Earlier this week I posted a five minute recording of a short ghost story I wrote for Halloween. "The Lilly House" is a prologue to a longer supernatural piece entitled Death and Breakfast. Here is the text version:
The dead do not dream. They do not sleep, or eat. Nor can they speak. So the late Edmund Lilly takes his entertainment where he can find it. And most of the time, this consists of performing tiny, almost imperceptible tricks on his dear wife Aud, with the sole purpose of driving her slowly mad.
They had been married for nearly ten years when she killed him. In her defence, Edmund acknowledges now that he probably deserved it. One does not pluck a flower such as Audrey from a field, only to then dally with dandelions like Charlotte. Odd, he had thought at the time, that Audrey did not kill her too. But then he supposes Charlotte, a single woman, was not breaking any vows. The betrayal was his, and his alone.
But before all that mess, they had been happy. When they had first bought this house as newlyweds, they had made love in every single room (even the bathroom, with Audrey agreeing to break her own rule just that once). Edmund can’t quite remember the first time he looked at another woman. He can’t imagine there was any one moment where his wife stopped being enough for him. It’s easy enough now to admit to himself that he was a fool back then; perspective is one of the few gifts you can expect after twenty years of floating around the same house, like dust on the air.
Twenty years. Long enough for every point on his driving license to vanish five times over. Babies not even born at the time of his death are old enough to drink now. No wonder Edmund has resorted to moving Audrey’s keys every time she puts them down, turning the lightest of her silk blouses inside out. He hasn’t the physical power to lift a full cup of tea from its saucer, but he makes the most of what he does have. Which is just enough to stave off boredom and needle his darling Aud.
Tonight, she sits drinking a gin and tonic at the kitchen table, a Marlboro light burning slowly down in her right hand. It will be their thirtieth wedding anniversary next year. Edmund can tell Audrey has been thinking about it; a string of pearls adorns her slender neck. The traditional gift for thirty years.
"I know you're there," she whispers around her cigarette, voice even throatier than usual. "I wish you could talk to me. I don't half miss you, you know."
Edmund doesn't quite know how to feel about this. Truth be told, he finds it difficult to remember how to feel sometimes. Would his heart swell, if it weren’t buried along with the rest of him beneath Audrey’s rock garden? He imagines it would, but who knows.
Of course, he is aware that life hasn’t been easy for Audrey either, in the years following his death. The guilt of what she did haunts her as much as he does. Everybody in Wren’s Nest, their little corner of the town, thinks she is a loon. In the olden days she would have been branded a witch. As it is, she scrapes a living reading tea leaves and cards for the more superstitious housewives in the area.
But the world outside this house is changing. There is less and less room for superstition and wonder, which means less silver crossing Audrey’s palm. These modern, cynical times have not passed by unnoticed: her hair, dark and wild like a gypsy’s, is laced with grey like a spider’s web.
And so a new rumour swept through Wren’s Nest earlier this week. The madwoman is taking in a lodger. The guest suite on the second floor has been cleaned out and spruced up, and the young woman arrives tomorrow.
Because this story is not just about Audrey Lilly and her unfaithful, ghostly husband. It is also about something that so many stories have in common, be they fairy tales or urban legends.
A girl in trouble.