Garden Visitors

 

On the weekend I took my camera to the roof garden to maybe capture some of the regular visitors but of course only two made an appearance…

7-Days Writing Challenge

Since I’ve got more time to focus on my writing at the moment, I am starting a new email newsletter for everyone who likes writing, is looking for a challenge or wants to start something new: 7-Days Writing Challenge.

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Virginia by Jessica Holzhausen

Ephemeral Elegies

It is dark in here and my fingers touch stone,
a hollowed cave beneath tons of rock.
How did I get here?
I can guess.
‘You,’ I say, an accusation in my voice.
‘You showed me the cave.
You’ve let me in!’
But it was me who sealed the exit.
Like a cavewoman
I am drawing your portrait in blood.
I took it directly from my heart,
because that is where you cut deepest.
Later, much later
I huddle in darkness
more afraid then ever of what I might do.
I dream of razorblades and knives,
sharp objects in all their forms,
torn skin
and blood.
I think about needles and scissors,
the flame of a candle
an endless fire.
Sometimes of gurgling waters
and Virginia Woolf
filling her pockets with stones.

Photo by Jens on Pexels.com

About the Poet:

Jessica Holzhausen is a writer and historian researching myths, narratives…

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In a Frozen Field (2017) – Short Story

Where am I? Do my eyelids stick together or is it entirely dark? Have I gone blind? I can still smell it: a mixture of moss and disinfectant. It smells of illness, pain and freedom. It is the smell of being reborn once again, of saying goodbye just to be greeted by familiar faces – in a different time, in a different life. They will not know me. They will not love me as I love them. Why do they never remember?

 

***

 

The day she arrived at court was the day the king’s only son went on trial. Trial by combat had been outlawed for centuries but on this special occasion had been reinstated: a king’s son had to prove himself in body and mind. The king’s brother had insisted on the trial, an attempt to kill the ten-year-old heir to the throne, a boy as sweet as tulips in spring.

 

The witch came to bring the blessings of her kin. She never expected that the king would recognise her but as soon as she entered the tent, he spoke her name: “Mariam?” She bowed to the king like she had never bowed to her lover, although she still remembered the days when the boy’s royal father had not yet ascended the throne and she had lost her youthful innocence to his touch. Again the king said her name, placing his fingers gently on her cheek.

 

“You must have known I would come to you, if needed,” she whispered into his palm. “I would never let our son die.”

 

The young boy stared at his father and the strange woman. He remembered her face from his dreams.

 

The young prince was clad in armour far too heavy for his size. He was a bookish boy to whom a sword was not a reminder of triumph, but an instrument of terror. The king would never learn what the witch said to their son that day but the boy shed his armour, discarded his sword and went into the arena and to his certain death with his head held high.

 

He knelt at the altar, held a short prayer and then again knelt in front of his opponent. The crowd gasped, the king cried and his young queen fainted. Only a strange woman in a night-blue dress smiled at the prince and nodded. And so the black knight raised his sword, aimed at the prince’s head and stumbled. The sword pierced sand instead of flesh. Judgement was delivered. The young prince would live.

 

***

I am dreaming. This is not real. This is not what happened. I remember it now. This is just the story, the fairy tale they later told. I did not do this. I am dreaming. Make it stop. I don’t want this. I don’t want to die. Not again. Please.

 

***

 

The celebrations were long, the wine flowing like a vast river and the king laughed and drank, but as he swallowed his third cup he felt a burning fire in his throat. With lips turning blue, he asked for his valet to be taken to his chambers: all he could think of was not to die in front of his son. The king was taken to his bed, his absence excused by too much wine. All believed it but two: his queen and the witch who had always known his fate.

 

It was late at night when he woke again. He was glad to find her sitting next to his bed. “I am dying,” he said.

 

“No”, she said, “you will not.” He did not understand. The pain ripped through his poisoned body and the memory of a brother he had once loved filled his heart with sorrow. His legs had become numb and his hands tingled. Still he felt how she kissed his fingertips.

 

“Once I promised that I would come back to you,” she said. “I will never regret that it took me this long, because I always knew the next time I would see you, it would be like this. I knew I could only return when needed the most.” Her smile was sad, yet full of confidence. “All these years I have travelled, learned and still never understood,” she said, ”but I do now.”

 

“I tried to forget many things,” said the king, “ but never you. I am glad you are here now. One final time.” A cough disrupted his speech. He could taste blood on his tongue. His time was near. She kissed him on his forehead like a mother would kiss her sweet summer child.

 

It was old and dark magic, arcane knowledge long forbidden: with all her powers she drew the poison from his body. No one ever cheated death without paying a price, she knew that, yet she did not hesitate.

 

***

 

Nothing is real any more. Is this a phantasm, a dream, drops of poison in my brain? Why are you showing me this? Why are you making me relive this memory? This fantasy! The strangest of imaginations! Please let me go. I do not want to see the end. I know what is coming. Not again! I do not want to go. I do not want to see.

 

***

 

The king found her in the first light of morning when he woke up from a strange dream. She was where ancient rose bushes formed a natural cave, where he had kissed her for the very first time, in spring when the rose bushes had been full of leaves and early blossoms. It was mid-winter now and the roses were far from their summer glory – apart from one single rose. She held it in her fingers and watched as it changed colour while her magic fled from her body. He touched her. But neither their long forgotten love, nor his tears could safe her now.

 

Where once breathing had been a natural reflex, it had now become a fight between her unbreakable will and her frail body, the latter refusing to obey. The dark magic embedded in the poison intended to kill the king seeped from her pores with every breath she took. Blood spilled from her nose and her ears. It was the king, who held her in these last moments. He had taken her down to the lake, as she had requested: a last sunrise, so she would not leave the world in darkness.

 

The setting was just like the script demanded: a bit melodramatic but this kind of scene made audiences cry and critiques write raving reviews.

 

Finally the king let go of her body. She looked so tiny now, frost covered and cold. It seemed wrong to leave her at the shore, but it was as she had requested: to be alone at last. The morning was very quiet, only the water made some gurgling noises, the birds still deep in slumber. It was a divine scene on the silver screen.

 

***

 

I am alone now. I am dying. It is the last path and I will have to walk it alone.

 

I am not breathing. My heartbeat is so slow and weak. You might not even feel a pulse, my dear, when you touch my wrist. My hair is frozen to the stone below, the sheer white dress covered in frost. But I am floating. Drifting between worlds. I feel light. Lightheaded.

 

 

“Cut!”

 

 

I remember it now: I am not a witch. I am an actress and I am freezing. I can barely feel the sun on my skin anymore. We have started filming the scene during the night and now that the sun rises, the director wants to film my great exit scene: I am lying on this stupid cold rock, half hidden in the morning’s mist. It is my burial and I can still taste the sweetness of fake blood on my lips. Even the quick cup of tea between takes did not wash it away. I did not warm my body, either. Back to filming: I am positioned on the stone; hair spread around me like a halo, a touch of blue to my lips, retouching the dark bloodstains at my nostrils and ears.

 

The director calls himself an artist, always searching for the right natural light. He says one sees it later on screen. Nothing, he says, compares with natural light. It is his signature style. I think he is not looking for art but for an award. I hope he is right, the critics have not been kind the last time he tried an experiment like this.

 

The wind is painful on my naked feet. Filming a scene like this in winter is cruel to everyone involved. I did not complain, though. The scene will be quite impressive. I close my eyes instead. He has promised me another role if I do well… it is so cold.

 

By now I am so numb I have stopped shivering. The director is impressed. So is the producer. Only my fellow actor looks worried. He is a nice guy. He looks regal in his costume, the heavy woollen coat and a thin ring of gold pressed upon his head. My beloved king, he looks just like I remember him from a time when I was not Alice, the actress, but someone else.

 

***

 

“We have only five minutes in the right light, so there will be only one take. Don’t mess it up!” Johnson was shouting at his young and very inexperienced lead. At least she had stopped shivering and was now lying still – suitable for a corps. The make-up department had done well, she looked as if she had dropped right out of a different world.

 

“Do you think this is a wise idea?” Johnson looked up. His lead actor, the only one with a reputation and blooming career on this set, was still not in position.

 

“She looks truly ill and we have only two or three degrees above zero…” But one look brought him to silence. With Johnson a certain look meant an outburst was imminent. The actors had to learn a bitter lesson in the last few weeks filming and many already regretted ever signing the contract.

 

The actor took another glimpse at the young woman. He had become quite fond of Alice. He would love to work with her again under different circumstances, she was clearly a greater talent than most on this cursed set realised. How she would blossom if her insecurities were not constantly triggered by a man like Johnson.

 

Alice looked half-dead and he wondered how she could keep so still in this incredible cold. He was wearing a coat befitting a king and still he had goose bumps all over his body. The twilight hours were always the coldest.

 

The extras and other actors had assembled at the hill for the final scene and so he prepared himself to climb the hill as well. Johnson was still waiting for the right light. Maniac. Alice must be freezing, he thought and looked at her again. Something was amiss and he could not put a finger on it. His own felt ice-cold and so he tried to warm them up with his breath. Hot clouds formed around his hands. Again he looked at her and finally it dawned on him what he had missed. He begged to be wrong…

 

The actor raced towards the lake, the director furiously shouting that there was no time for such follies and that everyone needed to be at their designated spot in 20 seconds. With every step it became clearer: Alice did not breathe. He fell to the ground next to her, bumped his knees on the rock’s icy surface and picked her up. With a crunching sound her hair loosened from the rock, as did her flimsy white dress. Her skin had turned a pale blue, her lips a slightly lighter shade than blueberries.

 

He pressed her cold body against his warm one, wrapped the coat around both of them and started running towards the trailers. Everyone had fallen quiet, even the director had stopped shouting. Somewhere up on the hill, a young woman started crying. Slowly they all began to understand.

 

He tried to warm her up, he pressed his lips against hers and tried to make her breathe again. Once inside, he put her down and started pressing his large hands over her delicate heart. One. Two. Three. And again. One. Two. Three. One. Two…

 

***

 

I am floating again. Where am I? Not at the lake… It smells of old furniture, of dust settled for far too long and then disturbed by careless hands. I don’t remember. Or do I?

 

My world has become so blurred, like a watercolour painting without clear lines. But I see it now. This is the part I am truly playing: the young actress nearly freezing to death at the shore of a lake. There is a love story involved, I think, with another actor. This is all not real. I am playing, acting, pretending… but why then does it feel like a memory?

 

“Are you all right?”

 

That’s him. My partner. I don’t know his name, but he sounds nice.

 

***

 

Allison was so happy to finally get up from the cold floor, she simply forgot how stiff her limbs had become. She stumbled and crashed into her fellow actor. She still could not believe how much he looked like the man he was playing in this new indie movie. If men would not age… but between him and the character he was playing – a not very well-known actor from the 30s – lay more than 70 years of film history. So it was simply impossible.

 

The story was only half fiction: There had been a young actress – finally claiming a role in a larger movie – who nearly froze to death because of some director’s insane artistic approach. In their movie she actually dies. That was fiction, as was the love affair with the fellow actor. There had actually been a lawsuit filed by a son or granddaughter of said director, but in the end it was settled in some obscure way.

 

Allison did not really care, she was at a point in her career where she had started considering doing something else entirely. She was typecast so often as the pretty young thing, she wondered how long she would actually be able to keep it up. It was such a cliché, yet maybe she should consider herself lucky to even have a job. Most female actors here age struggled – too old to play any character aged between 20 and 50 but too young to grab a role as an old crone. That was how Hollywood worked.

 

Allison wrapped herself in a warm cloak during the break. While the scene played in winter they had actually chosen a bright and already warm spring morning. Still it was cold enough to worry some of her colleagues – and they did not even have to lie on a fucking cold rock for hours! Again the director called… back on the rock, whisked away by the attractive man and dumped into an old 1930s trailer full of dust and a lingering rotten smell. And action. And again!

 

“God, I want a warm bath”, she thought. She felt sick. Her heart was beating too fast from the excessive physical strain and her head ached, as did her body. Especially her left shoulder had bothered her for quite a while now. Her mother had insisted on a doctor’s appointment, but she had found excuse after excuse not to go. She was simply tired, and more so after hours of filming. She had lost a lot of weight the last few weeks…

 

Finally, shortly after lunch, she stumbled into her hotel room. He followed, wanted to talk about the next scene. Why the hell did she agree to that? She could still hear him rummaging around in the next room. He was nice, so why was she so hard on him? Perhaps because he looked so much like this other man. It had actually started to bother her. Why she could not say.

 

She flinched, as she entered the bathtub. The water was not even hot, but she was freezing. She was probably close to hypothermia. Maybe following her and making sure she warmed up had been the actor’s true intention. He was a kind man, after all.

 

“You ok in there?” he asked. “I’ve ordered some food for later.” She let the warm water embrace her body. Floating. Her muscles should loosen up, now, she thought. But still her body felt tight. Drip. Drip. Drip. The water counted the time. Not long now, it seemed to say. Not long…

 

***

 

I have my eyes closed now, floating in the warm water. I hear it splash against the sides of the bathtub when I move my fingers. My toes. It is slowly getting colder. I don’t care.

 

He laughs. “Isn’t it getting cold in there?” It is cold, indeed. I don’t think it has ever been warm. Maybe I should add some hot water, but I cannot. Moving hurts far too much. I think it is on the left side of my chest. Maybe I have tightened my muscles too much down at the lake. It had been really cold…

 

“You are really not looking well, are you sure you don’t need a doctor?” the good-looking actor asks now. What was his name? And what is he doing in the bathroom? A blizzard rips through my chest. It is the second film we are doing together and by now he knows me well. I don’t mind that he is seeing me naked in the water. I am not interested in things like that. I have been acting since I was sixteen und now at the age of 34 I might still look like a teenage girl, but I am no longer naïve. A flirt on set was acceptable, but an affair was always too great a risk. Falling in love was a risk. He has fully come into the bathroom now and looks at me. I think I am shivering or is the water gurgling like that on its own?

 

I am freezing but I like the feeling of floating. It is only thing that feels right. Barely minutes ago I was a mythical being, I could feel the magic hum beneath my skin. Then I was this beautiful young, oh so sweet and innocent actress, who despite the pain had felt so alive. But what am I now that the curtain has fallen again? Who am I now? How stupid I feel that I do not even remember my own name. They are talking about me, now. I can still hear them. The beautiful actor is no longer alone. Someone else is there. Or is he speaking on the phone? It is strange that my brain is so muddled.

 

Someone touches my cheek, my wrist. Again. I know this procedure: me between worlds. I think it is him. Why does he always look the same no matter where I travel? Who is he? Actor, I remind myself. Just as you are. He lifts me out of the tub. I can smell his skin. He even smells the same as I remember. I am wrapped in a towel, put on the floor. He pushes something soft beneath my head, talks to me in strange manners. Who is he? Who is this strange man I can never stop loving no matter where I go?

 

“The ambulance should be here any minute”

 

“She seemed fine and then…” He sounds worried. Why does he sound so worried? Sweet, kind man, don’t worry. I am right here.

 

I would have loved reading the headline the next morning. So melodramatic, so me: “Famous actress dies of heart attack. Filming of ‘The Muse’ cancelled.”

 

I would have loved this, but I am dead. Or am I? Please! Please, not again… Dear Lord, speak to me! Where am I going now?

 

***

 

I finally open my eyes: I am among the stars… and there you are again. I know your face!

 

 

END

 

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Zombie – A Short Story

A mask made of disgrace and decay covers my face. I am the worst of my wandering nightmares. I am a killer of men. I tear up their warm bodies, rip away their flesh and bury my hands deep in their chests. I squeeze their hearts until no life is left; I shred their veins until their blood is spilling all over my hands, my arms. I am what I am. I am Death wearing the damaged costume of a man.

 

‘Do not linger, do not stay. Run away. Run away.

Do not linger, do not stay. I am a Zombie on its way.’

 

Why do you laugh about my silly rhymes, brother? You are the first to fall. I stare at your tear-streamed face the moment you break. I break you. Always the strong one, but gone within the blink of an eye – who would have guessed you had a heart after all? See how small it is in my monstrous hands.

 

My brother. My beautiful brother. Born eight years prior he was already father’s big boy when I was still screaming in my crib. How I adored my brother, how I looked up to him in those early years when I was too small to be of any interest to my father, before he started to form me into a man. I was a sweet little boy with curly blonde hair and a bright smile on my lips. Mama, I laughed so often when you threw me in the air. How my brother must have envied me all this time.

 

My stoic brother never spilled a tear when father’s wrath fell upon him, he, who took all the beating without even flinching. So studious and bright and still not bright enough to prove my father he was worthy. ‘Do not cry, little brother,’ he said when father finally found some interest in his younger son. ‘Do not let him get to you.’ How could I not? The little boy so adored by mother and brother, never touched by anything foul and cruel. I was five years old and stopped speaking for a month. Long enough to prove to my father I needed further education. How could I, the unruly one, ever fit into shoes that were too big even for my brave older brother?

 

When he left for boarding school I was suddenly all on my own, my father’s attention focused on me alone. I never forgave my brother for that. Even as we grew older and my mind began to comprehend he was no more at fault as I had been, the small little boy in me still refused to forgive, to forget. And so all he ever earned were snide remarks at best and complete rejection at worst.

 

He cared, my brother. I knew it all along. When I became an unruly teenager only to be beaten back into discipline, when I fell into depression and refused to eat, to sleep, to drink – it was always him who nudged me to come back to life. My saviour. My brother. And when finally the day came, I was prepared to tell him he was loved after all, I killed him instead. A look at my broken body was enough to make him understand.

 

I became a Zombie in front of your eyes, brother. I did nothing to stop it – and neither did you. How could you? It was my demon to fight, my dragon to slay. Instead I allowed it to devour me from the inside.

 

I wish I could have spoken to you the moment your heart broke. I broke it. I wish I could have told you that I have forgiven you a long time ago, ask for forgiveness myself. But I could no longer open my worthless mouth, the tongue is so heavy and my body no longer listens to any of my commands. I am dead to the world. I am no longer human.

 

Blood. Blood. Blood. Is it still flowing in my veins? Or has it stopped like everything else that once was part of my human form? Blood. Blood. Blood. I have spilled far too much.

 

I drink their pain. I drown. I swallow their despair. I choke. I lick away the last traces of life. I die. Every time I leave a bit of myself behind. I am no longer human.

 

I do not hunt. It is not part of my nature. I stumble along the streets, creep through the flat and corridors. Do not cross my path: I cannot guarantee your safety. I do not hunt and none the less I kill. I am no longer human. I am the shadow you see through closed eyes, the creature we all fear to become. I walk, yet I am dead to the world.

 

The second to fall was the girl in love. I devoured her heart. It tasted delicious.

 

But the third was the one I regret most: my friend, my companion, my soul mate. I saw how he started shivering when he first approached the body that once had been me. I begged him to go, I begged without words, my lips again failing me. He was stubborn as ever. I was careful this time. I ate him slowly, bit by bit. He grew thinner every day, wasted away after each time he visited me. Oh, my lovely one, why do you never listen, when it really matters? Why did you have to come here over and over again? There is not much left of you and all I can hope for now is my own death. May it come before I have the chance to destroy you. I am a Zombie. I am an eater of men. I am your death. Run, dear God, please run!

 

You might look at me and think I do not feel. That is what the mysteries tell, is it not? That the heart dies along with the brain, shrivels like rotten flesh. It does not. I am no longer human but my heart will not understand, it still clings to a reality that is no longer a truth. My heart has no eyes to see, no mind to comprehend, no mouth to swallow the taste of death. I am no longer human. But my heart still is.

 

I still remember the day we met. I never understood why I spoke to you in the first place and even less why you responded the way you did. With a smile and not with the stain of regret and loathing plastered upon your face, as I had seen far too often. But not with you. Never with you. I warned you I was not an easy person. I warned you that I would destroy you one day. But you never believed, you were here for all these years. No matter what I did, you refused to go. You always said it was what friends are for: staying when everyone else had gone. Fidelity. Friendship. Trust. Why did you have to stay? Why did you let me break you?

 

They have sedated me now and most times I am drifting somewhere between worlds. My brain is rotten, eaten up by this parasite, this cancer that claims more space than I would allow it to have if I had a chance to forbid. To live. I am hallucinating. Not the doctors, the nurses. The others. The ones that mattered.

 

My brother holds my hand while I desperately try to breathe. My lungs are the first to fail. He is crying like a little girl. ‘You don’t deserve to die, brother.’ Even the woman in love is stronger, holding my brother from behind as sobs shake his whole body. ‘You don’t deserve this. You don’t…’

 

Oh I do, brother. I do. Because now I see most clearly how I have ripped you all apart. Every man leaves a trace in other people’s lives but today I wish I never had. I should have been all on my own. All alone. It would not have hurt that much. I am a Zombie, my body destroyed by medications and an illness I can no longer fight. I am an eater of man. I have devoured your souls. And I am sorry. So sorry.

 

And there you are. You do not cry. I knew you would not. You touch my bold head with soft fingers, tracing the lines the operations have left on my skull. You sit down on the other side of my bed. You do not look away. You have become so thin my friend, there is not much left of you. And it is my fault. All of it is my fault alone. I am so sorry, my friend. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave you. I want to tell you but my traitorous mouth fails me. Only a single teardrop falls from my eye and slowly flows over my cheek towards my lips. ‘Don’t be’, you say. ‘This is not your fault. I know you did your best.’

 

My eyes are never leaving yours even as my eyelids start to flutter and the heart monitor starts making these nervous sounds. It mixes with my brothers weeping and her comforting whispers. ‘I am here, I always will be,’ you say. And so will I. Long after my body is gone I will be lingering around. With you. Always you. I ate away your soul day after day; still you came visiting me in hospital. Now I am giving it back to you. Take a part of mine as well, my friend, so you can feel me long after I have passed away. I am no longer an eater of men. I am eaten. Death devours me, death takes me.

 

I take a last deep breath but no air fills my lungs. I try to hold on to you. I try. But I feel myself fading away. I open my lips one last time. One last time I try to tell you all how sorry I am. ‘I know,’ you say again and my brother holds my hand a little tighter. The girl in love finally starts crying as well. And then I close my eyes to never open them again. I hear you sucking in your breath. A loud beeping sound rings in my end. I know you cannot hold back your tears now. You think I never heard you whisper my name in regret. But I did. It is the last thing my ears will ever listen to. The last word. And I will take it with me, now that darkness has finally claimed me. I am no longer an eater of men. I am eaten. Eaten alive. Death devours me, death takes me.

 

Zombie.

 

End

 

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Reset – A Short Story

‘Liar!’ she said. ‘You are a liar!’

‘You are killing me!’

‘I want to hate you. Why can I not hate you? Please make me hate you!’

Later, she listened to what friends had to say. They gave good advice: the pain will pass; the suffering will go away. You just have to endure; you just have to get through it. Time will make it better. She listened and knew better, she had seen the advert online: there was a choice now. A choice to carve him out of her brain and replace him with fonder, sweeter memories. Or nothingness. Even nothingness seemed better than this.

***

The children in the street called her the ‘old hag’, sometime ‘witch’ or ‘Mrs Tucker the old f…’

Annie’s mum said she would smack her, if her daughter ever used that word again.

They sometimes posted picture through her letterbox made with black crayons. They believed it looked evil, not knowing that the true evil already lived in her house.

When they played in the streets, the old witch shouted at them, threatened to call their parents, once she came running out with a broomstick in her hands – and they hated her for it, half afraid and half amused. She had just confirmed their suspicions. One day she even took away Pete’s scooter. His dad had to pick it up in the evening. To the children she was nothing but a nasty old creature that lived to spoil their fun. They could not know that every crash on the street would later mean a fist in her face. Mr Tucker did not like his lunchtime nap disturbed… nor his dinner or the evening news. There was always a reason.

The day he died, Mrs Tucker decided to forget. The procedure was quick and painless.

The old children grew up and new ones began to play in the street. They called her ‘the cookie monster’, because there was always a tin full of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies on her windowsill. They posted letters through her letterbox: well-wishes for her birthday and Christmas cards. A young boy even wrote her a love letter, calling her the ‘best granny in all of the world’ and if she would just be a little bit younger, he would like to marry her. For Halloween Mrs Tucker played the witch again, but she was a friendly one and no child left without an extra portion of sweets in the basket.

When one day Annie came back for a school reunion and asked about the nasty old hag, no-one seemed to remember. Just as Mrs Tucker, they had all forgotten the past.

The day of her funeral was a sad one, indeed. The whole village attended as they laid her to rest next to a husband she had not remembered for twelve years. Those years were the best of her life.

***

Sometimes she still dreamed of him, a blurry vision of what had been. Two pairs of feet walking along the water shore, sand between the toes and shells under their soles.

***

‘Hey, great to see you again.’

‘Hi,’ she said, her eyes void of any recognition.

‘Alan,’ he said. ‘We met at Steve’s party.’

‘Steve?’

‘Oh, yeah, sorry,’ he said. ‘I heard about it… oh shit, I mean… that was really tactless of me.’

She just laughed.

‘I actually have no idea what you are talking about… Maybe you have me confused with someone else?’

‘But…’

‘Anyway, nice meeting you,’ she said and turned her back on him, walking down the supermarket aisle humming a melody to herself.

It was a love song old Jonie would have recognised: maybe it would have made her eyes glace over for a moment as a single stab of recognition pierced her heart. Then the dull ache of longing and the knowledge of what she had lost. New Jonie did not remember the song that had made old Jonie’s heart sing and bleed in pain. New Jonie smiled as she hummed the melody. She liked it. It felt strangely familiar. Steve would have known, but Steve was gone…

***

Tom softly pushed the spoon between her lips. This time his sister opened her mouth willingly and swallowed the clear liquid. It was one of the good days then, the ones when she reacted to basic instincts like eating or going to the toilet, when she followed commands and was not entirely lost in her own head.

At times the procedure did go wrong. Nobody knew why sometimes not only the memory vanished but the whole person seemed to disappear. Nobody knew, nonetheless people were willing to take the risk, if the pain was just big enough. 

***

He still remembered the smell of her hair, feeling her soft skin underneath his fingertips. He remembered tasting her, even though she did not. Memories got lost; lives went on. It was not fair that she was allowed to forget while he had to linger on. He still wanted her, but the court ruling had been strict: he had to keep his distance or risk a prison sentence. Not that it mattered anyway, even if he spoke to her, she would not recognise him. Not the love they once shared, nor the pain, nor what he did after… he should feel ashamed, but he did not. It had not caused any lasting damage, had it? She was allowed to forget after all. Only he suffered, oh, how much he suffered. Life was not fair.

He had bought her favourite perfume and sprayed it on the purple nightgown he would have liked her to wear. Such a beautiful colour on her pale white skin, just the same shade as the bruises he had left on her arms, her thighs… The nightgown slept in the bed where she used to be. He buried his nose in her smell before he fell asleep and he woke up with the memory of her laughter embedded in his soul.

***

They called it the ‘Reset’-switch, a difficult combination of chemicals, rerouting of nerves in the brain and hypnotherapy. It caused quite a stir in the medical research community when it was first tested on former soldiers suffering from PTSD: they returned home to their families as changed men and women, the horrors of war successfully removed from their brains.

Some European countries banned the procedure nonetheless, because nobody as of yet had studied the long-term implications. And then there were these few documented cases where the procedure had – literally – crippling effect.

In other countries the procedure became a success story: first used on soldiers, many victims of violence and abuse found rescue in having their memories removed. A study made in the UK stated that 67% per cent of all women considered having parts of their lives removed from memory, but only 28% of men.

No-one later remembered when it became fashionable. Doctors were all too willing to agree to the procedure even in minor cases: mothers forgot the child they had born but lost to cancer or an accident, brothers no longer remembered sisters who had become estranged over the years and former lovers lived their lives as if they had never met.

***

Liar. You are a liar.

‘Focus on that,’ the doctor had said. ‘Focus on what you want to forget.’

Everything, please, everything. I want it gone. Make it stop. Make it… Everything. 

She was one of the curios cases.

The liar came the day after her surgery. She did not recognise him.

The doctors were pleased: another successful treatment.

Then came the brother and her friends: still no reaction.

That was when they began to worry.

They showed her pictures of days long past, took her to the park and the beach, places of happiness, but still she hid inside her head.

Sometimes she ate when they put food in front of her, showered when told, got dressed, sat in the chair beside the window staring at the blank wall. Other days they found her naked in the corner, hiding her head between her knees. Those bad days were followed by even worse: days she never got out of bed, motionless all day, her irregular breathing the only sign that she was still alive, a living corpse without a soul.

The doctors could not explain what had happened. They were sure, they had made no mistake.

The brother took her home.

Every morning and every evening he put a spoon to her lips begging her to show a simple gesture of kindness and eat. Oh, how he wished he could forget.

Forget her.

Forget everything.

Have what she had done.

A reset.

 

END

 

Liked the story? You could by me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/jessicaholzhausen

Death after Midnight – A Victorian Ghost Story Murder Mystery for 7-9 Players

Best played by candlelight only

 

The Background Story:

There was a silent scream at night, soon drowned in darkness and endless hallways, the fear of the dying woman evaporated when she took a last shuddering breath floating mid air, before her skull smashed unto the marble floor and her neck bent and broke.

They only found Lady Catherine the next morning. A doctor was called, later an inspector. Such a tragic death, they said, so unnecessary and unexpected, but maybe unavoidable. Apparently the lady of the house had gotten up late at night – nobody seemed to know why – and had decided to walk down the staircase. Even though she had carried a candle – the candle and the candlestick were found next to her body – it must have been very dark. Maybe she had stumbled, maybe she had tripped on her long white nightgown, all that could be said was that she apparently fell down the staircase and broke her neck and skull. She must have landed on the edge of the last step…

There was nothing suspicious about her death: she had been a well-loved mother and wife, a grand lady respected among her circles and the servants alike. Of course there was the disgruntled old housekeeper, fired shortly after the accident, who was hell-bent on proving that the accident had been murder, that someone, somebody close to the lady had pushed her down the stairs. But the housekeeper had been sick and old and some say mentally unstable. So her account had been dismissed. The old woman died a few months later taking her accusations to the grave.

Five years had passed since and so had the grief and feeling of loss. Something like a normal life had returned to the old Manor House.

Until…

A new young maid was the first to see it: a shadow moving through the hallway. Frozen to the spot she had listened to the fall of footsteps through the corridor: bare feet on cold stone, moving away from her. She dared to breathe again and … a piercing scream… she fainted. The young girl left the next morning, refusing to ever set foot into the haunted house again. That was three weeks ago. Since then barely a night has passed without the ghost making an appearance, even though it was not clear how much of the haunting was actually the vivid imagination of the servants, scared by the story and the already creepy atmosphere of the old house at night.

But then there were bloody footprints on the stairs.

And bloody handprints on the windows.

Lady Catherine’s portrait fell off the wall and nearly caught fire when it slipped into the old fireplace.

Once there was a message, “Husband, mine”, written in black charcoal on the white marble where she had died. Sir William was sure it was his wife’s handwriting.

After three weeks the still grieving husband was convinced: whatever had happened to his wife, had not let her pass on to the other side. She was trapped, now haunting the house, seeking vengeance or redemption or… they needed help, before worse things did happen.

The next day he woke up in blood soaked sheets. That was when he sent the letters.

One psychic replied a few days later: she is on her way.


 

The Rules:

The host has invited everyone who had been in the house during the fateful night to a séance with a famous psychic and spirit medium. It is time to finally find out what really happened to Lady Catherine. There are secrets and mysteries to discover and each character will have his or her dark past to hide. Who will crumble first? And what will the ghosts have to say? Will Catherine herself make an appearance? Let yourself be guided by the psychic and her assistant – or is it all humbug and fraud? It is up to you to decide, if you are a believer or a sceptic…

Some might go too far to keep their secrets, others might have an unfinished business… there might be weapons hidden in the flat should someone feel the urgent need to get rid of another player.

What? Your character died? That’s horrible! But lucky you: this is a ghost story so your part is not over. Turn yourself into a ghost: ghosts are silent, they do not communicate with the living, but they are allowed to watch and can to try to get in touch with the psychic and her assistant – find a way to do so without talking.

Please arrive dressed as and already playing your character and remember to stay in character all evening.

The organiser best plays the “medium” and leads through the story.

For everyone else: only read your own character description!

 

One important rule!

You are not allowed to lie, if you are confronted directly with a true accusation. You can deflect, ignore the accusation… kill the accuser… that is up to you. But don’t lie!

 

This rule does not apply to ghosts. So always remember: ghosts might reveal the truth. Or not…

 


More Murder Mysteries Plays:

Murder Through Time:

Five plays to stage a murder mystery party at home

Buy on amazon.co.uk

Buy on amazon.de

 


 

 

The Characters:

  1. The Psychic Medium (27)
  2. Charles, the assistant (31)
  3. Sir William, the owner of the house and host (48)
  4. Edward, the son (24)
  5. Alice Victoria, the daughter (21)
  6. Houseguest Dr Carl Zimmer, a geologist (39)
  7. Jenny, the maid (23)

Additional characters

  1. A secret guest (27)
  2. Arthur, the butler (61)

 

The Husband: Sir William

 

He had loved her, even though their marriage had never been an easy one.

Like many other marriages theirs had been somewhat arranged: his father had introduced him to Catherine when he was 21, his future wife had been three years older and her rather cold demeanour had impressed him from the very first moment. She drew the attention of the room simply by being there.

William had never liked these shallow social occasions, staged like a play where everyone had pre-determined roles nobody ever dared to challenge: the young girls in their pale-coloured dresses accentuating their virginity and innocence, which stood in sharp contrast to their flirty personality. There were the gentlemen, peacocks in velvet coats, dancing around them like mayflies. The sterner matrons huddled together in one corner throwing disapproving looks towards their young charges, while plotting a better match. They always seemed to avoid the men in black suits, who treated balls and dinners just like business events, discussing the newest developments on the markets. They were the nouveau riche, tradespeople who would not have been invited into these circles was it not for the money and the lack of it in many respectful families of old. There were always the quiet ones, shy and serene young girls and mere boys. They always stood out even though they tried not to.

Catherine was the ice queen, a tranquil statue of marble around which the world rotated. She never even acknowledged the flirtatious young men or the jealous stares of other young ladies. She smiled, but never laughed, she spoke, but never unnecessary words, she was polite but in a way that always seemed superior. In short: William was smitten.

They married in spring, their son was bon 11 months later. A daughter followed, sweeter and more temperate in character, yet without the strength of her mother.

They had lived a quiet life in the countryside, which suited William. Catherine had detested every minute of it and while she doted on her son, it was her daughter who had to suffer the brunt force of the woman’s disappointment. The little girl could never fulfil the expectation and aspirations her mother once had and which Catherine had later projected on her daughter. William should have stepped in, he knew that now, but he had been younger then and childcare had not been his responsibility as head of the family. He should have stepped in when his sweet little girl had to hide a bruise on her face, her golden locks brushed over her purple forehead. He should have stopped it when her small hands started to show red marks where the cane had hid them after every unsuccessful lesson with her mother. He should have put an end to it when his girl nearly died of a fever, because her mother had made her stand in the rain as punishment for some stains on her white muslin dress. He never did. He never said a word. And the little girl turned into a quiet young woman still bearing her mother’s ill will and her father’s silence. Her mother’s death must have been a relieve… She should be married by now, but how could he take away her newfound freedom?

He had always expected that one day he would have a son he could be proud of. But just like his daughter he might have also neglected his son too much. William does not know when his son turned from a happy young boy into this nasty and vicious man, always in a foul mood, cruel with words and a temper that was far too easily provoked. Of course Edward had been Catherine’s golden boy. Maybe William should have stopped it sooner: when Catherine indulged the boy’s every wish and solved his temper tantrums with some sweet treats, a new wooden horse, later even a real one. Edward had been spoiled and over time had become used to the fact that he got whatever he wanted. Of course that changed with his mother’s death. William had better things to do than cater to the needs of a grown-up man who still behaved like a little child – including the tantrums and violent outbursts. Only recently Edward had smashed one of the expensive vases after William tried to discuss his further education. Edward was not stupid, so Oxford maybe, or at least Edward could take an interest in the estate he was about to inherit. To no avail! The attempt to find a match for a wedding failed as well, as Edward had decided he would never marry in his life. William knew better, otherwise he would have suspected Edward suffered from a broken heart…

William has always enjoyed the outdoors, hunting, riding, spoiling his dogs. The most glorious hours were in the early morning, before the household awoke and duty did call: since his early youth William has gotten up before sunset, dressed without his valet and went for a hike through the estate’s large woodlands and only returned for breakfast, his face flushed from crisp morning air and the early exercise.

That is also how he discovered his dead wife: Striding down the main staircase to head out into a bright sunny morning he found her, already cold and stiff at the bottom of the staircase. Her white nightgown had slipped upwards to reveal her now bluish legs and thighs. The blood beneath her head had dried into a brown crust sticking to the marble floor and her hair like glue. William collapsed next to her and for what felt like hours he did not move. He did not cry either. The doctor later said that it was an entirely natural reaction, considering the shock. For days he had felt numb only vaguely remembered anything else but her lifeless eyes staring towards the ceiling – grey now instead of a sparkling blue. Only days later he began to remember the details: the neck that was bent in a strange angle, the candle stick further up on the staircase – a family heirloom, both his son and his daughter owned one of two copies. He never dared to ask himself how it might have gotten there… It made no sense dwelling on this: the physician and inspector had both ruled it an accident. Only the old housekeeper Ms Smith had made a fuss. She had been very devoted to Lady Catherine, so William did understand her pain, but her accusations went too far. Over and over the old woman had complained that someone had killed her mistress, that someone had murdered the good lady… in the end he had no other option, but to fire her. She was clearly mentally unstable. Nonetheless it was sad to hear that she died only a few months later.

Curiously enough after his wife’s death and first dragged along by an old friend, Sir William discovered that he liked London after all, especially the music halls, one in particular, the Grand Duchess where he met its notorious star: the beautiful Miss Lydia Garnett. Her performance was unlike anything he had ever seen before. After the first night he sent her flowers, after the second chocolate and champagne, after the third he asked the proprietor for a private meeting – he had heard rumours about these things. They had dinner together, she put a hand on his knee. No woman had ever done something like this before. And she kissed him on the cheek to say goodbye. He sent her a golden necklace and cheered loudest whenever she performed. After a month she became his lover, after three he established her in a private apartment in London. A year later she stopped performing, speaking about marriage instead. Dear lord, William is more than intrigued, more than aroused, he might indeed be in love. But how could he marry her? A former music hall star? Not much better than a prostitute? That was a huge step and would surely cost him deeply. Not that Sir William was particularly concerned with his own standing in society, but he still had an unmarried son and an unmarried daughter and of course their father’s behaviour would also reflect on them and their prospects for a good match as well. He just needed to wait a little longer, find a place in society for daughter and son and then he was free to do as he pleased. But Lydia was pushing and her patience was running thin. The young lady had quite a temper…

 


 

The spirit medium: Beth

 

She only got the letter two months ago when she met her older sister Susan for the first time in years. Apparently it had been delivered to her parent’s address. The old woman must have been confused to have it sent there. She must have known that Beth was no longer on speaking terms with her family. So it was pure luck that the letter Ms Smith, her old nanny and governess had written shortly before her death, finally reached Beth after all these years. Apparently Susan, the eldest of five girls and the only one apart from Beth who never married and now cares for her elderly parents, had found the letter and kept it, hoping that Beth might one day return, that maybe their parent’s would one day forgive their wayward child and welcome her back with open arms.

Beth never came back, but Susan found her sister in a newspaper advert: the famed psychic visiting Bath. And so she had come to the performance. Beth had recognised her straight away. They had smiled at each other over the faces of the crowd and later they talked over a glass of spiced port. Susan would never understand and Beth would never go back to her old life among the rich sugar merchants of Bath. But they promised to see each other again one day. That was the first surprise, the second was the famed letter. And that changed everything!

“My dear child,” Ms Smith had written, pouring all her desperation and fear into one letter. It had been years since they had spoken, but letters had been exchanged until the day Beth left her family home. Ms Smith had found a new home in the Manor House after Beth’s family had to let her go, struggling with financial difficulties and a declining sugar price when Beth was only 11. Lady Catherine had saved Ms Smith from destitution by offering her the position as housekeeper and so the old woman had become very fond of the lady, even though Lady Catherine had been very strict and often rude to other servants. Ms Smith had loved the lady, she wrote, and could not let the family get away with murder. The housekeeper had apperently been on her last round through the building when she saw Lady Catherine at the top of the stairs and someone sneaking up behind her. She did not see the person, just a shadow. She had wanted to shout a warning, but was too late. The person hit Lady Catherine over the head with something that looked like a stick. The lady fell and the housekeeper ran, afraid of what she had just witnessed.

Ms Smith hid in the shadows until she was sure the murderer had left. She wanted to help, but as soon as she knelt next to the lady she knew that all help came far too late: Lady Catherine was dead. Next to her, covered in blood, was a candlestick, a family heirloom, one of two pieces passed on to the children Edward and Alice years ago… She should have called Sir William then and there, but went to bed instead. “I cannot explain my actions, but with the utter terror I felt that night,” she wrote in her letter. “I was sure the police would investigate, but when they ruled her death an accident I had to come forward. Yet, nobody listened, nobody wanted to hear the truth.” There were other things Ms Smith had witnessed that night: the daughter of the house had come home very late using the servants’ staircase – drunk. The houseguest Dr Zimmer had also been awake quite late at night and at one point Ms Smith had seen him walk through the gallery. She had tried to tell, but even the young master, Edward, had not listened.

Apparently Ms Smith had died shortly after sending Beth the letter, asking for help, the death of her mistress still an unsolved mystery. And Beth made a decision: she would solve the murder. She just needed a spark to ignite the flame and so she sent her assistant Charles to play the ghost that had not yet made an appearance.

Beth – who never uses her real name in performances –  was normally called after “real” paranormal occurrences. Still half of her performance was theatre and staged. No ghost rattled on doorknobs and blew out candles to impress a terrified audience, but that was what people expected. Her assistant Charles was good at staging those things. But in all her cases the initial fear of the dead had been real. Sometimes it was just superstition, but often enough Beth felt something else: it was like sinking through the floor, a pull that nearly made her vomit, the light-headedness and ice-cold breath on her skin… a ghost pushing through. In these cases it did not need a trigger, just her being there was enough to lift the veil. On other occasions she had to summon the ghost, it cost a lot of strength as it involved ripping a whole into the fabric of reality. The ripping was tiring, but far more exhausting was holding both ends together, not to let go entirely. Only once that happened and it flooded her with so many images, voices and demands that she had collapsed on the spot. It took her weeks to recover.

Until today Beth dreads ripping the veil, afraid to loose control. But it would be necessary in this case. There had been no ghost at the old manor house, just her clever assistant Charles, sneaking in at night and leaving ghost-traces wherever he went. His last, his biggest stunt had been the master of the house himself. How he managed to put a sleeping draught into Sir William’s drink and soil his sheets with pig’s blood while the man was sleeping was indeed a masterful miracle. What would Beth do without her skilful assistant? She will need him more than ever to solve a mystery that had haunted her old nanny until the day she died.

Charles of course does not know why she asked him to play ghost. He thinks it might be money, but she told him not to take any, so maybe some sort of revenge. He does not know much about her past, but suspects some deep unsettling mysteries. How disappointed he would be to learn that Beth was nothing but the disgraced and disobedient daughter of a sugar merchant, too poor to arrange the marriage of yet another daughter. Beth had been destined to become a governess in one of the grand houses. But as a girl she had always been different, often in a dreamlike state, seeing things no one else could. Her nightly terrors made her an object of mockery in her school, giving her the nickname Loony Betty. It did not get better when she returned home, with a father eager to send her off to her first assignment as soon as possible. He loved his strange little girl, but was convinced that all she needed was a stable environment in a good house to finally set her straight.

Le Chevalier saved her. He was a staggeringly beautiful and impressive man in his early forties when Beth first met him. Beth and Susan had gone to London, a farewell treat for Beth before she was set to go to Yorkshire. Beth saw the advert, Susan did not want to go, but Beth begged. It was her special day after all….

He picked her from the crowd. He knew! Susan protested, but Beth entered the stage as if she had been destined to do nothing else. He asked her to sit on a chair and blindfolded her eyes. Then he told her to envision the veil. She saw it, thin and grey, half light, half shadow. He took away the blindfold and Beth nearly screamed, had not the Chevalier put his warm left hand on her back, so that the only sound that left her lips was a stifled gasp. A woman as greyly lit as the veil itself was floating mid-air. “Mary,” Beth said. “Her name is Mary.” A woman in the audience started sobbing. “Mother?”

“Well done,” Le Chevalier whispered into Beth’ ear. “I knew I would find you one day.” Beth never went to Yorkshire, she never even returned home. Susan eagerly waited at the entrance of the theatre, but in vain: only a servant was sent with a note. “I have found my destiny. Beth” The police later rushed to the hotel Le Chevalier had booked, hoping to free the kidnapped girl. But Beth and Le Chevalier were long gone and on their way to France.

Beth had indeed found her destiny and the first love of her life: Le Chevalier. They made love on the boat to France. For Beth it meant sealing her fate. There was no way back after that…

They became partners in life and business, Beth very quickly outshining her teacher. First she did not speak French, so Le Chevalier became her spokesperson as well as her mentor. That of course changed over time, as did their power dynamic. They were eccentric both of them, constantly fighting and then making up with rough sex. Sometimes they did not even make it back from the stage to their hotel room, both needing the release after the tension of the performance.

Some days were different. Beth was frail, her power often too strong for her body and while Le Chevalier was the more enigmatic and charismatic of the two, it was Beth who harboured the greater talent. And it put a strain on her. Sometimes she could not get out of bed for days, lying in the dark with a headache and hoping to finally cross the veil herself – not as a guest, but forever. Other days she was on a height, barely registering the danger of the spirit world, chatting away with visitors who made an appearance during the performance. There where the witty ones, like the old drunkard who came to tell his wife that she could be happy now, because she finally got what she wanted: there was no decent ale in afterlife. The audience had burst out laughing and Beth was glowing. It was during one of these heights that Beth made her biggest mistake. She let go of the veil – and nearly died.

Le Chevalier from then on forbade any experiments and hired the young actor Charles instead. People expected a performance and they would give them one, Charles was great in staging ghostly appearances, no matter if on a grand stage or in small salons. Doors rattled, pictures flew from the wall, lights flickered and ghosts knocked on wooden tables. Charles always stayed in the background. Beth knows he is not only a performer, but a stern believer. As a child he had an accident, he never speaks about, but he nearly died and claims to have seen the world behind the veil. But he understands that ordinary people will need more than just the assurance that the afterlife exists and so he is all too willing to give them proof – even if that was just fake.

Of course spectators were always convinced they had seen a ghost even when Beth or the Chevalier had not been able to make any contact at all. They never were that successful before and travelled all over Europe, praised by their audience: the great Chevalier and his Petite Madame.

In the end that was why Beth left Le Chevalier, she felt controlled, her spirit and talent stifled, constantly in the shadow of a “grander” man. Of course she had learned from her mistake and would never do anything that stupid again, but he would not even let her try to peak behind the veil again. He controlled her and even their lovemaking turned from violent passion to careful and considerate exploration, as if he was afraid to harm her. One day she had enough. One day she left – and took Charles with her.

They found their own routine, their own way of combining Charles talent for performance and business with her extraordinary gift. They have been travelling a lot the last two years: Germany, France, Italy and now back to England. Maybe America would come next, but first she has to solve a mysterious death that might have been murder. She owes her old nanny this much. She had been like a mother to her after all.

 

Some suggestions for things Beth might do:

 

  • She has a very weak condition and is prone to headaches, dizziness and fainting spells, especially when touching the spirit world. Act that out.

 

  • She sometimes channels the ghost of a French court lady. To do so change posture and voice and speak a few words or sentences in French – best something secret about the participants or cryptic messages from the afterlife.

 

  • When contacting the spirit world she cannot be disturbed. Her assistance will have to give instructions on how everyone has to behave. Beth relies heavily on Charles’ assistance and often will not interact with the guests herself but let him do the talking. Speak with Charles in hushed voices and let him reveal your message. (Discuss and maybe practise this with the other player in advance.)

 

Suggested tools:

  • Ouija Board
  • Tarot Cards
  • Crystal ball

 

Some secrets she might reveal:

  1. The son:

You hold no love for your family. I only see darkness there. Even your mother. You hated her in the end. But there is love – someone close, yet lost to you… was there a fight? Some force that drove you apart? You are resentful… why?

You did something terrible…

  1. The daughter:

You poor thing… she was never kind to you, was she? So much hatred. So much fear. And joy. I see joy, now that your mother is gone.

  1. The husband:

She is so very distraught, so sad… you have moved on quickly, forgetting all the love you once shared. The other woman. She is so young… she is not right…

  1. Dr Zimmer:

You were there that night. In the hallway. You saw something.

  1. The maid:

So much pain, so much darkness…

  1. The secret lover:

She says, you will never replace her. There is no space in her husband’s heart for you.

 

 

Ideas for theatrical performances during the game

(please practise in advance):

 

  1. When asking the ghost, if she was murdered, withdraw the fingers from the Ouija Board or Cards – depending on what you decide to use – as if burned. If you like you can use blood capsules and a white handkerchief and start coughing and spitting blood

 

  1. A flying picture frame, falling from the wall (use a nail, an invisible string and a quick assistant)

 

  1. Tarot cards. Pick the following cards and put them to the top, remember which card belongs to which character and hand them out accordingly. Don’t let anyone else touch the cards, so they are not getting into disarray.

 

    • The husband: The Lovers
    • The daughter: The Star
    • The Butler: Justice
    • The Maid: Ten of Swords
    • Dr Zimmer: Four of Pentacles
    • The Son: The Tower/ Death
    • The Secret Guest: The Wheel of Fortune

 

Or do a card trick with one of the characters:

 

 

  1. Give the assistant the chance to sneak out of the room at some point to scrawl a message on the bathroom mirror using fake blood: “Murderer”. Or stick on bloody fingerprints.

 

  1. Spirit travels – asks one of the participants to travel to the other side to meet mother/ wife/ father with the help of the medium. This would be a good moment for one of your revelations.

 

  1. Use an Ouija board to connect with the spirit world. Move the wooden ship secretly to give hints and clues, but make sure no one realises it. Practise in advance.

 


 

Charles, the assistant

 

Since Madame, or Beth as is her real name, often has her head in other realms, Charles handles the business side of their trade. Even though in this special case Beth has made it clear not to take any payment, Charles will indeed collect a fee from the host Sir William at some point. Everything else would be far too suspicious. It is not even clear to him, why this case is such a big exception. Maybe it was one of her manic phases again, where she seemed to loose all connection to the real world and worldly necessities like food on the table and a bed to sleep in. Not that they suffered any hardship: over the time Beth’ talent and Charles’ sense for business have indeed made them both very rich. Nonetheless it was frightening how detached the psychic sometimes became… as if she had already travelled beyond the reach of the living.

Charles knew exactly how terrifying that can be: the other realm, the land of the dead. He has seen it and it was… it was… how to describe it to those lucky or unlucky enough to have never experienced it. He had felt it, its power, its allure drawing him in, tempting, calling… Charles had been so young, a boy of eight when the terrible accident had happened. He was badly injured, unconscious for days and at the brink of death, the doctor had said. Charles is sure it was not only the brink. One night he had passed over, one night he had left his body. He saw it… it spoke with the friendly face of old Mrs Hewett who had died in spring, it talked to him in a sweet voice and asked to follow. Others were there, too, he could feel them. The doctor later said he had hallucinated in a fever dream. But no dream was like this. No dream made you want to die, to join the others, leave the pain and rejoice… but there had also been screams in the distance and dark voices whispering threatening curses and so in the end the young boy had been more afraid than tempted. He had decided to live. He made it back to where he belonged. It had not been his time, yet. He recovered. It took months, but he made it. His body gained new strength and a smile returned to his face. He was like before, apart from the scars that would mark him for life and the unshakeable believe that beyond death was another world, one that sometimes touches the world of the living, separated only by a thin veil – and Beth was able to walk right through it.

Beth knows that Charles had an accident as a child, but he has never told her what actually happened. If it comes up, the player can therefore invent that part of the story himself.

Charles has no doubt about his partner’s psychic abilities, even though most of the effects are fake. For him the existence of ghosts and spirits is proven fact, but since non-psychic humans need convincing, he introduced show-elements into their joint performance. Flying pictures, flickering candles, voices from beyond the grave – all things people expect from a psychic reading and he is ready to provide them.

Charles has met Beth three years ago when he was hired by the famous French medium Le Chevalier to assist him and his student, partner and he suspects lover during their performances. He soon realised that the young women, the chevalier used to call “Ma Petite Madame”, was the more talented of the two. Beth probably did not need all the theatrics, but the master insisted. Apparently there had been some kind of accident where Beth had been drawn too far into the land of the dead. “It nearly killed her,” the Chevalier said. Charles’ theatre performances had to make up for whatever she was no longer able to do.

Working for various travelling theatre companies Charles has become an expert for theatrical performances and illusions, he started at the tender age of 16 after all. He made the two psychics’ performances more successful than they had ever been. Le Chevalier was excited, Beth was exhausted and after travelling for nine months the tension between the two became nearly unbearable. When not performing they fought constantly and even the secret kisses he had often seen them exchange lost all their fire and passion.

One evening Charles found Beth in the dressing room of the theatre, her bags already half packed and a short note to her lover lying on the dressing table. “You are leaving.” It was not a question.

“I have to,” she said. “He is stifling my talent, I can no longer breathe with him around,” she said.

“I understand.”

But she just shook her head. “No, you don’t. Even the spirits have become restless. They want to come to me, but he doesn’t let them.”

He took her bags and the box with her cards. “Then let me come with you,” he said.

“I can’t offer you anything,” she said. “I don’t have any money, I can’t pay you. I don’t even know where I will sleep tonight. I can’t give you anything.”

He smiled at her and with his free hand pushed a strand of her hair behind her ear. “You are enough,” he replied. “Seeing your talent is enough. Let me make you a star.” And that was what he did. Two years later she was one of the most renowned psychics and mediums in Europe.

The newest case was strange, though. It was a small thing, but Beth had insisted. The payment was decent, but Beth had refused to take any. There were other weird requests: Before the official invitation from Sir William arrived, Beth had actually asked Charles to play ghost. She has never done this before. “There is a spirit in distress, I know it,” she had explained. “But she is not strong enough to come through.” And so for three weeks he had sneaked into the old manor house and played the ghost. He left bloody marks and fingerprints, wrote messages and made pictures fly, just as he did in theatre. Only this time his main audience were terrified servants. Slipping a sleeping draught into Sir William’s night drink and dousing him in pigs blood was a stroke of genius, though. He is rather proud of that, he has never liked these pompous aristocrats anyway. But still Charles suspects that something rather strange was going on and he cannot shake off the feeling that Beth has actually lied to him. About what, he is not sure.

 

Further instructions

  • During the game, you will have to play the ghost again: Discuss with Beth in advance what needs to be done.
  • You will address Beth as Madame all the time that is how she prefers to be called on stage. Beth is far too ordinary. But Charles might let it slip, should something strange or dangerous happen… Beth is taking too many risks.
  • Not much is known about Charles’ earlier life and childhood, he never talks about it and never mentioned anything to Beth either, apart from his accident. This mean the player can make up his own past until the point he joined the theatre company. Does he still have living family? Was he wealthy or the clever but poor son of farmers or city workers? What was he like as a child? Should these things come up, invent your own story.
  • Should something happen to Beth (unconscious, dead, asleep, missing…) and a ghost makes an appearance try to use your own connection with the otherworld to make it reveal its secret.

 


 

The Daughter: Alice Victoria

 

Lady Catherine and Sir William have named her youngest child after the two oldest daughters of queen Victoria, it was a well-wishing and a curse, as the name already indicated her mother’s ambitions. Alice Victoria had to be special and her mother trained her for that from a very young age – without much success. Alice had been a sweet and kind little girl, neither a beauty nor an ugly duckling, neither a brilliant mind nor a dimwit. All in all Alice had been an average little girl, maybe a bit too kind at heart, with a weakness for creepy crawlies and flowers.

They had lived a quiet life in the countryside, which suited Sir William. Catherine had detested every minute of it and while she doted on her son, it was her daughter who had to suffer the brunt force of the woman’s disappointment. The little girl could never fulfil the expectation and aspirations her mother once had and which Catherine had later projected on her daughter. Her father should have stepped in when his sweet little girl had to hide a bruise on her face, her golden locks brushed over her purple forehead. He should have stopped it when her small hands started to show red marks where the cane had hit them after every unsuccessful lesson with her mother. Once Alice Victoria nearly died of a fever, because her mother had made her stand in the rain as punishment for some stains on her white muslin dress…

Alice Victoria had only been 16 when her mother died. She did not cry once. Free, she was free at last.

Alice Victoria did not witness anything that night – indeed she came home rather late and rather drunk and sneaked directly into her bed using the servants’ staircase. That had been the very first times the young woman had done something inappropriate and forbidden: after stealing two bottles of wine she had left the house at sunset after her mother had told her to stay in her room – again. She had not much of a plan, apart from doing something, anything with her wretched life that would enrage her mother…

Eve, one of the servant girls, had told her about the secret meeting, she and other girls – and boys – sometimes had in the old gatekeeper’s house. It had been empty for years; some said it was haunted. But the only scary thing Alice Victoria has ever met there was a fat brown rat. Until today she does not know what had caused her act of disobedience, but she suspects the houseguest Dr Zimmer had played a part. He had been the first who had talked to her like an adult. It was him who had told her that while a child should always obey its parents, a young beautiful woman need not suffer a mother’s abuse. “There is always a way out,” he had said with a wink. Alice had to confess: She had been a tiny little bit in love. Dr Zimmer left, but her newfound adventurous spirit stayed. With her father nowadays spending most of his time in the city and Edward doing whatever Edward does, Alice has found time for new endeavours. Since she keeps them a secret from her family, the player can invent what it is, she is doing. Surprise your family!

Even though she actually has no proof, Alice has the suspicion that her mother’s death was indeed not an accident. Edward had such a temper… they had fought Edward and mother. Alice does not know why, but she suspects that she herself might have been the source of their conflict. For years Edward had been furious with his mother because of the way she treated his little sister. Edward was never kind, some might say he was as cruel as mother. But he had always been rather sweet with his baby sister and more then once Alice has heard him mutter: “I kill her, one day I’ll kill her.” What makes her even more suspicious is that the candlestick found next to her mother had been one of a pair. Alice owned one, the other was Edward’s. Alice’s candlestick has never left her room… The police concluded that the lady herself had carried it and fell with it down the stairs. But how did mother get Edward’s candlestick and why?

Alice will do everything to protect her brother. He is the only true family she has. Sir William has never been cruel or hurtful, but like many men of his standing he had cared more for the estate, his dogs and horses and maybe his male heir, than his daughter. She still has some vague memories of a time when she was very little, maybe two or three. Daddy had sat on her bed and read her a story, he had carried her all the way from the garden when she had scratched her knee and made sure the cook made her some hot milk. She remembered how he laughed at her songs. That was before mother began her training. After that Sir William had always been distant. A daughter’s education was a mother’s job after all. The strained relationship with her father has not changed much and so Alice keeps her new life a secret from her family.

 


 

The Son: Edward

 

How he had hated her! How he had hated her overbearing kindness, the doting and cuddling, the constant attention and the barely hidden criticism. How he had hated her for treating him like a royal prince, a spoiled little boy and not the strong man he was becoming. How he had hated her for hurting his sister and destroying his life. If he had had the chance, he would have killer her himself, the old witch. Mother!

Edward still blames his mother for his own unhappiness. Why could she not let him have the only thing, the only person he had ever wanted. Jenny. He has loved her from the moment he first saw her, kneeling on the floor while sweeping the ashes from the fireplace. She had not realised that the young master had come into the room and was humming a melody to herself, a strand of hair had come loose and fell into her face. There was a streak of grey ash on her left cheek. Jenny probably did not even remember how she had turned bright red, when she saw him, muttering an apology and rushed out of the room. He had laughed, not in a cruel way, but bemused about how flustered the young girl had been. Edward started watching her while she did her duties. He did not dare to speak to her at first, even though he was the young master of the house, he was rather shy with girls.

One day he met her in the village. It was the day of the yearly spring fair. He was surprised to see her there, but apparently she had been given the day off, like many other servants who were not desperately needed. They literally bumped into each other, she apologised, so did he. They laughed and he bought her one of Miss Cathy’s delicious almond cakes. They watched some jugglers perform and he bathed in her excited laughter. When they parted that evening he kissed her fingertips.

Edward knew her schedule, so whenever he could he left little innocent gifts where she would find them: a flower on the windowsill or a beautiful red silk ribbon wrapped around the door handle of her room. One day he went to the beach with mother. He found a shell in the palest shade of purple. He pressed it into Jenny’s hand when they passed in the hallway. That evening she came into his room. To give back all the gifts, she said. The servants had started gossiping about her secret admirer. She did not want to get into trouble, did not want to get him into trouble either. He silenced her protest with a kiss and a promise. He would never leave her. “I love you,” he said and she pressed her body against his.

He still left gifts after that, but much more careful. Sometimes they met in secret. When Jenny took the kitchen waste out he waited for her around the corner, a wicked smile on his face. One day he hid in the broom cupboard, surprising her with a kiss that silenced her shocked shriek. On her free days they met in the woods. Edward had never been a friend of long walks, but with her it was different. Once they sneaked into the old Gatekeeper’s cottage, empty for years, and for the first time he touched her body. A week later she came to his bed. He was happy, and with no care for the world he decided to marry her once he was old enough.

But then mother found out! The day before of her death she cornered him. In no way would he be allowed to marry that girl, or even see her again.

“You will obey me, or you will leave this house, not a penny to your name, do you understand? And so will she! There is no position in this house for a harlot like her.”

He begged her to reconsider. She threatened to tell his father and if necessary beat discipline into both her children, a barely concealed threat considering how mother treated his sister. “I will make sure neither of you will find a position anywhere, do you hear me? Let’s see how well she likes you then…”

Again he had asked her to see reason. “If you want that girl to have any future, you will do as you are told. You will never see her again.”

In the end, worn down by hours of fighting, he had made a promise – with no intention of keeping it.

“Swear on your life,” mother had said. “Swear on your life and that of your family, your father’s, your sister’s and mine that you will never see her again.” And he did. Twice. On the bible. He did not care. Let mother believe whatever she wanted, he loved Jenny. Later that day he had cornered the maid in the hallway and dragged her into one of the guest bedrooms. And there he broke his promise.

That night his mother died.

Since then Edward has not only become withdrawn, cold and at times cruel to anyone around him, but also deeply superstitious. What if he had brought a curse on himself? What if breaking his oath had caused his mother’s death? What if, lord help him, Jenny did something stupid that night? His frustration, anger and fear often leads to violent outbursts, more than once he has smashed some furniture in his room. He treats the servants cruelly, especially Jenny, who he blames for his mother’s death. Mother got her whish after all: he has never touched Jenny again, he has barely spoken a word to her since that day, avoided her whenever possible. But he loved her, even after five years he still loves her. And would it not be for his terrible anger and fear of the unknown he might… might what? Risk his inheritance? The only home he has ever known? For a maid? A servant girl?

Edward barely speaks to anyone these days. Why should he? He was a disappointment anyway. Father wanted him to study, Oxford or Cambridge, Edward was clever enough after all. “Or at least show an interest in the estate,” father had said. The man was funny: Sir William was barely home anymore and had left the running of the estate to his steward, but at the same time he scolded his son for doing the same. Then there were all the girls, father wanted him to meet. As if marriage would solve anything. He had refused every candidate: Sophie, daughter of an earl, had not even been half as witty as Jenny; the next, Clara, was pretty, but stupid and Marianne had the brains but looked like a horse… Edward is deeply unhappy.

The only person he still half cares for is his little sister: after all the abuse she has suffered by her mother’s hand, she was still a sweet little thing. He remembered how as a very little girl she had always carried one beetle or another on the palm of her hand, telling it stories and asked it to pick a flower it would like to live in. He also remembered how she had cried when mother had crushed the ladybird – Alice’s favourite – between her fingers, telling her daughter that ugly things did not belong into beautiful girl’s hands. “And stop snivelling!” He doubts that Alice remembers. She had been so little… While mother had always treated Edward like her golden boy who could never do anything wrong, little Alice could never do anything right. Mother hit her, disciplined her by leaving her crying in a dark empty room until she apologised for something she hadn’t even done. Elegant, divine, beautiful – Alice was all that, but never enough for mother. She is happier now that mother is dead. That is the only joy Edward has, but a joy that was overshadowed by doubt. What if not Jenny and his own broken oath had caused his mother’s death, but something far more sinister? The candlestick found next to his mother’s body was one of two copies, one owned by Edward, the other by Alice. Edward never dared to ask which of the two was found at the bottom of the stairs – and how it got there. One thing is sure: Even after all this time he would do anything to protect Jenny and Alice.

Edward had been in the hallway that night, looking for Jenny again. He did not see anything or anyone. But apparently was seen by houseguest Dr Zimmer and that devil had the audacity to ask him for money to stay silent. Normally Edward would have laughed in his face, but with everything that had happened, he was far too tired to argue and simply paid, hoping that that was the end of it.

But then the old housekeeper Ms Smith had started to make trouble and in contrast to Dr Zimmer Edward was sure she had indeed seen something that night. Father dismissed her, still she sent letters. One day she confronted him at the gate. “Your beloved mother, she loved you so much. You cannot let her down, you cannot let her death go unpunished…” He had shushed her away. A week later she came again and again the week after that. Finally he agreed to meet her at the cottage, which Sir William in an act of charity had rented for her.

She threatened his sister, his father, even Edward himself. Threatened to expose all their secrets. She had seen someone that night, someone had killed the dear lady and the housekeeper would find out who – with his help or without. Then she had mentioned Jenny and Edward lost his temper. He had grabbed the old woman and pressed his hand over her mouth. First he just wanted to shut her up, but as he realised how the frail old woman was struggling and that she was actually not able to breathe, he made a spur of the moment decision to silence her forever. He pressed his hand over her mouth until her struggle weakened and she became heavy in his arms. Edward only stopped when her eyes glazed over and her life force finally left her. Edward carefully laid the old housekeeper on her bed, put the blanket over her lifeless body, cleaned the dishes and re-arranged the chair that had tumbled down in the fight. He made it look, as if the poor old woman had died in her sleep.

When the ghost appeared it struck Edward like a blow: already superstitious, he thinks his mother has come back to finish whatever cruelty she had started when still alive. No matter how terrified he was about what the ghost might do, it paled in comparison to what it might reveal should the medium indeed have any talent to speak with the dead. He desperately hopes she is just a charlatan and will of course do anything to convince the other participants that she is. If necessary he will have to make sure she stays silent. He has risked too much. Edward is a killer after all and his mother’s ghost might not be the only one that makes an appearance. What if… Edward is terrified and like always in situations like these, he will lash out.

Edward is also less than pleased that Dr Zimmer is back. He will have to remind the geologist and former houseguest to keep his mouth shut – as promised and paid for.

 


 

The Maid: Jenny

 

She killed for him, yet he left her. Yes, Jenny killed Lady Catherine. For her lover. For Edward.

It had all started as a little bit of fun, nothing serious. How could it be? He was the young master of the house and she was a mere servant girl. Just like so many girls she had started working at the tender age of 14, first as scullery maid, then as chambermaid for a merchant family. They were rich enough with six servants, a butler and a cook. But it was nothing compared to the grandeur of the old manor house. Jenny had always dreamed to work in a place like this. The payment was good and with diligence and hard work a maid could become a lady’s maid or even a housekeeper one day. It was a secure position and therefore anything a decent girl could hope for. What she did not expect was falling in love.

Of course she had seen him nearly every day in the house, but the first time she truly saw him for the man he was, was the day of the fair. Edward literally ran her over in haste and she nearly fell to the ground. He caught her, laughing an apology. And then he bought her a candied apple. They ate it together. She still remembers the jugglers and the young woman dancing on the rope. Once it seemed she would slip and fall and involuntarily Jenny tensed… until she felt his warm hand on her back. When they said goodnight that evening Edward kissed her fingertips. She felt his lips even after hours.

The next day she found a blush coloured rose on the windowsill she was due to clean. Another time it was some evergreen tucked behind a picture frame. Once she found a purple ribbon around a door handle. When she went to the market she bought him an orange and left it in his room. That was all she could think of. One day he pressed a pale coloured seashell into her hand when he passed her in the hallway. Amy saw. Amy gossiped. And Jenny panicked. That evening she waited for Edward in his room to return all his gifts. It was far too risky a game to play. But he refused to let her go. Instead he kissed her and said those three words she had been waiting for. She cried that night, because she was happy, because she was so utterly frightened and terrified by what she was doing. She loved him… dear lord, when had she started loving him?

They met in secret. He waited for her at odd corners, dragged her into empty rooms. Whenever she had a day off they met in the woods and fields, once in the old gatekeeper’s cottage, an empty, haunted house, but they made it their own for one afternoon. Finally, one night she came to him and they made love in his bed. She stayed past midnight, just rushing back, before the scullery maid had to get up and someone would discover, she had not spent the night in her own bed. That night Edward promised that he would marry her and take her far away as soon as he turned 21. They would go somewhere where nobody knew about their different status, where nobody cared. He would forsake his inheritance, if necessary. “Don’t be foolish,” Jenny had said, but in secret she had hoped that one day it would be like this: just her and Edward. No more secrets. But then Lady Catherine found out.

That fatal night Jenny had waited for Edward in his bedroom like so many times before. But instead of Edward it was his mother who entered the room. Like Jenny she was only dressed in her nightgown and apparently came to apologise for a fight she had earlier with her son – only to find the source of their disagreement in his room. Lady Catherine was livid. No matter how much Jenny begged and apologised, she could not change the lady’s mind: Jenny had to leave the house by morning and Edward would never see her again. “Please,” Jenny cried. “Please don’t do this… I have nowhere to go… please I promise I won’t see him again.”

Lady Catherine only laughed and dismissed her with a brush of her hand. And Jenny lost it. What followed afterwards was a blur and Jenny did not remember much. Lady Catherine apparently left the room and Jenny still crying ran after her. She could not remember when she picked up the candlestick or what happened next. All remembers is a dull sound and the lady falling down the stairs, landing in a strange angle.

“Oh my god,” Jenny ran down the staircase. That had not been her intention; that was… Lady Catherine did not move and when Jenny touched the lady’s shoulder, she saw the blood beneath her head and the lifeless eyes staring up to the ceiling. Jenny dropped the candlestick and ran… she washed her hands for hours, scrubbing until they were red and sore, yet she could not forget the blood on the floor. It felt as if it stuck to her like a curse. Any minute. Any minute someone would come and arrest her… but instead Lady Catherine’s death was ruled an accident. That was the biggest shock. How could she live on knowing she had killed someone? Yet she stayed in the house. First because of Edward, then because she had nowhere else to go…

Edward had left her after his mother’s death. She had hoped that everything would be different now, that he would openly declare his love and that he would marry her, as promised. Instead he told her that while she was allowed to stay in the house, they could never see each other again in private. From now on he was her master and she nothing more but a servant. He was so cold, so unlike himself and that had terrified her. “I trusted you. You made me believe that what we had was special. And then you shredded it into pieces and threw it into my face as if it was nothing. As if I was nothing. And I deserved none of it!” He did not even flinch as she threw these words at him.

Worst were the dreams. While she could pretend during the day, built walls that would not let him in, she could not refuse him entrance in her dreams. He was always there, holding, kissing, more tender than he had ever been. And for a while she was allowed to love him again, just until morning, just until sunrise, when she had to get up and face the world again. She saw him every day and yet it felt as if he was no longer there. The ugly man he had become was nothing like the sweet lover she had known, and maybe now after all these years yearning from afar she indeed loved the memory more than the man himself.

Jenny does not believe in ghosts other superstitious nonsense and when Betty, the new girl, had fainted in the hallway Jenny had started laughing. It was all too ridiculous. But then the hauntings continued and what she first thought was a joke became far more sinister. Someone was playing a cruel game and Jenny is sure she is at the receiving end of it. But who would do such a thing? Who could even know? The only person Jenny can think of is Edward. Would he really do such a thing? Did he become this cruel? And why now? It was all a big mystery and one Jenny is keen to solve – without incriminating herself of course. One thing she is sure of: It was not Lady Catherine’s ghost who was haunting the house!

 


 

Dr Carl Zimmer

 

It was pure coincidence that Dr Zimmer was in the house the night Lady Catherine died. Carl Zimmer is a renowned geologist from Switzerland with a position at Zurich University. Sir William is the owner of a vast collection of fossils – both his father and his grandfather collected them – and five years ago Dr Zimmer had arranged to stay in the house for a few weeks to catalogue and study them.

It was a strange experience. The tension in the house had been nearly visible: while Sir William was mostly busy with either the estate or some outdoor activity, Lady Catherine was the true monarch in the house. And she ruled with a strong hand, especially over her daughter. More than once Carl Zimmer had seen how the lady had disciplined the poor girl. Had she been just a little bit older, he would have made a pass at her. Alice, just 16 years of age, had been so very pretty and walked with a rather touching elegance. That she was rich and Carl Zimmer constantly had money problems, was of course another good argument. But 16 had been far too young… but Carl Zimmer is excited that he will see her again: a grown woman now – and still rich.

Had it not been for Alice and the fact that Carl Zimmer wanted to take another look at the fossil collection, he would have never agreed to come back to the house. The story about the ghost sounded just ridiculous and he has read far too much about the kind of women or men who pretended to speak to dead family members. They were all charlatans and swindlers, not to be taken seriously. Dr Zimmer was a scientist after all.

There is another reason Dr Carl Zimmer is not really keen on coming back to the house: once before he has clashed with Edward, the son. Edward had been in the hallway that fateful night five years ago – as had Carl Zimmer, who had worked late on a very interesting specimen. Of course Carl Zimmer has not seen anything in particular and it was probably long before the lady died, but Edward’s behaviour had been very suspicious – and the geologist had run out of money again after a gambling session in the local inn. Blackmail was such a nasty word, financial support for his research sounded so much better… Edward paid a handsome sum – which clearly proofs he is guilty of something – and Carl Zimmer left. Maybe now that he was returning to the house it might be time to ask Edward for some additional research funds.

Dr Carl Zimmer is unmarried, has one older brother, who sadly inherited the family fortune, and quite the reputation: he is a gambler and bon vivant, likes expensive clothes and the occasional drink, enjoys theatre and London’s famous music halls as much as spending time in the Natural History Museum. In short: he is not the typical bookish researcher, but a man who has seen the world.

 


 

Additional characters

 

Miss Lydia Garnett

 

If Miss Garnett is not attending, write a letter instead, seal it and give it to the maid Jenny. Ask her to give it to Sir William after everyone has arrived. The mail has been delivered just a short while ago.

 

My dearest William,

it has been too long. I need to see you again, love you again. I know you asked me not to come and so I am staying away from the house. But please remember what I asked you to do. You promised you would make me a decent woman once you’ve spoken to your children. I am staying at the old inn in the village. Please do not let me wait too long.

Yours always

Lydia

 

 

Miss Lydia Garnett is an uninvited surprise guest and she is Sir William’s best-kept secret. As player do not tell anyone who you are until you make your grand entrance once all the other guests have arrived – be fashionably late.

Until about a year ago Miss Lydia Garnett was the star at the Grand Duchess, one of London’s notorious music halls. Lydia was used to the attention she was getting from rich patrons, but somehow Sir William turned out to be different than anyone before: After he had seen her for the first time he had sent her flowers, after the second performance she found some chocolate and champagne in her dressing room, after the third he asked the proprietor for a private meeting – Lydia normally declined such offers, since she already had three wealthy gentlemen keeping her company occasionally. But Sir William’s presents had been rather intriguing and so she agreed to a meeting.

When she heard he was a widower, she expected a fat old man, but instead William was a man in his best age – and not bad looking. He was quiet, yet charming. Generous but not pompous, she liked that. She liked him. After dinner he put a hand on her knee, not many man had dared to do that and she found it rather bold, yet liked it. He kissed her hand when he left. The next time she saw him, she kissed William’s cheek. He sent her a golden necklace and cheered loudest whenever she performed. After a month she became his lover, after three he established her in a private apartment in London. A year later she stopped performing, speaking about marriage instead.

Lydia is not in love, but she likes the man and he offers her something she never dared to dream about: she’ll be a lady with a grand house and a kind and caring husband. For most people William’s money would have been incentive enough, but Lydia really likes him. He is good to her, good for her. Still there is the nagging voice of doubt. They spoke about marriage, yet he delayed the announcement over and over again. He says it is because of his children, their status in society, the scandal his new marriage would cause. He said he did not care about that, but that he had to consider his childrens’ future. Lydia is becoming more and more afraid that in the end he will break his promise. And now he has come up with this ridiculous story about his dead wife’s ghost.

William has not invited her, on the contrary: he made it quite clear that he expected her to stay away from the Manor House until he had made an official announcement of their engagement. But Lydia can wait no longer. She has given up her career, her other suitors and if he leaves her now she will have nothing. Men never considered this, did they? How much one misstep could ruin a woman’s life? They could make mistake after mistake, yet continue their glorious careers and life. Lydia has quite the temper – and she has had enough. It is time for William to finally tell his children. Against her better judgement she has decided to attend William’s party – or whatever he is doing. Once she is at the Manor House, he can’t deny her wishes, or can he?

Since no one apart from William knows her and she has not told him much about her life before the music hall career, the player can invent that part. Feel free to be creative.

 


 

The butler: Arthur

 

Arthur has worked for the family for 35 years now. Since he is a servant, nobody has ever asked him what he does in his spare time, or if he still has family left – there was a brother once. If asked the player can invent his own family story, invent friendships and relationships – as long as it does not concern any other character mentioned in the script. You cannot invent anything about someone else, even if it concerns your character!

You respect Sir William and adored his wife Lady Catherine, the daughter Alice Victoria is a mystery, very quiet, yet with something lurking beneath the surface. Arthur is literally terrified of the young master, though. He has seen to many violent outbursts, drunkenness and destroyed bedroom furniture to feel safe around him. Edward was… dangerous.

A butler knows many things about the family he serves. Here are some excerpts from other character descriptions:

 

William

“William has always enjoyed the outdoors, hunting, riding, spoiling his dogs. The most glorious hours were in the early morning, before the household awoke and duty did call: since his early youth William has gotten up before sunset, dressed without his valet and went for a hike through the estate’s large woodlands and only returned for breakfast, his face flushed from crisp morning air and the early exercise.

That is also how he discovered his dead wife: Striding down the main staircase to head out into a bright sunny morning he found her, already cold and stiff at the bottom of the staircase.

(…)

Curiously enough after his wife’s death and first dragged along by an old friend, Sir William discovered that he liked London after all, especially the music halls, one in particular, the Grand Duchess…”

Arthur disapproves of his master’s latest activities and suspects a woman is involved. He fears London is just a distraction from an unhappy affair. He suspects one of the serving girls, Jenny in particular.

This house does not need another scandal.

 

Edward

“How he had hated her! How he had hated her overbearing kindness, the doting and cuddling, the constant attention and the barely hidden criticism. How he had hated her for treating him like a royal prince, a spoiled little boy and not the strong man he was becoming. How he had hated her for hurting his sister and destroying his life. Edward still blames his mother for his own unhappiness.

(…)

Edward barely speaks to anyone these days. Why should he? He was a disappointment anyway. Father wanted him to study, Oxford or Cambridge, Edward was clever enough after all. ‘Or at least show an interest in the estate,’ father had said. The man was funny: Sir William was barely home anymore and had left the running of the estate to his steward, but at the same time he scolded his son for doing the same. Then there were all the girls, father wanted him to meet. As if marriage would solve anything. He had refused every candidate (…)”

Ever since his mother’s death Edward’s behaviour has been strange and suspicious, like the strange meetings with the old housekeeper Ms Smith, his father had dismissed after Lady Catherine’s death. One day Arthur met the young master in the hallway, rather shaken and white as a sheet. A day later he learned about the old housekeeper’s death…

 

Alice Victoria

“They had lived a quiet life in the countryside, which suited Sir William. Catherine had detested every minute of it and while she doted on her son, it was her daughter who had to suffer the brunt force of the woman’s disappointment. The little girl could never fulfil the expectation and aspirations her mother once had and which Catherine had later projected on her daughter. Her father should have stepped in when his sweet little girl had to hide a bruise on her face, her golden locks brushed over her purple forehead. He should have stopped it when her small hands started to bear red marks where the cane had hit them after every unsuccessful lesson with her mother. Once Alice Victoria nearly died of a fever, because her mother had made her stand in the rain as punishment for some stains on her white muslin dress…”

She sometimes sneaks out of the house, thinking no one would realise.

 

Arthur actually suspects that Jenny, the ‘oh so sweet’ maid has something to do with Lady Catherine’s death. She had been quite young then, but Arthur had always suspected her to be a loose girl with a disputable character. He is convinced that Jenny has an affair with Sir William. They both behave very suspiciously! The girl always so withdrawn from other servants, as if she was someone better, and Sir William with his strange new habits. London of all places! And the new suits! Very suspicious, indeed. Of course Sir William would have never hurt his wife, he had loved Lady Catherine with all his heart, of that Arthur is sure… but that little vixen, she must have planned this all along. One push and the lady was gone and the way free into the heart of a rich, grieving man. Girls like here were not to be trusted! If asked, he will tell exactly what he thinks about Jenny.

But of course he is a servant, he won’t make any accusations, if not confronted directly. But hints…. Hints are allowed… that would not be considered too impolite? Arthur’s reputation is very important to him, it is his greatest asset as a butler, after all.