Curses, p.1Traci Harding
About the Author
I MET LISA when I was still working in retail. She was employed at a coffee shop close by the record shop where I worked. As I drink copious amounts of tea every day, Lisa got to know me fairly quickly. Within days she was making my tea to taste and that made her a goddess in my eyes.
I could tell the second I laid eyes on Lisa that she was a ballet dancer. I think it was the long, thick blonde hair, plastered back off her face in an immaculately tidy bun that really gave her away. I had studied jazz and creative dance for ten years or so — pre the arrival of boys in my life — so I could recognise a dancer from a mile off. Lisa had the poise of movement, the turned-out walk and could be seen doing stretching exercises whenever she had a spare second.
Lisa soon joined the ‘wish to get out of retail and get famous club’ that Claire-Bear, Mandy and myself had secretly formed during our smoke breaks.
It was Lisa’s desire to make a living out of dancing. She was teaching at a ballet school at that time, but having never performed with a professional company she felt too inexperienced to really earn her keep teaching dance. She had also never experimented with any kind of dance outside of classical ballet and jazz. And with a full-time job keeping her on her feet all day, and teaching ballet classes after work on most weekdays and Saturday, Lisa had little spare time to pursue other aspirations.
Like Karen, Lisa always made time to come around to my place to listen to me read instalments of my stories. At the end of each reading session, Lisa always insisted on knowing what was going to happen next in the story. As I’d outline my vague idea to her, more of the story would reveal itself, and I was thankful for someone to bounce ideas off.
When Claire, Mandy and I all left our steady jobs to pursue our own goals, it wasn’t long before Lisa followed suit. But not one to do anything by halves, Lisa got rid of everything that wasn’t working in her life. She quit her job, broke off the relationship she was involved in, moved house and resigned most of her duties at the ballet school. She found a casual job that paid well, and was attending various classes at several dance companies.
Lisa first began dance lessons after she quit university, which in dance circles made her a very late bloomer. She envied me learning dance as a youngster, and feared her age would prevent her getting the professional experience she craved. Lisa’s dance style and technique improved ‘out of sight’ in the years that followed, as did her choreography for the jazz class she was teaching. Still she was not making any headway toward professional dance experience. It was around this time that Lisa’s mother unexpectedly died, which hit Lisa very hard. She was on the point of giving up on her dream and seeking full-time work again, when, out of the blue, one of her dance friends offered her the opportunity to perform in ‘Bodies’ a major contemporary recital that is held every year in Sydney.
I went to see the opening night performance, as Lisa was so sure she was going to blunder and disgrace herself. The tears of pride were absolutely rolling down my face as I watched her perform a flawless routine, whilst some of the better known dancers did make very obvious mistakes.
Afterwards, it was a very changed woman that I spoke with. Lisa had amazed herself, and now that she had lived her greatest dream, she was confident of creating her own reality from then on.
Through her mother’s death, and her dream being realised, Lisa was supported by a lovely fellow who had been hanging around waiting for Lisa to stop living dance a second and notice that he existed. Soon after the big performance was over, Lisa fell in love with him, and one year later became pregnant with her first child, Chloe, who I am proud to say I aided to bring into the world in early July 2001. Lisa taught at several dance schools during her pregnancy, and is far more confident about teaching her craft these days. And although she has realised one of her dreams, to perform professionally, her greatest adventure (marriage and parenthood) is still unfolding.
A year after Chloe’s birth, Lisa is performing in the ‘Bodies’ recital once again.
Lisa inspired the character of Alma in The Ancient Future Trilogy and the character of Hannah in The Alchemist’s Key.
The dream of any young couple is to buy their own home, but you don’t always get told the whole story when purchasing a house. It’s only after you move in that you find out about the faulty electrical wiring, the white ants and that the stove has not been cleaned in a century! When you’re moving to a small town, it seems everyone knows more about your house than you do and no one bothers to say anything until the sale goes through.
The premise for ‘Curses’ came when I was reading a book of Irish ghost stories, and I came across a tale of a haunted house at Berren, Derrygarry. The story took place in the middle of the nineteenth century. This tale embraced a romance, a curse, a poltergeist and finally an exorcism … and even so, the haunting did not end there.
‘THE HOUSE WAS the home of Phillip McLevy, a well-to-do farmer, with a good wife and a young family. Their country lifestyle was idyllic until McLevy got involved with a local girl, who became pregnant and demanded that McLevy marry her. When he refused, the girl called upon the dark forces of nature to devise a curse that would avenge the wrong done her. McLevy was much relieved when the girl left the little country town to start a new life in America and was drowned at sea during the passage. The young farmer’s relief was short-lived however, when soon after, violent, unexplainable happenings began to take place in the house. The parish priest was called in to exorcise the unseen entity and after several hours of praying in every room of the house the priest emerged pale and shaken. He told McLevy that he’d managed to banish the spirit from the house, but that it was still present in the environs. The priest told McLevy never to extend on the foundations of the house or the troubled spirit would be back.
1. The Sale
‘Well, that’s a fascinating story, Mrs Hodson. No wonder this house has been on our books forever.’ Bert, the real estate agent, fixed his aging receptionist with a stern look that urged her to hold her tongue in future. ‘I hardly think such tall stories are going to aid young Steven here to sell the place.’ He turned to his junior. ‘Forget you ever heard that old myth,’ he instructed firmly. ‘This property is very specific to the Garretts’ needs, so just stick to the facts. Is that clear.’
Steven gulped and nodded. He needed the commission.
‘Good,’ Bert concluded. ‘The Garrett’s are very keen, so you ought to be able to sell this one with your eyes closed.’
The junior forced a smile. ‘I’ll do my best, sir.’
‘That’s the spirit.’ Bert gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder for reassurance. ‘I expect you’ll come back with a firm offer.’
True, the idea of moving so far away from cosmopolitan life was not thrilling, but Rhea was well used to uprooting herself to accompany Phillip all over the world on business trips. He was a technologist and as such a creative mind as his was always in great demand, Rhea had seen a lot of the world in their three years of marriage. However, this time their move promised to be more permanent. For the first time in Phillip’s career he was determined to develop his latest venture himself and had been given a substantial Government grant to do it.
‘So, what do you think?’ Phillip queried, smothering his own excitement.
Rhea had to admit that the old rundown cottage had potential, far more than the last four houses she’d renovated for their profit.
‘I think it’s a wreck,’ she replied, her glance drifting to the young real estate agent who was showing them the place. ‘The house is worthless … it’s only the huge acreage that makes the p
Phillip smiled, knowing that she liked it. Her complaints were solely for the salesman’s benefit; she was about to negotiate the price of the property down rather considerably and he intended to help. ‘Not to mention the ancient electrical wiring and the archaic fuse box … there’s no earth leakage breaker, let alone any circuit breakers.’
‘None of these rooms will make a decent rehearsal space.’ Rhea placed hands on hips and turned circles. ‘There may not be much demand to teach dance out here, but I do need somewhere to do my choreography and to keep my technique up to scratch.’
‘I suppose there’s plenty of room to extend.’ Phillip pointed out the obvious and Rhea screwed up her nose — despite the fact that she loved renovating.
Steven tried not to cringe as the couple discussed ripping out walls and adding rooms. ‘Well, Mr and Mrs Garrett, the reserve price is negotiable,’ he proffered, hoping to hold the buyers’ interest.
Rhea chuckled at this, as if that fact was plainly obvious. ‘How long, did you say, has this place been on the market?’
Steven looked a little hesitant to reply. ‘About seventy years.’
‘Seventy years!’ Both Rhea and Phillip responded at once.
‘We’ve had a lot of drought out here,’ he explained. ‘The land is not good for farming.’ His spirits then seemed to lift somewhat. ‘But it does provide the perfect location for someone experimenting with a new form of solar energy retrieval and storage.’
Rhea looked at Phillip, annoyed that he’d let the cat out of the bag.
‘Well, I had to clear my development plans with council, hon,’ he defended. ‘I guess word gets around quick here.’
Steven nodded to agree that it did.
‘Well, something like two-thirds of Australia is land that is not good for farming.’ Rhea attempted to salvage the situation.
‘But here in Berrensborough, we have barren land that is relatively close to civilisation.’ The young real estate agent knew this was vital to the success of the project.
‘That is hardly something to be proud of,’ Rhea said scornfully, thinking that agriculture had probably done the damage in the first place.
‘Of course,’ Steven wanted to save face, ‘which is why having people like yourselves use this land for other purposes would be of great benefit to our community.’
Phillip could tell Rhea liked the salesman’s retort, as she now had a more pleasant demeanour.
‘Well, then,’ Phillip rubbed his hands together, eager to buy the place, ‘let us see if we can strike a deal that will be mutually beneficial to all.’
2. Making a Move
The Garretts managed to acquire the property for a very good price indeed — they were amazed how cheap the land was to buy. The house was in such a state of disrepair that it hardly figured in the negotiations. This left a huge surplus for Rhea to renovate with, and she wasted no time in having plans drawn up and submitted to council. She was pleased to have her own project to work on, as Phillip’s construction of a prototype was going to keep him amused on a full-time basis for at least the next six months.
The weather was a little hard to adjust to at first: hot, hot days and cool, cool nights, but the old fireplaces still worked well and the thick, stone walls kept the house pleasant enough during the midday hours. A swimming pool was to be the last addition to the house, once the renovations were done, and Rhea was counting the months.
Whilst they waited for council approval to extend, Rhea kept herself amused with renovating the interior of the existing house, and with every day that passed the place became a little more livable and comfortable. She and Phillip were very pleased with their new acquisition; the place had such a tranquil atmosphere and the peace and isolation was pure bliss after living in big cities.
Nevertheless, the couple was surprised by the local council’s speed in giving their renovation plans the stamp of approval.
The first room planned for construction was Rhea’s studio.
It was the week after construction had begun that Rhea first woke in the middle of the night, freezing cold, to find their feather quilt had been flung off the end of the bed. Phillip was still curled up fast asleep and shivering also.
‘Are you crazy?’ she grumbled at Phillip, who didn’t stir as she retrieved the bedclothes and covered them both up once more. The long days working in the fresh air and sunshine saw Phillip completely exhausted at their end, so Rhea was not really surprised that a response was not forthcoming. ‘He must have flung it off unconsciously.’ Rhea rolled her eyes unable to be mad at him and snuggled in to warm herself against her husband’s body heat.
‘Maybe my sunburn is getting to me,’ Phillip suggested after hearing Rhea’s complaint the following morning.
‘Well, do me a favour.’ Rhea came to stand at the kitchen door to address Phillip who was seated at the dining table waiting for his breakfast. ‘Leave my half of the covers be.’
Phillip forced a laugh to prevent an argument. ‘I honestly don’t remember flinging off the covers, hon. Still, I promise that next time I overheat when I’m dead to the world, I shall try and bear you in mind.’
Rhea knew he was having a go at her. ‘Well… we were both freezing. We could have caught our death.’ The sound of oil splattering everywhere snatched Rhea’s attention. ‘Shoot!’ She ran to remove the frying pan from the hot plate, using a tea towel to protect herself from being splattered.
‘Jesus, Rhea.’ Phillip entered the kitchen to see what the commotion was all about. ‘I don’t think you really need the plate up that high for eggs. If you don’t like the new kitchen you need only say so. You don’t have to burn it to the ground.’
‘I don’t understand it.’ She placed the pan aside on a cool plate. ‘It’s at the same temperature that I always cook eggs.’ She ventured closer to see the charcoal mess she’d made of the breakfast. ‘Maybe the old wiring doesn’t agree with the new stove?’
‘I’ll chase up that bloody electrician today,’ Phillip vowed, and seeing the state of his eggs he reached for the cupboard. ‘Cereal is looking real good.’
Rhea, rather put out, nodded to agree.
Rhea had designed the new extensions to run off both sides of the existing lounge room. Now that her studio was completed, the construction moved to the other side of the house and she was able to get some body work done.
She’d been stretching every day since they’d moved, but as space was limited, her routine had not been as beneficial to her fitness as she would have liked.
It was simply paradise to have such a big space to dance in once more. The new air conditioner had been installed, but had yet to be connected as they were still waiting for the electrician to show and commence rewiring the house; by midday the room temperature was rather steamy.
Next year they planned to return to the city having successfully proven the worth of Phillip’s prototype. Rhea would then resume teaching and performing, and she was currently planning classes. She was deeply engrossed in choreographing a piece when the atmosphere in the studio cooled considerably.
Rhea was rather enjoying the relief from the heat — mistakenly thinking that a cool change had come through — when the CD she was dancing to started skipping all over the place.
‘Damn,’ she grumbled, strolling over to contend with the problem. ‘I must have got grease on it.’ She pressed the eject button, but the CD continued to play; only now it had stuck and was sounding like a bad rap record.
Remember me, remember me, remember me, the recording repeated over and over.
‘Off.’ Rhea hit the Stop button several times, and in sheer frustration she bashed the player.
I want my due, I want my due, I want my due, the CD changed its tune.
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake!’ Rhea pulled the plug and the machine shut down. ‘What is wrong with all our electrics today?’
After plugging the player back into the wall socket, Rhea was finally ab
Rhea was rather surprised by the warmth of the air she encountered in the lounge. ‘That’s odd.’
When she returned to the studio with her cleaned CD in hand, the drop in temperature was no longer apparent. ‘God, I must be imagining things.’ She shrugged off the incident and got back to work.
3. The Other Woman
The sound of teeth chattering woke Rhea, who discovered it was her own jaw stammering ten to the dozen. Again the bedclothes had been flung from the bed. As before, Phillip was curled up and still fast asleep, but the distance he’d flung the covers this time was truly unbelievable — they were halfway across the room!
‘Phillip.’ She nudged him.
‘Natalie?’ he mumbled, still asleep.
Rhea’s eyes were wide open now. ‘Who the hell is Natalie?’ She thumbed her husband hard.
‘What?’ He woke with a start. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Who the hell is Natalie?’ Rhea repeated her query.
‘What?’ grumbled Phillip. ‘I don’t know any Natalie.’ He went to pull the covers back over himself and was surprised when Rhea referred him to a spot halfway across the bedroom floor. ‘Is this your strange notion of revenge?’
‘I didn’t do it,’ Rhea defended, as Phillip headed over to retrieve the covers, ‘and if you don’t know anyone by the name of Natalie, then why did you mumble that name when I tried to wake you just now?’
‘I have no idea,’ he replied in a rather short tone of voice. He didn’t appreciate being interrogated in the wee hours when he was half asleep and freezing cold. ‘Can we please discuss this in the morning?’ Phillip rolled away from Rhea, pulling the covers around him and settling back down to sleep.
Curses by Traci Harding / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes