This week we’re delighted to present two new stories from Sunday Writers’ Club members Brigid Whoriskey and Connie Phlipot. With a ghost at the stairs and a frightful discovery to a stone carver commissioned to capture the vision of a city in a century long past, these stories will take you on journeys of the imagination. We hope you enjoy them and encourage you to leave your thoughts for the writers and other readers.
The Lady on the Stairs
By Brigid Whoriskey
Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt: The day after the Haunting
Oh God, where do I start? I woke up yesterday with that sense of foreboding that you get when you’ve had a vivid, troubling dream. You know the kind that stays with you all day, even if you can’t recall any details. It was lost in a thick fog but my mind kept summoning small snatches. Like tiny
flashes of memory
…. a figure
…. trying to find my way
…. a murky space with shadowy, indistinct shapes ahead of me
I just couldn’t shake it off, that unsettled feeling.
An oppressive, dark November sky was heavy with rain. It was the kind of day that never seems to quite open up to sunlight. I usually love having the house to myself but yesterday I wished there was someone with me – and now I’m afraid it’s too late.
I got on with things as best I could, trying to create recipes for my column, but that feeling of getting lost in my cooking when I’m experimenting in the kitchen just didn’t happen. And nothing turned out as I hoped. And my head felt a bit fuzzy all the time. And I had that sensation of being watched, of someone in the room – I even turned to check a few times.
I tried putting the radio on but I couldn’t focus on the words of the chat show. So, I tidied up, sorted out my catalogue of new recipes into some semblance of order (maybe there’s enough for a cookery book) and even sorted out that filing that I never find time to do.
But my unease just wouldn’t go away.
As evening was drawing in, something happened. I wanted to go upstairs to the bedroom, do another bit of sorting then go to bed and put this odd day behind me.
I went into the hall and she was there, fully formed, towards the bottom of the stairs. I’d seen her, of course, out of the corner of my eye on various occasions. We joked about her, my daughter and I, the lady on the stairs. Our very own ghost. I’d maybe had glimpses more often recently, I’m in the house alone so much more these days – with the kids away and the other half on his business trips.
But never before had I seen her clear as day. Just standing there. Human in form but somehow not solid. Pale blue eyes looking right through me. I couldn’t move. The hall looked almost smoky, like a harr* rising from the floor. I wanted to ask her what she wanted but I couldn’t speak. I sank to the floor.
She didn’t move, just kept looking through me. Well, I thought she didn’t move but after some time I realised she was infinitesimally closer to me. She didn’t look evil but she didn’t look kind either. She was just so blank and empty. It got dark and still I couldn’t move. And she drew closer to me, so slowly I couldn’t see her move. I tried to croak out a greeting or question of some sort but nothing would come. I think I’ve been here all night, it seems to be getting very slightly lighter but she’s very close to me now.
She’s almost reached me.
The hall seems even mistier, I’m enveloped in it.
It’s very cold.
My head is getting fuzzier.
I’m afraid I might be dead.
And now she reaches me as the winter sun rises, bringing weak light to the hall. She stretches out her hand and my hand takes it, as if it has a will of its own and is not listening to my brain screaming ‘No’.
But her hand is cool and dry and somehow comforting. She starts to walk back up the stairs and I follow. There is no choice now. I know what I will find when I get there. I don’t want to look but the time has come. There I am on the bed, quite still and cold.
She keeps her eyes on me and as I hear the key in the front door heralding my husband’s return. She smiles. A warm, gentle, safe smile. I had stolen an extra day but the time is gone now. I see a patch of blue and a moment of bright sunshine in the sky.
I follow her and say a silent farewell.
* Harr is a Scottish word for mist or thick fog
Brigid Whoriskey is an Edinburugh-based Sunday Writers’ Club member. We love writing with Brigid online on some Sundays, and we’re delighted to present her first SWC story here.
The Stone Carver and the New Century
By Connie Phlipot
Inspired by a Sunday Writers’ Club prompt.
The street was bookended with late 19th century buildings — grand, but over-sized for the city that Juris still though of as small. Curlicues like white icing piped along the top of the five story structures. Magnificent… but it reflected the last period. Victorian. Frilly at the same time as staid. Not right for the new century, for a city that though still part of an old, and Juris quietly believed, dying empire was taking on its own identity. A multinational metropolis, an international port, the business heart of that empire. Outpacing St. Petersburg, a jewel, an architectural harmony, but lagging behind in a museum of its own making.
A crash of bricks tumbling off a horse drawn cart. The pace of construction in Riga these days was deafening. Juris looked back at the street where he had been commissioned to design a building. He worked with an architect, Konstantin, a Russian chap but who had lived in the city since early childhood. Kostya was a brilliant architect, daring, constantly challenging the conventional ideas of what an apartment building should look like. They both appreciated technological change — electricity, indoor plumbing, steel girdings. No outdoor toilets in the courtyard for their buildings.
On the other hand, Juris, the artist, looked to the past for inspiration. Not ancient Greece or Rome. Others had drained that spring. And moreover, what did Greece or Rome have to do with Latvians? When Juris prepared for a new work, he consulted not art books, but mythologies, fairy tales, history books. He kept a list of the characters in the “Dainas,” the collection of founding myths, along with sketches of all the representations he could find. Lacplesis, the bear slayer, he rejected. Over-used and too brutal for his version of Riga. The relationship of devils and mystical animals was his speciality. Appropriate for pagans, which all Latvians were under their Lutheran skin. Something that left the viewer wondering what was right and what was wrong. And who was the real hero.
But ultimately he would choose a human face. A woman’s face with deep set eyes that would follow the passer-by as he walked past. Or a face that was neither female nor male, maybe not quite human either, its mouth open wide in a scream of joy or pain. Everything must draw the viewer’s attention; keep him coming back to the building again and again, trying to figure out the artist’s intention.
Juris looked at the thatched roofed wooden building that occupied the place where his and Kostya’s work would be built. Too bad about these wooden buildings. Soon there would be none left outside the rural villages. But there was no place for them in the city. They were too prone to fire, or like this one, to high winds that sent tree limbs crashing through the thatch. But they are part of our heritage. Maybe someday he could create a sturdy, modern wooden building. Later. First he had to transform the central city. Make it ready for the even more prosperous future.
He and Konstantin had already agreed that the building should make use of the sky in its design. They had admired early Arabic structures that incorporated outdoor space. Open courtyards weren’t appropriate for this cold, rainy climate, but cut-outs in the facade, like giant keyholes, were. They drew the eyes up and beyond. Just what he wanted. Beneath the keyholes, in a central niche, would be his sculpture. Something to contrast with the unlimited promise that the open space created.
Wisdom, experiences, age. Juris pulled out his sketchbook. The face of an old-timeless person. Eyes with the hint of the devil, but not evil. Rolling curls of hair, a long beard. He drew quickly, finishing just as rain drops began to smear his ink.
Tomorrow he would discuss it with Konstantin. He was confident the architect would agree. Maybe adjust the scale to fit the parameters of the building. Then he’d go to the quarry to select his stone.
He walked across the park to the Old Town. He would stop at a cafe for a Black Balsam to warm his chilled fingers and to drink to the city’s future.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Connie draws upon her experiences as a former U.S. diplomat in her short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her novel-in-progress is loosely based on her grandparents’ lives as Belarusan immigrants in the coal mining community of early 20th century America.