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Archive for July, 2011

Fantasia: Rain

Darkness walks down the stairs with me tonight
barefoot, faltering on the wooden floor,
lightning
bleaching every window.

Flinching from a flashbulb blinding
my eyes go white
momentarily;
instant cataracts dissolving slowly to blue.

I stumble over shapes
as thunder hammers a ring
around the hills; great tenpin clatter and thump
knocking the silence awry

as the wind rises up singing,
calling, calling,
beckoning, belling out skirts of willow
come rain

come dance with me.

come muddy the fierce clay
baked hard as brick

come kiss the flowers
loathing the sun’s kiss

drooping in despair
at the brassy sky’s caress

come turn and sway: in exultation
you and I will seduce new greening

from the weary ground.
come dance, sweet lover,

come dance with me.

the stairs negotiated
one last blue-white dazzle
frightening the dark into sudden retreat
the door opens with a cavalier flourish

Now I can slip out into the world of storm,
turning in a laughing pirouette,
arms open to the sky,
the wind sighing a blessing

upon the dark,
no longer fearful,
walking with me tonight
out into the rain.

Poem copyright 2011 by Faire Lewis.

Fantasia (n.): a free [musical] composition structured according to the composer’s fancy.

Well.

Why not to the poet’s, too? 😉

And yes, we could use rain here in Knobite Corner. Another title could be “Invocation: Rain”.

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Rhett Butler, Huh?

I found this picture at the icanhascheezburger site ages ago, and could never resist it because it reminds me of a ghost story from Robin Mead’s 1995 book Haunted Hotels: A Guide to American and Canadian Inns and Their Ghosts.

I freely admit, I’ve never been much of a fan of Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With the Wind (1936)–except, of course, for that irrepressible Charleston-born rogue Rhett Butler, which may owe more to Clark Gable’s characterization of him in the 1939 movie than to the book.

There was at the time Mead published his book–and may be yet; the most recent reference I could find to the place online (without more extensive digging) was dated 1998–a bed and breakfast in Concord, Georgia, called Inn Scarlett’s Footsteps. Its owners, K.C. and Vern Bassham, had refurbished an antebellum mansion that looked very much like Tara from the movie in antebellum style. According to Mead, the bedrooms were named after characters from the book: Scarlett, Rhett, Melanie, Ashley, and Mr. Gerald.

And one elderly lady who stayed in Rhett’s room, says Mead, swore up and down that Rhett–that bad boy!–appeared in the room during a party, smoking a large cigar in defiance of the inn’s no-smoking policy. Moreover, he kissed her on the cheek.

Rhett Butler, mind. Not Clark Gable–Rhett Butler.

Hard to swallow–a fictional character, rather than the actor who brought him to life, haunting a themed inn.

But that’s how the story goes– (^_^)

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Black Cat

A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is, in fact, going somewhere.~~Unknown

darker than the dark

a shadow
spits
pinpoints of fire
at the moon

an electric cataclysm:

a prism of anthracite

a pirate’s stash
set on a blackened stump

Poem copyright 2005 by Faire Lewis.

Thanks for finding the quote, Amanda! 😉

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Walking for Justice

In any legal system, no matter how hard the prosecution and defense attorneys try, there will be miscarriages of justice, all the more bitter in cases of murder. Weak evidence, a witness whose truthfulness, character or occupation seem less than sterling, a single juror who doesn’t grasp the niceties of the difference between “reasonable doubt” and “beyond a shadow of a doubt”, one single, almost throwaway, contradiction of the victim’s known habits–all can bring a verdict that the public finds unacceptable, and shouts and mutterings of a miscarriage of justice, of jury tampering, or misconduct by one side or the other will forever break out at the mere mention of the case.

This ghost story, from the Scottish Highlands, tells of one such injustice–and of the single curious piece of testimony that brought it about.

Sergeant Arthur Davies was an Englishman, newly married, when, in 1749, he was posted to the Highlands of Scotland during the Crown’s attempt to break the will of the clans following the final attempt to restore the royal House of Stuart to the British throne–that doomed rising remembered in history as “the ’45” that ended when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s supporters died by the thousands at Culloden.

The “bluidy Sassenachs” as Scots called the occupying troops, were almost universally despised. Davies was an exception; he was one of those men born to be liked even by his enemies, polite, friendly, honest, fond of children and animals. Although he never learned to speak Scots Gaelic, he soon learned to understand the lilt with which Highlanders spoke English, and they his middle-class Sassenach accent. He got on quite well with the vanquished Scots.

Unfortunately, Davies was also rather conspicuously well-to-do, at least to the eyes of the clans left crushed by deaths and heavy fines following the ’45. He wore a fine silver watch, two gold rings–one of which was instantly recognizable for its odd design–, silver buckles on knee breeches and shoes, and silver buttons on his coat.

Sergeant Davies was last seen alive on September 28, 1749. He and four troopers had been out on patrol when Davies struck out on his own, hoping to bag himself a Highland stag. He promised to rendezvous with them at a set point on their patrol, within a set time. He never made it to that meeting.

For three days, the British troops waited to see if Davies would return on his own, with some tale of being lost in fog, or injured in a fall, or laughingly carrying the stag he sought over his shoulders. On the fourth day they mounted a search and began questioning the Highlanders as to his whereabouts. They got no answers; the Highlanders appeared as clueless as themselves.

Nine months passed. Sergeant Davies’ bride, scarcely a wife before she was a widow, gave up hope of ever finding her husband alive and returned to her family in England. The rooms they had occupied, in a house owned by Michael Farquharson, one of the the local magistrates, were let to the sergeant sent to replace Davies, and the nine days’ wonder of Davies’ disappearance died away.

In June of 1750, a man named Alexander MacPherson came to call on Michael Farquharson. Farquharson was away on business, and so it fell to his son Donald to talk to MacPherson, who seemed frightened half witless.

MacPherson lived in a shepherd’s hut in the hills. He confided to young Farquharson that he had been visited, almost nightly, by the ghost of Sergeant Davies. MacPherson had known Davies in life, and said he looked much as he always had, but for a sad, troubled look on his face. Davies, he said, repeatedly told him that he had been murdered for his silver watch and gold rings and some guineas in his purse, and named his murderers as two local men, Duncan Clerk and Alexander Bain MacDonald.

MacPherson also claimed that Davies had told him that his body was buried in peat moss, a scant half-mile from where he left the troopers that September morning. He wailed, said MacPherson, Bury my bones! BURY MY BONES! until MacPherson was half-mad with fear. He told the ghost he was afraid and would not go seek the bones, lest he be accused of the murder himself, whereupon Davies, with an angry frown, told him to go to the Farquharsons, his former landlords, and tell them to find and bury him.

Donald Farquharson, Highlander though he was, was not impressed with this ghostly tale, and said so. However, to satisfy MacPherson, he agreed to go with him to the spot indicated by Davies’ spirit. They dug down only a few inches before they found a body still recognizable as Davies’, stripped of all the gold and silver he had worn.

The two dug a proper grave for Davies, laying him to rest and reciting a service of prayer and committal over him. They took his clothes back with them as evidence.

Strangely, no legal action was taken in Davies’ murder until 1754. His widow returned to identify the clothing taken from the sad body found in the peat bog as her husband’s. The testimony of several people proved that the wife of Duncan Clerk, named by the ghost as one of the killers, had been wearing that curious ring Davies had owned for some years now.

Alexander MacPherson was the prosecution’s star witness. In the four years since he had come, terrified, to Donald Farquharson with his story of ghostly visitations, that story had changed considerably. Now he deposed that he had seen the ghost only once, sometime in mid-May of 1750, at which time he had indeed gone out and found the bones himself, before talking to Farquharson. On his way home, after finding the bones, he had run into a man named Growar–a name never mentioned by the ghost–who had threatened MacPherson with exposure to the magistrate if MacPherson didn’t keep quiet about his grisly find. MacPherson said he had gone to the magistrate–not Michael Farquharson, but another named Shaw–and was told to keep quiet about the murder of Davies, lest the district get a reputation for harboring rebels. (Shaw seemed to think the two named killers were, far from merely committing robbery, up to some Jacobite plotting or other, and killed Davies because he ran up on them while they were plotting.)

During cross-examination, counsel for Clerk and MacDonald asked a seemingly innocent question: What language did the spirit of Sergeant Davies use when he spoke to you?

MacPherson replied dramatically that the ghost spoke as good Gaelic as I do myself.

And, despite further testimony that supported both MacPherson’s story and the guilt of Clerk and MacDonald, the jury brought back a verdict of not guilty.

For, the defense pointed out in closing, Arthur Davies had never learned to speak Gaelic.

That Clerk and MacDonald were guilty of murdering Davies, there cannot be much doubt, as attested to by several witnesses at their trial.

The defense, though, seized upon a single contradiction–he spoke as good a Gaelic as I do myself and created just enough reasonable doubt to convince twelve men to bring in an acquittal.

They say that, to this day, Sergeant Davies’ ghost still walks the Highlands. His body was never properly interred in a kirkyard; it still lies in the grave dug by Farquharson and MacPherson after they retrieved his pitiful remains from the peat. Worse yet, his killers became prosperous men off the gold and silver for which they killed him.

Somewhere out there, Sergeant Davies is still looking for justice. At this late date, it’s unlikely he’ll get it.

The story of Sergeant Davies is told by Michael and Mollie Hardwick in John Canning’s 50 Great Ghost Stories (1971) and by Dane Love in Scottish Ghosts (1995).

This story is very similar, by the way, to the West Virginia tale of the Greenbrier Ghost, but with a far less satisfactory outcome.

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Now for a ghost whose kiss burned the cheek of the man she kissed. . .

In Scotland’s Glen Lyon valley, in Perthshire, there stands Meggernie Castle. Originally a holding of Clan MacGregor, it was taken from them by attainder around the time of the first Jacobite uprising in 1689, at which time it was handed over by the British crown to Clan Menzies, who held it until 1776. Thereafter, it passed through various families. In 1862, it was owned by an English couple surnamed Wood.

Wood and his wife were hospitable folk, who loved nothing more than having a houseful of guests. To one such Victorian house party, in 1862, they invited two friends, strangers to each other, named E.J. Simons and Beaumont Featherstone. So full was the house at the time that Simons and Featherstone were assigned single, seldom-used rooms in Meggernie’s square tower, in the oldest part of the castle.

Simons and Featherstone, almost immediately, noticed something odd about their tower rooms: they were separated by a blocked door. In Featherstone’s room, there was a small space that looked as if it might have been a closet, deep in the wall. On Simons’ side, this space behind that odd door was blocked off.

Strange, indeed, but the two shrugged their shoulders, bid each other good night, and went to sleep.

Simons was awakened, sometime in the wee hours, by what he would later describe as–something–that felt like a branding iron touching his cheek. Oh, how it burned–almost, he thought, to the bone! Fully awake now, he leaped out of bed just in time to see a strange sight: the upper half of a woman’s body, disappearing through the blocked door into Featherstone’s room.

Simons lit a candle and first examined his still-burning cheek in the mirror–to find that whatever had touched him had left no mark. He spent the rest of the night wide awake, turning the incident over and over in his mind, slowly admitting that he had just had a brush with the supernatural.

In the morning, he and Featherstone compared notes, and agreed: they had both seen the upper half of a woman’s body, floating through the air.

Featherstone had been awakened, not by a burning touch, but by a sudden pinkish light that lit up the whole room. He sat up to find a woman standing at the foot of his bed. Thinking she might be a sleepwalking houseguest or one of the Woods’ servants, he hesitated to take action.

The woman floated to the side of his bed, and as she came level with him began to lean toward him. Featherstone, startled, jumped a little, and the woman backed away from him, turned and vanished into that odd closet. Only then did he notice that she appeared only from the waist up.

The two shared their experiences with Wood and his wife, who took great interest. It seemed that they had been receiving complaints from their servants about the lower half of a woman’s body walking in one of the corridors leading out of the tower. One servant in particular, a housemaid who had told Mrs. Wood what she had seen and given her four minutes’ notice before leaving the house in an uproar, said that the legs were concealed by a skirt, but that there was a copious amount of blood where the waist should have been.

So. Meggernie Castle was haunted by two halves of a ghost; the upper half seemed to confine its movements to the two bedrooms adjoining the blocked-off closet and some of the adjoining corridors, while the lower half had been seen in the corridors and even outside the castle, in an alley of lime trees and in the old castle graveyard. Wood and his wife, oddly, had never seen either half.

Simons and Featherstone were moved out of the tower rooms that very day, to rooms vacated by departing guests. Featherstone left a few days later, still puzzled by his encounter. Simons stayed on a couple of weeks, and was, by careful questioning of the locals, able to piece together a truly horrifying story explaining the haunting.

One of the chiefs of Clan Menzies, during their tenure as owners of Meggernie, had been married to a breathtakingly beautiful woman, and like many a man so wed, he was pathologically jealous, constantly accusing her of infidelity with visitors to the castle. She was guilty of no such thing–although, given the tenor of the hauntings, she may have been somewhat of a flirt–, but he could not be convinced otherwise. During one of his insane tirades, he hit her so hard she fell against a bedstead and died of a fractured skull on the spot.

That spot, incidentally, had been in the tower room where she had almost kissed Beaumont Featherstone.

The Menzies, a coward as well as an abusive jerk, set out to cover his tracks as best he could. In the closet between the two rooms, there stood, in his day, an immense chest of drawers. He first hid her body in that chest, although, to do so, he had to cut his wife’s body in half at the waist. He then nailed up the door to the room Simons had occupied, locked the one on Featherstone’s side, then locked up both rooms from the corridor.

He gave out a story that he and his wife were going on a trip, to visit relatives and possibly on to the continent, sent the servants home on board wages, and pulled off a successful getaway, driving the coach himself. The servants, already gone to their homes, didn’t see that he left alone.

He remained away for several months, and when he returned, gave out another story: that his wife had drowned while boating in Italy, and her body never recovered. He accepted the condolences of neighbors and servants alike as a bereaved husband ought.

He decided, though, that he had to make a more permanent disposal of those grisly remains in the tower chest of drawers. He had to get drunk to nerve himself to do so, and at that only managed to remove and bury the putrid lower limbs in a hastily dug hole in the graveyard.

The next night, he got drunk again and made preparations to move the upper half of her body, as vile in its decomposition as had been the lower. He wasn’t so drunk that he could ignore the stench and oiliness of the remains, though, and he couldn’t bring himself to pick it up and haul it to its hole in the graveyard.

He happened, as he backed away in repulsion from the chest, to tread on a loose floorboard, and that gave him an idea. He peeled back the carpet, lifted the broad board, and found that there was enough of a cavity beneath the floor to conceal his wife’s torso. He thrust the stinking remains into the cavity, replaced the floorboard and carpet, and turned to leave.

He never made it out the door.

No one knows the name of the man who confronted Menzies–possibly one who had been in love with the lovely wife and unconvinced by Menzies’ tale of her death in Italy–in that ghastly room. They do know that Menzies apparently rushed him but was cut down by a blade through his heart. The servants found Menzies dead in a pool of blood the next morning, and no sign of his killer.

For some reason, no search was conducted, at that time, in the tower room for the remains under the floorboards of that second bedroom, so that tradition said Mrs. Menzies’ upper half still lay there, while her lower half lay in the graveyard nearby–and each half haunted different areas: the upper, the rooms and corridors around which she died, and the lower, the corridors, lime alley and graveyard through which her husband carried it.

Simons saw her ghost again before he left Meggernie: the upper half, passing by the library, then looking in through a glass panel in the corridor, where once had been a window. He was taken aback by the beauty of her face, and the sorrow in her eyes.

The torso was finally located and removed during renovations in the late nineteenth century, but reports say that sightings of either half continued for some years, the last dating to 1928. Again, the upper half-ghost was seen, in a room just below the one in which Beaumont Featherstone had stayed on that eventful night in 1862. That time, she did not kiss the young doctor who occupied the room; he merely saw her in a halo of pink light, and then she vanished.

The castle remains troubled by strange noises that have no source, however, right up until the present day.

For more about the Ghost in Two Halves, I recommend the following sources:

Ronald Seth, “The Ghost in Two Halves”, in 50 Great Ghost Stories, edited by John Canning (1971)

Dane Love, Scottish Ghosts (1995)

Lily Seafield, Ghostly Scotland (2006).

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Off the top of my head, I can think of two stories of ghostly kisses. In one story, the kiss is described as “burning”. In the other, they’re cold as ice.

Renishaw Hall, in Derbyshire, UK, is best known nowadays as the family home of that marvelous family of writers/eccentrics: Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell. They all left the Hall in their adult lives to set up housekeeping in other places–one of them as far away as Canada. Some think they did so because the old Hall, an outstandingly gloomy place built in the first quarter of the seventeenth century, was haunted from top to bottom–and, most particularly so, a bedroom at the top of the grand central staircase.

In 1885, a Miss Tait, said to have been a daughter of the contemporary Archbishop of Canterbury, came for an overnight visit with her friend Miss Sitwell–the sister of Sir George, the eccentric father of Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell–and was given the bedroom at the top of the stairs. The next morning, she reported to Miss Sitwell that she had had a disturbed night. Miss Tait deposed that she had been awakened from a sound sleep, sometime in the wee hours, by three kisses, placed on her cheek by a pair of icy-cold lips. Although she immediately lit a candle and checked the room, she was alone; nor had she heard the door open and close as it would if someone living had entered from the hall.

Miss Sitwell considerately moved her guest to another room, explaining in passing that she wouldn’t sleep herself in that room at the top of the stairs. Some years earlier, she said, she too had been wakened from sleep in that room by three cold kisses, to find herself alone.

Nor were Miss Tait and Miss Sitwell the only ones to experience this phenomenon. Shortly after Miss Tait’s frightening night, Sir George’s estate agent, Mr. Turnbull, came on business. He and Sir George, after settling their concerns, drifted into general conversation, and Sir George laughingly told the agent about the fright Miss Tait had gotten. Far from laughing, Mr. Turnbull was interested and startled. He reminded Sir George that, some twenty years before, before Sir George and Lady Sitwell had officially moved into the Hall, Sir George had graciously allowed Turnbull and his new bride to spend their honeymoon there. During that month, a friend of Mrs. Turnbull’s had come for a visit, and had spent the night in the room at the top of the stairs. She had emerged in the morning, badly frightened, complaining of having been awakened in the night by three cold kisses, and had left that day, too afraid to remain longer.

Some years after Miss Tait’s experience, Sir George began a remodeling project. He wanted to make that central staircase even grander than it was already. To do so, workmen had to tear out two rooms, one on the ground floor and the other the infamous bedroom on the first floor. One day, as they were tearing out the bedroom, the workmen summoned Sir George; they had made a curious discovery under the floor.

Between the floor joists, they had found a coffin.

Judging by its workmanship, the coffin had been built sometime in the seventeenth century, in the Hall’s early years. It was fitted to the joists with iron clamps, and appeared never to have had a lid; the floorboards had simply been laid over it. And though there was no body in it then, there was signs that, at some time, there had been one entombed in it.

The coffin, and what it had once contained, may have been the key to the haunting of that bedroom. The Sitwells never knew for certain; no family records were ever found to explain why, centuries before, a body had been laid beneath the floor.

I first read the story of the Kissing Ghost of Renishaw Hall many, many years ago in a Ripley’s Believe It. . .or Not! anthology, in which it was suggested that the spirit haunting the bedroom at the top of the stairs was that of an eighteenth century orphan called Henry Sacheverell, murdered for an inheritance by earlier owners of Renishaw Hall. Perhaps, it was hinted, he was hoping to find someone who would comfort him and, perhaps, send him on his way to the afterlife. If so, he failed, succeeding only in frightening at least three women who stayed in that room.

Alas, that anthology went missing many years ago. . .

For more about the Renishaw Coffin–and other stories of hauntings at Renishaw Hall–check out the following:

Terence Whitaker, Haunted England: Royal Spirits, Castle Ghosts, Phantom Coaches and Wailing Ghouls (1987)

and Sarah Hapgood, 500 British Ghosts & Hauntings (1993).

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There are many stories about flowers that mysteriously appear on certain graves. I’ve done one or two myself, and have read and wondered over many more. None of the stories I’ve come across, though, have quite the poignancy and sorrow of the flowers that, for many years, adorned the grave of a Devon girl named Kitty Jay–an expression, it seems, of the kindness of strangers.

Kitty Jay had been dead a century or more, and buried twice, before compassionate hands adorned her grave with fresh flowers.

Kitty, so the story goes, was an orphan girl, living in a workhouse on Dartmoor, that vast mire that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s spookiest work, The Hound of the Baskervilles. A workhouse was not a place where a child could expect a loving hand to raise them; they were harsh places, where children and adults alike were inadequately fed, clothed, overworked at menial tasks, and denied education.

It’s no wonder, then, that when Kitty grew to young womanhood, she fell into the deceitful clasp of a man who, at first, said he loved her. That Kitty loved him–the first person ever to show her anything like loving kindness–is certain. She gave him her heart, soul, and virginity. He hadn’t wanted any of those things, save her maidenhead, and eventually, he left her, alone in the world, possibly with his child on the way–good enough to seduce, but not good enough to marry, like many another dowerless girl.

Kitty, in despair, took her own life by hanging. In those days, suicides were not buried, ever, in holy ground. She was buried at a crossroads with a stake through her heart; superstition dictated that this must be done, to stop her ghost from walking.

And so she lay for many, many years, her grave unmarked at the crossroads but nonetheless remembered by the folk around. In 1860, though, her grave was opened and her body exhumed, to be buried anew on a road between Heatree Cross and Hound Tor. This grave was covered in sod, raised above the ground surrounding it, and marked with a stone.

The morning after her burial, fresh flowers appeared on the grave, placed there by some anonymous hand. They say that, every day–even in the snows of winter–for many years, fresh flowers were placed on Kitty’s grave. Most oddly, no footprints were ever found around the spot, in mud, dust or snow; yet there the flowers were.

It has been many years now since the last fresh flowers appeared on Kitty’s grave, but there have been frequent reports of late years that a ghostly female figure, which appears to have no feet, has been seen hovering over the gravesite. Whether this sad spirit is that of Kitty herself, or of the kind soul who placed flowers, sunshine or snow, for so long, no one knows.

The story of the flowers on Kitty Jay’s grave comes from Richard Jones’s 2002 book Haunted Britain and Ireland.

For what it’s worth, my favorite story of flowers placed by no known hand on a grave comes from, of all places, the Tower of London. It’s said that for many many years, on May 19th–the anniversary of her execution in 1536–two dozen red roses have been found on the grave of Anne Boleyn, who was bundled under the floor of the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula after her execution. Allegedly, no one has ever been seen placing the flowers there, and only her grave is so adorned, although one other of Henry VIII’s wives–Anne’s much younger cousin, Catherine Howard, executed in 1542–is entombed nearby.

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