Ghost Stories

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The Painting
Excerpt

CLAIRE
I was cold. I struggled up through a dream of long white corridors and breaking glass into my freezing bedroom, which was filled with the white light of the full moon. An icy Atlantic breeze inched its way through the gaps in the window frame and slithered around my bed.
I jumped up, ran to the trunk in the corner and hauled out a red woolen blanket. As I turned to get back in bed, the moon pulled at me, and I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders and sat down in the big stuffed armchair. The glowing disc of the moon spilled light in a wide path across the water.
The beacon from the lighthouse flashed over the silver sea, a steady rhythm, every five seconds. Like a heartbeat. Like a drum.
“Annie,” I whispered. “Where are you?”

ANNIE
The first time I had the dream was the night of Mom’s accident. The house was quiet. A stillness spread out from my parents’ room.
I lay there for a long time, listening. The curtains were open and a full, silvery moon shone in the window, as bright as a streetlight. Its beam fell on the painting of a Newfoundland lighthouse opposite my bed. It looked different than it did in daylight, transformed by the moonlight into black and white, with sharper outlines and deeper shadows.
A white seabird with black-tipped wings swooped across the dark clouds—I blinked. For just a second I thought I had actually seen the bird moving across the painted surface. I sat up. As I watched, another bird leaped forward and dived into the silver ocean with a splash.
“Annie!” called a faraway voice. I scrambled out of bed.
“Annie!” called the voice again. There was something familiar about it, but it wasn’t coming from downstairs, nor from my parents’ bedroom down the hall. I turned and stared at the painting. I took a step toward it. Now I could see more details: patches of wildflowers by the side of the road leading to the lighthouse, a few sheep grazing on the hill, lights glowing behind the windows of the keeper’s house.
Suddenly the blades of grass in the foreground trembled. A wave passed through the meadow grasses. Then another. I felt a gust of wind on my face, and a wild, unfamiliar smell filled the room. I could taste salt on my lips and I could hear the seabirds crying as they swooped across the sky.
“Annie!” cried the voice again. “Come!”
I took a step forward.
Then I was inside the painting, standing on the road to the lighthouse, with a surprised sheep raising its head to stare at me and the dark ocean stretching away as far as I could see.

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The Ghost Road
Excerpt

The ship was going down. There was a tremendous crack and sails fell to the deck, a mass of canvas and ropes. A broken boom swung wildly in the wind and the deck tilted to an impossible angle. People were shouting and screaming, and I felt myself sliding toward the water, grabbing at anything I could to stop myself. Then I heard my name, and I felt a strong hand grasp mine, and I looked up into my mother’s face.
“It’s okay, Ruthie,” she said, smiling in the midst of the rain and the wind and the chaotic, sinking ship. “I’ve got you.”
I jerked awake and sat up, gasping for breath. I felt the familiar pain in my chest that always came with this dream. My cheeks were wet with tears.
For some reason my room was pitch-black. Usually a sliver of light from the hall shows under my bedroom door, but Dad must have forgotten to turn on the hall light. I fumbled for my bedside lamp, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be.
Then I remembered. I wasn’t in my bedroom in Toronto, surrounded by houses full of sleeping people, parked cars and streetlights. I couldn’t call out to my father after a bad dream, because he and Gwen were in Greece. I was in Buckle, Newfoundland, at the end of the road, in the middle of nowhere. I was sleeping in the room my mother had slept in as a child, and my Aunt Doll was somewhere on the other side of the house. The side with electricity.
I lay back down in the bed, trying to get my breathing under control. I was still shaking from the dream, and I was afraid that if I closed my eyes, I’d be back on that sloping ship’s deck, sliding toward the black water. If only I could turn on a light, I could chase the dream away. Why was there no electricity in this part of the house? It was 1978! Everyone in Toronto had electricity all through their houses, not just on one side. What kind of a place was Newfoundland anyway?
What had Aunt Doll said to me about the light in this room? Last night was a jumble of impressions: stumbling half-asleep from the car in the dark after the long drive from St. John’s, climbing up the stairs, and walking along a hall, round a cornerand down a couple of steps into this room. Aunt Doll had an oil lamp she put on the tall dresser. She said she’d show me how to use it tomorrow.
So no light. I took deep breaths, the way Dad taught me. In and out. “Everything can be controlled, Ruthie,” he would say. “Just breathe.”
I’ve had recurring nightmares ever since I was a little kid. The shipwreck dream was one of the worst. Dad would always be there, as soon as I cried out, talking quietly to me. Telling me to breathe. To wake up. To look around and see my room, that it was only a dream.
Except now he was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean with Awful Gwen. And there was no light to turn on, and the dream was coming back: I could hear the creaking of the decks, the screams of the people drowning—no. I took another deep breath. I was safe in bed, and if I yelled loud enough, Aunt Doll would come. Or I could get up and find my way to her room and wake her up. I was fine. I breathed in and out.
But I could still hear the creaking of the ship. Wait—not the ship. Footsteps. Aunt Doll? Coming to check on me? But I remembered her firm footsteps from earlier in the night. These were quite different. Lighter. Quieter. Getting closer.
A faint glow appeared under the door, and then the door slowly opened.
I caught my breath. A girl in a long white nightgown tiptoed into the room, carrying a candle that skittled in the draft and threw strange shadows across her face. She placed the candle carefully on the bedside table. Then she turned and climbed into the bed opposite mine. She leaned toward the light and her long blonde hair swung forward. She looked into my eyes for a second, smiled, then blew out the candle.
I closed my eyes. A delicious feeling of calm spread over me. I wasn’t alone anymore. I could hear her breathing softly. In and out. In and out. I let my breath match hers. The shipwreck nightmare evaporated.
This must be my cousin Ruby. Aunt Doll said she was coming for the summer, but I didn’t realize it would be tonight. Time enough to meet her properly in the morning. The darkness closed around us and we slept.

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