Houses carry echoes of their pasts. Shadows of the people that lived there before, clinging to the corners like spiders’ webs. Every creak, groan and whisper reminding you that you were not the first and assuring that you will not be the last. Janie came to Penrith Cottage as a widow. Its grey stone walls and overgrown garden greeted the weary woman with as much enthusiasm as she felt.
“Are you sure this is the place, love?” the taxi driver asked, pushing up the brim of his cap to peer up at the solemn structure. The nearest neighbour was a mile off and they’d gotten turned around twice in the twisted roads leading through the valleys. A rather grumpy looking farmer had had to give them directions, interrupted several times as he growled with authority at the enthusiastic sheepdog dashing about his feet,
“Yes,” she answered dully, “This is it.”
Mark had shown her pictures of his grandparent’s old cottage in the Yorkshire Dales a few times, touting the joyful summers he’d spent there as a child. In the pictures, a chubby cheeked boy and his laughing grandfather played football in the garden, cheery flowers and bright sunshine warming the scene.
What a contrast. Clouds rolled over the sky in shades spanning from light to dark. The wind had picked up and already the spattering of rain was making fat drops on the car windows. Janie opened the door, having to push against the sudden force of the wind.
The taxi driver grunted, rushing to get her bags out the boot. Janie made her way to the door, extracting the heavy key from her pocket. The garden gate was off its hinge, swinging to and fro in the wind. She stepped past it, approaching the lacquered black door. The knocker was brass, a lion’s head with a ring in its mouth.
The lock sprung open with a click, the door creaking loudly to announce her presence to the dark home. Inside all was still. Sleeping. Waiting.
She pressed a hand to the small swell in her stomach, stepping aside to let the driver bring her bags through. This was it then, she thought grimly. Their new home.
It was not much better in the daylight.
After a restless night staring up at a pitch-black ceiling, screwing up her eyes to try to make up the shapes in the darkness, Janie stumbled downstairs to a downright dingy home. The windows failed to channel in the elusive sunlight, making the house as dull as the grey skies outside. Rain fell heavily and she could hear the wind battering against the old house. She wondered if it took a little bit of the place with it each year, like the ocean waves on stone.
The kettle worked, thankfully, though Janie bemoaned the fact she couldn’t have any coffee. The rest of her things from London would be arriving that afternoon, which would go a lot to making this place a home.
She tapped her stomach thoughtfully.
“It’s not exactly Kensington Park,” she commented to it, “But we’ll make the best of it.”
A flutter out of the corner of her eye caught her attention and she turned.
There was only the kettle, its long shadow remaining still on the wall.
Some years later, Janie would recount her experiences in Penrith Cottage with fondness and even laughter, but at the present she felt very differently.
The movers had come and gone, leaving her with the bulk of the boxes to sort through. They had been kind enough to take some of the out-of-date furniture away, replacing it with the pieces Janie had brought with her from London. The crisp, white couches looked a little odd in the very fifties style cottage, but she had plans for improvements to be made later. It was a big job, even more so when she considered the little one on the way. If Mark were here…
No, no, best not to go there. Stiff upper lip and all that, as her father used to say.
She occupied herself instead with unpacking boxes, making time to find a place for everything. She worked steadily through the afternoon and then by lamplight as the night finally settled back in. The yellow light danced on the stark walls, catching the shapes of the boxes piled around her as she worked. Cookery books went to the kitchen, favourite ornaments made their way to the mantle above the fireplace and pictures on the cabinet. Janie paused as she picked up a children’s book, smiling with fondness.
Mark had loved Peter Pan, declaring it the book every child should know. He’d always loved the part about Peter’s wayward shadow-
The fluttering in the corner of her eye again.
Janie looked up.
There was only her own shadow, still on the wall, head tilted up and holding the shape of a book in its hands. She shook her head. How silly. She really should-
Her shadow didn’t shake its head.
Janie stilled, raising a hand.
The shadow raised its hand too.
Janie breathed a sigh of relief.
Then the shadow waved.
Janie looked to her perfectly still hand.
The shadow suddenly separated from her. Walking to the other side of the room as though it had a life of its own. Janie watched, eyes widening and breath coming out in short, sharp gasps. She rubbed her eyes, but when she looked back, it was still moving.
The shadow was waving. Clearly trying to get her attention. It still had her general shape, but that didn’t last for long! Janie watched as the creature shrunk and morphed into a child’s form, then floated upwards against the wall, doing a little flip and bowing to her.
“Whose there?” she cried, dropping the book in her hands, “Whose doing this?!”
There was no sound. Nothing, but the flying shadow on the wall. It changed again, this time to a bird that flew round and round, bending and stretching to meet each corner and change in the wall. Janie screamed, practically leaping to the lamp and shutting off the light. She was left in darkness, but thankfully there no more shadows.
‘it wasn’t real.’
She told herself the same thing repeatedly the next day, keeping a wary eye out for the shadow.
The light played tricks in this place, caused by the ever-changing sky. That was all it was. She had been tired, stressed, and sad. The combination, plus thinking of Mark and Peter Pan, it had all caused a hallucination. That was all.
She’d almost convinced herself of the fact by the time she heard a knock on the door.
Curious, she answered and within a few minutes found herself offering tea to the local minister and his wife. Reverend Chadwick a corpulent gentleman and his wife an equally plump, smiling woman.
“We’re so glad Penrith has some new blood,” Mrs, Chadwick said kindly, “You must let us know if you need any help at all. I can put in contact with the local midwife if you’re looking and we offer a lot of family support at the church.”
Janie hadn’t been to church since she was a girl.
“Thank you,” she said politely, sipping her tea, “I’m sure-“
She cut off, almost chocking on her drink as she caught sight of the shadow. It had emerged from the shadows of the couple sitting in front of her. It shook its head and shifted its shape to a massive whale, swimming from side to side and guzzling fish.
Janie managed to keep a straight face throughout the whole exchange. It was only later when the couple had left that she turned her ire onto the shadow.
“That was rude!” she scolded it.
It morphed into a dog, head tilted, and tail tucked between its legs.
“No more of that, understand?” she said.
It wagged its tail.
The days cleared eventually. Bright sunlight shone down, heather grew thick in the fields and Janie could finally see more of the breath-taking landscape. Flowers were starting to bloom in the garden again and Janie was already beginning to envision playing soccer there herself with the little one someday soon.
The dingy little cottage slowly grew brighter, and laughter filled the rooms again. Her mischievous shadow loved making jokes and hiding in corners. Mark would have loved it.