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Haught Halloween

Chapter Text

Nicole stared at the large white envelope in her hand, a postmark indicating it had been sent from the UK. It had arrived. She was going to England.

She opened the envelope. Travel documents confirming the trip. A small card attached by paperclip in the top left corner. An invitation:

You are cordially invited to Wymering Manor
(One of England’s most haunted houses)

October 31st 2019 - 9pm onwards.

Bring a torch…!

Nicole had been fascinated in the supernatural since ever she could remember. Anything where ghosts were involved. She couldn’t explain why. Something drew her. Kept her hooked. Her parents had been worried initially about her obsession with all things spooky, before deciding it was easier to indulge than deny, allowing Nicole to paint her bedroom black, collect skulls.

As an adult she joined groups visiting haunted American buildings. It was her passion. She was convinced she had seen a ghost once. A drop in temperature. A child’s laugh. Something moving out of the corner of her eye. A shadow. Gone in an instant. She thought she would be scared. She wasn’t. She was exhilarated. It proved to her there was something beyond the physical world.

Something more.

She had one friend who was comfortable with her ghoulish fascination. Dolls. They met at college. He liked hard rock. So did she. He liked basketball. So did she. He liked her. They talked about it, Dolls realising they would only ever be friends. He was cool with that. When she invited him on a trip to England, he was more than happy to accompany her. It would be fun visiting somewhere he had always wanted to see. The Tower of London, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament. Iconic places. Old.

Nicole was more interested in the second part of their holiday. An overnight stay at one of England’s most haunted houses for Halloween. Wymering Manor in Portsmouth. A Grade II listed building. Former 17th century vicarage, family home, a youth hostel in later years. Unoccupied since 2006. Unmistakable signs of previous occupants, boasting priest holes from a time when Catholic residents had to worship in secret. An original oak front door. Rooms where Queen Emma stayed in the 19th Century.

It stood on an ancient site, a house having been mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086. Much documented paranormal activity, cold spots, whispering, strange apparitions. Supposedly haunted by more than twenty ghosts, including nuns and Sir Roderick of Portchester, murdered outside the manor in the Middle Ages.

Dolls was not as excited to be spending a night in a cold, uncomfortable old house. He didn't judge, but he was sceptical. He wanted to prove to Nicole the things she believed in were fictitious. He was waiting to pull back the curtain, show Nicole the guy pulling strings on a fake ghost. He would enjoy that part for sure.

Their flight got in just before midday on Monday 28th October. They had a few days to look around London before heading west to Portsmouth. They checked into their hotel. Comfortable, warm, decent beds, room service. Luxury, compared to where they would be staying on Halloween. Dolls was ready to check out the city. Nicole needed a few hours’ sleep. She told him to go ahead and explore the city. She would join him later for something to eat.

She lay on the bed, closing her eyes, thinking about what she would encounter on Halloween. Her mind drifted to photos of the manor house she had seen on the internet. Large, imposing, whitewashed exterior. In need of restoration. A large green-panelled entrance door, bay windows either side. A large triple window above. Unloved. Uncared for. Perfect she thought. The rear of the property was in a worse condition. Garden chairs strewn across an overgrown lawn. Paint absent from brickwork. Inside, a maze of corridors, twisting staircases, dark wood panels, walls with paint flaking off. An attic. A solitary wooden chair positioned beneath a small window. A girl’s face. Young. Beautiful. Who was she? Why did Nicole keep seeing that face every time she thought of the manor house?

Her phone rang. Dolls was outside The Tower of London. He couldn’t contain his excitement.

“Nicole, this is amazing. You’ve got to see this place. It’s like really old. Lots of history. Can you get a cab? I’ll wait for you in a coffee shop. This is so great.”

“Sure. Give me half an hour, I’ll be with you.”

She stretched, pulling herself off the bed. She was pleased Dolls was enjoying himself. He had been like a child in the lead up to the holiday. Sending her photos of all the places he wanted to see in London. The Tower top on his list. She knew as soon as they arrived that’s where he would be heading. The taxi pulled up outside Costa Coffee. She could see Dolls in the window. He waved. He rushed out as she exited the vehicle, pulling her in the direction of the entrance.

Founded after the Norman conquest of England, the White Tower, the earliest building erected in 1078, giving the castle its name. A resented symbol of oppression. Used as a prison from 1100 until 1952. A complex of buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. A royal residence. An armoury, a treasury, a menagerie for exotic animals, home of the Crown Jewels of England. Besieged several times.

Despite its reputation as a place of torture and death, only seven people were executed within the Tower. Executions were more commonly held on the notorious Tower Hill to the north of the castle, with 112 occurring there over a 400-year period.

Nicole took her time around the castle. Dolls was right, this place was amazing. So full of history. So many events of historic importance. She could sense the people of the past brushing against her as they went about their daily business. She had been blessed with a vivid imagination. She was able to envisage eras long gone. Play with the past. Absorb the sights, the smells, the noises. It was almost as if she was there. That face again flashed in her mind. Why could she see that girl’s face again? Why could she see that girl’s face here?

Laughing, enjoying life. So pretty.

Chapter Text

“He was a big guy in that department.”

Dolls stood gazing at a suit of armour worn by Henry VIII. The metal cone protruding from the front, between the legs, his main focus. Nicole was standing beside him, reading the guide. She looked up, realising what Dolls was referring to.

She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, it’s all size with men. It says here, the codpiece was deliberately enlarged to exaggerate manhood and virility. I think what they’re trying to say is Henry’s dick was small.”

She let out a laugh. “Have you seen the horse armour. It’s great.”

They moved towards another display. She heard a laugh. A girl’s laugh. As if someone had overheard her comment about Henry’s manhood. She scanned the room. A few people were studying a selection of swords. Not near enough to be heard. No girl in their group. Odd, thought Nicole. Perhaps she imagined it. No, she definitely heard laughter. She felt a shiver down her spine, as if someone had drawn their hand along her back. Icy cold. Dolls was reading out the small card explaining the next suit of armour. A suit made for the King when he was older, fatter.

“Henry bulked out. Still had a big...”

“It wasn’t big. It’s all for show. I reckon he was compensating.”

There was that laugh again. She darted her eyes round the hall. Where was it coming from? It sounded so close. A few feet away at most. There was absolutely no one near them.

“Xavier, did you hear that just now?”

“Hear what? You talking? About Henry’s dick?”

“No, a girl’s laugh. Right beside us. Like here, next to us.”

“Nope. So, you’re hearing things now. Great. I’m going to be spending a week with you and you’re already hallucinating. If you tell me you can see dead people, I’m out of here.”

Nicole laughed. “I’m not Bruce Willis. Or, whatever the little guy in Sixth Sense was called. No, I definitely heard a girl laughing. If I didn’t know better I’d say she was laughing at us.”

“Nicole. I know you like all this spooky stuff, but if you’re trying to get me worked up for our night in a haunted house. I don’t scare that easily.”

A door slammed at the other end of the hall making Dolls jump, grabbing onto Nicole’s arm in the process.

Nicole grinned. “No, of course you don’t scare easily. Come on, I’m starving. Let’s eat.”

They made their way to the café. Nicole was feeling the effects of jet lag. She sat looking at the menu, trying to decide what to have. She wished she had stayed in bed, but wouldn’t have missed the Tower visit for anything. Dolls settled on fish and chips. Nicole copied him. It had to be done in London. Traditional British food in a traditional British castle.

They sat in silence eating. They were the last to leave, the venue getting ready to close for the day. They walked out onto the cobbled concourse, watching a parade of Londoners going about their business. City workers on their way home. Heads down, tired from a day’s work. What a place to live, Nicole thought, looking around.

It was getting dark. The light fading on a chilly October evening. Dolls suggested they have a drink in one of the pubs near the River Thames. Soak up the atmosphere before heading back to the hotel.

They settled on the Hung, Drawn and Quartered on Great Tower Street. A macabre name, reminding everyone who drank there of London’s dark past. A punishment used for men found guilty of high treason. Sending a warning to others they would meet a similar grizzly end if they crossed the powers that be. Nicole found them a table. The smell of stale beer, the table top marked with sticky rings from previous glasses, stained beer mats. Age. Dolls brought their drinks over. He had decided to try a real ale, taking one sip, realising he was not a real ale drinker. Nicole sipped her whiskey.

The pub was busy, a mix of tourists, like themselves, and workers out for a swift half before heading home. A typical London pub with chandeliers, marble columns and gold-framed portraits of people long dead. She liked London. It had a certain charm. Different to where she lived back home. She could hear the conversations around her. British accents. Swearing. A lot of swearing. She wondered whether all Londoners swore as much as the people sitting around her. Someone laughed. Not a girl’s voice, thankfully. A response to something someone said. Dolls tried his beer again.

“Nope. Not happening. I’m going to get a different drink. Do you want another?”

“No. I’m fine. Isn’t this place great. Can you imagine living here?”

“Not if I have to drink this.”

Dolls came back with a whiskey. He had a leaflet in his hand. “OK, this is how great a friend I am.”

He pushed the leaflet towards Nicole. A ghost walk, the following evening at 7.30pm. Nicole squealed with delight.

“Please, please, please. It’ll be so much fun. Can I call the number?”

“Go on. I’ll never hear the last of it otherwise.”

There were places still available. Starting point Bank Underground station. Supposedly haunted. This visit to London was going to be even better than Nicole dreamt possible.

She read the leaflet again:

Twilight creeps its weary way through the alleyways and courtyards of old London. It dapples the history steeped streets in a cloak of sinister shadow. Its gnarled fingers scratch at the windows and rattle the doors of old houses and churches nestled in the historic heart of the City.

Faint shadows flit across smeared window panes. Phantom footsteps echo across worn cobbles. A distinct chill hangs heavy on the night air. The dead begin to stir. Long departed residents return to the places they once knew so well in life.

So good. So, so good, Nicole thought, as she imagined what the night would have in store for them.

They got a taxi back to the hotel. Both needing to sleep. They arranged to meet the following morning for breakfast. Take a tour bus around the city to see as many sights as possible. Nicole lay on her bed once more. She was so ready for sleep. She drifted off.

She was standing outside Wymering Manor. She could feel the cool evening breeze on her face. So real. She was looking at the house, except it wasn’t in decay. It was lived in. Cared for. Loved. A feeling she needed to enter. She approached the door, knocking, waiting. It opened. A man dressed in old-fashioned clothing motioning for her to follow. A butler perhaps. She could hear talking, behind a door. The man, butler, knocked. A young woman’s voice. A beautifully decorated Victorian drawing room. The woman had her back to Nicole. She was gazing out the window. Nicole knew she was meant to be there. She couldn’t understand why?

“Was your journey long?”

The woman was speaking to her. She felt she had to answer.

“Not bad. Flight was delayed. Sorry, who are you? I feel I know you?”

“I’m glad. I’m glad you’re here. At last. I’ve waited such a long time.”

“Sorry, can you hear me?”

“Will you stay? I have prepared a room for you. You are my guest.”

OK, this was weird. She was having a conversation with someone, but it wasn’t her conversation. Whatever she said in response wasn’t part of it. She was there, but not there. A police siren sounded outside her hotel waking her. The dream evaporated. She desperately wanted to be back, talking to the woman once more. Try as she might, she couldn’t. She lay gazing up at the ceiling.

Only a few days and she would get to stand outside Wymering Manor for real.

Chapter Text

“There’s nowhere to hide. Nowhere.”

Nicole woke in a cold sweat. She didn’t know where she was. A strange room. A sliver of light entering through curtains. She sat up, trying to make sense of her surroundings. She could just make out a kettle on a desk in front of the bed. London, she was in London. She let out a sigh of relief, realising she was in her hotel room.

Flashbacks of the nightmare entered her mind. Someone chasing her. Through dimly lit corridors. A man’s voice. Older. She hadn’t been able to see who. A girl screaming. Similar to the girl she heard laughing in the Tower. Only terrified. She felt her presence. A hand in hers. Running, running together. Away from someone. Away from danger. Away from whoever wanted to get them.

Nicole had known from an early age she could sense the unusual. She was only little when her grandmother died. She remembered her visiting in her dreams. Except, it felt real. Her grandmother sitting at the end of her bed, telling her she was so proud to have such a beautiful granddaughter. How she would always be with her. Be waiting for her. Feeling her grandmother’s hand stroking the back of hers. She told her mother. Her mother brushed a loose strand of hair behind Nicole’s ear, telling her grandma was gone. She couldn’t possibly have seen her. That it must have been a dream. A nice dream. Still a dream.

She could sense things before they happened. She told a friend at school, who promptly told everyone else. She was mortified. Nicole trusted her. A mean thing to do. They fell out. She kept her abilities hidden when she moved to her next school. It taught her a lesson, be careful what you tell others. She kept her sexuality a secret too. Afraid whoever she told would use it against her. It was only when she went to college she opened up to Xavier Dolls. More a case of letting him down gently. He introduced her to a friend of his. Shae. They dated for a year. That fizzled. She hadn’t dated in a while.

Light streamed in as she opened the thick curtains, causing her to squint. She gazed out over London, bustling with commuters making their way to work. Red buses, white vans, cars, bicycles. Lots of bicycles. She called Dolls. He had been up for a while, looking over the route the open top tour bus would take. He said he would meet her outside the restaurant. She pulled out an outfit for the day from her suitcase. An extra jumper. London was chilly that time of year. She showered, standing in front of the bathroom mirror applying her war paint.

It was strange. She had the distinct feeling someone was watching her. She turned. No one. She resumed her task. There it was again. That feeling. Something out the corner of her eye. A young woman, her features not in focus. Almost there, not quite. A whisper.

“I’m waiting.”

Nicole couldn’t decide whether it was jet lag. Her overactive imagination. Her ability to sense the unusual. Or, madness. She settled on madness. Easier to explain. That’s it, she concluded, I’m officially going mad.

Dolls was standing looking at the menu on the wall outside the restaurant. Map in one hand. Guide book to London in the other. An excited expression on his face. Nicole was glad he had agreed to come with her. His enthusiasm was infectious. He loved life. Couldn’t get enough. He bathed in it, relishing every moment. Nicole had a tendency to withdraw into herself, to seek out her own company. Dolls could sense when she was lost in her own world, coaxing her back to reality. To what was around her. If she was to enjoy her time in London, in Portsmouth, she would need to stay present. Not get caught in her own private world.

The bus journey allowed them to see most of the major attractions. Photos of Dolls in front of Big Ben. Photos of Dolls in front of Buckingham Palace. Changing of the guard at Horse Guards Parade. Dolls made Nicole stand next to one of the guards to take a photo. She hated her photo being taken. Always too tall compared to everyone else. Her red hair making her stand out. Dolls laughed on reviewing it.

“Nicole, you look more rigid than the soldier. Do you want to grab lunch?”

“Sure. Where do you want to go afterwards?”

“Everywhere. I wish we had more time in London. I don’t want to miss a thing.”

They sat watching London go by from a table near the window of a café just off Charing Cross Road. She wondered what it would be like to work in London. A modern existence in a city steeped in so much history. So many people had lived, worked, walked along these streets before her. Their pace slowed in the afternoon. Both tired. They still had the ghost walk to do in the evening. They found a pub. Not that hard in London. The man at the table next to her rattled off a series of expletives. Londoners really do swear a lot, Nicole observed. They shared a bag of odd tasting chips. Prawn cocktail. The pub became busier as workers arrived. Londoners drink a lot, her second observation. A couple greeting each other. A group of men clinking beers glasses. Someone’s birthday. A solitary man standing at the bar, finishing his second pint before heading home. Any excuse to imbibe.

Dolls checked his watch. “We had better get going. I’m not sure how long it will take to get to Bank station.”

It was dark outside. They made it to Bank with five minutes to spare. A group standing around a guy in Victorian costume. They assumed this must be the tour guide. Either that, or some Londoners have a weird dress sense. The group set off. An added treat, actors dressed in period costumes secreted along the tour, appearing when least expected. Nicole could tell Dolls was nervous, jumping as the first actor emerged from a doorway in a quiet alley. A Victorian servant girl in a white mop cap, another spotted looking out of a grimy window pane. Nicole was towards the back of the group, lingering to capture the essence of each location. A young woman brushed past her, dressed in period costume. Nicole smiled. Another actor she assumed. The young woman smiled back. Nicole watched as she moved towards a doorway. She stopped, turning to look directly at Nicole.

“I’m waiting.”

Nicole froze. The same voice she heard in her bathroom.

“Hey, wait up. Who are you?”

The woman disappeared through a doorway. Nicole followed, attempting to enter a door she could have sworn was open moments earlier. It was locked. No trace of the woman. Dolls called to her to keep up. The group was moving on. Nicole kept looking in case she saw her again. Nobody. The alleyway behind her deserted.

She caught up with Dolls. “OK, so tell me you saw that.”

“What? Saw what?”

Nicole thought it best not to explain to Dolls what she had seen. He was nervous enough. She didn’t want him bailing on her for the overnight Halloween party in Portsmouth.

Chapter Text

She couldn’t get her out of her head. The woman who began appearing in her dreams. The voice. The presence in the alley. The same person. Whoever she was, she was reaching out. A connection growing stronger with each encounter. Nicole could feel it. She wasn’t afraid. Curious. Intrigued. Why me? Why now? Who is she? That’s all Nicole had. Questions. She desperately wanted answers.

Nicole was quiet at breakfast. Dolls could sense she was somewhere other than at the table with him.

“OK. Spill. What’s going on inside that head of yours?”

Nicole lifted her gaze from her cereal, unsure whether to tell Dolls, knowing if she didn’t she would have to figure out what was happening by herself.

“I don’t want to freak you out, but I think I’m being followed. I keep seeing a woman, early twenties I’m guessing. She was part of the tour last night.”

“One of the actors?”

“I thought so. Until…”

Nicole paused. It was difficult enough attempting to work out what she had, hadn’t seen the night before. Explaining it to Dolls would need to be done carefully.

“Until what?”

“OK, so you know when you said about seeing dead people.”

“Nicole. Please don’t tell me what you’re about to tell me. You’re going to tell me aren’t you?”

Nicole nodded her head. She could see Dolls shiver as he absorbed the information.

“It started when we arrived. I have no idea who she is, what she wants. All I know is she’s linked in some way to Wymering Manor. I’m sure of it. Listen, I’ll understand if you don’t want to stay there after this. I’m not even sure. But, I have to go and see where this leads.”

Dolls smiled. “Oh, I’m definitely up for it now. I have got to see what happens. This is way too good to miss.”

“You’re not scared?”

“Terrified. But, that’s the fun of it. Plus, I’m not letting you go on your own, especially with some dead person after you. So, this dead woman, good looking or not?”

Nicole laughed. She wanted to hug Dolls. She really had the best friend in him.

“Beautiful. She’s beautiful.”

They had one more day in London. They spent it visiting museums. So much to take in. Dolls was right, they needed more time in the city to be able to live it, not simply pass through. To feel its pulse, its rhythm. The way it worked. They took in a show that evening at one of London’s many theatres. Strolling along the Strand afterwards, watching people pouring out of other theatres, smiles on their faces having enjoyed their evening entertainment. Nicole was relaxed. At ease with the world. She stared into a shop window catching her reflection.

There, behind her. She was there. The same woman, beckoning her to follow.

“Dolls, there. Can you see her?”

Dolls looked where Nicole was looking. “See what? What can you see?”

“She’s there. Behind me. I can see her reflection. She’s wants me to follow.”

Dolls kept staring. “I can see you. Where is she? Point her to me.”

Nicole pointed straight in front. “She’s saying something. I can’t make it out. No, wait. I think she’s saying the phrase I keep hearing – I’m waiting. Yes, that’s it – I’m waiting.”

“Waiting for what?”

“Dolls. I don’t know. Even I’m getting a little freaked out.”

“Is she still there? Can you still see her?”

“Yes. As plain as I can see you. I’m going to turn round. God, my heart’s racing. Here goes.”

Nicole turned round. She gasped. She could see her. A few feet away. Motioning for Nicole to follow. One word spoken.

“Hurry.”

She made to move towards her, a group of theatre goers walking across her path at that precise moment. She was gone. Nicole scanned the street. Vanished.

“Dolls. I saw her. I saw her. She’s real. Oh. My. God. Do you believe me?”

“I believe you. Listen, whoever, whatever this is we’ll figure it out. You’re shaking. Let’s get a taxi.”

Dolls put his arm round Nicole. Whatever had taken place, he needed Nicole to know he was by her side. Ready to protect her.

Nicole lay in bed. The image of the woman kept returning. Tomorrow would be a long day. Tomorrow night even longer. She needed to get to the house. Know its history. Find out who lived there. Who this mystery person might be. She finally drifted off to sleep.

She was outside the house, the cool evening breeze on her face once more. The scent of honeysuckle hanging in the air. That door, waiting for her to enter. Knocking. The door being opened. Her movement across the hall. The room. Now familiar. The woman gazing out of the window. Turning to face Nicole. Smiling. Nicole smiling back.

“Not long, my love. Hurry.”

Nicole felt her heart flutter. “Can you see me? Who are you?”

“I’m waiting.”

As much as she tried, she couldn’t get any closer. It was so real. So vivid. “Please, tell me your name.”

The woman smiled, turning once more towards the window. The scene changed, they were running, running for their lives along the same corridor as before. She could feel someone had hold of her hand. She didn’t know where she was heading, her legs moving on their own, carrying her away, away from danger. She heard the scream. Hands pulling apart. Turning. Seeing a man holding the woman. Hearing the woman's voice.

“Go. My love. Run.”

Feeling her legs move her in the wrong direction. Wanting to go towards the woman, rescue her. Unable to stop herself. Hearing her own voice.

“Waverly, I’ll get help.”

Nicole sat up. Waverly. Her name’s Waverly.

Chapter Text

She called Dolls. It was gone midnight. He took a while to answer. “What is it?”

“Dolls. Sorry, I know her name. It came to me in a dream. Waverly. She’s called Waverly.”

“That’s a pretty name. See you in the morning. Get some sleep.”

Nicole sat in bed. Someone must know who she is, was. Why were they running? A feeling of dread. Someone wanting to part them. Of having left her behind. The overwhelming urge to return. To find what was lost.

Waverly. Her name was Waverly. Such a beautiful name. Nicole kept repeating it in her head. Waverly. She liked that name.

She lay down once more. She couldn’t sleep. Too excited. She had to. She would never survive the following night otherwise. She closed her eyes trying not to think about Waverly. It was impossible. She let her come to her.

A room. Old-fashioned. Cosy. Warm. A fire burning in the hearth. Its glow the only light. A bed. A form laying to one side. Under covers. Standing gazing. A feeling of satisfaction. A stirring.

“My love, come back to me. I need to feel you close.”

Nicole felt herself moving towards the bed. Gently pulling the covers back, seeing Waverly’s naked body, slipping in beside her. A hand reaching behind to hold her. A feeling this was the only place she wanted to be in the world. Waverly turned, bringing her lips to Nicole’s. The sensation of them touching. She could feel everything. Her warmth, her skin brushing against her own. Her hand caressing her cheek. How could this be possible? How could it be so real? How could she be this aroused?

She leaned into the kiss. The passion palpable. Whoever they were to each other, they knew each other intimately. Had shared this bed frequently. A hand moving across her shoulder, down her arm. Towards. She felt herself panting. Of being fully present in the moment. This moment. A hand on her hip gently pushing her back. A moan. Soft lips connecting with her body. A tongue. A hand, moving between her legs. Touching. Fingers gliding across wet folds. She had never felt this turned on. She couldn’t hold back, a surge of energy exploded through her body, calling out Waverly’s name as she came, jolting her awake. She lay gasping. She could feel every nerve in her body reacting. Incredible.

She had to get to Wymering Manor.

It was raining. Grey clouds hung heavy in the sky. They stood waiting at Waterloo Station for their train to Portsmouth. A two hour journey. Nicole had not mentioned her liaison with Waverly. She still had a smile on her face.

“Waverly. If that is the name of the person stalking you, it should be easy enough to find her. Have you googled the name?”

“I have. Nothing comes up. And, she’s not stalking me. Quite the opposite.”

The memory of her encounter sending a wave of pleasure through her body. There was no way she could explain what had happened. She didn’t care. It had. And, my God, it was amazing.

A minivan collected them from Portsmouth station. They would leave their bags at a small hotel in town, a chance to freshen up, grab something to eat before their adventure began at the manor. They were told to meet downstairs at 8pm sharp to go through the final details. A woman greeted them in the hotel lobby, ushering them into a side room. A blank flipchart at the front. Tea and coffee laid on.

Nicole and Dolls sat at the back. Their favourite place ever since college. A couple sat in front. The woman, slightly older than Nicole, long black hair. The man definitely older, sporting a bushy moustache. Trendy. Two other guys sat to one side. A total of six. Nicole was surprised there weren’t more people.

“Hi, I’m Chrissy, your party leader. Hope everyone is ready for tonight’s big event. If you could introduce yourselves in a moment. First names only. Hope you brought a torch!”

Each person proceeded to say their name, when prompted. Jeremy, Robin, Wynonna, John Henry, Nicole, Xavier.

“Good. Now that’s out of the way. I have a few do’s and don’ts for the evening.”

She flipped over a blank sheet on the flipchart, revealing a list.

“Do have fun. Do stay with the person you are partnered with. Do explore the whole house. Don’t venture outside. Don’t go into the basement. Don’t go anywhere on your own.”

Chrissy motioned to another door. “It’s more fun if you dress up. We have a selection of costumes in the next room. Find the one you want to wear. I’ll meet you back here in half an hour.”

Dolls looked at Nicole. “You didn’t mention dressing up was part of this.”

Nicole looked just as confused. “It wasn’t mentioned in the paperwork. I’m guessing they want us to really get into this.”

Costumes on. Torch in hand, the group sat in the minivan waiting for Chrissy. Wynonna was getting impatient.

“Every time. They always keep us waiting. They think it makes it scarier.”

“Hi, I’m Nicole. This is Dolls, Xavier. You’ve been on one of these before?”

“We fly over every year. Wouldn’t miss it. You’re American too. What brings you here?”

“I felt I had to. I read about different events. This one called to me. I can’t explain why.”

Wynonna scanned Nicole. A knowing look to say she understood. She turned to Dolls.

“So, what brought you here? You don’t look like the ghost hunting type.”

“Nicole. She’s the one into this. I’m here for the ride.”

It was Doc’s turn. “Cowboy, this’ll be one heck of a ride. I guarantee.”

He shook hands with Dolls. “I’m John Henry, but everyone calls me Doc.”

"Xavier. Go by Dolls."

Chrissy finally emerged from the hotel, jumping in the front with the driver.

“Everyone ready. The weather isn’t great tonight. Thunder storm approaching. Should spice things up for us.”

Nicole had her hand up. “Are we the only ones staying at the house tonight?”

“Yes. It’s better with smaller numbers. More intimate. Too many and the activity in the house tends to drop. You should be in for a treat tonight. I was at the house earlier. There’s definitely more energy there. I can feel it. Here we go.”

The minivan set off. It was a short journey across the city. They sped along main roads, turning off onto Old Wymering Lane. An ancient church on the right, dating back to 1125. The jagged outline of headstones emerging from the ground. Jane Austen’s brother one of those beneath the soil. The house came into view on the left. Exactly like the photos Nicole had seen online. Exactly like the visions she kept getting of the house. That green door. Dolls was relieved the house wasn’t in the middle of nowhere. He figured if anything happened he could run for help from one of the houses nearby.

They had been told to leave as much of their stuff back at the hotel. Phones were permitted. Chrissy warned, however, the level of paranormal activity in the house might damage them. Wynonna rolled her eyes.

“They say that every year. It’s fine. Just don’t take any photos inside. Trust me.”

Once out of the minivan, Chrissy led them to the rear of the property. “We’ll enter this way. It’s slightly easier access. The front path is overgrown.”

Nicole was disappointed. She had been looking forward to entering through the front door. At least she was here, at last. Chrissy unlocked the rear door.

“Torches on everyone. Mind where you step.”

They entered. Nicole was behind Jeremy. “Hi, I’m Nicole. You’re Robin, right?”

“Hello. No, Jeremy. Robin’s the other guy. You into ghosts, too?”

“Absolutely. Been to a few haunted buildings back in the States. You?”

“A few. Robin thought this would be good fun for Halloween. I’m not really into ghosts and ghouls.”

Wynonna chirped in. “You will be after tonight.”

Nicole and Jeremy looked at each other. Both thinking the same thing. This could be an interesting experience for all of them.

They made their way through the house, stopping in the hallway. Nicole shone her torch. It almost looked the same as in her dreams. She searched for the door leading to the drawing room.

There it was, only from a different angle. She needed to see it from the direction of the entrance door. She went to move off, Chrissy touched her arm.

“It’s best if we stay together for now, until after the séance. If everyone could make their way into the room on the left.”

Nicole shone her torch into Dolls’ face. “So, that wasn’t mentioned either. You OK with this?”

“No. But, I’m here now. Let’s get this over with.”

As they entered the room, Chrissy switched on a spotlight with its own power supply. “Sorry everyone, there’s no electricity in the house. This is the only light we have other than our torches. I have spares if anyone needs one.”

Nicole studied the room. Unlived in, an assortment of chairs, a large old table in the middle. A bookshelf. A selection of hard cover books still on the shelves. A fireplace. A painting above. Nicole stared. She couldn’t take her eyes from the painting.

A portrait.

That beautiful face smiling at her.

Chapter Text

Chrissy noticed Nicole gazing at the portrait. “That’s Lady Waverly, one of the occupants of this house. If we’re lucky we’ll see her. She’s often active this time of year.”

Nicole prayed that would be the case tonight. “Do you know anything about her?”

“A little. She was the youngest daughter of a land owner in this county. She disappeared one fateful night. Her body was never found. Some believe she remains, looking for the lover who abandoned her. I usually start the séance by calling to her. She’s such a delightful spirit to commune with.”

Nicole couldn’t comprehend why anyone would abandon someone as beautiful as Waverly. Not come looking for her. Leave her to her fate.

Her eyes fell on the oval table in the middle of the room. A white cloth covering. A tray with an apple, bread and a glass of red wine positioned in the centre. Three candles round the edge. Dolls looked at the arrangement.

“What’s with the food? There’s not enough for all of us.”

Chrissy laughed. “It’s for the spirits who still seek physical nourishment. It’s our gifts to them. The candles are for spirits seeking warmth and light.”

Chrissy lit the candles, switching off the spotlight. The atmosphere in the room changed. A chill hung in the air.

An expectation.

“If you could switch off your torches and take a seat at the table, I’ll begin. We don’t want to leave it too late.”

They sat, looking at each other, wondering what was about to happen. Chrissy took the last seat.

“I need to warn you, it can get quite active. Don’t be alarmed. Remain at the table. Whatever you do, don’t leave the room.”

Wynonna turned to Nicole, winking. “Don’t worry. This is all part of the show.”

Chrissy smiled. “You, of all people should know what happens next. Everyone hold hands. If I feel the séance getting too busy, I’ll ask you to drop hands to break the connection. OK, let’s begin.”

The group sat in readiness. Chrissy closed her eyes, lowering her head.

“Our beloved sister, we bring you gifts from life into death. Commune with us, Lady Waverly, move among us."

Nicole could feel the hairs on the back of her neck standing. A different energy entered the room. A presence. Someone standing behind her. She wanted to turn. See if anyone was there.

“Lady Waverly, come to us, be with us this evening. We delight in your company.”

Something brushed against Nicole’s back, making her shiver. A whisper close to her ear.

“My love, I’m glad you’re here at last.”

Nicole answered. “Waverly? Is that you?”

Chrissy opened her eyes. “Sorry, it’s best if I commune with the spirits. Lady Waverly, if you are here, give us a sign.”

Nicole heard Waverly laugh. Surely, the others could hear her. She looked at their faces. Apparently not.

“My love, what shall I do? Shall I blow out a candle? What would you have me do?”

Nicole knew what she most wanted Waverly to do to her. Not appropriate right there, in the moment. She couldn’t think. The candle going out would be cool. She remembered the bookcase.

“For you, my love, anything.”

A dull thud on the floor, as the book fell. Dolls jumped out of his seat, breaking contact with the group.

“Fuck. I’m OK. I’m OK. Sorry, that got me.”

Chrissy motioned for Dolls to sit down. “We’ll start again. Everyone hold hands.”

Nicole felt a breath close to her ear. “You came back for me.”

Chrissy summoned the next spirit. “Sir Robert we bring you gifts from life into death. Commune with us. Move among us. Give us a sign you are here.”

Nicole felt two hands on her shoulders, Waverly’s voice in her ear, louder than before, scared. “My love, I must hide, he cannot find me here with you.”

She felt Waverly’s energy leave the room. Another presence in its place. Menacing. Heavy. Ready to do harm. Angry at Waverly. At her. She saw something. A shadow. A movement. It happened so fast. A small wooden box on the mantelpiece hurtling towards her. Missing her head. All three candles extinguished. Darkness. A crash as the box smashed against the wall.

It was Chrissy’s turn to jump. “Woah. Too much. Drop hands everyone. I’ll put the spotlight on.”

Nicole could still feel the presence in the room, watching her. She turned to Wynonna.

“Does this usually happen during the séance?”

“No. Never seen things fly. Candles going out yes, temperature drops. This is going to be a great night.”

A flash of lightning, a peel of thunder close behind made everyone jump. The storm was fast approaching. Rain hammering against glass. Wanting to get in.

Nicole went to Dolls. “I’m so sorry. This is scarier than I expected.”

Dolls was shaking. “It’s OK. OK, it’s not OK. I’ll survive. Least, I hope I’ll survive. Did you see her?”

“No, but she was here. She spoke to me. She left when Chrissy summoned Sir Robert. She sounded scared. God, Dolls she’s been in this house all this time with someone who scares her.”

Dolls rubbed Nicole’s arm. “If we can get her to come back, tell us what happened.”

“Dolls, I’m connected to her in some way. I don’t know how, or why. I get the feeling I’m her lover. Or, she thinks I’m her lover.”

“Man, that’s gross. Doing it with a dead person.”

“Already have. Amazing.”

Dolls looked at her, trying to figure out if she was joking or not.

“You cannot make love to a ghost. It’s impossible.”

“That’s what I thought. Until…”

Dolls shook his head. “This is so fucked up. So, so fucked up.”

Chrissy was standing by the spotlight. “You’ll be in pairs for the next part. Doc you’re with Robin in the attic. Xavier you’re with Jeremy in the drawing room. Nicole you’re with Wynonna in the back bedroom. Lady Waverly’s.”

Chrissy escorted the group to the drawing room. Nicole gazed inside. It was as she remembered. Different furniture. More modern. Dolls looked at Nicole as he entered the room. She hoped he would be OK. Still be her friend by morning. He hoped he would still be alive come sunrise. They made their way upstairs. Stopping at a door along a dark corridor. Wynonna led the way.

“Come on lover. I get the left side of the bed.”

Nicole shone her torch round the room. She had definitely been here before. She recognised its shape. The fireplace. The bed, different, yet in the same place as the one Waverly had made love to her. Wynonna was lying down, patting the space alongside for Nicole to join her.

Nicole sat on the edge of the bed wishing she was on her own in Waverly’s bedroom. Chrissy closed the door. Wynonna sat up.

“So, you’ve seen her. Or, I’m guessing, you’ve heard her.”

“Yes. It’s weird. She’s real. I can’t explain it.”

“Don’t worry. I know exactly what you mean. I’ll let you into a secret. I know her too. Well, I say know her. More related.”

Chapter Text

If the night couldn’t get weirder, Nicole found herself in a room sharing a bed with a descendant of someone she had sort of had sex with. Utterly bonkers. She knew it was crazy. And yet, her connection with Waverly had been tangible. Fleshy. So fleshy.

“Wynonna. This is going to sound fucking crazy, but Waverly is real. I keep seeing her, hearing her. She’s in my dreams, my thoughts, my ears. And, I think I love her.”

Wynonna was gazing out the window. “Dude. Relax. I know. I sensed you were the one as soon as I met you. You don’t get to come on these events every year and not know when the right person turns up.”

“Sorry. What? The right person. How am I the right person?”

“No idea. I’ve been coming to this event for the last five years. This is the first time I’ve seen objects fly across a room. Something is new here. The energy is stronger.”

A flash of lightning lit up the room, causing Nicole to jump off the bed. “I’m so on edge. Have you ever seen her?”

“Nope. I’ve heard her a few times. Laughing. She has a great laugh.”

“I know. It’s infectious. It has its own joy. I’ve seen her. I’ve really seen her, and…”

“And, what? Spill.”

“I’ve felt her. I’ve felt her touch. A real touch, not imaginary. Like she was real. I mean, she’s real. To me she’s real.”

“Was she cold? I always imagined if a ghost touched me, it would feel cold. Deathly cold.”

“That’s the weirdest part. Sometimes her touch feels cold. Like ice. But, there was one occasion when it was warm. So real. I could smell her perfume. Her hair. Is any of this creeping you out?”

Wynonna scanned Nicole. “Just a little. Not what I was expecting. I wonder how the others are doing?”

Dolls sat in one of the armchairs, his left leg jumping, a sign he was nervous. Jeremy stood in the middle of the room shining his torch on each of the walls in turn.

“They liked to read, whoever lived here. There’s a lot of books. Do you want to have a look?”

“I’m fine sitting here for a while. I need a moment to calm down. The book and box freaked me out in the other room. How are you so calm with all this? Aren’t you freaked out?”

“Oh, I’m freaked out. In a good way. I’ve been on a few of these and this is the best one so far. Did you feel a presence in the other room? Wow, the energy. There was definitely a good spirit and a bad spirit with us. Just hope we don’t get stuck with the bad spirit.”

“Jeremy, you’re really not helping me here, right now.”

“Sorry. I need to find the bathroom. We’re not meant to go anywhere on our own. You OK to come with me?”

“No. Really not OK, but I’m not sitting here on my own. I’ll come with you. This is so fucked up.”

Jeremy laughed. “Oh, you have no idea.”

Doc was pacing the attic. He could feel a different energy in the house. Darker. Ominous. Wynonna had dragged him along in the past. Like Dolls, he was sceptical. Relying on practical explanations of things that went bump in the night. Tonight was different. Seeing objects moving on their own had unnerved him. He didn’t want to admit that in front of the group. He was relieved Dolls had taken the attention away from him. Otherwise, he would have been the one running towards the door, desperate to get out.

Robin sat on an old wooden chest. “Are you nervous about all this?”

“Nope. Been to this house enough times to know all the tricks. It’ll take more than a few things flying to get to me.”

A noise outside the door. Footsteps on wood. Approaching. A light tap on the door. Doc went for his gun, forgetting he was in England. His hand moved away from his empty thigh before Robin could spot what he had done.

The handle of the door turned. Creaking hinges. A woman’s voice.

“Hello. Everyone alright in here?”

Chrissy’s head appeared. An audible sigh of relief from Doc. A petrified Robin on the chest. Both glad it was Chrissy. Both annoyed she had nearly given them a heart attack.

Doc glared at her, wishing he could have shot her for having scared him.

“We’re OK. Is there any coffee? I need something to keep me awake.”

“I have some in a flask downstairs. I’ll bring you both a mug on my next round. Remember don’t go anywhere on your own. You don’t know what might be lurking.”

Chrissy closed the door behind her. They could hear her laughter along the corridor. Robin looked at Doc.

“OK. So, is it me, or is she scarier than this house. And, if we’re not supposed to go anywhere on our own. Why is she allowed to?”

Doc nodded. Robin had made two good points. He liked him. He wished he had his gun.

Nicole climbed back on the bed next to Wynonna. She needed to see if she could connect with Waverly. She was worried for her. She wanted to talk to her. Hear her story. Simply hear her voice. Her laugh.

She turned to Wynonna. “I’m going to try something. See if I can communicate with Waverly. Are you up for that?”

“Dude. Do what you gotta do.”

Nicole closed her eyes. Conjuring up an image of Waverly in her mind.

“Waverly, it’s me. I’m here. Can you hear me? I came back for you.”

She waited. Nothing. She opened her eyes. Wynonna was looking at her. “Well. Anything? Did you see her?”

“No. I can’t feel her presence. Look, could you get off the bed. That might be the problem.”

“Oh, I’m the problem. You can’t contact your girlfriend. And, I’m the problem. Fine. OK, whatever.”

“Thank you. And, she’s not my girlfriend. Let’s try this again.”

Nicole closed her eyes. She’s my lover, she muttered under the breath. “Waverly, I’m waiting. Where are you?”

Nicole heard the door open. “Wynonna, you’re not supposed to go anywhere on your own, remember.”

“I’m here, my love.”

Nicole opened her eyes. She was standing at the foot of the bed. Waverly was in the room with her. Fully formed. Present. Real. Looking at her. Smiling. Nicole smiled back. “I can see you. Can you see me?”

Wynonna chirped in. “Of course I can see you. I’m right here.”

“No, Waverly. She’s here. She’s in the room with us. Tell me you can see her too? At the end of the bed. She’s so pretty.”

“OK. So, when you say see. Do you mean see, as in see. Or, some other kind of see. Because, right now, all I can see is you.”

“See. I can see her. She’s there. Move towards the bed. Stand to the left. This is so cool. Waverly, can Wynonna see you?”

“My love it’s you. Only you.”

“Right. OK. Wynonna, can you feel anything? Put your left hand out to the side. Can you feel a person there? Any temperature change?”

“Fuck. It’s really cold. My hand is freezing. Oh, fuck. Is she? Is she really standing next to me?”

“Yep. And, you can’t see anyone? I’m going to try something here. Waverly, my love, can you laugh for me.”

Waverly laughed. Nicole was right, it was filled with joy. A sweetness she hadn’t heard in any other laugh before. She turned to look at Wynonna. She had disappeared. Nicole sprang forward, peering over the edge of the bed. Wynonna was on the floor. Nicole went to her, sitting her up against the end of the bed. Wynonna's eyes opened.

“I'm OK. Nicole, she’s here. I heard her laughing. Nicole speak to her. Ask her what we can do?”

Nicole looked to where Waverly had been standing. She was gone. The connection broken. Her heart sank. This was going to take some careful planning if she was to maintain Waverly’s presence.

Chapter Text

Dolls followed Jeremy into the hallway. The storm was in full force. Thunder followed lightning in rapid succession. If it wasn’t bad enough being in a haunted house on Halloween, they had to contend with the wrath of the Gods outside. Jeremy shone his torch along the wall searching for the door to the bathroom. He found it, attempting to find the light switch, remembering what Chrissy had said about no electricity in the house. Dolls was too scared to leave Jeremy out of his sight, standing with his back to him, praying nothing moved or made a sound.

His prayers were not answered.

Dolls heard it first. A rhythmic tapping on a pipe. Soft at first, the volume increasing as more strikes were made. Tap, tap, tap. A pause. Tap, tap, tap. TAP, TAP, TAP.

Jeremy looked at Dolls. “Yes, I hear it. Could be the plumbing?”

“Plumbing. With a beat like that.”

The tapping stopped. Dolls stood rigid. A presence was approaching. He could sense it. His torch casting shadows. He could have sworn something moved, ever so slightly.

TAP, TAP, TAP, TAP, TAP, TAP. A warning to those listening, something was coming. Something was on its way. Silence. A sudden drop in temperature. It was here. With them. And, it meant to do harm.

Dolls grabbed Jeremy’s hand. “Run.”

They exited, running as fast as their legs would move. Jeremy made for the door to the drawing room, Dolls for the door to the séance room. Neither knowing which would be best in a situation like this. Dolls called out.

“Jeremy over here. We need Chrissy. She’s got the spotlight.”

They entered the room. No Chrissy. Dolls found the light. His hands shaking. Footsteps outside. The door flew open. Jeremy screamed. All bravery having departed.

“Guys, what are you doing in here? You should be in the Drawing Room.”

All Dolls could manage. “Ghost. Bad ghost. Bathroom.”

“Ah, so you’ve met our resident spirit in the downstairs loo. He’s rather noisy. Seems to take exception to visitors using it. I’m assuming you heard tapping.”

Both nodded, unable to get more words out. Chrissy laughed.

“Quite harmless. Comes across as menacing. All bark, no bite, as they say. You only need to tell him to fuck off. That usually does the trick.”

Dolls glared at Chrissy. “You could have warned us. I don’t think I’ll ever go back in that bathroom.”

“Oh, trust me, there are far worse spirits than bathroom guy.”

Dolls really didn’t need to hear that. Chrissy opened a large flask, pouring two mugs of coffee. She pulled another small flask from her bag.

“Dutch courage anyone? I can add it to the coffee if you like.”

Dolls grabbed the flask, taking a swig. “Sorry, needed that. Some in my coffee please.”

Chrissy offered the flask to Jeremy. “For you?”

“No thanks. Don’t drink.”

Dolls looked at him. “You will after tonight.”

Wynonna pulled herself off the floor, flopping into an armchair by the fireplace. Nicole stood looking where Waverly had been.

“We now know a few things. I can summon Waverly. You can hear her. I can see her. You’re not as brave as you make out.”

Wynonna glared. “Lightheaded that’s all. OK, I’m not as brave as I look.”

“It’s OK. I’m not brave either. I should feel scared, but I don’t. Not with Waverly. I want to communicate with her again. Are you OK with that?”

Wynonna nodded, grabbing the armrest of the seat in readiness.

Nicole stood at the foot of the bed. “Waverly, I’m sorry. Forgive me. Come back to me.”

She could feel her near. Her eyes searched the room, spotting a shape under the covers. Crap, she thought, realising where Waverly was. This was going to be awkward.

“OK. So, Wynonna, just to let you know she’s now in bed.”

Nicole made her way to the side. “Hello, my love. You’re here.”

“Join me. I need your warmth.”

Nicole slipped under the covers. She closed her eyes. She felt for Waverly’s body. It was warm to the touch, like before. Waverly’s perfume hitting her nose. The smell of her hair. Nicole opened her eyes. She needed to see Waverly. Her body became icy cold to touch. Unbearably cold. Freezing. She pulled her hand away, unable to hold it there any longer. She closed her eyes, returning her hand to Waverly’s naked form. It was warm once more.

“Wynonna. This is amazing. She’s freezing when I touch her with my eyes open, warm with them closed.”

“Are you conducting experiments on my ancestor?”

“Kind of. I’m going to try something else. You might want to cover your eyes.”

“Dude. Seriously, don’t do anything inappropriate to my great, great aunt. I’m in the room. Or, is it great, great, great aunt? Just don’t. OK.”

Nicole closed her eyes. “Waverly, kiss me. I need to feel you once more.”

She felt soft lips pressing against hers. So gentle, so welcome. She didn’t want the moment to end, but needed to understand how this worked. She opened her eyes. The coldness made her jump.

“Fuck. That’s really weird.”

“Nicole, what are you doing over there? Can I open my eyes?”

“So, eyes closed warm Waverly. Eyes open cold Waverly. Got it. Would you mind giving me one more moment? I need to try this again.”

She closed her eyes, leaning into Waverly, kissing her passionately. She felt Waverly’s body respond. A soft moan leaving her lips. Wanting Nicole. Nicole wanting her. She wanted to do so much more, but Wynonna’s presence kept her from taking full advantage of the opportunity presenting itself. She pulled away, careful not to open her eyes until their lips had parted. She stared at Waverly.

“God. You’re so beautiful. Why would anyone abandon you? I don’t get it.”

“My love. You haven’t abandoned me. You’re here in my bed.”

“No, I mean. Later. It’s OK. Where are you now?”

“I’m here. With you. You are a tease sometimes.”

Nicole didn’t want to push Waverly to reveal what happened. She knew she would have to at some stage, but right now she simply wanted to lay next to Waverly. Be with her.

“Nicole. Can I open my eyes now? Or, is it X-rated what you’re doing.”

Doc wondered how long Chrissy would be with the coffee. He didn’t want the coffee. He simply wanted something to happen that wouldn’t make him jump out of his skin. Robin had remained silent on the chest for some time. Rigid. Clearly, events of the night had shaken him. Doc couldn’t stay in the attic any longer. He needed to move. Do something. Anything.

“Robin, shall we go get that coffee? It might warm us up.”

Robin nodded. They both needed to be brave. Venture out into the darkness, together. Doc opened the door, bracing himself for whatever might be lurking outside.

“I’ll go first. You stick close behind me. OK.”

Robin nodded, leaving the safety of the chest. Standing behind Doc. Shaking.

They made their way along the narrow corridor. Doc shone his torch in front. They reached the stairs. Two flights down to the séance room. Only two flights, that was all. Not far. Doc began his descent. They reached the first landing. Pausing. They could hear movement on the stairs below. Doc hoped it was Chrissy with their coffee.

“Hey, Chrissy is that you?”

No reply. “Chrissy, if that’s you shine your torch.”

Doc had a bad feeling. A really bad feeling. He turned the corner ready to descend. A dark figure, its back to them, half visible, half way down. Motionless. Waiting. Doc froze. Whatever was on the stairs they would have to pass. Robin peered over Doc’s shoulder, letting out a scream, deafening Doc. The commotion brought Chrissy out of the room.

Her torch picking out Doc and Robin at the top of the stairs. The shadowy figure had vanished.

This was going to be a very long night.

Chapter Text

Robin’s scream broke the connection Nicole had with Waverly. Every time she took her mind from Waverly she disappeared. Another factor to remember, she noted. A knock on the door made Wynonna jump. She had never been this jittery.

Tonight was different.

Chrissy appeared. "Do you girls want to join us in the séance room? I have coffee and biscuits. I think everyone could do with a break."

The group sat drinking fortified coffee. Jeremy and Robin looked uncomfortable. They stood whispering with Chrissy. Chrissy nodding. They had decided to bail. This was more than they had bargained for. Best to call a taxi and get the hell away from this place. Dolls sat next to Nicole.

“I’m not leaving you here. Just want to check you want to stay?”

“Oh Dolls. I do, but you don’t have to. It’s OK. If you want to go back to the hotel with the others I’ll understand.”

“Have you seen her again?”

“Yes, I don’t know what happened? Why she disappeared. I need to ask her.”

“Ask who?” Chrissy was standing nearby adjusting the spotlight.

Nicole didn’t know how to explain. She opted for the get it out on the table and be damned approach.

“Chrissy. I have a connection with Lady Waverly. I have flashbacks. I see her, hear her, feel her. I have no idea how. Or, why this is happening to me. I think I’m here to save her.”

Chrissy listened to Nicole. “Do you have abilities? Have you interacted with spirits before?”

“Only my grandma. I thought it was a dream. It felt real.”

“And you say, you have felt her. Was she corporeal? Did she have a body?”

“If you mean did she feel solid. Yes. Oh yes. Definitely solid. But, only when my eyes were closed.”

“Fascinating. I have abilities too, but not to this degree. Yours are rare. Prized. You are very lucky indeed.”

Nicole had never heard her abilities called that. She assumed they were odd. Strange. Something to hide. Something people would make fun of. Here she was able to touch a spirit, being told it was perfectly acceptable. Doc was sitting with his mouth open.

“Can someone tell me what is going on?”

Wynonna thought it best to summarise. “Nicole kissed my great, great, however many, aunt in a bed while I was in the room.”

Dolls shook his head. “This is so fucked up.”

Doc nodded. “I have to agree with you there, cowboy.”

They heard a car horn outside. Jeremy and Robin gave their apologies. The rest of the group watched as they left the room with Chrissy. Doc looked at the remaining group.

“I have got to say, this is one freaky house.”

Chrissy returned. “Would anyone mind if we performed another séance? I feel this would be in all our interests.”

The group sat at the table once more. Candles lit. Chrissy summoned Lady Waverly. Nicole saw her enter the room. She smiled at her.

“Hey, we’re waiting for you.”

“My love. Who are these strangers with you?”

Nicole felt a jolt of excitement. “Can you see them? They are my friends. We’re here for you. If you want us.”

“Why would I want them? My love, I only want you.”

Chrissy interrupted. “Lady Waverly, we mean you no harm. Your journey has been long. We are here to help you rest. Help you pass over. Are you willing for us to do so?”

Nicole saw the look of panic on Waverly’s face. “No, I need to stay. My lover is here, at last. I do not need your help.”

Nicole jumped up. “Waverly, we don’t mean any harm.”

She was gone. Nicole looked at Chrissy. “I can sense something. Oh no. It can’t be. She’s trapped. She’s trapped in the house somewhere. I have to find her. She doesn’t want to cross over. She wants to be rescued.”

Chrissy nodded. “That would fit. There is a rumour Lady Waverly’s father found her with her lover. I sense her most in the attic. A feeling of being locked in.”

Nicole needed answers. “Why didn’t her lover rescue her? I would have done everything to get her to safety.”

“Maybe they tried. It’s strange. I agree. All I know is she was never seen again.”

“But, her portrait. Why is her portrait over the fireplace?”

“It was only found a few years ago in the attic, wrapped in a blanket, under the floorboards. That’s why it looks so fresh. She was such a beauty.”

The group knew where Nicole wanted to go. The attic. She had to see for herself where Waverly had been imprisoned. She picked up her torch.

“Who’s with me?”

Everyone nodded. Everyone, apart from Nicole and Chrissy, wishing they could remain in the relative safety of the séance room. The group trotted out in single file. Doc and Dolls fighting not to be last. Neither wanted the experience of being tapped on the shoulder by something other than the living.

Their torches bounced off the walls as they ascended. Chrissy first, Nicole second. They reached the attic door. Chrissy turned the handle.

“Before we go in, I need to warn you I have picked up a lot of sadness in this room. Nicole, I don’t know how this will affect you? Be prepared. It can hit quite hard. Everyone ready?”

Doc wondered why he hadn’t felt anything in the room, realising he rarely knew when Wynonna was upset until she cried, screamed, threw something at him. He decided it would be best to pretend he had felt something.

“Yes, I felt sad when I was in there earlier. Very weird.”

Wynonna turned to him. “I seriously doubt you did. Indigestion, that’s all.”

Doc glared at her. She having exposed his obvious lie. “It wasn’t indigestion.”

They entered the room. Nicole sensed the sadness immediately. “Oh no. I can’t bear it. It’s too much.”

She pushed past the others, tears welling. Wynonna went after her.

“Hey, it’s OK. I know this is the sad part. I’m guessing whatever happened in this room, you’ll feel it the most. I know this is hard. We’re here for you. Take your time.”

Nicole nodded. The intensity of emotion in that room wouldn’t stop her doing what she was meant to do. Able to do.

“Thanks. I’m sorry. I’ll do my best.”

They returned. Chrissy had her eyes closed attempting to summon Lady Waverly. Nicole stopped her.

“Chrissy, if you don’t mind, can I do it. This room has so many bad memories for Waverly, I want her to feel her lover has returned.”

Nicole closed her eyes, the rest of the group waited nervously.

“Waverly, my love, I know you can hear me. I’m here. I’ve come to rescue you. Please, please come to me.”

Nicole felt arms embracing her. Waverly’s arms. “My love. I knew you would not abandon me.”

“I would never abandon you. Why didn’t I come back for you? It breaks my heart.”

“My love. I wondered that every day. I would watch for you. Looking out the window. Waiting. Waiting for your return.”

Nicole couldn’t stop the tears. To think Waverly had waited for her lover to return. Hoping beyond hope for that day. She desperately wanted to open her eyes. See Waverly, knowing to do so would break the spell. The warmth between them.

“Guys, she’s here with me. We need to figure out how to get her out of the house.”

Chrissy heard heavy footsteps outside. “I don’t want to worry anyone, but I think we have company.”

Dolls said it before he could stop himself. “As in good company, right? Good, not bad company.”

“Bad. I think it’s Waverly’s father, Sir Robert. God, that man is a menace. Even in death.”

Nicole could feel Waverly’s body become tense. “I have to go. He’s coming. He won’t let me leave this house.”

“Waverly, wait. We can help you. It’s six against one.”

“My love, he’s too powerful. He follows me. Keeping me trapped.”

Nicole felt her slipping away. The loss more acute knowing Waverly’s past. The more she knew, the more she wished she didn’t. And yet, she had to know everything. If she was to succeed.

To save her Waverly.

As soon as Waverly left the room, the atmosphere changed. Sir Robert had departed with her.

Chrissy shook her head. “He’s one of our more active spirits. When I say active, I mean menacing. He seems to delight in terrorising visitors. If this is how he acts in death, he must have been dreadful to live with.”

Nicole was drained. Her connection with Waverly was deepening. Every moment of contact brought them closer. She could feel how Waverly felt, understand the life she had led, the confinement she had endured. The harm her father had done. How could she ever make that up to Waverly? How could she undo the wrong?

Chrissy stroked Nicole’s arm. “My dear. This was not your doing. No matter how you are connected, who Waverly believes you to be, you are but a conduit. As I am.”

“Sorry. I’m a what?”

“We are able to channel spirits. They connect with us, seeking our guidance, our help with unfinished business. Help with crossing over. Waverly is tied to this house. Bound by unfortunate events.”

Nicole contemplated Chrissy’s explanation. “If she’s tied to the house, unable to leave, how could I sense Waverly before coming to Wymering Manor? That’s been bugging me. How could I hear her in The Tower of London, see her in an alleyway, feel her in a London hotel?”

Chrissy studied Nicole. “I suspect there is a psychic link. A connection, which began when you first read about Wymering Manor. It means you could sense her even though she’s bound to this house. Unable to leave.”

Nicole needed to process this information. Chrissy pulled out her small flask.

“Anyone for another drink?”

Dolls raised his hand. “This place is not for the sober.”

Doc took the flask after Dolls. “I agree. These spirits drive a man to drink.”

Wynonna laughed. “Spirits. Drink. As in. Oh, never mind.”

Everyone stared at her. “What? Well, I thought it was funny.”

Chrissy suggested they would be better working out their next move downstairs. More light. More coffee. The worst part of the storm had subsided. The wind howled. Rain lashed the windows, cascading down glass like the tears Nicole shed earlier for Waverly. It was nearly midnight.

The witching hour.

Chapter Text

They entered the séance room. The French doors were wide open. Rain pouring in. Doc and Dolls attempted to close them. Their efforts in vain. No matter how many times they shut the doors, something, someone pushed them open. They couldn’t stay in this room. Chrissy escorted the group to the drawing room. She asked Doc to help her fetch the spotlight.

Nicole pondered their next move. “We need to think of a way to distract Sir Robert. He’s the one who will prevent us rescuing Waverly. If we could get him away from her long enough, I might be in with a chance.”

Wynonna stood by the fireplace. “And, how exactly do we do that? How do we distract a ghost? Like a ghost is ever going to chase us.”

Nicole’s face lit up. “That’s it. If he chases the boys. Dolls, are you up for that?”

“No. Fuck. OK, if that’s what needs to be done. Chrissy better bring that hip flask back with her. I could do with another shot.”

“Right. You and Doc distract Sir Robert. Us girls return to Waverly’s bedroom. That’s where she was happiest. I’m sure she’ll leave with me.”

Wynonna wasn’t convinced. “How do you convince a ghost to follow you? What if Sir Robert doesn’t chase the boys? What if Waverly can’t leave this house? What if nothing works?”

Nicole smiled at Wynonna. “You said it yourself when we first met. I’m the one. I’m the one who is here to save Waverly. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. You’ve been in this house before. Has it ever been this active?”

“No. The odd noise. Waverly laughing. Nothing like this. OK, I’m warming to your idea.”

Chrissy and Doc returned with the light and provisions. “I think we’ll be safe here for now. This really is turning into a Halloween night to remember. Does anyone want to try the Ouija board? It could be fun with all this activity.”

Nicole turned to Chrissy. “I need you to summon Sir Robert. We need to keep him away from Waverly’s bedroom. I don’t know how. I just know we have to. Can we get him to chase the boys?”

Chrissy studied the group. “That might work. There’s one thing we could try. Not chasing, binding. It’s a long shot. An incantation. A spell. I’ve not used it on such a powerful spirit before. It would mean binding him to Doc and Dolls. Spiritual handcuffs if you like. Their energy should be enough to keep him here, at least until we rescue Waverly.”

Doc really didn’t like the idea of being bound to Sir Robert, or Dolls. It was all beyond weird. Yet, he didn’t want to lose face in front of the group, nodding his head in agreement. Dolls was shaking his head.

“I’m so not comfortable. Nicole, are you absolutely certain you want to go through with this? You don’t have to. I know you feel a duty, but as Chrissy said, none of this is your doing.”

“I’m so sorry. What Chrissy is suggesting sounds risky. But, if it’s the only way…”

Her voice trailed off. She knew what Dolls and Doc were about to do was dangerous. She knew Dolls would do this for her in a heartbeat, out of loyalty.

Dolls nodded. “OK. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I’m in. Ride or die. If it ends up being the second one, it’s been a real pleasure. No really.”

Nicole laughed. She loved Dolls. More so than ever before. Chrissy rubbed her hands together.

“First, I need to make a salt circle. John Henry, Xavier, step into the circle and hold hands. When Sir Robert arrives allow him to enter the circle. Your hands will bind him.”

Chrissy grabbed a packet of salt from her bag, pouring it in a circle, motioning for Doc and Dolls to step inside. She closed her eyes. “Here goes. Spirit of Sir Robert you are summoned. Bound to time, bound to place, bound together in this space. Living hands will keep you here, held in circle, now appear.”

The sudden drop in temperature announced his presence. A feeling of dread filled the room. Sir Robert was angry. Angry someone dared tell him what to do. Bellowing at those able to hear.

“I will not be ordered in my own house. Be gone.”

Chrissy answered. “Spirit. Your hands are mine to do my bidding. Make the circle with the living.”

Sir Robert roared as he was forced to join Doc and Dolls in a circle. They felt his icy cold touch pulling the warmth out of their bodies. Dolls was shaking. This would be something not to tell his grandchildren, unless they were naughty.

Chrissy turned to Nicole. “Can you see Sir Robert?”

“Not really. I can see a shadow. Nothing solid. You?”

“I only hear spirits. I wish I had your abilities. Could make a lot more money. Shall we head off to Lady Waverly’s bedroom.”

Torches in hand, Nicole, Wynonna and Chrissy made their way up the stairs. Chrissy was at the front. She stopped half way.

“Can anyone hear singing?”

Nicole and Wynonna stopped behind her. Listening. They could hear the faint sound of a hymn.

Chrissy looked apologetic. “Sorry, was hoping this wouldn’t happen. Using an incantation can excite the other ghosts.”

Wynonna shone her torch in Chrissy’s face. “What do you mean, excite?”

“Oh, nothing. Only, there’s a group of nuns at the top of the stairs singing. It will be difficult getting past. They get very angry if anyone tries. Screaming and throwing things. No idea why. This house has so many ghosts. There’s something not quite right.”

Wynonna laughed. “Not quite right. It’s fucking haunted beyond haunted. We have two of our group bound to spirit dad, us attempting to rescue my ancestor and now a group of singing nuns in our way. Chrissy, I’d call that one hundred percent not right.”

Nicole needed to move. Angry singing nuns, or not, she had to get to Waverly’s bedroom. Wynonna turned to Chrissy. “I don’t suppose you have an incantation for noisy nuns?”

“Actually, I do. I should be able to get them to follow me, give you and Nicole a chance to get to the bedroom. Give me a moment, I need to remember the words.”

Chrissy stood, head down, mumbling. “Here goes. You girls be ready to make a run for it once I get their attention.”

Wynonna took Nicole’s hand. “Together. For Waverly.”

Chrissy began her incantation. She passed them on the stairs, moving in the direction of the séance room, holding up a thumb to indicate the nuns were following.

Nicole looked at Wynonna. “Did you ever think you’d be spending Halloween like this?”

“That’s a no. All I can say is, I’m not bored. Terrified. About to have a heart attack. Wishing I was at home watching a scary movie. Definitely not bored.”

Nicole laughed. “Me neither. Excited if I’m being honest. I never expected to be in such a haunted place. This is beyond expectations.”

“Dude. You said it. Now, can we please go rescue my ancestor before Sir Robert kills the boys. I might not say it to him, but I do like Doc. I’d hate anything bad to happen to him. He puts on a tough act, but he’s a big softie underneath.”

Nicole nodded in agreement. “Dolls too. Right, let’s go save Waverly.”

The clock in the hall chimed.

It was midnight.

Chapter Text

Chrissy was entertaining the nuns. Doc and Dolls were doing their thing with Sir Robert. Nicole and Wynonna didn’t have long. Whatever they were to do, it needed to be done quickly. This was their last chance. If they failed, Waverly would be trapped in the house forever. Staring out a dusty attic window waiting for her lover to return. Never to be. Nicole would not let that happen. Even if she gave her life in place of Waverly’s, she was prepared to do so. To save her. Give her the freedom she deserved.

They made it to Waverly’s bedroom. Wynonna debated whether to lock the door, figuring it couldn’t hurt. They stood looking at each other. Nicole knew what to do.

“Wynonna. I have to enter Waverly’s world. I need you to knock me out. It’s the only way.”

“Are you sure? I mean. I’m happy to hit you, but it’s a little extreme. What if it doesn’t work?”

“It will. It has to. My strongest connection is when I’m asleep, or, have my eyes closed. If I’m unconscious I should get full access to Waverly.”

“Gross. That image is now in my brain. Forever.”

“Wynonna. Be serious. It’s our only option.”

Nicole braced herself. The last thing she saw was Wynonna’s fist hurtling towards her. Blackness.

“Hey, wake up.”

She felt herself being shaken. “I’m waiting.”

She opened her eyes. The glow of the fire in Waverly’s room told her she was with her once more. Waverly was sitting up in bed.

“Where shall we go? I fancy London. We can rent a room. Live as one. I will get a job as a governess. Teach children their letters. You can write.”

Nicole gazed up at Waverly. “It worked. I’m here, with you. Yes, London. We’ll go to London. You and I. Sounds great. But, we need to leave now. Otherwise, you’ll be trapped. God, you’re so beautiful. I don’t think I could ever be parted from you.”

A tear trickled down Nicole’s face. Waverly brushed it away with her thumb.

“My love, why the tears? Of course we will never be parted. I am yours. I will not marry another to please my father. I would rather die than do so. My heart is yours. Yours alone.”

“I’m so happy I found you. But, we must hurry. Your father is not going to let us escape.”

“My father means well. He simply cares for his reputation. He will let me go. I will speak to him.”

“Are you crazy? Waverly, I’ve met your father. Well, I say met, more like felt his presence. Anyway, there is no way he will ever let you go. Please, we need to go without his knowledge. It’s the only way. You have to trust me.”

Nicole could see Waverly struggling with this decision. She sat up, brushing a strand of hair from Waverly’s face.

“My beautiful darling, I wouldn’t ask you to do this unless I thought it was for the best. You can write to your father when we get to London. You can explain everything to him.”

“If you think it best.”

“I do. Get dressed. We leave tonight.”

Nicole hopped out of bed. She desperately wanted to stay, entwined in Waverly’s arms. She knew if they were successful she would get to do so once they had made their escape. Getting past Waverly’s father would be the most difficult part. Nicole was confident if they were quiet they could slip out unnoticed. Nicole’s horse was in the stables. They would ride to London. She didn’t know how long she would have with Waverly in this lifetime. It didn't matter. Waverly would be free to live her life, not imprisoned in an attic pining for her lover. That was all that counted.

Nicole opened the door, peering out into the corridor. A candle in one hand, Waverly’s hand in the other. She would not let go. Not ever. All that mattered was getting Waverly out of this wretched house. To safety. To freedom. She knew only too well the scenario from her dream. Running, a scream, a man holding Waverly back, Waverly telling her to run. She wouldn’t run.

Not this time.

The stairs creaked as they descended. Nicole could feel her heart beating through her chest. She could see the entrance door. They had a chance, a real chance. Placing the candle on a small table by the stairs, they edged towards freedom. Only a few feet to go. So close. So close. A few more steps. Her hand reaching for the bolt. Almost there. Her fingers touching cold metal. Freedom lay on the other side. Delicious freedom. She could taste it. A tug on her hand. Waverly was pulling her back.

“My love. I cannot run away without leaving a note for my father. I owe him that at least.”

Nicole looked at her in panic. “No, no, no. We don’t have time. Waverly, we have to go. Now. Your life depends on it.”

“I need to do this. It will only take a moment.”

“Please. I’m begging you. Waverly, we have to leave. Otherwise, you’ll be trapped in this house forever. In the attic. Alone.”

“My love. Don’t be so dramatic. Your vivid imagination sometimes. Let me do this.”

Nicole considered picking Waverly up and carrying her out of the house. She saw the sadness in Waverly’s eyes, realising it would be cruel not to let her write a farewell note.

Her heart melted. She had to let Waverly say goodbye. Retrieving the candle they entered the drawing room. Waverly went to the writing desk. Taking an ink pen and a small card, she wrote her goodbye to her father. He would find it in the morning. At least he would know who she was with, that she had chosen to leave rather than bring shame on her family. That she loved him dearly. Would miss him terribly.

In life he had been kind. Concerned for his family. In death his nature darkened, the burden of his actions against his daughter weighing heavily on his soul. He was bound to her, as she was to the house, waiting for the day she would be rescued. He could not leave until she was free. Free of the house. It drove him to madness. Knowing he imprisoned his child and, in doing so, imprisoned himself with her.

Waverly placed the card on the mantelpiece over the fire. Nicole paced the room anxious to depart.

They had so little time left.

Sir Robert’s butler, a light sleeper, heard their voices in the hallway. He had gone to check, assuming a member of the household needed his services. Overhearing what Lady Waverly was about to do, he woke his master. Sir Robert was making his way downstairs as Nicole and Waverly exited the drawing room. Seeing them together, knowing their intentions, he called to his butler to stop Waverly. Nicole was right. He did not understand. He thought he was losing his daughter. He would never let that happen.

There was no escape. They were trapped. No way for them to leave.

Waverly grabbed Nicole’s hand. “The basement.”

She pulled Nicole towards a door. A narrow set of stone stairs leading to the lower level of the house. A cold, damp place, full of shadows, foreboding. A long corridor stretched before them, dimly lit. Waverly guided them forward.

“There’s an old tunnel linking our house to the church. It’s our only hope. Stay close my love.”

They could hear footsteps on the stairs. The butler was gaining on them. They needed to move quickly. The basement was a maze of corridors and rooms. A mix of storage and shadows.

Waverly couldn’t find the door to the tunnel. In her panic she passed it without realising. Their only hope was to hide. Entering one of the storage rooms, they hid behind large crates towards the rear. Footsteps outside the room. A man’s voice.

“There’s nowhere to hide. Nowhere.”

Footsteps moving away.

It was now or never. They had to make a run for it. They ran along the corridor. Nicole in front, Waverly’s hand in hers. Just like her dream. Exactly like her dream.

“No, no, no.” Nicole yelled, as she felt Waverly’s hand being pulled away from hers.

Waverly screamed. Hands held her. The butler. He was dragging her away. Nicole had to act. She launched herself, landing a blow on the butler’s jaw. She had never hit anyone in her life. The force of the blow sent the butler tumbling to the ground, letting go of Waverly. Nicole grabbed her hand once more.

“Tunnel, or front door?”

“Tunnel. I think I know where it is.”

They ran, reaching the tunnel, Nicole stooping to fit under its low ceiling. A light at the end. Moonlight. Inviting them out of the darkness. They emerged in the churchyard.

Waverly was free. Free at last.

It was too risky to retrieve Nicole’s horse. They would have to walk to the nearest town. From there they could take the stagecoach to London in the morning. It began raining. A storm was approaching. They walked until it became too difficult, finding a barn to shelter in until the storm eased. They would need to move before daylight if they were to have a chance of reaching London before Sir Robert's men found them. They lay in each other’s arms in soft straw. Protecting each other from the cold. She had done it. Waverly was free. The nightmare was over finally.

She closed her eyes for a moment. Desperate not to fall asleep.

“Hey, wake up.”

She felt herself being shaken. “I’m waiting.”

She opened her eyes. Bright sunlight forcing her to close them again.

“Nicole, I’m waiting. Where do you want to go first? I really want to see the Tower of London. We can check in at the hotel, try out the bed, then go. Or, wherever you want.”

It took a moment for Nicole to come to her senses. Opening her eyes, she gazed round the plane at the other passengers heading to London. The seat belt sign was on, the Captain’s voice announcing they were approaching Heathrow Airport. A storm outside the window meant bad weather on arrival.

Nicole looked at Waverly. She was sitting beside her, in the flesh, a guide book to London in her hand, an open top tour bus map stretched out over the seat tray in front. She was so excited to be visiting London, finally. She had mentioned her desire enough times for Nicole to take a hint. Nicole arranged the entire trip. She wanted to go for Waverly’s birthday, but work commitments clashed. Both decided the last week in October would be best.

Arriving Monday 28th October.

Waverly scanned Nicole’s face. “Babes, are you OK? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I had the weirdest dream. This might sound crazy, but, you were a ghost, trapped in a haunted house and I rescued you. Wynonna was there. And Doc. And Dolls, Jeremy and Robin. Chrissy was a medium.”

“I think she’s more a large, given her height.”

“What? No, as in someone who communicates with the dead.”

“Oh, right. And, I was a ghost. As in, wearing a white sheet, floating in the air.”

“Not exactly. Victorian. I think. You looked amazing. Definitely your era. Very sexy.”

“So, tell me. Where did I do my haunting?”

“Wymering Manor. Supposedly haunted. I’d love to visit to see what it looks like. Then again, I’m not sure I want to after the dream I had.”

“You and your vivid imagination. That’s one of the things I love about you Nicole Haught. I keep saying you should write your dreams down.”

“I might just do that.”

Nicole closed the in-flight magazine she had been reading. An article on England’s Top Ten haunted houses. How to scare people.

Number four: Wymering Manor.

Happy Halloween…!