The grandfather clock in the hall chimed two a.m. Having resumed her vantage point of the previous evening, Mary peered out onto the landing as she kneeled by the partially opened bedroom door. It was dark, but the the white of the snow outside offered enough reflected light for her to make out the two silhouettes of her uncles keeping their silent vigil at the great window halfway down the stairs. Nothing moved and all was still. Mary yawned and pulled the woollen shawl tighter around her shoulders. Here she was, kneeling on a cold, uncomfortable floor just a few yards away from a cosy bed. She must be mad!
Soon she began to feel drowsy, and had almost drifted into a doze when she was rudely jerked awake by the excited bark of her uncles voice!
"There Edwin! Look! There's a shadow moving along the wall!"
"Yes I see it! Oh my God!.... Oh no....!"
"A dog. It's a ruddy dog!."
"Sorry. It just seemed such a big shadow that's all."
"Well I'm going to bed Wilf! We've been here over four hours. I've had enough of Postlethwaite and his daft stories! Face it Wilf, we're not going to see a ghost!"
There was a moment of silence, then her uncles' low voice.
"I suppose you're right Edwin. Light the candle and we'll retire. It was a daft idea anyway."
Mary hurriedly closed her door as they passed, and then, when the coast was clear, slipped gingerly down the stairs, clambered onto the table, and, standing on the chair, assumed the vantage point so recently quitted by her uncle. She peered out into the yard. She could make out the stable and the line of sheds against the yard wall - middens and dry earth privies. At one point the troughing was smashed, and a swathe of long glistening icicles hung from the fractured iron. Mary started as she detected a sudden movement of shadow in the snow - then sighed in exasperation. Her uncles had been right - there was a 'ruddy dog'.
It had stopped snowing now and a raw wind was driving scudding black clouds across the sky. In the occasional gaps in this sombre fabric she could make out the twinkling of stars, and the faint glow of moonlight. Mary stood there for some time leaning on the windowframe. She sighed. There wasn't going to be any ghost - she was daft for even thinking there might be. The full moon suddenly appeared from behind a cloud illuminating the snow filled yard in its bright glow. Nothing. Waste of time. Mary turned around and began to clamber back down onto the landing. As she did so, something below her caught her eye. In the moonlit hall at the bottom of the staircase, outlined against the white front door was the blurred, shimmering, yet unmistakable outline of a human figure.
For what seemed like an eternity Mary stood transfixed with fright, but then, plucking up her courage in both hands, she spoke in a hoarse whisper. "Who are you? What do you want?" There was no reply, only silence save for the gentle ticking of the hall clock. The faint, red coated form just hung there, motionless. A sudden pattering noise made her start in terror, but it was only a rattle of hailstones on the the windowpanes. Mary turned once more to face her strange visitant, only to find he had vanished. There was nothing but a deserted staircase and an empty hall.
Mary stood there for some time, deciding what to do next. Finally she descended the staircase and crossed the hall to the front door. It was firmly locked. As she turned and retraced her route to the foot of the stairs, an unaccountable instinct made her glance over her shoulder. Then she felt her heart pounding in her breast. The apparition had reappeared a mere few yards away and was staring directly at her. She stood there a moment, poised to run, but then, as the strange visitor began to focus more in her mind, her fear began to drain away. Slowly, ever so slowly, she edged closer, but there was no response from the strange phantasm. It just hung there, unmoving, outlined against the white of the front door. Then slowly, it began to fade away. As it did so, Mary in half-realisation spun round and looked up at the central circular light of the great window - just in time to see the moon disappear behind a dark cloud.
Her fears vanished beneath the sudden rush of exhilaration that comes with understanding. Here was the ghost of Parkfield House - not a supernatural entity, but a mere projection caused by moonlight shining through the stained glass of the great window! Her uncles had got the wrong end of the stick. The ghost did not appear in the backyard but in the house.
Newly inspired, a now confident Mary sat at the bottom of the staircase and waited for the moon to reappear. Sure enough, after about ten minutes the clouds parted, and as the moon materialized, so did the 'apparition' on the inside of the front door. She ambled across the hall and examined it at close quarters. It was a blurred, red coated human shape, a cunningly contrived magic lantern show - a trick of the light. There was nothing in the stained glass of the great window to suggest a human form, but here was Captain Thompson, projected onto the white paintwork. There was no doubt that the window had been deliberately constructed to create this frightening effect. It was an ingenious contrivance.
But there was more. As Mary edged closer, she could make out a geometrical silhouette, a grid of shadows. Six coloured squares corresponding to the bottom six panes of the great window, and in the corner of each, a tiny black roman numeral. Also, shining like a halo around the figure's head she could make out the faint projection of two words in a strange, sinuous script. But even as she began to take it in the image began to fade. Bother! Mary hurried into her father's study and returned with pen, ink and paper, but it was too late- the apparition had gone. It was no good - she would have to wait it out. It was almost an hour later when the moon re-appeared again, and this time the image was so faint as to be hardly legible, but Mary wrote down what she imagined the numbers and letters to be, folded the paper neatly, and after disposing of the pen and ink, tiptoed wearily up to bed.
Next morning a haggard and pale looking Mary shambled down to the breakfast table, and an hour later earned an angry rebuke from her father for falling asleep during Holy Communion. She was kept well occupied for the rest of the day, and it wasn't until after dinner that she was able to sneak back into her room and examine the information she had gleaned the night before. On her way up she examined the window. It was amazing. There was nothing at all to suggest the strange figure she had seen projected onto the front door the previous night. Certainly the colours were there, but the whole thing merely seemed like an abstract pattern when viewed in the sober light of day. She examined the bottom six panes. Yes, if you looked very hard you could faintly make out the numerals - but they were the wrong way round, and if viewed from the outside, the height of the window above the ground plus the reflection of daylight on the glass would make them virtually invisible, assuming that is, you were looking for them in the first place! As for the strange letters, they were lost in the oddly patterned glass.
Mary opened her drawer and pulled out the paper. She unfolded it, spread it out on the bedcovers and examined it carefully. What could it mean?
Ρ Ω Υ Α U Μ Ε
j ωσ ε π h
i II iii vi V IV
She lay there for some time on the bed, trying to decipher the strange writing, but it was no good. The whole thing seemed quite impenetrable. She would have to consult her father. He might have some idea. But then again he would certainly start asking awkward questions. And what about her uncles? If they got any inkling of what she had found, the whole thing would almost certainly be snatched from her grasp. It was no good, she would have to be discreet. She lay there for some time trying to formulate a plan of action, but no way forward came into her mind. In the end, the adventures of the previous night caught up with her, and she drifted off into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.
copyright © Jim Jarratt 2007