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The Nook

A Ghost Story

By TANIKA SMITH WHEATLEYPublished 5 months ago 29 min read
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Author and Artist Tanika Smith Wheatley

The Nook

“I’m moving, getting out of here…”

Silence…for a moment, then someone ‘aaahed’, and another gasped, “but…you love it here,” all of us nodded in agreement, “you have made it so beautiful, with your Indian décor…”

There were eight of us altogether, and we were all sitting on large plush cushions on an Indian patterned rug smoking from the largest Hookah that I had ever seen, in the middle of the rug, in the middle of us all. Surprised, everyone else had taken their tubes from their mouths.

I looked at the exquisite silk curtains and satin drapes and taking my Hookah tube from my mouth, exhaled, and looking him in the eye said, “I’d like to live here, give me your landlord’s details…”

He looked me in the eye. He was a very good-looking man, even with the gaunt sunken features of one who drank and took drugs too much for my liking, so I would never attempt anything more than friendship between us, and he knew it. “But…it’s haunted…”

More gasps and giggles went around the room. We caught up regularly over a much-needed drink, after work either at the bar at the motel where we all worked just to the right of the street on the main road, or at the nightclub just on the left of the street on the main road and we often ended up here, quietly enjoying the Hookah among the cushions with one of our friends also playing the Sitar that was otherwise in a corner, among our host’s variety of other Indian objects. The player stopped. He was not Indian, neither was our host, but he was quite good with the Sitar. Or perhaps we were all too high to know much about the instrument and how it should be played. He looked around the room blinking, as if expecting to see an apparition above us, watching us. “Haunted?”

Our host did not reply. The rest of us laughed and made ‘oooooo’ and ‘woooo’ supposedly ghostlike sounds. Only I noticed that our host wasn’t laughing…

The next day at work, he was the head breakfast chef, and I was the head waitress, I did the breakfast shift (the motel was where the American Tourists arrived in bus loads so with that one shift, I was able to bank all my wages and live on their tips) then catch the cable car down to the department store where I worked in women’s fashions for the rest of the day. The model agency that I also worked for was at the bottom of the cable car station. He held out some papers to me. “I’ve got the agent’s details, the…landlord pays others to do his work. Do you still want the rental details?”

I took them. “Absolutely…”

“Wooooooohhhhhhhh” he teased.

I just rolled my eyes.

It was a lovely day when I set out to an open inspection, I had had enough of ‘share flatting’ with others who were all lazy and although I had three jobs, four, counting the floorshows (I’m also a Hula dancer) the department store being the only full time one, I was doing all the housework, gardening, and cooking (and my things were being borrowed without permission and never returned by their friends apparently, when visiting) so it didn’t take long before I realized that I was the sort who would be happiest living independently on my own. Although I had only ever seen it at night, I had always liked the little cottage, and it would be perfect for me – as mentioned, the motel was close, so was my favorite night club, it was within walking distance to town, and the train station where I caught the train to visit my family on weekends, it was across the road to the city’s largest park which had a cable car that went down to the main shopping area – the model agency was next to the cable car station in town, and the department store where I worked in women’s fashions was directly across the street – perfect…

The cottage for rent was one of a few cottages on a lovely old Estate enclosed by a high stone wall – the grand entrance was impressive with beautiful wrought iron gates and colonial lamps and I had to stop for a moment and gasp in wonder – I could just imagine how it must have looked, once upon a time, with horse driven carriages going in and out of the gates. I couldn’t help but finger the beautiful wrought iron as I admired the stately old mansion and immaculately kept gardens with statues and fountain – but I was late and could not linger too long, I had to follow the little side street up and around the back of the estate which was originally the servant’s road, that took me to the servant’s quarters and there it was, the first and best of the cottages, set in a grove of trees (so the original owners did not have the lowly sight of their servant’s quarters) nearby.

As I opened the little mesh gate, it creaked, and I giggled, of course – an old estate, an old cottage, it would not be right without an old creaking gate complete with vines intertwined with the iron mesh - but a cloud decided to block the sun as I entered, and a chill went down my spine as I approached the old cottage – did this happen before? I’d only been here a few times, at night, with friends, perhaps I’d had too much to drink, to notice – chill is not quite the correct word – instinctive foreboding is the closest that I can think of, but I shrug it aside and walk down the beautiful stepping stone pathway and start up the old, well-used stairs. That’s when I saw the sign – a little placard nailed on the wall near the door, “The Nook” – I had never noticed that sign before and again, I told myself that I’d only ever been there before at night – still, surely I would have noticed, but I had no recollection of it – how quaint I thought, the cute little cottage had a name, and I would find out later, that the other cottages behind it, also had names.

Voices from within can be heard as I approached and before I was half-way up the steps to the door, a young couple came out saying (to each other, and me) that the place was terrible and should be pulled down. I blinked in surprise as I remembered my friends and I sitting around a low coffee table on large cushions on a beautiful fringed Indian carpet rug puffing on the largest Hookah I had ever seen. It had eight smoking tubes, it was approximately four feet high, such an impressive Hookah that apart from a fireplace, and a few other Indian things like the Sitar I mentioned earlier, nothing else was in the room, and anything else would have ruined the scene, that was the lounge. A door opened at the opposite end to a cute compact kitchen, and another door beside it opened to a long bedroom with built in wardrobe with drawers – a huge bed filled up half the room (I would find out that it had been specially made to do so) and an intricate Indian design quilt covered it with more pretty cushions piled in the middle of it – like the low table and Hookah in the lounge, the bed in the bedroom was the only piece of furniture which suited the room perfectly, other furnishings would have ruined the simple yet beautiful décor of the two main rooms and the only other thing in that room was a ‘pull-down’ step ladder which led into a storage loft which originally had been a second bedroom, when built, this type of cottage often had a sleeping area in the roof, for the children of a couple, servants, who resided in such a place. Off the bedroom, behind the kitchen, was the bathroom and I was pleased to see that although it was a small cottage, there was a large bath (with shower head over it) but there is nothing I love better than soaking in a perfumed bath. So perhaps it was the previous tenant’s (a work mate and friend of mine) simple but exquisite belongings that had made the small cottage look so lovely at night and in my intoxicated and drugged (this was the late sixties early seventies era) state at the time…

In the daytime, and bare, it did now seem rather old and drab, with a much-needed paint job required that had been unnoticeable in the dark and with that friend’s soft lighting - and as I entered, other people followed the first couple that passed me with not only disappointed expressions but also mumbles of disgust like ‘yuk’ and ‘eeyyeeuuww’…

I admit, now in the daytime, I did notice the crumbling crimson paint on the outside walls, and peeling blue paint on the door – the thatched roof (yes, that’s how old this Estate is) was noticeably shredding in areas, the paler patches on the bare floorboards where the rug and bed had been, and the paint peeling from the inside cream walls and window panes – but I did notice the sparkling so clean that they shone bath, basin and toilet and that was good enough for me, and to the agent’s surprise, I told him that I loved it, and would take it – he looked startled, he wasn’t expecting anyone would be interested in renting the little hovel, he couldn’t even hide his own disgust at the place - he hadn’t even attempted to convince anyone, including me, of the positives of the place, like being close to town, bus stop on the corner of the street and main road, the main park with cable car to the main shopping center, and the trendiest nightclub just down the main street, including, even closer, the loveliest motel with a popular restaurant and bar - he was young, this may have been one of his first open inspections, and with his mouth hanging open (yet speechless) in surprise, I grabbed the bookwork from his hands and proceeded to fill the paperwork out on the kitchen bench and gave him the bond and a couple of month’s rent in advance. With a gasp and a thank you, he gave me the keys (no mention of checking my references, employment or credit), he may have been desperate to find a renter, or, and most likely, the place was so old and decrepit, his agency would have rented the place to anyone, the first showing any interest, and that was me…

Being old and decrepit, the rent was very reasonable and they showed no interest in renovating the place which suited me, I would decorate it the way I wanted it to be (which was a bonus for them also, for when I eventually move out, they would be able to charge more rent) so before moving in, I painted the inside walls a soft fawny buff color, and the windowpanes white. Then, using thick white cardboard I made (with glue and drawing pins) indoor ceiling beams with matching indoor window frames, drawing markings that resembled wood (I’m an artist) and even at close inspection, they actually looked like real wood. I painted the floorboards and added wood markings and although they were actually wooden, after my artwork, they looked even more so. A carpet rug similar to the one my friend had had was placed in the lounge, and a bed (not as large as his had been) was placed in the bedroom, I wanted a couple of small bedside tables and lamps to fit on either side of it, but I did throw a lot of large pillows on both, like he had done, and I painted the ‘bed head’ wall charcoal, then added a huge tiger to that, with large white fangs. When switched on, a small ultraviolet lamp made the fangs shine. A mirror over the fireplace, white sheer curtains throughout (I only placed heavy drapes in the lounge window next to the front door as the place was surrounded by thick dense foliage and vines which provided privacy) a white cabinet with stereo (I never watched TV in those days) opposite the fireplace, a few pot plants, and I was ready to move in.

I had planned to paint the outside as well, but the trees and vines were too densely close, considered painting just the front wall and the door, but some of the creeper and vine type plants did not make it easy there either, and I wasn’t going to destroy them (I’m a plant lover) and after only my first night there, I realized in the moonlight that those crimson and blue colours had softened with age, didn’t appear as gaudy as I had at first thought, placed pots of white daisies on either side of the steps, and fell even more in love with the place than I already had liked when I’d first set sight of it. My own, pretty little cottage on the amazing estate…my own…or so I thought…

When my mother found out that I was now living on my own, she gave me my father’s (he had passed away a few years ago) gun – he’d taught me how to use guns when I was a child. She didn’t like the idea of me, a young lady, living in the city, let alone on my own, but she did realize that I had to make a living, and there wasn’t much opportunity to do so in the country town where my family lived, on the other side of a mountain range. Hiding my amusement, I took it to please her, but I also took it because it had belonged to him but instead of carrying it around in my purse (he’d made sure I’d have some knowledge of self-defence and enrolled me into Judo classes when a young teenager and I was so fascinated with the techniques that I continued with martial arts and would continue learning and practicing several different Karate styles until way into middle/old age), I proudly displayed it on my mantel piece – however, whenever I returned home, I’d always find it lying on the floor – the mantel piece was quite straight, and while I was home, it never fell, so one day, feeling perplexed at the phenomenon, I pretended to be going out, locked up as per usual, then hid among the dense trees on the large estate and watched, expecting to see someone else with a key go inside, but after a couple of hours, I gave up and let myself in, then froze in shock – the gun was on the floor, and I knew that no-one else had entered – I checked the windows none-the-less, none had been opened and if they had been, these particular locks would not have been able to be refastened again from the outside – besides, the foliage was far too dense to get too close to the windows (except the front one next to the front door) from the outside, without cutting down trees and clearing bushes. So, like my mother had wanted, I picked up the gun, and placed it in my purse.

Within days of living in the little cottage a neighbor (from the very next cottage) introduced herself to me and invited me in to have a cup of coffee with her – it was then, that I found out, that the other cottages still housed estate workers and apparently, she was the house-keeper cleaner, and the next cottage housed the grounds-man, meaning head gardener, who was also the property security guard, the next one was home to the maid, her helper, and finally, the last one, was home to the grounds-man’s helper. All single – which should have been a warning, and in fact it did, which I chose to ignore, at the time.

“So,” she passed me my coffee, “how have you been settling in?”

“Great,” I answered, “I love living here…”

“Good.” She sipped her coffee, “any problems at all?”

“No,” I sipped my coffee, “except…” I hesitated…how much should I tell her, a pretty middle aged lady, without appearing to have lost my mind.

“Except?” She prodded.

“I keep finding my…gun on the floor. I keep it on the mantelpiece, and it stays there when I’m home, but whenever I’ve been out, I find it on the floor…”

I was expecting to hear ‘you have a gun?’, or ‘are you insane,’ or something like that, but I was not expecting to hear, as she carefully placed her cup in its saucer, “The Nook is haunted…”

At first, I smiled. I thought she was attempting a joke. But she was not smiling. And I remembered how my friend, the previous tenant, had said so also. We’d all thought it was the drugs at the time. But this time, I doubted coffee would make someone say something like that. I must have looked as though I did not believe her because she continued, “the second to last tenant was shot in there!”

My mouth fell open, but nothing came out of it.

She finished the rest of her coffee in one gulp. “The place has been haunted ever since. And naturally, he, the ghost, can’t stand guns…”

Was this some kind of weird way of getting me to get rid of my gun? I know it’s not easy to break into The Nook. Unless…there’s a secret way of getting into the place that I know nothing of? I doubted it. I painted the inside, surely, I would have come across some secret door – besides, due to the dense foliage, access could only be through the front of the cottage…

“You don’t believe me?” She interrupted my thoughts. “Why do you think that none of us, wants to live in the loveliest of all the cottages. We’d even bunk in together, rather than do that. Nor, as you noticed, did any of us want to get close enough to it to keep it clean and repaired, none of us!”

“Nor did any of you expect anyone would rent it, move in…”

Perhaps because I didn’t want to make an enemy of my nearest neighbor, perhaps because she’d know more about this place than I did, I decided to play along, and encouraged her to continue. “Someone got shot in The Nook?”

“He was the Butler,” she continued.

“You knew him?”

She nodded. “He had an affair with the lady of the house, and her husband shot him. Her husband died in jail.” Did her eyes flicker nervously? “She still resides in the house…”

I’d seen a lady sitting in her window, I’d wave, but she never waves back…

“So," I cleared my throat, "I live in the butler’s quarters…”

“Yep…”

“A friend of mine lived there before me, he also, said that the place was haunted…”

“He was a nice guy, used to help the old gardener…”

Soon after, my mum drove down to visit. She could not hide the dislike on her face, and I thought it was because of my Hippie decorating. Or perhaps she didn’t like the thought that I was living in a quaint, but little old hovel. I didn’t think that she’d be comfortable getting down on my cushions, so we sat outside on a garden seat near the fountain. Although we sat in the shadows of the numerous trees, it was a nice warm day – still, I can tell that she felt uncomfortable, and asked if she’d rather we sit inside, on the bed. She shook her head. I asked if anything was wrong.

She looked at me and asked if I was happy there. I replied I was. She did not look convinced, so using my fingers, I pointed out the positives to her. Close to work. Close to the park. Close to the train station. And just look at the beautiful estate, we, all who lived on the estate, were all allowed to sit anywhere in the large, beautiful garden. Just like we were doing. We were allowed to grow plants in the large greenhouse. The only place that was ‘out of bounds’ to me, the only one who was not employed to work there, was the large mansion house itself.

“But…” my mother hesitated, “are you…happy here?”

I nodded. “Very.”

“Don’t you get…lonely?”

“I tried share-flatting, I’d rather live on my own…besides, I’m getting to know the others on the estate, and they all look after each other, and me…”

“Have you ever wondered why; they look after you?”

“We’re neighbors. The only people on this large property…”

“Maybe they’re hoping you’d stay, not get scared, and leave…”

I frowned. I had no idea what she was talking about. “Mum…are you OK?”

She nodded. “I’m more concerned for you!”

“What do you mean?”

She looked around as if making sure no-one else could hear us. “This place is…” then she looked at me, “your place more precisely, is haunted…”

“Oh, him…”

She frowned at my flippant answer. “You know? I wondered why you couldn’t feel his presence. Yet you stay? Aren’t you afraid?”

“I…can’t feel his presence. But others can. I had a friend, a workmate from the motel stay overnight because she was rostered on the breakfast shift as well, she’d just finished the dinner shift, due to a waitress being ill, who ran out of my place screaming in the middle of the night because she saw a ghost, a guy, watching us sleep. Soon after, a boyfriend ran out saying the same thing, and I never saw him again. I have never seen the ghost. Sometimes I think I feel his presence, but I tell myself that’s because I’ve been told so many times that my cute little home is haunted. I have never felt afraid. I don’t feel as though I’m in any danger, that if there is a ghost, I don’t feel as though he will harm me. In fact, I think he feels a little afraid of me. That’s why I’d like you to take dad’s gun back with you. The only thing I’ve noticed is an adverse reaction to the gun. Otherwise, I’m fine, and I love living in The Nook.”

She sighed. I sighed. “Have you actually seen him? Is he handsome?”

That made her relax and laugh. I laughed with her. She said she didn’t actually see a ghost, just felt an unearthly presence in The Nook. Apart from the gun continually being moved, I had never felt or seen anything else unusual. She must have realized that if I wasn’t scared, not to worry about me, and left with a smile on her face, and my dad’s gun in her purse.

So for awhile, life was perfect – for awhile. The hostess at the motel could no longer work on Friday nights, and I was asked to take her place – hostessing on Friday nights in a restaurant was like partying and being paid for it. Afterwards, all the staff (and sometimes some of the customers who were in no hurry to leave) were encouraged to join the owner in the bar for an after-work drink together – he believed that the best teams socialized as well as worked together, and he was right. He also believed that in giving extra service to his customers meant they’d recommend his place and often return with friends, and they did. This meant that I’d have to take the train to visit my family on Saturday morning instead of Friday night, but again, my mother was pleased because it was a promotion, and so was I.

Soon after that, the department store manager was discussing putting on a fashion parade with my manager and they were wondering which model agency to use, when I approached them and suggested we do our own fashion parades, that we had pretty girls in cosmetics who could be our own ‘in-house’ models, that I could teach them, saving agency fees, and I was promptly put in charge of organizing our own parades, both retail (20-30 minute catwalk parades in store) and private (1-2 hour after hour showings for the wealthy, by invite only, with Champagne and Hors d'oeuvres.

I loved my life. I loved my jobs. I loved The Nook. I loved living on the Estate. Then one night, there was a piercing scream from the big house. We of the cottages, all ran inside, through the back door, me also, although I had been banned from going into the mansion. Something had happened, and I may be of some help. The gardener/grounds-man/guard had slipped and fallen down the stairs. A quick check by the house-keeper woman revealed that he was dead. I moved towards the phone when the gardener’s helper stopped me. I looked at the woman for help, but she shook her head. Being the newest to the Estate, and being a renter, not really a part of the Estate, I went along with their decisions. The woman made us all a cup of tea in the large kitchen. Very large kitchen. The Nook could have easily fit in that room. I clutched my cup tightly, attempting to appear as calm as everyone else seemed to be. But what I heard next, sent shivers down my spine.

The woman told me that the lady in the window was dead. Had been for some time, but they would all have lost their homes and jobs if the news had been reported, with no idea of where her son had disappeared to. They all loved living on the Estate. They all felt as though their lives, had improved since being there and hadn’t mine? I had to admit, not many people of my young age had the career successes that I was having, since living there. Apparently my friend, who had been living at the Nook before me, had been the lady’s son – her and the Butler’s son. His father was shot before he was born, but his mother told him about his real father, and the boy, when old enough to make his own decisions, decided that he preferred to live in his real father’s cottage The Nook, instead of the house, and that was why the woman liked sitting in the window, the only window with a glimpse of The Nook, so she could keep an eye on her son who bereaved a father he’d never met. But while living independently in The Nook, he discovered that he liked cooking, took a course, and to keep busy, rather than actually having to work for a living, got a job at the nearby motel. Soon after though, the son decided he wanted to see the world, and left, and hadn’t kept in contact since. His mother died of a broken heart. And the rest on the Estate made a pact between them not to inform anyone, until the son returned, as they imagined she’d wanted. They had no idea that he would stay away for so long and now wondered if he would ever return, or even if he was still alive. Their pact included they continue working the Estate. Not inform anyone of the death of the mother, or gardener grounds-man, and no known whereabouts of the son. The Estate was large and overgrown, perfect for burying the dead. That they will continue to live on the Estate, collect their wages, the Accountant the only other person who knew, and who also, did not want his own wages from the Estate to cease…

I was the only one who was not on the payroll. Responding to the scream, I ran to the house which I had been banned from. I sipped on my tea and wondered about my future. Did I have one? I was a threat to the other’s existence. They had no qualms about burying people in the large garden. But they were all watching me. Awaiting my reaction. I downed the rest of my tea, and calmly put the cup in its saucer. I looked the older woman steadily in the eyes. “I’m good with plants, the gardener’s helper can become the new groundsman, and take his wages, and I’ll become his helper, and take his wages. I will still pay the rent, for the books…”

There were smiles all around me.

“But,” started the woman, “the helper can move into the grounds person’s cottage, and you can move into his helper’s cottage…”

“Why?”

“So you won’t have to pay rent. And because The Nook is…haunted…”

I shook my head. “No, it’s not…and I like The Nook…”

The men went to bury the body, and the women immediately started cleaning the stairs. I thought that I’d better do something, so stacked the cups and sauces in the dishwasher. The dishwasher wasn’t even half full, so I did not bother turning it on. When I passed the women cleaning on my way back out of the back door, the older one called after me, “Sweet dreams…”

I had intended playing along for my own safety. I had intended packing a small case with my documents and essentials and leaving as soon as everyone else had retired. But when I closed the door of The Nook, I felt safe, I felt as though this was my home, I felt as though I was watched, and looked after, I felt as though I owed my successful life to The Nook, and I couldn’t leave it. I took off my clothes, wriggled under my quilt, and turned out the lamp.

“Sweet dreams,” I murmured to no-one in particular, and turning on my back, peered up into the darkness. I still couldn’t see what so many others had seen. I still couldn’t feel what so many others had felt. But did I hear a sigh near my ear? Just some tree boughs brushing up against the outside walls, I told myself, yet I felt safe…these people weren’t murderers, they loved living on this beautiful Estate. And if there really was a ghost in The Nook, he wasn’t a murderer either, in fact, he, was the one who had been murdered, by a man who had died in prison. I loved my life, I loved my jobs, and I loved The Nook…

EPPILOGUE

I did leave soon after, due to other opportunities that came my way, and the others did not try to make me change my mind. Somehow they knew that I would keep their secret, that because I never notified the authorities, I was also, very much a part of that secret.

Years later, at middle age, I found myself back in that country, and back in that city, and decided to take a look – I made the mistake of deciding to take a look at night time – even though it was dark, the full moonlight above revealed that the place was now overgrown and quite derelict – touching the iron gate, it creaked and moved at my slightest touch – I entered – and walked around the old statues that glowed in the dark as if my little old ultra violet light shone on them. I walked around the old fountain, no longer working, I saw the window where the lady of the manor used to sit, no longer there, at last, in my absence, she’d been placed to rest, I walked around The Nook, which was now almost completely entwined with vines, I noticed that the other cottages beyond The Nook like the mansion, were in darkness, and I sighed. It had all come to an end. Either the others had eventually left, or had died, they were all older than me.

It was with mixed emotions that I started to leave the place. Relief, as the secret saga had finally come to an end, and sadness, for the same reason – the once beautiful Estate was in ruin and would probably have apartment buildings built there shortly. Whatever happened, I had no intention of doing any research, I could still get into trouble legally, for my part in what happened, what I let happen...

As I turned to leave though, a light went on in an upstairs mansion window. The old servant’s road was carved out of a hill at the back of the property and I decided to silently walk up it to get a better view – no-one would know someone was in the back of the mansion from the main road, or front of the Estate – no-one would know that the servant’s road at the back was high enough to allow me to see directly into the lit window at the back of the mansion – no-one except previous workers were even aware of the servant’s side road carrying on up and around the back of the mansion – so no-one bothered to close the drapes or blinds – and I could clearly see into that room – and I saw, the Accountant, much older now, but definitely the Accountant, sitting at a desk, going over some paperwork, and I smiled…so the secret saga was not over, just quite yet…the Estate, neglected because he was obviously the only one left to run the place, would stay alive, a little longer, without becoming yet another apartment block.

I felt like whistling as I left, and as I walked past The Nook, I blew a kiss in its direction, when suddenly, on what had been a very clear and silent starry night, a little gust of wind blew around me and I shivered and finally realized what everyone else had always known, and I looked back at The Nook with the biggest smile on my face and whispered, ”Good-bye..”

Fantasy
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About the Creator

TANIKA SMITH WHEATLEY

When I was a child, I would wake up in the night because of nightmares. As time went on, I realized that I was looking forward to my dreams. Now, I write them, among other stories as well.....

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