The haunting of sarah ca.., p.1
The Haunting of Sarah Carew, p.1Joseph H.J. Liaigh
The Haunting of
Joseph H.J. Liaigh
To my family: my wife, Mandy, and my sons, Timothy, James and John, who have graciously and generously put up with my writing; and to Isabella, for encouragement and generous criticism.
PO Box 2123, Parkdale, Vic. 3195, Australia.
First published in Australia 2017
Copyright © Leach Publications 2017
Cover design: Leach Publications
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by means of trade or otherwise, be lent, hired out, or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express prior written permission of Leach Publications.
The moral rights of the author are asserted.
This book would not have been written without the encouragement and support of my family, particularly my son James who was the first to read the story. I would also like to thank Victoria Robinson, who has given me valuable advice and support, and to Isabella Kružas for her advice on the cover design.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and highly improbable.
Liaigh, Joseph H.J.: The Haunting of Sarah Carew
Death was never of God’s fashioning;
not for his pleasure does life cease to be; …
Think not that mortality bears sway on earth;
no end nor term is fixed to a life well lived.
Book of Wisdom, 1:13, 15 (Knox)
The world can come to an end in many ways. For some, it ended when the tension in the South China Sea turned into a violent military confrontation. Economies collapsed and the web and the GPS became tightly controlled military assets. For many more, and with far greater finality, it ended when a volcano blew up in Central Java, destroying the most densely populated island on Earth and plunging the world into a sustained and freezing winter. For me, the end was more mundane. My parents were killed in a car crash, a simple overload on the traffic control mainframe, and I was sent to live with my only surviving relative: an elderly great aunt whom I hardly knew.
You may think that talk of the world ending is being overly dramatic but, for me, it was just the plain truth. I went from living in a high rise, inner city apartment block; where my life was filled with crowds, fast food, and a constant stream of electronic entertainment; to a place that seemed like the ultimate anachronism: a place marooned out of time.
My aunt lived on an old farm, close to the sea. The farm house had been built in the nineteenth century in imitation of some minor Scottish castle. It was a rambling place of crumbling stone and cracked plaster, with ornamental towers and arched doorways. The kind of place that history buffs get all excited about – mainly because they don’t have to live there. I went from crowds of friends to – what? Sheep? Maybe. Seagulls? Perhaps, but certainly not people. All in all, I might as well have walked through the back of a wardrobe and into Narnia.
My great aunt, essentially, lived alone. Apart from her, and the sheep, the only other inhabitants of the farm were Craig Brown and his son who helped look after the farm, but they were only there when needed and even then, only in daylight hours. They never went anywhere near the house and they were never on the property after dark.
This always seemed strange to me. I mean, he basically ran the farm. Yet if my aunt wanted to talk to him, she had to go out to the paddock. He wouldn’t come to the house. Also, there are things that a farmer often has to do at night, and sometimes these are urgent, but even these, he would leave till morning. It was strange because in most respects he was a good man and a good farmer. A man of few words and long silences but a good farmer. I asked him about this once.
“Too many ghosts,” he grunted. I thought he was joking but he was deadly serious as he turned to me and said, “Now listen. You have nothing to do with anything that should be dead and gone but isn’t. It doesn’t matter what it looks like or what it says, it isn’t human anymore. It’s dangerous. Stay as far away as you can. That old house is full of things that have no right to be here, that no rational person would want to know about. If I were you, I’d leave for the city. There’s nothing there as bad as what might happen to you here.”
Apart from thinking that Mr. Brown was really weird and probably stupid, I thought nothing more about it. I had all the arrogance of the city and to me, it was just more dumb country superstition. Anyway, that he thought the house full of dead things seemed appropriate to me. At that time, the whole world seemed as dead to me as my parents. It was as if I had died with them. In my dreams, all I could see were their broken bodies lying on the road. During the day, it was as if something was broken inside of me. I walked through the funeral and the days after it in a kind of trance. I came to the farm knowing the world as nothing but grey and empty. Nothing mattered, nothing was real. Nothing but those bodies lying, broken, on the road.
If my great aunt understood any of this, she didn’t let on. She was a small bird-like woman with bright eyes and quick movements. Her hair was long and grey and normally tied back in a pony tail that reached to her waist. She was okay, I guess, for an old lady, and she came from a much more relaxed time: a time when little notice was taken of convention or manners.
As soon as we met she said, “Call me Florence. I don’t want any of the great aunt stuff.” I obliged but not out of affection. It was more that ‘Great Aunt Florence’ just took too long to say.
I don’t want to appear ungrateful but, well, I was ungrateful. Let’s face it. I hated the whole thing; being dragged from the city, from my friends. Most of all, I hated being an orphan. I hated being shunted around like a charity case that no one knew what to do with.
So, even though the farm was obviously better than any of the alternatives open to me and, if I had been able to see things honestly, it actually had a lot going for it, it took me a long time to accept that this was now my future. The house itself was huge. Florence and I lived in only in one small part, in would once have been the servant’s quarters. These were at the rear of the north wing of the house and centred on the kitchen and the old servant’s dining room. The rest of the house was left closed. Not locked up exactly, just not used. There was room after room full of dust and fading memories.
Also, much as I wanted to dislike her – no, that’s too mild. Much as I wanted to hate her, much as I wanted to her to be a really awful person, Florence was actually quite pleasant company, for an old lady of course, and I was eventually glad that she had taken me in. She didn’t have to and it must have been almost as great a wrench for her, suddenly having a teenage boy around the place, as it was for me. Come to think of it, it was probably worse for her. It upset the pattern of many years of living alone.
This isn’t to suggest that we got along just fine without any problems. We didn’t. We had some explosive fights, especially in the beginning when we were just getting to know each other. They were usually over some job or bit of study that I was meant to be doing. These would normally end with me standing up and yelling and Florence calmly insisting that I follow her instructions. Florence usually got her way although there were times when I simply stormed off to my
Left to myself, I think I would have just curled up into a little ball and nursed my pain: lying in the dark and alternating between anger, despair and not giving a toss about anything. Florence, however, was very firm. She was not going to let me lie about feeling sorry for myself. She was also not going a race around looking after me, so she made it clear that I had to learn to look after myself. She was soon teaching me how to use her old washing machine and how to cook on her ancient stove.
Eventually we learned to rub along together and the all-out yelling matches became rare. Every Sunday we climbed into her car and headed off to mass, in the plain, wooden church in town. I just sat there, more out of politeness than conviction, and let the words wash over me. I felt nothing. As I said, it was as if everything, including my faith, had died in me, along with my parents.
The web connection at the farm was a bit flaky but it was adequate. It wasn’t like the old days anyway. Since the trouble in the South China Sea, the military had taken strict control of the internet. As a distance student, I was allowed only one hour’s access a day and then only to specified, educational sites. All my learning modules were stored locally, however, so I could access them, just like in the city. That meant that my schooling didn’t change much. In the old days, when school was still taught face to face, this would’ve been a big problem but now it was just me running the modules in a different place. Entertainment bandwidth was so restricted as to be almost non-existent.
All of this meant that I ended up spending a lot more time on my own and outdoors than I would’ve in the city. The house’s garden was a mess. It had once been a very formal affair with teams of gardeners, no doubt, to maintain it, but over the years it had been let run wild. It was still full of echoes of its past grandeur, like the imported and ornamental trees. There were oaks and various sorts of conifers as well as more exotic things whose names I didn’t know. These trees, however, were only relics of a more ordered time. Roses grew, wild and dangerous, in the understory. There were giant rhododendrons, bougainvillea, agapanthus, palms and a profusion of different types of fern; all without any sense of plan or order. All the formal structure of the garden had been lost in a chaos of growth.
Exploring the garden now was like exploring a ruined city buried in the jungle. Every now and then, you would beat your way through the rhododendrons to find some hidden stone steps leading nowhere or to a disused fountain, full of green water and bugs. Statues of gods and goddesses would suddenly appear as you turned onto a hidden and unexpected pathway and all the time the wind from the sea would whisper in the trees; whisper secret things, of lost dreams and forgotten hope, of how easy it is to die.
I guess it was a sad sort of place. How could it be otherwise? But that suited me. In fact, I think it was actually good for me, because, unlike my own, the garden’s sadness was a gentle sort of sadness. One that attested to the power of time to heal. One that acted to sooth the sharp soreness of my own grief.
Back in the house, my bedroom wasn’t that big. In fact, it was small. As I said, we were living in what used to be the servant’s quarters. It was okay though. Its small size made it feel snug and safe, like a hidey hole that I could crawl into and disappear. If that sounds a bit gloomy, well, as you may already have worked out, that was my state of mind. Not only had I just lost both my parents but I was now in a place that was radically different from anything I had ever known before. I needed a place I could call my own.; that I could wrap around me; where I could find sanctuary.
I felt alone and lost in the world. All the foundations of my life, all my plans for the future, had been stripped away by one stupid computer glitch, in one crazy collision of metal, road, and soft human flesh. I was sure that there was no one in the world more miserable than me.
About a month after I arrived, I was lying in my bed one night, with the full moon creeping through the cracks in the curtains, and the same useless thoughts running through my head. What if I had been with them? What if I had asked them not to go? At the time, I had actually been happy to see them go out for the night so that I could have the time to myself. Now, I could only think that maybe if I had delayed them, even for a few seconds, even just taken a bit more time over saying goodbye, they might not have died.
It was then that I heard the sound of someone playing the piano. I knew it was somebody playing and not a recording because, although they were good, they would make the occasional mistake and go back and play that piece again. I didn’t know who could possibly be playing a piano that I didn’t even know we had. Florence had never shown any sign of musical talent or even interest. Who was the pianist and where had they come from? I also didn’t know where they were. A piano is a hard thing to hide and I had not seen a piano anywhere in the house, although I had actually only visited a small part of it. But these were mysteries that, at that moment, I didn’t care about. I just wanted the forgetfulness of the sleep that wouldn’t come because somewhere in the house, someone was playing the piano, playing the piano in the middle of the night!
I gave up trying to sleep. Instead, I just lay there and listened to the music, hoping that it might chase away the pain. It was a sad tune that they were playing, with the notes falling like tears and rising, only to stop and fall again before their resolution, like sobs breaking from a wounded heart. The notes rose and fell, like waves breaking on a beach. Rising now and now falling away. They were building slowly into a crescendo but eventually the build-up broke into silence and in that silence, I found the sleep I needed.
The next morning, I asked Florence, “Who was that playing the piano last night?”
She stopped what she was doing and stared fixedly out the window. For a long time, she didn’t reply. She didn’t even move. Eventually she said, in a strange, flat voice, “So, you heard the piano?”
“Yes,” I said, puzzled at her reaction.
“Don’t you pay any attention to that piano. That’s nothing to do with you. I would forget about it,” she said firmly, suddenly busying herself with some dishes. “I’ll ask Mr. Brown to show you around the farm today. You are the last of the Rileys and one day, when I die, all this will come to you to do with as you please. Until that time, however, you need to learn what we do here.”
“I only asked who was playing,” I said. “Who are they? Where do they live?” Florence was standing still and stiff, starring out the window with some dishes still in her hand. “I didn’t even know we had a piano.”
“Just drop it!” she said angrily. “I told you, forget all about the piano player!”
Now, I’m as sensitive to emotional cues as the next guy and it was so clear to me that this was a touchy subject so, despite my curiosity, I didn’t pursue it. I didn’t want a fight. We had already had a few of those, and I had always come off second best, although it did, however, make me wonder why someone playing the piano was such a big deal.
The Haunting of Sarah Carew by Joseph H.J. Liaigh / Fantasy have rating 2.6 out of 5 / Based on36 votes