“Katie where are you?” called Julie. She had only turned her back for a moment, this place is enormous, the perfect setting for my ghost story.
Julie had confronted Sam after finding a very explicit message on his phone from someone called Fran, following a blazing row her husband admitted he had been seeing the woman, who worked for him.
Julie unceremoniously snatched up their daughter Katie and decamped to her mother’s home. They had received a warm welcome but Julie found it a bit of a strain living there, the flat was very small and she felt it was not fair on her mother.
Her best friend Sally offered to put her up while her solicitor worked on getting her very recalcitrant husband out of the family home (he had cancelled all the credit cards after she left and Julie had little money of her own.) and was on the verge of accepting when an acquaintance of her mother’s asked if Julie would like to house-sit while she was in Canada. Miss Kitteridge was eccentric and slightly older than her mother but she did have a large house in the country, all Julie had to do was live there for a month while she was away but she was given strict instructions not to let Katie go into the old nursery.
“Katie!” she called again then hearing giggling coming from above rushed upstairs to see the nursery door ajar, hearing Katie inside the room talking to someone Julie pushed the door wide to see her sat on the floor, surrounded by dolls and teddies. “Katie! Mummy told you not to come in here didn’t she, don’t come upstairs without me again!”
Katie’s bottom lip trembled. “Annie said it was alright.”
“Annie’s my friend.” Katie started crying.
“I’m sorry, come on poppet.” Julie picked her up and after taking her back downstairs to watch CBBC quickly returned to the nursery to return the toys to their shelves, they were all very old and probably worth a small fortune. One doll in particular caught her eye, it was almost child sized with a pale porcelain face which made Julie shudder. “You’re definitely going to be the possessed doll in my story.” she had decided to start writing at last. “Who knows, you might make me famous?”
“Can I play with Annie again?” asked Katie next day.
“Who is Annie darling?”
“My friend, she plays with me.”
“Where is she?”
“She lives in the house, grownups can’t play with her.”
“She obviously has an invisible friend dear.” said her mother over the phone. “I remember you had one at her age, it was a puppy called Albert, don’t worry so.”
“He’ll use it against me he’ll say I’m not a good mother and not fit to bring up a daughter I know he will!”
“Shh dear no-one’s going to tell him and he doesn’t know where you are, just treat this a holiday and relax.”
Easy for you to say, Julie put her phone down and picked up her attempt at writing where she had left off. She was reaching for her wineglass when a noise caught her attention was Katie up?
Thinking she had caught a fleeting glimpse of a small figure in the hall she went to look and finding nothing thought, this place is starting to freak me out.
Next morning as she prepared breakfast in the huge kitchen, Katie who was eating her cereal with a fork (and why not?) piped up. “Annie came down to look at you last night and she thinks you look nice.”
“You did come down last night didn’t you?”
“No mummy, it was Annie.” the girl replied shaking her head.
“Oh alright.” if it kept her daughter happy why spoil it? “Look don’t run around at night sweetie, play with Annie in your room.”
Sam phoned that night saying he was sorry for being so difficult and wondered if they could get back together, Julie was having none of it and angrily asked if his tart had dumped him. After suggesting he screw himself she hung up and drank a full bottle of Zinfandel before retiring to bed to fall into a deep slumber.
She woke in the early hours to the sound of laughing in her daughter’s room. “Katie you should be asleep!” Julie shouted, her head throbbing. Someone ran past her door. “Katie you little monkey, get back to your room!” Julie jumped out of bed to stagger unsteadily along the landing in the direction of the footsteps. Sure enough the nursery door was open. “Katie what did I tell you!” she turned on the light to see…
Absolutely nothing, all the toys were exactly where she had put them the other day including the creepy doll.
“I’m in here mummy!” Katie’s voice rang petulantly from her room.
“Oh I’m sorry poppet mummy must have had a bad dream.” Or a bad bottle of wine more like. She tucked her daughter in and watched her fall asleep before sitting wearily in the chair next to her bed to follow her daughter to the land of dreams.
The days went smoothly by Julie divided her time between chasing her solicitor, Sam had become suddenly amenable and was no longer objecting to the divorce (even forwarding money to her for Katie’s upkeep) and writing her ghost story set in a house rather like the one they were staying in, only spooky. It was odd that despite the strange noises that could be heard at night (which she put down to the pipes and floorboards relaxing) the house felt welcoming and anything but spooky. Sally came round to stay and they got roaring drunk then her friend made a clumsy pass at her, Julie always suspected Sally was gay and after telling her she was flattered she politely refused. Come the morning she told her sober and embarrassed friend she would still happily stay with her if the offer stood.
They had just a week left and as she closed the nursery door for the second time that morning Julie realised her daughter hadn’t been upstairs since breakfast, cautiously opening it she peered around and again everything was where it should be.
It was pouring with rain the night her mother rang in a state of panic, Sam had come round forcing his way in demanding to know where his daughter was, Mrs Patel her neighbour on hearing the ruckus had sent her husband round to help Sam on his way. After the altercation her mother realised Julie’s husband had taken a letter from her sideboard, one she was supposed to forward to Julie’s solicitor, one that had Miss Kitteridge’s address on it.
Julie realised with apprehension that Sam’s rage was building and would eventually get the better of him as it several times before.
He turned up twenty minutes later hammering on the door.
When the arguing started downstairs Annie came running into Katie’s room and jumped into the bed holding the little girl tightly, comforting her until the shouting died down. She slipped quickly under the bed as Julie, sporting a black eye came in to check her daughter was alright.
“It’s alright poppet.” said Julie in a shaky voice while hugging her daughter. “Daddy and mummy just had a few silly words, you can go back to sleep now.” she looked out of the window, his car was still outside engine running, she had thought it was too good to be true when he had left so easily. She turned quickly on hearing tiny footsteps behind her but saw nothing, then the front door opened, oh god he’s come back! Julie was frantically searching her daughter’s room for something to use as a weapon when she heard his car roar away from the house…
Julie rang her mother who in turn phoned the police even though she begged her not to and now she sat poker in one hand and a glass in the other. Looking at the dwindling bottle of vodka in front of her and thinking, he’s violent and I’m drinking, just like old times! She jumped at the sound of knocking but felt relieved at seeing the blue lights flashing behind the frosted window in the front door and upon opening it Julie saw two policemen standing in the driving rain.
“Are you Mrs Julie Ferris?” asked an officer looking curiously at her black eye…
On their way to visit her the patrol had found the wrecked car, Sam was dead, he had turned round and was on his way back when it seemed he had lost control leaving the road to hit the tree at speed. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and the airbags had failed to operate.
Her solicitor informed her that since they were still married she was the beneficiary of his estate but there was a lot of legal red tape to sort out. I’ll bet thought Julie, both of you leeches will want your pound of flesh first. She was sad Katie’s dad had died but realised she would get over it sooner than later and she would here stay until the owner returned.
When Miss Kitteridge arrived back from her sisters in Toronto she consoled Julie and made a fuss of Katie presenting her with a huge teddy bear dressed as a Mountie.
“I’m afraid Katie did go in the nursery just the once.” confessed Julie.
“Oh well I suppose that would be alright just the once. Has little Katie been alright… I mean apart from that business with your husband?”
“Yes, little kids seem to take things in their stride, you know she thinks someone called Annie lives here, it’s her imaginary friend.”
“Oh!” Mrs Kitteridge’s eyes widened. “I used to have a secret friend called that when I was a little girl.” she seemed a little surprised.
“Funny that, mine was a puppy called Albert.” Julie replied.
“Well I mustn’t keep you dear.” she seemed eager for them to leave.
“Yes, I’ve a lot to do, thank you for letting me stay here.” Bet you want to check we haven’t broken anything.
After saying their farewells Mrs Kitteridge went inside quickly while Julie strapped Katie into the safety seat.
The little girl was waving enthusiastically. “Are you waving bye-bye to the house?” asked her mother.
“No, to Annie, look!” to humour her daughter Julie turned to where she was pointing and froze in horror, a face at the nursery window had pulled away just too late and she had recognised it, it was the creepy doll, the one she had joked was possessed!
“Annie was very cross at Daddy for being so horrible to you so she got in his car and made it crash.” Katie announced brightly.