edward.  My friends will receive bits of love woven into their presents this Christmas, baked or knitted, written or wrapped.  It is possible even today, even here in a metropolis, to turn from the media’s definition of success, joke that it is, and embrace those activities that feed our souls.   Mulled wine nights by the fireside, with dreaming dogs dozing at our feet and good books in our hands.  Long walks in the crisp air.  Happy conversations over delicious dinners.  The wrapping of gifts that mean as much for us to give as they will for those who unwrap them.  Music in place of news.  Joy in place of worry.  Contentment in place of stress.  For some of us, this may be hard work, really hard work.  But the rewards, I assure you, far exceed any amount of effort.  

As Christmas approaches, the elves at Wild Bouquet Press are busy sending out orders for Edward Speaks at Midnight.  A truly handmade effort and one that both Edward and I are immensely proud of.  Beautifully illustrated, it is a window into our own Christmas here at The House of Edward and I hope it will find its way underneath many trees this year.


 You can find your copy HERE.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
I am forever so thankful for my readers.
xx

Do some Christmas Shopping at Skye Weavers, HERE
and visit,




Wednesday, November 16, 2016

And So We Talk About Trees

Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris, Scotland

And So We Talk About Trees

When I began this blog back in 2008, my father had not been dead a year.  The world economy had taken a nosedive and halted my busy interior design practice in its tracks.  I took up writing again, a habit I had always enjoyed in the past, for something creative to do.   Funnily enough, the more I wrote the more I had to write about.  The House of Edward became a place for me to work out how I felt about things.  I found it enormously satisfying to capture and share the quiet little moments of beauty that I found in my everyday life.  And as is the case with Beauty, the more you notice and appreciate, the more is given to you. As my blog was a reflection of my life, there have been issues I’ve addressed here that sometimes deviated into darker waters, but these issues were, I felt, too vital to ignore while remaining true to the values I hold dear.  I have treasured my interactions with wonderful, interesting, funny, creative, precious people all across the globe and wouldn’t change these eight years for anything.

Last Wednesday, I awoke to a different world, in a country I no longer recognized.  I had heard for a long time that it would be impossible for the United States of America to elect the man we elected last week.  His campaign was considered laughable to most intelligent people of my acquaintance.  But I feared the worst.  For months I watched as he lifted the lid off vitriolic ugliness and hate, watched as those who harbored such dark feelings finally felt the validation they craved, watched as ignorance, racism and bigotry slithered from their dank hiding places to revel in the light of day.  I feared there were more of these people than our society realized and last week we saw that there were.  

America has now elected a man without even a rudimentary knowledge of our constitution or the way our government works.  We have elected a man devoid of empathy, respect and the most basic common decency.  How can we tell our children that these are the golden qualities necessary for humanity when the person who stands for our country devalues and disrespects them so utterly?  I am ashamed beyond measure; ashamed to be American, ashamed to be white, ashamed to call myself a Christian person when so many who profess that in kind supported this vile man whose every word and deed is utterly antithetical to those of Christ.  As it was in the civil rights battles of the 50’s and 60’s, the white evangelical church finds itself once again not only on the wrong side of history, but the wrong side of scripture as well.  A Christian person never stands on the same side as the Ku Klux Klan.  Never.  I can only pray that in their slavish devotion to the republican party those supporters of our now president-elect who also profess the Christian faith have not damaged the integrity of that faith forever.  Make no mistake, the face of Donald Trump is not the face of God.  God is love, not hate.  God is compassion, not ridicule.  God is mercy, not malevolence. God values wisdom, not ignorance.  Humility, not arrogance.  Kindness, not hostility.

I will be frank with you,  there were moments last week when it seemed to me impossible to continue with my little essays here when we stare into such a chasm as this.  The House of Edward appeared to my eyes almost unbearably trivial.  But then on Friday morning, I was sitting alone in a beautiful room high up in the mountains, awaiting the arrival of a group of fierce, intelligent women who were there for me to teach them Brioche knitting.  I felt depleted and fragile so I reached for my phone to call one of my good friends for a bit of encouragement and support.  This lady is a former client, we first met when I redecorated her house from top to bottom thirteen years ago. We became fast friends and she is a bright light in my life.  A merry, gracious, elderly lady who radiates God’s love and wisdom through every pore of her being, and whose life is spent doing good for other people - joyfully, gleefully, with great humor and mischievous spunk.  I always leave her side bolstered and completely certain of the goodness in the world.  I listened as the phone rang and a strange voice answered.  I asked to speak to my friend and was told she had died on election day.  My knees buckled and I began to weep.

My first inclination was to grab my bags and flee.  I paced the empty room like a caged animal for several long minutes.  Then I saw her face in front of me and I knew I couldn’t run.  She would have been furious if I’d even tried.  The only thing I could do was share my knowledge with these women.  That’s what I was there for - that’s what I’m here for - to give what I can of myself to make someone else’s world a little bit more beautiful.  And I suppose that’s when I decided to continue on with this blog.  It may not seem like much in the face of a world so ugly and mean, but it’s all I have.  And it seems somehow necessary, now more than ever.

Who knows what we will face in the coming four years.  I confess I am daily working to stem the flow of dread and keep my head above water as events continue to unfold.  But now more than ever it seem to me important to hold up our little wild bouquets of Goodness, Beauty and Light.   It remains my hope that this blog, trivial though it may be, will continue to be a soft place to land for the weary, a place to laugh - and occasionally cry - and a place to stand up for the values so essential to the human spirit.  A place where, as the poet says below, we can always talk about trees.

Much love, 
Pamela, and Edward too

***
What Kind of Times Are These
by Adrienne Rich

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sometimes the Poets Say it Best


Sometimes the Poets Say it Best

Of History and Hope
By Miller Williams

We have memorized America, 
how it was born and who we have been and where. 
In ceremonies and silence we say the words, 
telling the stories, singing the old songs. 
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do. 
The great and all the anonymous dead are there. 
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought. 
The rich taste of it is on our tongues. 
But where are we going to be, and why, and who? 
The disenfranchised dead want to know. 
We mean to be the people we meant to be, 
to keep on going where we meant to go. 

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how 
except in the minds of those who will call it Now? 
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow? 
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row— 
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow. 

Who were many people coming together 
cannot become one people falling apart. 
Who dreamed for every child an even chance 
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not. 
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head 
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart. 
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child 
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot. 
We know what we have done and what we have said, 
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree, 
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become— 
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free. 

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set 
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet— 
but looking through their eyes, we can see 
what our long gift to them may come to be. 
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

****
Here in America, we are standing on a knife edge.  One wrong step and this grand experiment could be lost forever.  Please vote on Tuesday, and please vote wisely.  If you’re outside of the states, a few prayers would be appreciated.  If you need further explanation, this post will help explain.

Painting above:
Our Banner in the Sky
by Frederic Edwin Church

Monday, October 31, 2016

Writer's Block, A Ghost Story....The Last Chapter


V
Press Release

The intermittent terror left with the dawn, driven out by the first slices of pink that cut through the grey clouds and striped the patterned carpet. Gwendolyn sat up warily, still listening for the horrifying cries of the night.  But she heard nothing save the caw of the rooks in the trees and the crash of the waves outside her windows.  She picked up her whisky glass and sniffed.  Could there have been something in that whisky?  Something that caused her to hear what wasn’t, couldn’t have possibly been, there?   She tamped down the idea that what she’d heard had been generated by her overwrought, unreliable mind, refusing, as best she could, to entertain that particular fear.

She stood up, padded over to the window and was surprised to see sunlight glistening on a calm sea below.  As is always the case, it was difficult to fully recall the worries of a dark night in the face of a sunny morning.  Gwendolyn dismissed the sound as the result of her exhaustion from travel.  Perhaps it wasn't as dramatic as she’d thought.  She pulled a jumper on over her pajamas and went out into the hall.  Pausing on the landing to gaze out over the front garden, she once again noticed the stained glass apostles surrounding the view,  each one intricate and beautiful.  On closer inspection, and after counting them over twice, she realized one of the twelve was missing.  In its place was a winged boar, an almost identical replica of the stone pair glowering back at her from the tall pillars outside.  

The day was so glorious, Gwendolyn spent its majority outdoors.  It was easier to feel optimistic, and more importantly, easier to dismiss the events of the previous night in the bright light beaming up from the water below.  Though the sea was as much a feature of the house as the stone of its making, its location, so far down the jagged rocks of the cliff side, made it impossible to reach the shore.  So she sat underneath a rather ragged tree that clung to the cliff, reveling in the quiet and the salty breeze.   She ate warmed-over soup for lunch, fresh fruit and cheese for dinner.  She read at bit and dozed in one of the comfortable chairs in the library.  Deciding that whisky was not the best idea before bedtime, she made herself a cup of cocoa and headed upstairs when the stars came out, reading in bed till she fell asleep.

***
It started just before dawn, when the dark is deepest.  A sobbing so despairing, so real, it buried itself into the very cells of her being.  Properly terrified now, Gwendolyn had no whisky to blame.  But she couldn’t just lie there.  She had to know who, or what, was making this dreadful sound. 

Getting out of bed, she went across the room to the fireplace and grabbed a poker from the hearth.  Wielding it like a sword, she turned the handle on the bedroom door and stepped out into the hallway.  Outside her room the crying seemed even louder and impossible to locate.  It was as though it emanated from every room, through every window.  The house was lavender with moonlight and Gwendolyn crept through it, poker raised and heart thumping.  There was no one in the entry and the library was just as she’d left it, the embers of the dying fire glowing orange in the grate.  Turning towards the dining room her eyes were drawn to the painting of the pink-dressed girl.  With a breath-stealing horror she could clearly see the girl’s once shy smile and innocent countenance was gone.  In their place was an open-mouthed scream, as hideous as the crying that now filled every room of the house.  Gwendolyn slammed the door and fled.

Upstairs, her hands shaking, she fumbled in her bag for her phone and dialed Albert’s number, caring nothing about the time.  Several rings and his sleepy, grumpy voice came on the line.  

“Hullo.  Who the devil is this?”

“Albert, it’s Gwennie.  What is going on here?  What haven’t you told me?  There's something wrong with this place, isn’t there?  I swear, Albert, you get me out of here now.  Tonight.  I don’t care what time it is, you get in touch with that man, what’s his name?  The one that brought me over.  Henry, that’s it.  You call Henry tonight, do you hear me?  I am packing my bags and I want out of here first thing.”

“Now, Gwennie.  Calm down.  You hear something in the night?  It’s just the wind, old girl.  Just the wind.  Why, I remember how hard it blows up there.  Easy to work on the imagination.  But that’s why you’re there!  A good old jolt to the imagination is just what you need.  Am I right?

“Dammit, Albert.  I’m serious.  You get me off this blasted island immediately or I’m calling the police.  I mean it, Albert.   I swear I’ll never write another word for you!  Do it, Albert.  Do it NOW.”

Static popped and crackled for a moment then the phone went silent.  Gwendolyn threw it across the bed, only then noticing that the sobbing, the horrible sobbing, had ceased.  She got dressed and sat on the edge of the bed to wait for morning.

***
     The painting looked normal once again.  Refusing to stay cowered in her room all day, Gwendolyn had come down the stairs at first light.  She’d stood for a long moment with her hand closed around the glass doorknob before finally turning it.  The fragrance of gardenias surrounded her, almost visibly white in the early grey light of this rainy day.  Her eyes rose slowly to meet the girl in the painting.  The smile had returned.  Gwendolyn stood in the entry hall, reluctant to enter the room, torn between memory of the night before and the reality now in front of her.    She quietly closed the door to the room as one does to the room of the sick, then went down the hall to the rear entry of the kitchen to make herself a cup on strong tea and phone Albert once again.  Her heart sank when she heard the recording, the crisply pleasant voice of Caroline Dunn filling her ear.

“Hello.  You’ve reached the offices of Albert Pepperidge, Esq.  Mr. Pepperidge regrets he cannot speak with you personally, but he is away from his desk at the moment.  Please leave your name and number and he will happily ring you back as soon as he can.”

Gwendolyn took a deep breath and spoke.  “Albert.  I’m begging you.  Get me off this island.  Your plan to get me writing is not going to work here.  There’s something going on up here Albert.  I do not like it.  I will NOT stay here.  Send someone to get me now.  Do you hear me?  I have packed my bags and I am waiting.”

Back on Cadogan Gardens, Albert Pepperidge, seeing Gwendolyn’s number come up, had ignored the call, letting it go to voicemail.  Now he sat at his desk, his breakfast getting cold, thoroughly irritated.  He couldn’t ask Mrs. Dunn for advice, as would be his usual inclination.  She’d already told him in no uncertain terms what she thought of his plan.  But he’d been so certain it would work.  Now, listening to the obvious distress in Gwendolyn’s voice, he was beginning to doubt himself, a feeling as unwelcome to him as it was, frankly, unknown.  With the sigh of disappointment tinged with guilt, Albert picked up the phone and dialed.  A young women’s voice answered.

“GS Productions.  We do things on a Grand Scale.  How may I direct your call?”

“Um, Hullo.  This is Albert Pepperidge.  I wish to speak to Charlie Blake on a matter of some urgency.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Pepperidge, but Mr. Blake is out of the country at the moment.  Can I leave a message for when he returns?”

“No, you cannot.  I need to speak with him.  Or with somebody in charge of the project up on Greyrocks Island.  I wish to end it early.  I wish to end it today.”

“Oh.  Mr. Pepperidge, I’m a little confused.  We received your earlier message, as well as your check.  You were most generous, by the way.  ‘Specially as we didn’t really do anything for you.  It’s all been taken care of, you’re not to worry.  These things happen.  I can assure you, Mr. Blake was fine with it.”

“Fine with what?!”  What message?  I didn't leave any message!”  Confusion made Albert thunderous.

“Well, somebody did.  A few nights ago.  Told us to scupper the whole project immediately.  Which we did, sir.”

“But it wasn’t scuppered, as you so eloquently say!  It’s going on as we speak.  And from what I can tell, you’re doing a damn good job.  Too good, if you ask me.  I told Charlie I didn’t want him to go too far.”

“First of all, Mr. Pepperidge.  I have to say I do not appreciate being hollered at.”  The young woman’s east end accent, so professionally hidden only moments before, was rearing its offended head.  “Second, as I done told you, we ain’t done nothing up there.  Not one thing.  Nobody went up there, nobody’s there now.  We did a lot of prep work, I can tell you.  But we didn’t do anything up there after your lady called and cancelled.”

Flustered, addled, and red in the face, Albert slammed down the phone and bellowed, “Mrs. Dunn!  In here! Now!”

***
It was around two when Albert finally phoned.  Gwendolyn had been sitting at the kitchen table, refilling her cup of tea whenever it got cold, and trying to call her mounting panic.  She’d built a large fire and its crackling warmth and glowing light was comforting but she was certain she couldn’t stay one more night in this  house.  To make matters worse, the weather was changing.  All afternoon harsh gusts of wind had flown up from the sea, crashing into the back of the house, making the old windows shudder and rattle.  It was the worst possible soundtrack for fear.  She almost dropped her mobile when it rang.

“Albert?”.  Her voice sounded strange and small, even to herself.

“Yes, Gwennie.  Look, I’m sorry, love.  I’ve phoned Henry, but he tells me he won’t be able to get to you till morning.  Seems a gale is blowing in from the west.  Should be gone by daybreak, if we’re lucky, and he’ll get right over to get you.  I’m, um, well, I’m sorry you don’t like the house.”

“Albert.  I want out of here.  There’s something not right with this place.  Why didn’t you tell me?  I don’t want to spend another night here.”

“I know, old girl, I know.  And believe me, if I could get you off myself, I’d surely do it.  But it’s just not possible till morning.  Henry says the boat would never make it in the storm.  He could set off, but he’d never get there.   Just turn on all the lights and do something to take your mind off things.  Got any whisky?”

Gwendolyn did not respond and Albert, knowing the people he’d hired to add the proper atmosphere of a haunted house to the place had not, in fact, done so, was attempting to keep the worry he’d begun to feel out of his voice.  He cleared his throat.  “Listen now, Gwennie.  It’s true I haven’t been up there since I was a boy, but, well, I’ve heard the stories.  Never believed a one of them.  Not a one. Because I’m a rational man, just like you’re a rational woman.  Think about it, Gwennie.  You know whatever you’ve seen or heard must be the result of something completely normal and easily explained.  You’re just tired, old girl.  You’ve been thinking about scary stories for too long.  You’ll leave there tomorrow, and I promise I’ll get you out of this contract.  I will.  After all, I’m the best agent in the world, aren’t I?  I can do anything, can’t I?  Just one more night and Henry will get you at first light.  It’s a promise.”

Gwendolyn put the phone down on the table without giving Albert a goodbye and rubbed her forehead with the palm of her hands.  Here she was,  a master of the supernatural, stuck in what she believed was a haunted house.  The irony wasn’t lost on her.  He was right, she was a rational woman. She knew she’d been able to write successful thrillers because she’d seen them as fun, and fun only.  She’d never believed one whit in the supernatural.  Did she do so now?  Of course not.  It was all too ridiculous.  Or was she, as she feared above all, experiencing some sort of mental or nervous breakdown?  This thought lurked in the back of her mind, threatening to overwhelm her.  She sat there pondering her situation all afternoon as the windows shivered and shook in the continuous wind, a wind that sounded ever more determined to hold her in the house till morning, at least.  

Even the kitchen, easily the brightest room in the house, began to darken late in the afternoon as the storm outside gathered strength.  Though she thought herself too tense to eat, Gwendolyn went ahead and reheated the soup she’d made and poured herself a glass of wine.   When she finished she busied herself by cleaning up, making the kitchen as spotless as when she’d first entered it two days ago.  But finally, as the shadows of afternoon gave way to the darkness of evening, she knew she had to make a decision.  Was she staying in this room all night, or was she going to face her fears and retreat to her bedroom to try and get some desperately needed sleep? 

She steeled herself, took a large gulp of tea and turned to stare at the closed door to the dining room.  All this simply had to be her imagination, overwrought by overuse and therefore unreliable.  Of course the mind can play incredible tricks, it was a plot point she’d often employed, for God’s sake.  She stood up, slammed her mug back down on the table, crossed the room to the dining room door and in one quick motion, threw it open.

The room was dark, the weak light of the day having left it completely now.  Her eyes traveled over the long flower-filled table, adjusting gradually to the darkness, pausing to rest on each chair in turn as they made their way to the painting.   She looked up and then froze, ice-still and stunned.   The young girl was gone. The dark blues that swirled on the painted curtain behind her were unchanged, as was the tapestry chair on which she’d sat.  But in her place, nothing but black.

Gwendolyn blinked, her heart racing.  And then she heard it.  Rising up from the very earth and falling from the ceilings.  Laughter.  High-pitched and cruel.  Laughter.  Without another thought save escape, Gwendolyn turned and ran through the kitchen to the back door, threw it open and fled outside into the driving rain, the horrifying laughter at her heels.

She ran without thought till she reached the stand of rough lichen-covered trees at the edge of the drive.  From here she could see the house, its tall windows dark as the eyes of the blind. The wind was roaring now.  It shook the trees under which she crouched.  And still she could hear the laughter flowing from the house, its intensity more than equal competition with the wind.  She wiped the rain from her eyes and stared up at the house.  There was nowhere to go, she knew that.  She was the only person on the island and would be till morning.   She would just shelter here as best she could, forever watching the house for any sign she was being searched out, and then follow the road back down to the dock at daybreak to wait for Henry.  If he didn’t come… she couldn’t think about that now.

She stared at the house barely blinking, her eyes stinging from the effort and the wind.  The laughter ebbed away after an hour, just as the crying had done the night before.  And then, as a flaming finger of lightning illuminated the roiling sky, she saw a flash of pink pass across an upstairs window.  Her eyes followed it, window by window, till it rested,  silhouetted in the center of the stained glass apostles on the landing.  Undeniable.  A pink-dressed figure stood there, staring out into the night, staring right at her.   The laughter rose again, louder than before, drowning out the wind, filling every knife-edged drop of rain that fell around her.  Frightened out of movement, out of thought, Gwendolyn watched in terror as the pink dress disappeared and reappeared in the dining room window.  It was coming for her.  She knew it.  She turned and ran, not seeing, not caring, just running for her very life.  She could hear the roar of the sea taking control, its power stronger and more ferocious than the haunted laughter behind her.  She ran towards it like an old friend.   
***

     On a cold early morning in November, Caroline Dunn turned her key in the lock of the grand old house on Cadogan Gardens and entered, grateful for the warmth that enveloped her immediately, a sure signal that her boss was already up and about his day. The fires were lit and burning brightly in every downstairs room. A faint fragrance of sausages, cinnamon and coffee wafted down the stairs from his rooms above, a cosy smell that mingled perfectly with the large vase of red and orange roses that sat in the entry hall, perfect echoes of the colours now worn on the trees lining the street outside. Miss Dunn thought to herself, and not for the first time, that there are worse places to work.

     She hung up her coat in the hall closet and went over to her desk.  Yes, he’d finished writing the press releases as she’d asked him to.  She’d go ahead and type them up and get them to the printer.  One less thing to do before she began preparations for lunch.  Mr.  Pepperidge was having a favourite guest for lunch today.  She picked up the press releases and read them over, unable to contain a smile…. 

Press Release

From the offices of Albert Pepperidge, Esq.:  It is with deep sadness and personal regret that I announce the death of famed horror novelist, Millicent Penfield, who passed from this life on October 31st whilst on holiday in the Hebrides.  Her marvelous books were a delight to many and hers is a great loss to readers everywhere, both here and around the world.  I am pleased to say that, in tribute to Miss Penfield and as a gift to her loyal readership,  her publisher, Billington Press, will be releasing a new leather-bound collection of her books in the coming months.

And on another note, I am also thrilled to announce that the eminent historical writer, Gwendolyn Sharp, is once again hard at work on what I’m sure will be an illuminating and definitive biography of the artistic Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll.   It should be released next autumn to what I’m sure will be ecstatic reviews from critics and readers alike.  I would like to personally congratulate Miss Sharp on what I know will be a phenomenal accomplishment.  

The End
and 
Happy Halloween!