Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2019
Adult Winners

Third Place

Our third place Adult winner is Aaron Thomas of Loughborough, England.

An Evening of Magic

Aaron Thomas

And as the powerful and handsome man crushed her to his broad chest, she knew she would never leave him again. 

My darling,she exclaimed, I know now, after this evening of magic, that I love you.  We shall be together, for ever and ever!

‘‘ello, love.  Bus from the station got caught in traffic.’

Margaret Hunter looked up, closing the book she was reading, titled An Evening of Magic, whose front, showing an artist’s drawing of an embracing couple.

Margaret was a slim woman in her mid-seventies.  Her face had a lined, pinched look.  Her eyes squinted severely from behind her glasses in what seemed a permanent frown.  Her white hair was done up on top of her head, in an old-fashioned manner.  She wore a matching grey skirt and jacket, the latter over a white blouse.

The man standing beside her was about Margaret’s age, with untidy white hair, and a scruffy-looking moustache.  He was dressed in a grey overcoat, with a folded newspaper visible, projecting from one pocket.  The coat was opened to reveal an unironed white shirt, crumpled brown corduroy trousers, and dull-green creased jacket, he was round-faced, with a slight pot belly.

‘You walked here?’  Margaret confirmed it.

‘Yeah.  Best be safe than sorry over drinkin’ and drivin’.  Ignore the law on how much is safe.  Do one or the other-never both.  Anyhow, you been waiting long?’ asked the man.

‘No, George,’ she said, patiently. 

She closed the book and pushed it away, beside the handbag on the round table she sat on, in one corner of the bar.   

In truth, she had been here, alone, longer than she would have liked.  On arriving, she had brought herself a glass of wine.  When George had been late, as expected, she had settled down to reading the latest of the romantic novels she carried round, for a spare moment.

George whipped off his overcoat, and, quickly folding it, placed it on one of the two chairs at the table not occupied by Margaret.

 ‘You’ve got something,’ said George, pointing at her glass.  ‘I’ll get me own.’

He headed to the counter.  Across the room from Margaret, another burst of laughter came from the rowdy group of young woman seated there.

She looked out of the window. It had rained a little earlier, and now a bright rainbow curved above and behind nearby office blocks, in the slowly-dimming summer evening sky.

‘Some-where ov-er the rain-bow…’ Margaret’s voice was audible to herself only as she sang softly, her thoughts and feelings as melancholic as both the song and her own expression.

 George came back with a brimming pint.  He sat down opposite her.

 ‘Shame we couldn’t make it a day out, or an evening with other friends, like we first planned,’ said the man.  ‘Why d’you think we’ve never done anything like this before, to celebrate our anniversary?’

‘Well, the funeral today made the first impossible, and the second seem inappropriate, as does the anniversary it is.’

‘Of course,’ said George, recalling.  ‘Fifty-four years since…’  He left the statement unfinished.

Poor Rose,’ he said, at last.

‘Yes,’ answered Margaret.  ‘I don’t know how I got it out of the head what other anniversary it was, when we scheduled our own wedding, back in 1970.  I suppose it had been fourteen years since-well, what happened.  One shouldn’t forget something like that, though…..Poor Rose…..You know, I was mortified when I realised….It was too near the day to cancel.’

‘Did Kath’s funeral go all right today, then?’ asked George.  The move to to casual, almost cheerful, enquiry seemed indecently quick.

‘Yes, thank you.’

‘Yeah…Must be a bad one, losing your best friend – hey though, happy fiftieth to us.’

George pushed forward his glass, to chink against his wife’s.  The edge of her lips twitched in a vague attempt at an acknowledging smile.

‘Hey, you’ll never guess what happened while I got the train down to see Bob Mills, this afternoon….’ 

The sympathy had been perfunctory-both for the recent loss of friend Kath, and for the recalled tragedy involving Rose, years before.  The shift from condolence to joviality seemed so callously seamless.   George proceeded to discuss in tedious detail his visit to his old workmate, branching from that to memories of their time together at the train station, where George had been manager.  Margaret used to tell people he was a railway executive.

‘…..Yeah, that was the time that guy got the sack for sexually harassing one of the admin staff.  The station had a very robust policy on stuff of that nature.  Any such incident got dealt with’-he clicked his fingers-‘just like that!’

Pausing, George absent-mindedly drew his lips back from his teeth, exposing a metal filling in the front of one that gleamed in the light.  In the same detached way, he inserted the tip of his tongue into the gap to the right of his upper front teeth, then withdrew it, making a clicking sound.  The two actions were habitual tics.

Margaret winced.  She had long since progressed past overt irritation with these behaviours, to weary resignation.  They were just part of who George was, along with the untidiness of hair, which, to add to that, now looked greasy and yellow.  Such inattention to grooming had become normal with him.

‘…And he was saying that to give that player as offside, the ref was either blind or in the pay of the other side,’ George was saying, presently.  ‘I remember you were sitting in the room that time – ah, but I’m forgetting.  You don’t like football, and don’t even know the offside rule.’  George laughed.

‘I was sayin’ to Bob, “Margaret don’t really like anythin’ I do.  She ‘ates sport, and she don’t vote for our party, but for the loony’s who’re their main opposition.”’

‘Do excuse me.  I have to pay a visit.’

Getting up, Margaret walked towards the door signposted ‘TOILETS.’  It was a welcome relief from the period of over an hour where she had barely got a comment in, and been hardly listened to when she did, not that that was at all an unusual occurrence between them, these days.

As she washed her hands, a cubicle door opened behind her.  From it, emerged a woman in her late-twenties or early thirties, in a white skirt and jacket, with a black blouse.  Short but quite stocky, she had a flat nose, broad face, and long curly blond hair.  Margaret recognised one of the rowdy women who were sat near her.

‘You don’t look like you’re having a good time,’ declared the younger woman, smiling, as she went to the basin beside Margaret, who stared at her, taken aback.   ‘The back door’s just outside.  Walk out, if he’s that bad.’

  At Margaret’s stare, the commenter stopped smiling, and looked awkward.

‘Sorry!  That’s a bit cheeky.  Not my place to give advice to my elders, is it?’

‘Excuse me.’  The woman in white, on the verge of leaving the room, turned back at the words.

 ‘You really needn’t apologise, you know.  You’ve just made me see the plain truth that I’ve been denying to myself.’  Margaret spoke with sincerity and frankness.

The young woman stared a moment, then left.  Margaret was left alone, staring into a wall mirror, at her face.  The white hair, the lines, the weary look: all told her how little time she had left, if she wanted something better.

She thought of their coming together, five decades previously.  They had met in their early-twenties, when George had moved to her home town, as a member of staff of the station he would eventual become senior manager of, before retiring.  They had met as regular churchgoers-ones, moreover, with no previous experience of girlfriends, boyfriends, or dating.  Their respective families, also churchgoers, had subtly, or at times less so, pressurised them to get together.  Both had had strict parents to which they habitually deferred.  Both had married in line with parental wishes. 

They had been different from the start: she, shy, intellectual, and deeply religious; he, jovially outgoing, intellectually mediocre, and religious by habit rather than conviction.  At first, though, they had not got on badly.  George had been quite the tidy young man, and good-natured; she, more tolerant and less judgemental than later.  With time, they they had found out they were unable to have children.  So, he had concentrated on her career at the railway station; she, on that with a regional head office of a bank.  They had a small circle of common acquaintances, but both also had their exclusive set of friends, which they saw without their spouses. Margaret found her own set a diversion from marital life.  Last but not least, the escapism of the romantic novels she loved to read gave her enough relief to let her tolerate her husband’s failings.  In this way, she and George had rubbed along tolerably.

Now, though, her toleration had reached the limit.  By this point both were retired.  Without work to distract her, George’s untidiness, irritating habits, lack of intellectual refinement, and his by-now very limited interest in a wife he had long thought to have lost her looks: the effect had become steadily cumulative to the point of crisis.

Finally, that young lady’s comment had placed the truth in relief against denial. 

Her thoughts turned to church.  George, once a regular attender, now hardly accompanied her there.  He could therefore have not observed her budding friendship with another man there, Mike, a man her own age, handsome, well-spoken, intelligent, careful of his appearance, and having lost his wife to cancer, two years past.

Margaret left the toilet, which was beside the male lavatories, in a thin passage.  Facing the two doors was a glass-paned door into the pub’s rear garden, now darkened by night.  From here, one could walk round the building’s side, onto the road where it sat.

She had hinted her dissatisfaction to Mike.  She had visited him, briefly, in the day - for coffee and chat only, no more than that. There was an unspoken understanding between she and he that she was welcome in his home, anytime – the last word meaning just that.

She would go there now – and not go back.

Then, as her hand reached for the door handle, something very strange happened.

Straight dealing, not underhand.  Thats what I taught you, young lady.

As she heard her dead father, she seemed to see him before her, in a phantom image.

Whatever else, he is at least polite.  You owe that in return.  Walking out without telling him is rude.  If you are leaving, be honest first.

This time the seeming ghost was her late mother.

Margaret blinked in shock.  The images were gone.  They, and the spoken strictures, had seemed so real, just for a moment.

Well, imagination or not, they were true.  She would go back to George.  It would be cruel to give him the news in public, on their anniversary, of all things.  It could be deferred till in private, tomorrow.  She took a deep breath and walked back.

Back at the table, she sat down by George.  Through the nearby window, the rainbow could still be seen above the office buildings. Just one more night to get through with him.  The realisation made her feel generous towards the man she had grown to despise.  She would be pleasant to him, for this last evening.

George was loyal in his own way.  She had no evidence he had ever performed or countenanced any infidelity.  Thinking of this, then her recent church friend Mike, she blushed.  He had stood up for her interest openly, before.  One day, in a café, George had sat down, while she queued for their order.  While her attention was distracted by speaking to someone she knew, sitting to one side, two people had pushed in.  A large, intimidating-looking pair, who were arguing angrily, she would have probably thought better of challenging them.  George had got to his feet, and politely but firmly informed the two that Margaret was before them.  They looked annoyed, but moved behind her without quarrel.

‘….Poor manners seem so widespread, now,’ George was saying at one point.  ‘In the past, they were exceptions, not the rule.  Things have changed so much since then.  Standards have dropped.’ 

Margaret expressed her strong agreement.  There was no doubt her husband was fundamentally a good man, with good values.

Good man though he was, she still could not stay with him.  She was quite decided.  The anticipation of freedom, and the memory of his good side, made her charitable.  It would be quite possible to be pleasant and cordial in conversation for one last night – and even when giving him the news, next day.

The two chatted of this and that.  Presently, their drinks were gone.  Margaret agreed readily to buy the next round, with an eagerness beyond mere common politeness.  She felt more-and-more well-disposed, somehow, to the man she had felt so poorly about just a little previously.

As she returned to the table, Margaret noticed something.  George’s hair was not as untidy as it typically was.  In fact it was combed and neat.  It had been washed, and was pristine and white, too, without the greasy darkening she was used to.  Yet, she could have sworn neither was the case when he first joined her.  Possibly the light where she was sitting, for after coming back from the ladies’ room, she had sat on the chair George put his coat over, not the one she had before. 

There was no doubt about it, she was married to a decent man with decent values.  Still, though he had lost his sparkle and become so dull and unappealing with age.  It was sad.  She felt some guilt in advance about announcing her departure next day.  She felt compelled to try to be as pleasant as possible, tonight, she felt so bad about it.  As the conversation branched to nostalgia generally, this seemed less and less of an effort.

‘….I was sucking a gobstopper, and the choir master came up behind me, and gave me a good clip round the ear!’ recalled George.  ‘I nearly choked on the damned thing!’

‘Well, I remember when I was twelve,’ countered Jayne.  ‘Our Latin master was a most handsome young man.  I wrote him a love letter, purporting to be from a girl in our class called Vicky, who I disliked at the time – silly girl that I was! Of course, my handwriting got recognised! I was caned by the headmistress!’  She laughed at the memory.

‘And there I was thinking you must have been some goody-two-shoes as a schoolgirl!’ said George, incredulously.  ‘Hey, it’s really weird how we never seemed to have talked properly before tonight - about our earlier lives, before we even met, I mean.’

George did the tic again, the one where he drew back his lips and inserted his tongue in the tooth space, then clicked it out, while his metal filling glinted.  Margaret was no longer annoyed by it.  It seemed reassuringly familiar, somehow.

As the night progressed, Margaret was taken aback as she began noticing more and more dark strands of hair amid the majority white on George’s head.  Had anyone asked her about her husband’s hair in the days before that night, she would have answered without pause that it was pure white.  Could she really had become so casual and uninterested to this man who was, tonight, being once more as engaging a conversationalist as she now recalled him being in youth, before staleness and complacency.  As the talk turned to the entertainment of the past, George himself became yet more entertaining to speak to.

‘The Thirties and Forties were definitely the golden age of cinema,’ Margaret opined.  ‘I still recall the thrill of seeing Wizard of Oz for the first time, when I was five.’

‘Yeah, great old classic; great characters, too: Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scarecrow, the Wicked Witch, the Emperor….and I’m missing someone, aren’t I…?

George silently pondered.  After a moment, when his memory stayed deficient, Margaret broke the silence, though not to answer his question.

‘Film were much more wholesome, then,’ opined Margaret.  ‘None of this gratuitous violence, sex, and bad language you get today.’

‘Yeah.  Even the old black-and-white horror films, like the Universal Films classics-Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy-they all relied on atmosphere rather than overt gore.’

 ‘Books likewise.  Like the one I’m keeping in my handbag, to read in spare moments – I had it out when you arrived’-she tapped the book, still sitting by the black bag on the table.  ‘It’s an old book, and men being gentlemen is the rule in the society depicted in it-exceptions are condemned as cads, rakes, or heels.  The hero, Brad Henney, is an American in England, and is always polite and decent - except towards those who are not-and is always chivalrous with the fair sex.  Even if characters like Brad were an ideal, the majority of men at least had showed some approximation to his standards at one time.’

The man she had married was the case in point.  She looked across the table, at the young-old charming man with the pressed suit, smart hair, and moustache – the man she now felt ashamed of ever contemplating leaving – for that scheme could go right out of that window near them, and over that rainbow in the now-slightly-dimming July sky. 

‘….Cary Grant, he was one of the suavest of the old stars,’ George was recalling, a little later.  ‘Apparently, some press man sent a wire to his agency to check his age.  It read ‘how old Cary Grant?’  Cary himself sent a telegram back, saying: ‘old Cary Grant fine-how you?’ 

Margaret laughed delightedly.  George had been like this all the time, once.  Both of them had.  During their days of courtship, and early marriage, they’d often laughed together this way, and chatted long and intensely about all sorts of things.  What had happened to those days, for so long? 

Whatever it was, she felt like those halcyon days had suddenly returned.

Suddenly, she realised something.

‘Your hair,’ she exclaimed, pointing.

‘Had it since I was one; ‘ll lose it before I die, if my creditors don’t quit houndin’ me.  What about it?’

‘Well, it – it’s just that, earlier, it looked grey.  Now I see it’s more dark than grey.  Must have been the light, I guess.’

‘Best of both worlds.  Let’s my age and experience command respect, while my physique and looks still can, too.’

‘Must leave you for a moment.’

‘Little girl’s room?’ said George, knowingly.

‘When you gotta go, ya gotta go,’ she came back, with a smile.  She exited the door to the lavatories, then almost skipped down the small connecting passage, tiled a yellow-orange colour.

‘Follow the yellow brick road.  Follow the yellow brick road,’ she sang, very softly, under her breath.

In the toilets, she met the same slightly-thickset young woman with curled blond hair.

‘You seem to be having a good time, now,’ remarked the latter.

‘My dear – I don’t think I caught your name, before…’


‘Well, Louise, my darling, wild horses would not drag me away right now,’ announced Margaret gaily, before entering a cubicle.  She slammed the door.  Louise heard cheerful humming from inside.

Walking back to the bar, Louise wore a puzzled frown. 

A moment later, as Margaret emerged from the toilets, opposite the rear glass door, she seemed once more to see her parents-this time smiling approvingly.

As Margaret went on her way, the corridor to the bar now seemed oddly dimmed.  The lighting in the room itself seemed to have become subdued, as she returned and sat down.

‘Look, I know you’re going to think me very foolish,’ she began, ‘but there’s something I have to admit.’

‘What’s that, then?’  The man opposite her looked intrigued.

‘It’s just that’ – she hesitated.

‘Well, just before you arrived tonight, I was a bit tired.  I dozed off momentarily while waiting for you, just long enough to have this strange half-waking dream.’

‘What was it?’  The face opposite was intrigued.

‘Well, basically, I imagined I was married to the most dowdy, unattractive, dull, boring fellow, and, moreover, that I had been for the last fifty years.’

‘Oh dear!  Hope that don’t predict five decades ahead.  No portent for a first date if so!’

He laughed, that tall, broad-shouldered, muscular handsome figure opposite her.  As he did so, she saw the scarlet waistcoat and white starched shirt beneath his expensive black tuxedo heaving up and down over that powerful chest.  

Then, her gaze rose, above the black bow tie around his neck, to that visage of chiselled good looks, with its powerful chin, large but shapely nose, and jet-black large moustache, eyebrows, and slicked-back, cream-moistened head hair.

The wonder of it all.  That Brad Henney, the wealthy young American in town who made all the women who knew him swoon inwardly, should have chosen she, of all people.

‘What was his name, the guy in your dream?’

‘I do believe he was called George.’

‘Well, I very much hold in the highest esteem my countryman, George Washington, but I deplore his namesake, the British King at the time of Independence, for his attempt to squash the Americans’ drive for dignity and independence.  Was he yank or limey, your George?’

‘He was English.’

‘‘Nuff said.  I’ve no time for Brit George’s.  I’ve all the time in the world for English Rose’s though-say, you’re blushin; at the compliment.  You’ve gone Rose-red!’

‘That was another part of my dream,’ said the young woman.  ‘In this dream, I was named Margaret! Of all things!  You know who she is, don’t you?  I was her but an old woman!’

‘No accoutin’ for dreams,’ Brad answered. 

From an inside pocket, the large man took out a small rectangular silver case, with an etched monogram of his interlinked initials, BH.  Opening the lid, he took out a large brown cigar, holding a flame from a silver lighter to its end, then suddenly flicking the paper tube into the air.

Rose stared, as the glowing tip of the tobacco stick spun in mid-air, tracing a trail of spiralled light in its wake.  As it descended, it did so with the tip pointing upwards.  Brad caught the other end in his mouth, and puffed with satisfaction.  Taking the cigar from his mouth, he blew smoke rings.   They expanded outward in concentric rings. 

Rose stared into space, looking thoughtful, even a little sad.  The flame of the large lit candle on its stand just before her flickered, as did those on nearby tables.  Nearby, on the nightclub dance floor, couples gently moved to a slow number from the resident band.  Margaret watched them, their figures distorted through the bottle of champagne and her own half-full wine glass, gleaming from candlelight.

Suddenly, Rose’s reverie was broken.

‘Nickel for your thoughts-erm, penny, make that, us being in your country, not mine’ 

‘It’s okay, Brad - ’

‘Nah.   I ain’t gonna just let it go.  Somethin’s bugginya, ain’t it?  I can tell.’

Still Rose said nothing.

‘C’mon, sweetheart.  You can tell me.’  He took one of her hands.

‘Well…’  Rose hesitated.  ‘It’s – it’s just that I fear that, I’m….well….a little dull and dowdy,  I fear I’m not such a catch for the likes of you.’

Don’t talk nonsense!  Take a look to your right.’

Rose looked where Brad pointed.  Sitting beside her was a young woman in a long-skirted black dress, and long, light-brown hair, in tresses.  Her face and body were slim but not thin, her mouth set off with red lipstick, her large blue eyes emphasised by eyeliner and blue eye shadow.

‘Now try and tell me that’s the face of a woman I’d turn down without hesitation!’

He bared that set of immaculate, unfilled white teeth in a broad smile.  As he did so, one of them sparkled like a diamond, so bright and pristine was the dental material.  As it did so, the triangle player in the band played a perfectly-timed ‘ting.’  

The note was the signal for a more slow number than before.

‘Shall we dance?’

Accepting at once, Rose joined Brad on the dance floor, where they moved gently, in a close embrace.

‘This is proper music, civilised music,’ she remarked at one point.

‘You mean, not like that horrible rock-n-roll stuff that teenagers are getting’ into, these days.  I sure agree with you, there.  Heck, I’m only twenty-four, an’ I already fear this generation’s goin’ to Hell in a handcart.  I seem to be turnin’ into my own father, very prematurely.’

The number ended.  The pair sat down. 

‘Oh dear!’  Rose cradle her forehead in one hand.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘I-I do believe I have had just a little bit too much to drink.  It’s the champagne, I think.  I really am not used to the stuff and I – I feel it going to my head.’

The band began to play a more up-tempo piece.  It was the ideal cover for Brad to lean forward, taking one of Rose’s slender hands, in both of his big broad ones.

‘Come back with me tonight.’

Rose stared at Brad.

‘Nothin’ immoral,’ he assured her.  ‘I’ve a spare room permanently rigged and ready.  My place is much nearer here than yours is.  I can see you don’t need that tirin’ journey right cross the city, now.  ‘Course, I’d be escortin’ you, but, bein’ ‘onest, I can’t do with all that long journey hassle, as, ‘tween you and me, I’ve had one or two glasses too many.  When my place is so close, you know it makes sense.’

Rose stared into the candle on the table between them.  As she did so, the flame flickered erratically.

‘You bein’ lucky enough to have a wealthy daddy who can sort out a private apartment here in Oxford, means you ain’t got to worry ‘bout no questions asked after a night’s absence.  Be different if you were returnin’ to inquisitive female buddies in shared shared digs, or the warden in one of them there halls of residence places they have at your university.  I know that flat of yours ain’t in no student area, so won’t attract no attention when I drop you back there, tomorrow mornin.’

Still, Rose paused.

‘You don’t even need to take a toothbrush or night gear, remember? I have dressing gowns for all sizes and sexes in the spare room cabinet.  In the cabinet beneath the bathroom sink have spare toothbrushes on the standby, for one-off usage.  The only things I don’t have are a nightgown or pyjamas.  I reckon they’re less than essential on a warm night like this, though.’

Rose hesitated a little more.

‘Very well,’ she said, quietly.

The pair drained their glasses.  Brad called for the bill and settled up.  Presently, the dancing ceased, and the floor cleared.  As couples moved to the side and sat down, the couple got to their feet.  The tall powerful impossibly-handsome young man put his arm around Rose and led her across the parquetry floor edged by candlelit tables on one side, the uniformed band playing to the other.

As they got outside the nightclub doors, the cool air hit Rose’s hot cheeks, as the neon-lit city street scorched their light into the eyes emerging from dimness. 

Brad’s home was too close for a taxi.  A short walk brought them to a road filled with expensive detached houses.  Brad let her into his ground-floor apartment, which he lit by lighting a large candle on a golden stand, on the mantelpiece.

‘Fancy a little coffee, jus’ to sober up?

‘Yes please, Brad.  That would be nice.’

She took a seat on the plushly-draped antique sofa, as Brad disappeared.  On a coffee table before her, were magazines on lifestyle, fashion, investment, and travel.  Well-stocked bookcases took up much of the walls.  In one corner was a gramophone on a low stand, beside a rack of old 78s, their paper sleeves split here and there to reveal circular edges of black vinyl.  On the other side of the big fireplace a wooden-cased wireless sat on a table.  Hung on the wall above the fireplace was a large wooden frame.  It contained a blown-up photo of Brad with some of his large family, all of them expensively dressed.  The picture was in colour, which you saw more in cinema, than day-to-day photography.  Colour film was, of course, far more expensive, but that was no object to the likes of Brad, who returned now, with two steaming cups and saucers.

 The pair chatted of this and that.  The conversation became desultory, then a little strained.

‘Not long before my university finals,’ Rose observed, at last.  ‘I’m going to be working too hard for us to see too much of one another, the while.’

‘That’s absolutely fine, my dear, I understand.  While your family had the money for your apartment here, they ain’t so rich that you can muddle through life with just high school behind you, unlike yours truly!’

Rose frowned a little.  This seemed a little like a deprecating reflection.  After a moment, she let it go. 

‘So,’ said Brad, ‘once them pesky exams are done, I’m gonna put on your finger that diamond ring that betokens our betrothal, if you’re happy with that.’

‘I am very happy with that, believe me.’

Rose spoke with assurance. She was still barely able to believe her luck in landing such a catch.  Her family and friends would grow to like Brad, once they knew he was a fixture.  They just hadn’t had time to get to know him, yet….

She placed her empty cup and saucer on a mat on the nearby table.

‘I think I’d like to go my room, now,’ she stated.  ‘It’s been the most wonderful night, but, you know, all good things must come to an end, as the old cliché goes.’

‘Indeed they must.  Please follow me, madam.’

Brad led her down a short passage, and opened a door.  A smartly-made double bed met her eye.

‘There’s both male and female nightgowns in the cabinet,’ he said, pointing.  ‘You missed pyjamas off the list of things omitted, but it’s such a pleasant evening, I doubt that’ll make any difference.’  Rose gave an embarrassed laugh.

‘As you’ve never used the spare bed, how’d you like to test the mattress, to ensure it’s up to your no-doubt-very-high expectations?’

Rose sat down, bouncing gently up and down.

‘Why, I do believe that this bed will give me the most comfortable night’s accommodation I could wish for.’

‘And let’s hope you have the best night’s sleep ever.’

She and Brad kissed quickly.  For a moment, she feared Brad might try and take this further, but he made it not a second longer or a degree more intense than would be decent.  He was ever the gentleman, and she didn’t see why her close ones seemed sceptical of that.  The pair said goodnight, and Rose went to the bathroom, where she found one of Brad’s unwrapped spare toothbrushes. 

Her routine of dental hygiene complete, Rose returned to the room.  Undressing, she got into bed.

She felt odd and vulnerable, sleeping nude, when she was so unused to it.  There was no question that the night was warm enough, but she was used to nightwear.  Still, she had agreed to come here, without any preliminary preparation.

After some minutes, the tension faded.  That mattress was so, so cosy.  The length of the evening, and the quantity she had drunk was beginning to tell.  She embraced the drowsiness coming over her, and felt herself sinking into sleep….

Suddenly, she was awake, her senses shocked and straining.

She’d lost consciousness, for how long she didn’t know.

During that time, someone had entered.  The door was slightly ajar, she could just make out through the darkness-yet she had closed it firmly, before getting into bed.

Then she saw, through the dark-a shadowy figure sat on the foot of her bed.

As she watched, frozen in shock, the figure reached out a hand, and began to caress, over the bedclothes, that leg that was naked beneath them.




Margaret opened her eyes.  Above, was a star-filled sky.

She sat up.  She was at the edge of a large expanse of grass, by a stone footpath, across which was more grass.

Everywhere were gravestones and tomb markers.

She looked around.  Her handbag was by her side.  She picked it up, then turned to look at the especially large tombstone which faced her.

‘I don’t believe it.’  Her voice was very quiet, as she stared at the name engraved on the stone face.

Nearby, were railings, with a gate, by which a road ran.  There was a phone box by the gate.

Getting up, she made her way to the phone box, where she got out her purse, then put coins in the call payment slot.

With a shaking finger, she dialled a number.

‘Hello?’ she asked, presently.  ‘Yes!  That’s me!’

She paused and listened.

‘The reason I am calling you so late,’ she said, at last, ‘is that I know, now, what happened.  I’m talking of sixty-six years ago.’ 

Once more, she paused.

‘Of course I mean that,’ she said, quietly.  ‘What else would I mean?’

There was more speech on the phone’s other end.

‘I had a dream, or vision,’ continued Margaret, finally.  ‘I saw what took place.  I lived what took place.  I saw just what your part in it was…..I don’t know how it’s happened, but I know what I saw was real.  I saw you come in that bedroom; I saw how things got out of control.’

 Margaret stood, speaking, for several minutes.  There came a pause in the flow of traffic.  Finally, another car passed.  As it did so, a face stared from the passenger window of one of the cars.

Vaguely, she was aware of brakes screeching, then a car turning, as she continued to speak.

‘Well,’ she said, at last, ‘if you are now finally going to do the right thing, then, good, I congratulate you.  I-’

There was a clattering sound at the other end, then the dialling tone.

Margaret put down the phone and left the call box, then began to make another call.

As she listened to the ring tone, her face was anxious.  When a car stopped by the call box, she barely registered it.

Ring-ring-a car door opened, then slammed-ring-ring-why wasn’t he answering – ring-ring-he must be home by now, surely-ring-ring -


‘Hello?  George?  Look, I know my walking out of the pub needs a lot of explaining, but - ’

‘You’re telling me!’

Margaret jumped, for this time the voice was close by her ear, from behind.

Turning, she saw George, peering through the open booth door.  Nearby, sat a police car.



‘It was an awful nightmare, which scared me very greatly.’

The shrunken, white-haired figure was in a small office.  She sat opposite a  policeman in his mid-thirties.  In front of him, was a notepad filled with writing.  Outside, through the window, early dawn could be seen.

‘That someone had crept into your room, and begun to assault you?  That was definitely a dream?’ 

The old woman nodded.

Yes.  The door had a lock, which I had secured-I suppose I had the vague idea he might try it on in some way.  Anyway, neither he nor anyone else had come in, as that lock, securable only from inside, was in place.  Shaken as I was by the dream, I pulled on a nightgown from the cabinet, then went into his room for comfort.  He was sound asleep.  It took ages to wake him properly.  After some comforting talk to me, he got in the mood for illicit enjoyment.  Illogically, despite the lock, the dream was so vivid I almost believed it.  I become convinced someone had got in and out of my room’s window, or was maybe hiding still in the room. The gown I had chosen was a too small. It came a little undone when I went into him, and I was heedless of that as I sought cuddles of reassurance, rather like a child.  As a result, he got inflamed.  He tried to seduce me.’

The speaker stopped talking.  A slight nod prompted continuance.

‘He succeeded,’ she said, at last.

‘I was quite willingly, he did it without force, and with active consent and enjoyment.  Next morning, there was no talk of an engagement as soon as I had my degree.  He wanted me to move straight in with him.  I felt ashamed.  I had gone against the values I was brought up with, that sexual activity was for marriage.  I felt he had forced me to go against strongly-held principles.  He assured me he hadn’t planned what took place.  He says the fact the room had a lock had made him feel he was safe from temptation, and that it wouldn’t have happened if I’d been more careful with my modesty.  To be fair, I believe him, but he should have shown more restraint.  I told him the engagement was off, and we would see each other, no more.’

Through the window, a police car was seen passing in or out of the station car park.

‘He got angry.  He says I had led him up the garden path.  He knew my close family, plus some of my friends.  He promised to let them know what sort of girl I was.  I couldn’t stand the thought of people knowing of my sins, as I saw them.  I grabbed the heavy lamp nearby and hit him.  He became violent to defend himself.  He bruised my face and arm.  Finally, a blow from the metal frame of a painting knocked him down, and he lay there.  I could see he was still breathing.’

As I became calm, it occurred to me that, if I beat him to death, the circumstances would support a claim that it was homicide in self-defence.  I had a major struggle with my conscience.  I knew I had to decide soon, before he awoke.  Finally I decided I would strike him just one more blow, and leave Fate as the decider.  If he survived, so be it.’

The old woman paused, breathing heavily.

‘He didn’t.’

For a while, there was silence.  The officer strived to look attentive not impatient.  As important as the case was, the officer was tired.  He had had a long day.  He was eager for his shift’s approaching end, and wanted his duties done.  Older and longer-serving than his deceptive youthful looks conveyed, he was seasoned and jaded in confession’s cliché.  He tried to look non-weary, in respect for gravity.

‘The man wasn’t perfect.  His taking advantage when I came in, then threats to tell all, were not those of a wholly moral person.  He was provoked, though, I can’t deny that.  It’s quite likely his threats to disclose to my close ones were just in the heat of the moment.  Had he done it, I think most if not all would believe it was from chagrin at my turning him down, when the crucial moment came.  My relatives and pals were all wary of him.’

There came more silence.

‘He didn’t deserve what I did to him, though, for I didn’t kill him to save my life.  That was bad enough, but then I blackened his name as a violent rapist, just to save my own skin.  My sister is right, whatever strange forces revealed the truth to her.  I believe it was Brad’s ghost, for she found herself in front of his gravestone, once she was out of that weird trance.  Tell me, young man, will I be charged with murder, on the basis of this confession?’

There was a slow nod, almost a reluctant one.  The policeman knew his reservations were irrational, for the law applied to the elderly, as to other people.  He still felt uneasy about it, though.

‘I shall just have to face the music, regardless of age,’ admitted the woman, very much in looks and speech like a more aged Margaret. 

Rose Hunter took a deep breath.

‘There are so many ironies in this: that a nightmare in sleep led to a real-life nightmare; that the same church-going. God-fearing values that made my sister insist I confess were the ones that led me to do the worst evil, out of shame; that Brad, at some pains not to be tempted, being foiled by Fate; that my sister has been reading An Evening of Magic, when such an evening seems to have revealed to her my guilt.’

The heavily wrinkled lady began to cry, as the policeman looked awkward.

‘The biggest irony of all,’ she sobbed, ‘is after that what seemed a true evening of magic, came a lifetime of regret!’

Continue to the 2nd place story

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