A new short story
written and illustrated by DM Denton
Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit
is based on true events
surrounding a haunting by Anne Brontë
and is included in the recently released anthology
I Know That Ghosts Have Wandered the Earth
At first, I didn’t think the question was directed at me. I didn’t want to be seen. If by some unintended wish I was, I didn’t feel inclined to answer, to reveal more than I had already.
I didn’t want to be rude, either, the manners Aunt Elizabeth had instilled in me continuing to influence my judgment.
It was the staircase I meant to be present for as I moved out of the shadows and onto its wide bottom step, Queen Anne in its demeanor and mine. Would there be the smell of polish and creaking on certain steps, its handrail smooth, cold, and substantial beneath my small hand? It was a miracle that I had found it again, and myself as eager and expectant as when the journey to my independent future packed more illusions—especially of the juvenile variety—than clothes.
The staircase had darkened with age but in its afterlife had been restored for a brighter environment. Gone was the eighteenth-century oak paneling of its first home that eclipsed the rare beauty of its burred yew unless a candle was held near. Now surrounded by white-washed walls and ceilings, and light-fixtures with flames that didn’t flicker, the imperfections of the staircase’s wood glowed.
Once again it seemed I was alone, or, at least, without anyone realizing my presence pretending to be other than it was. The first time I stepped onto the staircase I was still in awe of Blake Hall’s magnificence and certain I was at the threshold of an exciting time in my young life. In terms of my own actions, maintenance, faculties, and possibilities, I was just beginning.
I intended to make the most of an opportunity for refinement and worthiness.
It was April 1839. I was taken up a back way to a small but comfortable bedroom to briefly revive with refreshment and rest, leaving little time to tidy my appearance before I emerged less than an hour later. I walked along a paneled and papered hallway to a grander way down to meet new responsibilities, convinced the society below would put my shyness and insecurities at ease and improve and cultivate me. Lifting the mud-splattered hem of my skirt, I wished it clean and my petticoats, too, although I was wearing only one. I saw skimpy slippers on my feet rather than sensible boots. Somewhere, probably the drawing room, a piano was being played and there was singing, the latter much less in tune, but, as a young female child’s voice often was, sweet and pretty.
My optimism in being entrusted with the care and education of children was enthused until I heard mockery and crying.
A door slammed.
A rude boy, no more than six or seven, bounded up past me, while the same stately woman who had met my arrival earlier with nothing more than was necessary to say, stood at the bottom of the stairs expressionless.
I could go no further in that disagreeable direction.
I hadn’t followed the fate of the staircase to revisit the pomposity, unpleasantness, and worse of the Inghams, or my own wickedness that I wasn’t proud of but seemed necessary at the time. I closed my eyes, counted to ten, opened them, and all that remained was my flight of fancy on those stairs.
My faith had prepared me to settle in heavenly peace where I was reunited with those I loved, one in particular even more agreeable in the hereafter. I was rarely nostalgic for the life I had abandoned too soon, especially once Charlotte and Flossy were with me again. I have to—affectionately—blame Emily, who was still into haunting, for alerting me to the demolition of Blake Hall after what was salvaged of its character and worth had been auctioned off. That was as far as Emily was willing to go with the news, while Charlotte had long ago grown disillusioned with London, so I made a second trip there on my own.
Of course, I could do nothing but watch the dealings that started at a Kensington antiques fair, continued miles away in a damp, dusty warehouse, and culminated in the staircase’s sale and a plan to send it to be reassembled even farther away from fitting in.
By then, I was curious about the couple who had crossed the Atlantic to flaunt their money and steal a little of the old world to the new. Giving into the temptation to eavesdrop on Allen and Gladys Topping during their return voyage, I meant to limit my spying to their discussions about “the English treasures” purchased for their new house on a “long island”. Instead, my fascination with their engaging if sometimes vulgar speech and mannerisms and Gladys’ spontaneous operatic singing, which made her husband’s eyes shine, became an inexcusable intrusion upon their privacy.
No sooner I returned to time without measure than Allen Topping was there. I wanted to ask him about the staircase but decided not to because he didn’t know me. He was greeted by a crowd of condolences for the loss of his wife. I often wondered if William ever felt bereaved over what might have been between us, but I was still too shy to ask him. Heaven, like earth, was full of unfinished love stories. I knew Allen would be all right.
Gladys would be, too, for, as my dearest Flossy told me, Allen had left her with a special gift.
“Mr. Wyk, what is it?”
Mr. Wyk reminded me of Emily’s Keeper, intimidating until he wagged his tail and nuzzled my hand for a treat he wasn’t supposed to have. I was sure he was a comfort to his mistress who, unlike Emily, had no rules that kept him off her bed or from roaming anywhere in the house. Not that Emily and Keeper were less devoted to each other, their reunion as intensely emotional as mine had been with Flossy.
The young Doberman Pincher ran up the stairs to the first landing, his snout down on his front paws and his spine rising as he resumed growling.
I began to ascend, thinking to put him at ease again, but he backed away whining and turned to Gladys. She had one hand over her mouth while the other lifted a chamber stick that illuminated the fear and curiosity in her eyes.
I waited for the question I didn’t want to answer.
Who? it came, although it wasn’t spoken.
Quickly, once and for all, in a whisper meant to be an impression, I told her.
I was surprised she had heard of me, also of my sisters and brother, and had even seen the lovely moors.
“Ah, she’s gone.” Gladys stroked Mr. Wyk’s ears and went down the stairs. I moved aside, forgetting I didn’t need to. The faithful dog wanted to follow her but waited for me to gesture him to.
“You must be hungry, Mr. Wyk. Will anyone believe we saw her? I wonder if she’ll be back.”
I have been, but not so Gladys has actually observed me again. It’s hard to be sure about Mr. Wyk; perhaps he no longer sees anything unusual in my visits.
I often make a detour to catch a sunrise over the ocean from one of Quoque’s beaches, before returning to Sanderling where I like to go up and down the staircase, rather like a madwoman, which I would never have done in life, or, hopefully, put in a novel. Sometimes, I offer little noises and other signs that get Gladys’ attention but don’t disturb her too much or give away more than I have already.
Read about the actual events that inspired The Staircase:
I Know That Ghosts Have Wandered The Earth
is available on Amazon
in paperback and for kindle devices and app:
Profits go to the Brontë Parsonage Museum,
which like so many cultural institutions is struggling financially
during the pandemic.
A collection of illustrated stories and poetry
by members of the Facebook Page
A Walk Around the Bronte Table
compiled by Kay Fairhurst Adkins
More than 200 years since their births, the ghosts of the famous Bronte family – Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne – haunt their eager fans through novels, poetry, and the fascinating true story of genius tucked into unlikely spaces. It is all here waiting for you in this collection of spine-tingling Bronte-Inspired Ghost Stories, Local Legends, Paranormal Experiences, and Channelings. As one of our authors, Danette Camponeschi, says in her story Keepers of the Truth, “When shut inside during our own time of horror – while the world sleeps and waits and holds its collective breath – we continue the tradition of storytelling in our own way, keeping the truth alive and the imagination flourishing.” Open the cover of this book and enjoy a moonlit ramble on the moors. You never know what you’ll find…or what will find you…
©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.