Winifred Pickle and The Ghost of Godwin Manor

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6

The cold wind hammered against the unstable window. With every howl, the barrier between my room and the night air grew thinner and thinner. I could not begin to understand what possessed my father to give me this room. The look on his face suggested he believed he was doing me a favor.

The fact that the walls were an awful shade of salmon pink only offended me. My favorite color was blue; a fact he never appeared to comprehend. I once asked Julian what his favorite color was. He shrugged. I didn’t persist.

The mattress to my delight was surprisingly soft. I sunk into it like a cloud. Perhaps that should have been enough to get me to sleep. Perhaps if that damn window would stop rattling, I might just.

I closed my eyes and pictured rain, falling softly in slow motion. The tiny droplets spattered around me like tiny little water fireworks. I loved the rain, the soft dreary kind. The sound it makes when spattering on the roof creates a unique kind of music.

I opened my eyes and glared over at the fragile window, still rattling away. The moon created a luminous glow. It lit up the frosty window like a flash light on low beam.

There was no rain tonight. The sky was not sad. By my estimation it was simply furious.  It was a dry, tear-less fury; the most dangerous kind. It was a kind of rage that far surpassed the simplicity of sorrow. I thought of Julian and the tears I have never seen him shed. BANG.

I sat up straight with a start. The inevitable had happened. The window was open and rattling wildly as gusts of wind blasted through my room. The leaves that covered my floor began to swirl around wildly.

My feet hit the ground and were quite startled at how cold the floorboards were. I ran to the window while icy air and dead leaves continued to slap me in the face. I tried to shut it but it was hopeless. My arms were too weak against this kind of fury.

Suddenly I found my legs give way as the wind knocked me backwards to the hard wooden floor. I landed with a thud upon some leaves that had melted there. My hands could feel the sticky combination of rotten leaves and dust.

I managed to lift myself up onto my elbows and what I saw next could not be explained away by the wind.

The leaves were not flying sporadically around the room anymore. They instead kept to the center, as though they were being pulled together by a magnetic force. They formed a shape that was easily recognizable but hard to believe.

They formed the shape of a woman.

 

Winifred Pickle and The Ghost of Godwin Manor

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5

I did not openly object to our move. It wasn’t necessarily my place to question where my Aunt and Uncle had insisted on living. When I saw the house however, a feeling inside my stomach told me that Freddie’s cries of objection were perhaps the most normal reaction a sane human being could have. It was the most intimidating house I have ever seen. It was three stories high and lingered over us as though it was mocking us with its presence.

The exterior walls were a deep, dark grey, almost black in certain areas. All the windows were filthy and closed shut; all except one.

It was on the top floor to the farthest left point of the house. It hung wide open in an awkward manner with dead orange leaves cluttering the ledge. You could see nothing inside though, just a deep blackness. It was as though the house would not dare let the light in, no matter how hard it tried to break through.

I found out later that evening that this was to be Freddie’s room. She complained all through dinner about the hoard of dead leaves covering her bedroom floor.

I stared at her as she demolished her soup. Her copper locks were no longer free flowing like they used to be. Her hair was pulled up into a high bun at the top of her head. I also noticed a hint of eye shadow, a shimmery blue across her lids.

It was difficult to talk to her these days and I couldn’t really understand why. I like kids because they don’t care what people think. I suppose it was easier to talk to her when I had nothing to fear. I now have everything to fear and everything to lose. Something deep inside me lingered like a hidden disease; a trouble I could not name, nor identify.

What I did know in this moment however, was that I did not want Freddie to have that room.

 

 

4.Winifred Pickle and The Ghost of Godwin Manor

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4

It was happening more frequently these days. The nightmares. The flashbacks were so vivid they would follow me into my waking state.

When I first went to live with the Pickles two years ago they were practically strangers to me. I had met them once when I was six. Freddie was only two when I traveled to England the first time. It was also my first time on a plane and it was absolutely excruciating.

Twenty-five hours in the air with thousands of kilometers between you and the sea is not a pleasant experience. I kept asking my mum if the plane was going to crash. After the twentieth time other passengers were beginning to give my parents disapproving looks. The kind of look that says ‘you have failed as a parent’. It was a harsh assessment in my opinion.

I had never really experienced cold before. Winters in Australia could be quite chilly but nothing compared to the feeling that hit me as I stepped off the plane. It was an unfamiliar sensation and I suddenly wanted to be back on the plane. I distinctly remember my dad carrying me as I wailed and smacked him on the back.

I never could have imagined that nine years later I’d be back in that place again, stepping into the cold English frost at Heathrow airport. Only this time the cold didn’t bother me. The numbness was strangely comforting. It seemed to not only dull my fingers and nose, but the tears as well. I didn’t ever want to feel heat again. I wanted nothing more than to curl up within a blanket of snow and let it numb every inch of me.

When I saw Freddie for the first time she was not that gurgling little basket of red curls I remembered. Her hair had faded into a more copper tone, with long waves falling down her back. Her large green eyes stared at me in wonder and there was a tinge of sympathy in the way she curled her mouth. Her ears were like my mothers, only there were no piercings to be seen. She wore a navy blue coat with yellow buttons and white leg warmers that extended beyond her knees.

When I approached my aunt and uncle they tried very much not to cry. Aunt Mary was not very successful. She held me tight and it was very warm. It might have been comforting but in truth it wasn’t. This woman was a stranger and all I wanted was my mum to be hugging me. A feeling of resentment twinged in my gut. You are alive and your sister is dead. It was a horrible thought but sometimes you just can’t help how you feel.

It could’ve been all downhill from there. It would have been so easy to let that resentment grow, to let the seed bear fruit. I wanted to let it eat me up until I was no longer my mother’s son. For if I was no longer the son she raised then I no longer had a dead mother.

It wasn’t however, the end of me. I suppose I have Freddie to thank for that. She didn’t hug me or cry. She held out her hand and said nothing. I took it and that was that.

We sat next to each other on the ride to her house saying nothing. For ten whole days after that we still said nothing to each other. While everyone else was pestering me, trying to find out what I needed, Freddie already knew. I needed time and time is what she gave me.

After the tenth day I finally spoke to her. I told her that her coat was ugly. I’ll admit it wasn’t the best first thing to say to her. She just smiled and shrugged.

“What do boys know about fashion anyway?”

I laughed.

3.Winifred Pickle and the Ghost of Godwin Manor

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3

 

The dead leaves hung onto the summer wind, bringing with them spatters of ash and tiny pieces of yellow grass. The smell of burning trees lingered in the air like an overcooked barbeque that had long outstayed its welcome. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence for this time of the year. With summer comes the heat and the storms. The combination of both gives birth to a yearly terror. Although it was midnight, the sky lit up into an orange haze. Grey clouds were overwhelmed by the smoke and soot. They would merge together in such a way, you could not tell where one started and the other ended.

There was usually a sense of nostalgia on nights like this. This smell was a Christmas day; everyone opening presents, ignoring the inferno that raged in the distance. I remember chasing my neighbours in the back yard, a silhouette of children dancing beneath burnt leaves. Our shadows would make stark outlines against the orange cement. It lit up like a glow worm, reflecting the midday sky.

It wasn’t Christmas however and no one was celebrating. I woke up in blackness. Sometimes I feel like I am still in the dark. When I close my eyes at night I am there again.

My eye lids opened expecting the sun and its usual unwelcoming sting. This time it was an unfamiliar hurt. A whiff of heat caused my eyeballs to instantly dry. Streams of tears began to rush out as my body responded hopelessly to the unfamiliar situation. I did not know the worst was yet to come.

The toxic fumes of black smoke invaded my nostrils and my mouth went dry. The roar of the fire was overwhelming and in that moment I truly believed I was in hell. It’s amazing, the instinct to survive. You’ll never understand it unless you’ve nearly died. It’s such a helpless and terrifying sensation. Your whole body wants to explode in terror and your mouth can only let out a whimper. A small tiny cry that could never fully convey the fear that raged within.

I rolled off my bed and hit the floor with a hard thump. The carpet was still relatively cool and the air more breathable. Part of me wanted to stay here, this place where my mum spent years tucking me in at night. It was a passing thought and nothing more.

I began to crawl hopelessly towards the direction of my door. I had a fair instinct as to where it would be. My body scraped against the carpet; my bare and exposed legs were rubbing furiously, creating a heat of their own making.

When I reached the door I was relieved to find it open. It meant that I could stay low where there was still tiny pockets of air to breathe. My heart stopped however when I discovered why. Just outside my door I felt the lump of a body strewn across the floor.

Her hands were still soft but her hair was rough and singed from the fire. She didn’t move at all. My cries and furious shaking of her body was hopeless.

When I think about her lying there it’s not her death that makes me angry. My mum dying just makes me sad. What makes me angry is the smoke. The dark black smoke that would not let me see her face one more time.

Before I somehow found my way to freedom I took a moment to feel her face in my hands. I traced the funny outline of her slightly uneven nose. I could feel the beauty of her big eyes and deep sockets. They were a unique shade of green, a colour I would never see again. Her lips were quite thin like mine. I had a compulsion to find her lip balm before I escaped. Her mouth was so dry. The ears; tiny little things with multiple earring holes. I wondered how she managed to fit so many.

I started to weep uncontrollably. Water fell from my face as though a fountain had erupted in my chest. My body convulsed and I did not know whether it was due to the smoke or sadness; probably both.

“Julian”

A familiar voice called to me.

I looked up from my dinner plate and saw her staring at me. She has my mother’s ears but nothing else.

2.Winifred Pickle and The Ghost of Godwin Manor

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2

I stared at Julian from across the dinner table. He was mad at me and made no attempt to hide it. The sound of his fork scraping against the white ceramic plate sent chills through my rib cage and down my spine. His dark brown eyes glared up at me every now and then. I found it extremely irritating really.

Julian was seventeen, only four years older than I. He was my cousin on my mothers side. Two years ago his family burned to death in a bush fire. The hazards of living in Australia I guess. I’ve heard stories about the heat and the dry grass; the mix of both making a deadly combination during the summer months. I often thought about how awful it would be to burn to death, like the witches in Salem we learn about in school. Or the martyrs in ancient times who felt melting under a pyre was worth their cause. I would much rather freeze to death like the old woman in the snow. At least your face would remain mostly intact.

He was mad at me because I told mum about the poorly hidden cigarettes. Smoking is a nasty habit and I’m not about to apologize for helping to extend his life. I probably could have spoken to him first but we’re not that close these days.  It was different once. We use to be closer than real siblings. He would scruff my head and call me his little Pickle.

We’re practically strangers now and I blame the breasts. I don’t feel quite like a woman but I guess I’m starting to look like one.  He doesn’t call me Pickle anymore and so I don’t call him Jules. I wish I could go back to the precise moment, the day it all changed. When I think back it becomes more and more clear that such a moment doesn’t exist. People change in subtle intervals; little moments of difference that can’t be identified. Like dust riding on waves of light, I just can’t catch the right speck. All these moments intertwine and there I am, simply grasping at the breeze with nothing to latch on to.

I suddenly felt a wave of guilt as I continued to watch him stare solemnly at his plate. Something stirred inside me, a feeling that was difficult to explain. The screeching of his fork intensified and soared through my ears at an unnatural volume. The world around me blurred into faint lines. Jules was the only object in focus. It was as though the world was moving in slow motion, everything shapeless and in this moment: insignificant. All that mattered was Jules and his face.

His face was not the face I knew.

1.Winifred Pickle and The Ghost of Godwin Manor

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 1

Winifred Pickle was the newest resident that inhabited Godwin Manor. She had moved there shortly after the death of it’s previous inhabitant: Belladonna Godwin. The poor old lady was found in the woods behind the ancient house, frozen in the snow.

Freddie (as she was affectionately called) vocally objected to occupying such a house. Her parents had simply ignored her. Nonsense, they called it. For them, fear of the dead was as illogical as fearing the furniture.
“After all” said Mr Pickle “are chairs not simply dead organic matter carved from dead trees?”.
It was comments like this that made Freddie question the validity of her genetic relation to such  individuals.
“But a woman killed herself Daddy” pleaded Freddie as her father dragged her towards the Manor door. “There is no denying the creep factor that comes with this house” she spat as she was forced to ascend the stone steps.
Suddenly Freddie’s mother appeared behind her carrying the most unfortunate looking turquoise vase.
“Don’t say creepy Freddie” she quipped in a voice that was far too cheery for Freddie’s comfort.
Yearning for normal parents, she darted out of her fathers grasp and proceeded to rip the band-aid (so-to-speak).

As she ascended the stone stairs, a faint chill brushed past her face. It was as though small icy needles had shot through her teeth.

“Creepy indeed” she smirked. Normal children might have been afraid. Freddie however, was  curious.