Today's freebie, in celebration of the upcoming NaNoWriMo that starts tomorrow, is a purse-sized journal and miniature pen - perfect for jotting down story ideas. For your chance to win, simply leave a comment below about any of the ghost stories we've shared this week. And now, the story you've been waiting for... In keeping with our international theme, Canadian author extraordinaire, KC Dyer, has shared an excerpt from her upcoming book set in the tunnels and streets of Old Town beneath Edinburgh. Enjoy!
I can’t say how long the trip through the tunnels lasted. Hours? Days? It was long enough that my legs ached from the running. Long enough that the torch sputtered out twice, each re-lighting accompanied by muffled curses. And, most tellingly, long enough that my fear of the velvet darkness gradually ebbed into gratitude, for the number of rats I could hear must surely seem fewer than seeing the reality.
Even Iain’s breath was ragged when his footsteps finally slowed. He tightened his grip on my arm. “Time is short,” he hissed in my ear, “but we must slow down here.”
And right he was, for less than five steps later my hand brushed the splintery reality of a wooden door. Iain thrust the torch up to a metal plate near his eye level, and dropping my arm, used his other hand to slide the plate open. He turned to smirk at me and his eyes glinted red in the torchlight.
“We’re in luck,” he whispered. “Say nothing unless she speaks to you.”
“Who…?” I began, but he waved my question aside and turned the heavy iron handle of the door. Apart from the metallic click as the latch disengaged, there was no sound as the door swung wide enough to admit us both. A fetid stink of dust, and old wax and something else – rats, maybe? – enveloped me as we stepped through the doorway.
“Leave it ajar,” Iain breathed into my ear.
“Close it,” said another voice, clear and petulant. “Or I will not admit you into my boudoir.”
My heart felt like it stopped a moment in my chest. I’d heard that voice before.
A single candle burned low in a sconce on the wall, casting its dim glow onto the powdery walls, stained with damp. In the small circle of light sat a child, near what looked like an open box on floor. From her size she was past babyhood, perhaps six or seven years old, though it was hard to tell, as her face was wreathed in shadow. Her hair was long and tousled, but looked cleaner than it had a right to be in that dark and dreadful place. Half the girl’s head had been neatly braided, the long plait hanging down her back, but the other half hung loose, as though whoever had been helping her with it had been called away before completing the task.
“It’s cold,” she whispered, and her voice sweetened. “So cold. Is there no coal for the hearth? I cannot find my cloak. Have you seen my mama?”
Iain’s hand tightened warningly on my arm once more. “Ah, I’m sure your ma will return soon, girlie. We’ve brought you a wee doll, just to help you pass the time until she returns.”
The child clapped her hands in delight, but made no move toward us. Instead, Iain put his hand on the small of my back and pushed me forward. I stumbled on the uneven surface and nearly fell on the girl before recovering my balance. Not knowing what else to do, I held out the small doll.
She didn’t spare me a glance. Instead she continued to stare into the darkness towards the door – and Iain.
“You’re not my friend,” she said slowly, and she scrambled up onto her knees. “I can see you now…mama said I should keep away. I remember now. Mama told me to stay clear from you…”
She looked up at me then, and the pallor of her skin was reflected in the blue of her eyes – so faded as to be almost white. Under her chin, the skin of her neck was grotesquely swollen, and a purple-black that made her head almost appear to float above the rags she wore as a dress. She rose lightly to her feet and reached for the doll, but all I felt was a chill of icy breath on my skin as her hand passed across – and through – my own. In the time it took for me to turn and look at Iain, she was gone, her final word drifting through the air between us…
Iain shrugged. “Can’t think what she meant,” he said, grinning weakly.
And with the softness of a sigh, the candle guttered out.