She Blames Me (from Banfield Tales)
She’s there again today. A tall, thin woman; probably in her twenties. An old-fashioned hairstyle, like they used to have during the war, and she’s wearing a long thick overcoat with large lapels. A dark blue scarf is wrapped around her neck. Not a cold day, and it appears strange to be wrapped up in such a way. I’ve seen her a few times, and she’s looking in my direction. Sitting on the seat nearest the rear platform by the exit door, she can survey all the passengers, but she’s only looking at me. I can’t see her face clearly; she has the hood pulled up. No one else seems to notice her.
This time she follows me. On previous occasions, she stayed on the bus as I got off and I sensed that her eyes latched onto mine. She turned her head towards me as I looked through the window. I looked back. No one else did. This time I begin to feel nervous. She’s keeping at least twenty yards behind me.
‘Hi John,’ a neighbour greets me as I reach the front gate.
I turn round; she’s gone.
The next day, it happens again. The nights are drawing in, and I’m late tonight. Street lights are on and no one else in the street. As I open the front gate I look round. She stops. I need to get into the house, fumbling with the keys. Look through the front window. She’s standing there, by the lamppost.
This continues for a few weeks, and then one night I get really scared. I pull the curtains back slightly, just enough to get a view of the street. One street light within five yards of my front garden. She is standing there, and as I look in her direction, she raises her head. I still can’t see her eyes, but again sense that I am the target. She raises her hand and points; first towards me, then towards the roof of the house. Is she trying to tell me something?
A week before Christmas. I’ve lived on my own for ten years, and Christmas is the only time that loneliness creeps into my thoughts and emotions. No family now, and a visit or call from friends, neighbours or work colleagues would be very welcome. A knock at the window. Doorbell not working? Pulling the curtains to one side, I draw breath when she appears there. My heart is racing, I feel dizzy. She points at me again, then turns to look towards the roof of the house and points in that direction.
‘What do you want?’ I cry out.
Panic has set in, and I feel ashamed and look again; she’s no longer there. Every time it happens, she’s getting closer and closer. I jump with fright as the phone rings. No one there.
I have to control this, can’t let it rule my life. It occurred to me that she is pointing to the eaves of the house. The attic? Is there something upstairs that she wants me to know about? With some trepidation, switching on all the lights, I climb the stairs to the top floor, a room I hardly use. These old Victorian houses have attics rather than lofts. At least there’s no need to climb a ladder. I dumped a few boxes in the attic when I moved in ten years ago. Other than that, a couple of old trunks lie in the corner. Never thought to look at them before. Try the first one. Christmas cards, old books, theatre programmes. I open the other one. A single item, an old Radio Times folder, leather-bound, sits at the bottom of the trunk. I shudder as the air goes cold around me. I must open the folder. Taking it out of the trunk is an effort – not a physical effort, but I sense the answer is close.
As I open the folder, a pile of newspaper cuttings fall out and a gust of air blows them across the attic floor. Trying to collect them up, one cutting stands out, draws me in. I’m on my knees, ignoring the cobwebs and dust. The article in front of me; dated December 1937. ‘Young woman strangled on Christmas Eve’. The article describes how Barbara Smithson travelled on the no. 26 bus from the centre of town every night on her way home. She lived in this house. Someone she worked with had pestered her for months. In those days, women rarely complained. He followed her home and she refused his advances. He pushed her into the house and there was a struggle. He told the court how she slapped his face, kicked him, screaming at him, pleading for him to leave. He lost his temper. She kicked him again and tried to push him away. He had his hands round her throat. Pressing down hard, she stopped breathing. His finger-marks clear, purple marks on her slim neck. The blue scarf she wore was buried with her. He went to the gallows, strung up for taking a young innocent life.
Christmas Eve. I’m sitting in the dim light of the front room. Curtains closed, a few ancient lights on the tree with a dull glow spreading across the room. She’s here, the room goes cold. As she appears in the room, her face is still covered by the hood of her coat, but I can see the outline of her chin, and a faint glow that frightens me. She slowly pulls back the hood and her eyes bore into me. Eyes red with flame, it is though they are scanning my soul, deep within me. Her hand moves towards the scarf and she takes it away from her neck. She glares at me as I see the purple marks, fingerprints that had taken her life. She points at me and opens her mouth to speak, but there is just a gasp. She cannot speak.
‘It wasn’t me,’ I say in a weak voice.
‘You died in 1937. It was someone else who took your life. He hung for his crime and he’s gone to hell for what he did. Please believe me.’
A pause, and she lowers her hand. As if in recognition of my plea, she takes a step back and once again places the hood over her head. The glow of her eyes becomes dim. I feel faint, and she is retreating.
She is gone.
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15 short stories - ghost stories, supernatural, romance, quirky comic tales and science fiction.