Naomi’s Room–A Terrifying Ghost Story by Jonathan Aycliffe (Continued) … Chapter 10…

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Naomi’s Room, Chapter 10…

‘What happened?’

Lewis and I were sitting in the study, facing one another across a low table on which I had placed a small folder.

‘His throat was cut. Savage, according to the report we had at the office. Nobody at Old Jewry knows why he went down to the church. They’d finished there, done all their forensic business, and given up. Seems they haven’t found anything yet. They think the coat got there by chance, nothing more. A vagrant may have come across it, taken it to the church.’

‘But why leave it in the crypt? What would be the point?’

‘The caretaker says vagrants go down there sometimes, the clever ones that know there’s a boiler. They don’t last long, though. The place spooks them. Nobody’s ever spent a night there, as far as he knows.’

‘Could they be related?’

‘Who?’

‘No, not who: I mean the murders. Naomi’s and Ruthven’s. Could there be a link? Could Ruthven have been on to something? Panicked the murderer into attacking him, perhaps?’

Lewis shrugged.

‘It’s too early to say. There’s no record of a lead. They only shut down their operation at the church yesterday.’

‘When was he found?’

‘Early this morning. The caretaker went in to check the police had left things tidy. He got a bad fright. There was blood spilled all over one of the tombs. An old French tomb. A funny name: Petitoeil.’

I corrected his pronunciation as though he were a student. ‘Petitoeil,’ I said. ‘It means “Little eye”. It will be a Huguenot name. Spitalfields was a major centre for Huguenot refugees at one time.’

It was mid-morning. Lewis had come straight from London. I watched him coming up the path towards the house, nervous, glancing around him, and looking up from time to time. I knew what he was looking at, looking for. He had his camera with him this time, in one of those large bags photographers carry.

‘Did you get the photographs?’ he asked.

I nodded.

‘Is that why you rang?’

‘No. Something else . . . Something else has happened.’ I told him of the incidents, keeping my narrative as plain and unemotional as possible. But I could see his eyes widen as the force of my words sank in. When I had finished, I picked up the folder.

‘There’s something else,’ I said. ‘Something related to your photographs.’

‘I kind of thought it might be that,’ he said. He had an instinct, Lewis, a sixth sense. They say the Celts are a bit like that, a little fey, attuned to other dimensions. Sons of Arthur. Well, perhaps. Lewis had it at least. And lived to regret it.

Out of the folder I took two sets of photographs. I laid them down side by side on the table.

‘I was disturbed,’ I said. ‘By the little girls. The ones in your photographs. Something about them kept nagging at me. They seemed familiar, as though I’d seen them before.

Does that make sense to you?’

He nodded.

‘Go on,’ he said.

‘Well, I couldn’t place them at first, no matter how much I thought about them. And then . . . Just after I went up to the attic, the time Laura heard footsteps, I remembered.’

I took a photograph from the first of the two small piles. In the foreground was Laura, several years younger, her arm resting on the stone balustrade of a low bridge. It could, perhaps, have been Cambridge, but it was not. The photograph had been taken on our honeymoon in Venice. A couple of months after we bought the house.

‘Look,’ I said. ‘Look behind her.’

Lewis picked up the photograph and looked carefully. Standing on the bridge, a few paces behind Laura, were two small girls, hand in hand, smiling at the camera.
‘Were they visible when you took the photograph?’ Lewis asked. ‘I mean, can you remember if you actually saw them on the bridge?’

I shook my head.

‘It’s impossible to remember now. I do recall being a bit puzzled when the shots were developed. I was sure I’d posed Laura on an empty bridge. I didn’t much like shots that had other people in. The bridge was somewhere behind St Mark’s, I’m sure of that. But people are everywhere in Venice, it’s hard to shake them off, to be on your own. So I thought the girls must have appeared just as I pressed the shutter.’ I paused. ‘Now, look at this.’

Another photograph of Venice, this time a shot of us together, taken by a waiter in a little restaurant off the Strada Nuova.

‘Look closely,’ I said.

At a table to our left, a family was sitting eating. A man in black, a woman in grey, two little girls in long skirts. All were looking at the camera. There was something about the man’s face that I did not like.

‘And here,’ I said, pushing another photograph across the table.

Laura in St Mark’s square feeding pigeons. Barely visible in the crowd, unnoticed until a day ago, two small girls staring, not at the camera this time, but at Laura.

‘There are others,’ I said. ‘You have to look hard, but they’re there. Sometimes the children on their own, sometimes the woman, sometimes all three.’

‘What about the man?’

‘He only appears in the restaurant photograph.’

Lewis nodded, scrutinizing the photographs carefully one by one. He used one of those odd magnifying devices photographers carry, a small stand raised above the surface by about an inch.

‘And these?’ he asked, tapping his finger on the second pile.

‘I had these developed yesterday,’ I said. ‘They’re photographs we took in the week or two before Christmas, up until . . . Up until Naomi’s disappearance.’

He began to leaf through them. His movements were curiously fine, curiously particular, like those of an antiquarian handling a rare folio or a grower of orchids planting a new specimen. There was such disparity between his appearance and his grace of movement. It made me feel strangely comfortable, this particularity of his, the delicate way his hands held and sorted the photographs. Perhaps, I thought, perhaps he will understand how this has happened, perhaps he will know what to do.

When he looked up at last, his face was ashen.

‘Dear God,’ he whispered. That was all. They were not so pretty in those photographs, the little girls. Not so . . . well arranged.

When he had recomposed himself, he put the photographs back in the folder. His hands were not so careful now, his movements had grown coarse.

‘Your wife,’ he said. ‘Have you shown these to her?’

I shook my head.

‘Good,’ he murmured. ‘It’s best you don’t.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I know.’

‘Tell me,’ I continued. ‘Do you have any idea why these images should have formed like this? Why they appear on film but not to the naked eye?’

He shook his head slowly.

‘Not really,’ he answered. ‘I’ve given it a lot of thought, of course, but I haven’t been able to come up with any answers. Not good answers. I suppose it has something to do with the way the light falls through the lens. Perhaps they’re visible if you catch them in the right light, at the right angle. I wouldn’t know. It’s not my line of country.’

‘I could feel them,’ I said. I felt my flesh creep as I said it, remembering. ‘Sense them. In the attic. I’m sure that’s who it was.’

‘Have you taken any more photographs since . . . your daughter’s death?’

‘Not here,’ I said. ‘Why would we want photographs? But when we went to Egypt–yes, we took some there. I don’t know why, we weren’t in the right spirit. It seemed the thing to do. One doesn’t think.’

‘Have you had them developed yet?’

I shook my head.

‘No. I put the films in a drawer after we got back. Neither of us wanted them. What would they remind us of, after all? It was just a . . . distraction. We never really looked at anything. There were statues, tombs, a hot sun: that’s all I remember.’

‘Let me have the films. I’ll get them developed later today.’

‘But in Egypt . . . ?’

‘They followed you to Venice, didn’t they? I don’t think distance matters to them.’

‘Yes,’ I said. And I began to wonder where else they had followed us. And when it had all started.

‘I’d like your permission,’ Lewis said, ‘to take more photographs in here. All through the house. Especially in the nursery and the attic. I’d like to see what comes out. If I may.’

The thought appalled me, but I nodded. He was right. It was something we had to know. He fetched his camera and I accompanied him to each room in turn. He photographed windows, doorways, passages, staircases, places where someone might be standing. Watching. Listening. Laura was not at home. Anticipating Lewis’s visit, I had asked her to spend the day with a friend. She had acquiesced readily.

Upstairs, the nursery was as it had been. Lewis picked up some of the toys, as though touching them might give him some sort of sensitivity.

‘I don’t like it in here,’ he said. ‘There’s a bad feeling. And it shouldn’t be as cold as this.’

‘It’s worse in the attic,’ I said.

‘Yes. The attic. We’ll go up there now, if you don’t mind.’

I found the key and preceded Lewis up the stairs. As I opened the door, the feeling of menace hit me again, as though something physical had leapt at me through the entrance.

‘Can you feel it?’ I asked.

He nodded. Even with the shutters drawn back, it was gloomy. Deep shadows clung to the corners of the room. I switched on the large torch I had brought and swung the beam quickly round the roofed space. Everything seemed to be as I had left it a few days earlier.

Lewis had brought a tripod. He selected a spot in the centre of the attic and set it up.

‘I don’t want to use flash,’ he said. ‘There’s enough light in here if I use a long exposure.’

He took his time, using different settings, different filters, different timings. As he worked, the temperature seemed to fall steadily. The sense of menace in the room was very strong. It was a struggle to remain there.

The final shot was to be taken from the window, facing into the attic. There was an old wall at the far end, directly opposite the camera. Lewis set up the tripod and bent down to look through the viewfinder. As he did so, his expression changed. He straightened up.

‘Can you feel it?’ he asked. His voice was hushed.

‘What? The menace?’

‘Menace? No, no it’s not that. It’s something else, I think . . . For God’s sake, man, we’ve got to leave, we’ve got to get out of here.’

I was startled.

‘What is it? What can you feel?’

But he had already taken hold of his camera and tripod and was making for the stairs.

‘Hurry for God’s sake. It’s getting stronger.’

We ran for the stairs. The tone of Lewis’s voice had made the hairs stand erect on the back of my neck. He was terrified. He did not pause, but scrambled down the steep staircase, dragging the tripod after him. I stumbled behind. At the bottom of the stairs, I turned and slammed the door hard. Panting, I turned the key stiffly in the lock.

‘What was it?’ I demanded, pulling for breath. ‘What did you feel up there?’

Lewis had slumped to the floor, his back against a wall. He was shaking. In spite of the cold, beads of sweat had appeared on his forehead. He raised his head and looked at me. Half a minute, a minute must have passed before he spoke.

‘It was like . . .’ When he spoke at last, his voice was faint and hollow. ‘I was alive,’ he said, ‘but I knew I was not truly living. I could see and hear everything around me, but I could not touch it. Except . . .’ He shuddered. ‘Except by reliving my death.’

End, Chapter 10.

Go to Chapter 11…

Go back to Chapter 9…

Go back to Chapter 1…

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