A Ghost Story




By Richard Smith (from a dream, or should that be nightmare?)


The study was dark, save for a lamp that glowed red from its velvet tasselled shade resting on a bureau in the far corner and table light on a desk. The cardinal hue coupled by the reader’s lamp revealed a man at the desk checking a document. With pen in hand, he seemed to amend the text every so often.

    A radio on low volume broke the stillness. A male voice was talking on a phone-in talk show.

    ‘- and as I made such a killing with the sale that day, I decided to treat myself to a night in this grand hotel; the company could afford it. It was a beautiful place, surrounded by lovely countryside with an impressive golf course. So anyway, I ordered the Grand Suite.’ His remark was met with a chuckle on the radio. ‘It had a four-poster bed, huge windows, the works. I had a shower, pampering myself with all the hotel’s luxury bath items then got into bed but I thought I’d catch up on a bit of paperwork and enjoy the four-poster a bit longer. Well, I soon grew tired and switched off the bedside lamp. It was only seconds but as I gazed at the windows, by the way, I hadn’t pulled the curtains, I saw, what looked like a silhouetted head blocking out the bottom two pane windows. I lay there staring at this head, trying to remember if there was something that was in front of the windows which I had forgotten about. When I turned on the lamp, nothing was there. When I turned the light off again, I expected to see the head again but it was gone.

    ‘After a bit of tossing and turning I must have entered a light sleep but the sound of creaking brought me back round. The silhouetted head wasn’t there but the creaking continued. It was like someone putting pressure on and off on a loose floorboard. My eyes darted around the room but I could see nothing untoward, that was until I looked up at the windows and saw the swinging silhouette of one of those crinoline dresses and two legs dangling from it.’

    ‘Whoa,’ said a man’s voice. ‘So what did you do?’

    ‘I think I screamed out and as I made a grab for the lamp, I sent it crashing to the floor. I eventually turned the main light on but the image was gone.’

    Another man’s voice cut in, ‘The creaking was coming from the rope.’


    ‘Did you get much sleep after that, Raymond?’

    ‘Not a wink. In the morning, I asked the staff about the history of the room and at first, they were a bit evasive but I managed to get the truth; in the late eighteenth century one of the Duke’s daughters who lived here, was to marry a local lad, the son of a miner but he was deemed not good enough in the Duke’s eyes but apparently, they were very much in love. Well, the story goes, the Duke fitted up his daughter’s intended and had him shipped off to Australia as a convict. The daughter never recovered from the news and hanged herself from a beam in front of the windows.’

    ‘These stories never cease to amaze me,’ said a man on the radio. ‘The times one sees an apparition and then are told someone had died.’                 

    ‘Thanks for the scary call, Raymond. We’ve got Brian Channing on the show, so stay with us to the midnight hour on this cold and scary night. We are talking about the supernatural and Brian’s new book; Strange and Bizarre Ghost Stories. We’ll be back right after these ads.’

    The study door opened and a tall slender woman entered. Her dark silk dressing gown shimmered in the lamps’ rays. She seemed to glide across the room to the man at the desk.

    ‘Haven’t you finished that yet, Roger, darling?’ she said, sliding her hands down his chest from behind.

    He clasped her hands on his chest and yawned. ‘Almost.’

    ‘Are you coming to bed?’

    Roger stretched out his arms. ‘In a while, dear,’ he replied, yawning again. ‘I’m listening to this phone-in show, it’s quite interesting, do you mind?’

    She was about to reply when the presenter spoke excitedly. ‘Welcome back listeners and have we got something special for you.’ Roger glanced at the radio. ‘We have Mike on the line and he is actually experiencing paranormal activity as we speak. He’s a lorry driver. What’s happening, Mike? Tell us, in detail, if you would.’

    ‘Hi, er, I was listening to the show driving along the A38 on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, having unloaded a delivery of timber at Bristol. I was heading for Plymouth but needing somewhere to park; my Tacho hours were almost up and by law I had to stop, so I was pretty desperate. Well, as I passed the giant pylon at Combe Cross, a human figure rushed out from the nearside and ran in front of me. There was a loud thud and I definitely felt the wheels jump over something.’

    Roger looked up at the woman. ‘That’s only a ten-minute drive away.’

    ‘Mike, are you parked up now?’ Brian asked.

    ‘Yes, I am.’

    Brian’s voice was serious. ‘Mike, drive away, now; two incidents happened where you are 20 and 10 years ago, both on the 9th January. The story is actually in my new book.’

   The presenter laughed. ‘That’s todays date.’

   Brian gasped. ‘So it is.’ He snorted. ‘This isn’t a hoax, is it, Mike?’

    ‘Definitely not.’

    ‘Then you must leave there at once, Mike, your life could be in danger.’

    Mike laughed briefly. ‘I can’t, my Tacho won’t permit it, but don’t worry, I’m OK.’

    ‘I’m going over there,’ said Roger, standing up.

    ‘No,’ said the woman, touching his arm. ‘Don’t get involved.’

    ‘I’ll be all right.’ Roger hooked his coat from the back of the chair and kissed the woman’s forehead. ‘I’m just going to make sure this guy’s all right. I won’t be long.’

    Roger closed the front door to a cold, windless night. Gravel on the horseshoe drive crunched under foot as he made for his sports car. The engine roared into life and Roger tuned the radio to the phone-in show. The headlights blazed into a row of conifers causing a squadron of moths scrambling into crazed flight.

    Brian was talking. ‘OK Mike, but just to establish exactly where you are, you’re just past the pylon, where the road is a dual carriageway with a high density of trees on both sides. And there are some trees scattered along the central reservation, right?’

    ‘Yep, that’s right. And there’s no street lighting here and hardly any traffic either at this time of night.’

    ‘So what happened after you hit the figure, Mike?’ the presenter asked.

    Roger pulled out of the driveway and the engine gave a throaty growl as he stabbed the throttle.

    ‘After checking and finding nothing under the wheels using my torch, I then walked to the back of the lorry but there was just nothing there. When I returned along the curb, I noticed a sign that said,’ “tea’s and hot snacks, one hundred yards ahead.”

    Roger listened intently, driving down a dark country lane as a line of cats-eyes flew by like tracer bullets.

    Mike chuckled. ‘So I thought, great; somewhere to park for the night and have a hot drink. I pulled on to gravel and parked on a bit of land no more than a fifty-yard square, and glowing in the middle was the snack wagon. A woman about twenty-five stood inside, serving, and a man; I’d say mid-sixties, was drinking tea outside. I greeted them and ordered my tea. I told them about the phantom pedestrian I just ran over but when the man began to speak, she told him to shut up. I felt that quite uncalled for.’

    Roger climbed up the gears after joining a dual carriageway and when he slipped into top gear; his fingers gripped the steering wheel tightly until his knuckles turned white.

    ‘The woman told me she had heard another lorry driver say the same thing, 10 years ago. When the man tried to say something again, she cursed him like before.’

    ‘Mike, was he a northern chap?’ Brian asked.

    Mike laughed. ‘Yes. He did have a northern accent. How do you know that?’

    ‘Mike, you must leave there, now,’ Brian urged.

    ‘Don’t worry, everything’s OK. Besides, Tacho law says I can’t, remember?’

    ‘So what happened next, Mike?’ the presenter asked.

    Roger sped along the darkened carriageway, transfixed on the road, approaching seventy miles-per-hour. He could hear the radio but all other thought vanished from his mind; it was like something taken over his actions.

    ‘After I got back in the cab, I pulled the curtains. I then thought about breakfast. I wanted to know what time she started in the morning. When I opened the door only seconds later, the wagon and the man were gone. I definitely didn’t hear the wagon drive off. Am I going mad, or what?’

    ‘No, you’re not,’ said Brian. ‘The story you tell me is in my book, headed, The Burnt Corpse of Combe Cross. Exactly 20 years ago –’

    ‘Wait,’ said Mike. ‘I can hear someone on the gravel outside.’

    ‘Don’t open the door, Mike. Start up and go,’ Brian urged.

    Roger was now in full trance, travelling over eighty miles-per-hour as silence ensued on the radio but three loud raps across the airwaves smashed the silence.

    ‘Someone’s just knocked on the door,’ said Mike.

    ‘Don’t open it,’ stressed Brian.

    Roger passed the tall iron webbed pylon that loomed obscurely above the A38 to the sound of the cab door opening and a loud scream.

    It was only seconds later, Roger’s car struck someone running from the side of the road. The windscreen shattered like ice as a figure disappeared over the roof. Snapping out of his spell, Roger stamped hard on the brakes to the sickening sound of screeching tyres. He remained in his seat panting faintly and probed a shaky hand to his damp forehead.

    ‘Mike, are you all right?’ Brian asked.

    Roger stared at the radio, listening to Brian’s concerned voice and when the presenter said they would be back after the ads, Roger climbed out of the car noticing the damaged roof. He was mumbling to himself as he hurried along the road breathing in the acrid smell of burnt rubber.

    ‘Oh, my God, oh, my God,’ Roger repeated when he came to a man’s twisted body lying in the road.

    He repeated his statement to the Almighty returning to the car. Once inside, he flicked on the hazard lights and slowly reversed back along the road into a black void through the rear screen. Roger negotiated around the body, parking in front of it and called the police on his mobile phone.

    He then stumbled out of the car into the pulsating amber glow of the indictor lights which picked out the grass verge, turning it into an orangey undergrowth. He discovered the lorry parked off road amidst an ocean of tall grass. It stood as lifeless as the deserted area. Both cab doors were open and the interior light shone through the gaps of the cab’s curtains. Reaching the lorry, the radio was on low volume, so Roger reached for and turned the dial to the presenter’s concerned voice.

    ‘- We really do hope Mike is OK down there in Dartmouth. Someone on the switchboard has called the police. So, Brian, enlighten our listeners of this extraordinary story.’

    ‘20 years ago, on January 9th, a car and a lorry were involved in a road rage incident. Eye witness reports say the lorry driver rammed the car into a tree close to where Mike is, when it burst into flames killing the driver instantly. The female driver of the car was burnt beyond recognition.’

    ‘In case you’ve just joined us,’ said the presenter, ‘Mike, our lorry driver was giving a live account of some creepy goings on in Dartmoor and had apparently just seen something that scared him. This isn’t a hoax, listeners - well, not on our part anyway. Carry on, Brian.’

    ‘As I said, I know that the guy at the stall was a northern chap because I researched him when I heard about his death and the connection to the story of The Burnt Corpse of Combe Cross. He was lorry driver, Stan Jacks, and 10 years ago tonight, he ran from his cab and into the road, where he was run over by a car, exactly where Mike is parked now. Stan managed to tell the driver who hit him, about the snack wagon vanishing and, this is his words, “a burnt figure” knocking on his cab door, before he died. By the way, there was a snack wagon at that spot, which was a gravel area back then…20 years ago. Ran by a 25-year-old woman named Sally Jenkins, the woman who was killed.’

    Roger turned off the radio as a cold shiver came over him. As he reached over to close the passenger door, he was certain he could detect the distinct smell of burnt hair.

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