In Cardinal Spring Cottage, a light was flickering. A single flame, the only source of light in the entire cottage, burning in an almost unoccupied bedroom.
Katherine sat on top of the covers, hugging her Raggedy Ann doll to her chest. Her covers were messy, overturned, and dusty, as if she had been moving around a lot in her sleep. A glass of water sat on the night desk next to her, untouched. She was too afraid to drink. Instead, she glanced at the candle, burning at her bedside table. She’d had to brave going down to the kitchen and lighting it in the dark, terrified of the pitch blackness surrounding her at every turn. She knew it was silly to fear the dark, but it was October, and her friends at school had taunted her with all the supernatural beings who were said to visit during the fated month. Katherine had run as fast as she could downstairs on legs too long for a thirteen-year-old, lit the candle through gritted teeth, and sprung back to her room as fast as a startled doe.
Cardinal Spring Cottage sat amongst a cluster of trees, obscured from passing visitors because of the magnificent electric gate sat before it. Katherine thought it rather pretty, with its brown tiled roof, tall chimney, and symmetrical red bricks. She’d told her mother she was excited to stay with her father, there. Her mother had coughed, given her a bag of cough sweets, and driven away without saying a word. Katherine had been expecting her odd behaviour. Whenever her father was around, her mother turned into a different person. Most of the time, her mother was kind and funny and sweet. Mention Katherine’s father, and she turned into a shadow of a human being. It was odd, but Katherine loved her mother, and said nothing to her about it, even though the change in her mother scared her some.
Katherine didn’t know her father that well. He had opened the gate, welcomed her to his cottage with a booming voice that seemed to echo, shown Katherine to her room, and then left her to her own devices. He had disappeared into what Katherine determined must be his study, judging from the glimpse of papers she’d seen strewn over his desk before he’d slammed the door shut. Katherine had been left alone in the quaint cottage, which was just small enough to get bored with exploring after twenty minutes. She’d counted every brick in the wall and every crack in the stone flooring before returning to her room for the evening, where she had remained until the lights cut out at exactly midnight.
The candle flickered, and Katherine shivered, pulling her doll tighter to her chest. She could just imagine all the ghouls and witches and zombies ready to storm Cardinal Spring Cottage, and how she would almost certainly meet her doom that evening. Rain was pattering against her bedroom window, and thunder was rumbling every time she breathed. She wondered how her father could sleep in such horrible weather, but from the little she knew of her father, she knew he wasn’t scared of anything, and a minor storm wouldn’t intimidate him in the slightest.
Katherine watched the rain, eyes blurring as she tried not to cry. It was ridiculous to be so afraid of something so common, but she’d always had her mother to comfort her when thunderstorms had previously hit. She couldn’t go to her father. There was no doubt in her mind that he’d call her a coward and she couldn’t bear the thought. Instead, she sat on top of the covers, hugging her doll, shivering, and refusing to tear her eyes away from the flickering candle. The candle was her sole source of hope; her beacon; her saviour.
Bang. Crash. Thump.
Katherine jumped and let out a slight squeal at the sudden noise. She hugged her doll tighter to her body as dishes clinked, wooden doors slammed, and the thunder boomed. The bedroom had turned colder, and she could feel her teeth chattering. The candle had fallen over and caught the edge of a nearby curtain, which was becoming enraptured in glowing flame. Katherine grabbed her glass of water and threw it over the fire before it could spread. She let out a sigh of relief as the flames diminished, and wiped her forehead, which had warmed from the sudden excitement.
Katherine panicked as she noticed there was once again no more light. Her bedroom was dark and gloomy and miserable, and everything Katherine hated. She reached for the candle, fumbling around for any comfort, but the darkness was too overwhelming, and she couldn’t find it. She rubbed her eyes, trying to prevent the tears from forming, and knew that she had to be brave. She picked up her doll once more, secure in the knowledge that she had something familiar in her arms. Katherine placed her right hand on the wall of the room, and made her way to the door, stumbling over little trinkets that had fallen over from the power of the wind outside. When she felt the light switch, she pressed it desperately, hoping that the electricity had returned. Nothing but darkness answered her.
Walking down the creaky stairs and into the wooden kitchen was not what Katherine would classify as fun. With each step, she took a heavy breath, and turned her head to make sure no monsters were about before continuing her movements. One step, check. Two steps, check. Three steps, check. She continued checking her surroundings until she’d made it to the bottom of the stairs and found herself face to face with the front door.
There was light coming from the door. The first time Katherine had come down to get some light, the room had been pitch black, impossible to see anything. She’d almost burned her hand in her desperation for some light. The new light coming from the doorway showed that the door had either opened itself, or been opened by another. Katherine clutched her doll and made her way to the door, glancing outside.
Cardinal Spring Cottage had a beautiful garden. There were red and white aquilegias, dark purple geraniums, pastel pink phlox, and pale white honeysuckles enveloping the trimmed grass. Katherine had found herself transfixed as she walked through the garden earlier until she’d neared the edge and noticed the graveyard just beyond. It was grey, large, and foreboding, and the amount of headstones she could see from the end of the garden haunted her.
Feeling a surge of strength, Katherine walked outside, past the garden, and climbed over the small protective gate that surrounded the graveyard. She couldn’t explain why she felt drawn there, but there was a strange warmth calling to her, and she felt more protected than she had inside her father’s quiet cottage. The graveyard felt lived in; Cardinal Spring Cottage did not. She stopped shivering, doll still clenched in her arms, and glanced at the headstone. A ray of white light covered the marble, and Katherine thought it was beautiful.
In Loving Memory Of A Dear Husband and Dad
WILLIAM BENJAMIN CARTER
29.06.1970 – 07.10.2010
Katherine frowned, reading the headstone again. That was her father’s name. She knew it well. Katherine Carter, Ellen Carter, and William Carter. That was her father’s date of birth, too. She knew because her mother had the exact same birthday, and Katherine had always found it weird. She shook her head. It couldn’t be her father’s grave. She’d seen him six hours earlier, while she had been eating supper, and he’d been reading in the corner of the room.
A shiver ran through her as something that felt like liquid touched her shoulder. She glanced up, unsurprised to see her father standing there, brown eyes grave and serious. Katherine frowned as his fingers passed through her shoulder. She couldn’t feel his touch. Maybe her friends at school had been right. Perhaps ghosts really did exist.
“Kathy,” her father said. His voice was still loud and booming, but Katherine could hear a slight reverberation, as if an echo followed each syllable he spoke. “The time has come.”
Katherine shook her head, gripping her doll tight until her fingers went white. “I’m still alive,” she told him. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” her father agreed, lifting himself until he stood at his full height. Now that Katherine knew he wasn’t human, she could see the slight bubbling of his flesh and the pale hue of his skin. “It’s your turn to fill the capsule for me.”
“Capsule?” Katherine murmured. She knew her father had always been an odd soul, but his words still confused her. “Like, a time capsule?”
Katherine had learnt about time capsules in school. Her teacher, Mrs Faraday, had said they might do one to revisit just before they left high school and were ready to begin university. Mrs Faraday had said it was a container that could hold many things to remind you of your past, including letters, photos, and newspapers. Katherine had thought the idea was stupid at the time, but clearly her father disagreed.
“Sort of,” her father said, breaking Katherine’s train of thought. “My time capsule is a little different from the ones you’ve heard about, Kathy. Come, I’ll show you.”
Katherine stood up from where she knelt beside the headstone and tilted her head. On the one hand, she was excited to spend more time with her father. On the other, she was worried he might regain some corporeality and snap her neck. She decided not to worry. If her father wanted her dead, he would have murdered her by now. He’d had all day to hurt her, and he had done nothing malicious yet.
She followed her floating father across the different graves – John Turner, Anthea Banner, Christopher Turpin – until they came to a patch of dampened grass. It was a darker green than the rest of the graveyard, and there were no headstones sat atop it. A shovel lay on the ground next to it, and Katherine felt herself blanch.
“You need to dig,” her father said, pointing to the shovel.
Katherine gritted her teeth, determined to show she wasn’t scared. She placed her doll down next to her father, grabbed the shovel, and started digging. She dug and dug until her breaths were warm and her hands were red, exhausted from the toil. A sudden clank broke her from her hard work, and she glanced at her father, who was standing there watching her in all his dead glory.
She shook the last of the dirt away and glanced at the coffin placed under the grass. It was a traditional one, one that she’d seen in vampire films, and just large enough to fit her father’s body in. Her father nodded at her as she wiped her brow and jumped down to open the coffin. She lifted it open and gasped as she stared at the contents.
Katherine hadn’t been sure what to expect. The skeleton was a given, and she could see some of her father’s rusty yellow bones, dirty from remaining untouched for the last ten years. She wanted to throw up, but stifled down her sick and continued staring. Her father’s coffin was full of treasures, things she had never seen before.
There were photos of her father and her mother, dancing at an Irish bar. Her mother’s blonde hair was tied up in a messy bun, and her father had a stun of black curls which were neat rather than unruly. A photograph of her father and her mother on a boat, smiling at each other. Another one of them holding a baby, a chubby-cheeked child that Katherine realised must have been her.
There were drawings, all of her father, littered throughout. Her mother’s work, Katherine realised, judging from the untidy signature attached to each one. Then there were other possessions; cameras, newspapers from the day her father was born, a party hat, concert ticket stubs. So many wonders. Katherine felt herself leaning closer, intrigued. In the past five minutes, she had learnt more about her father than anyone had ever told her.
“This is my time capsule,” her father said, smiling as Katherine reached down and picked up a dusty photograph. “Your mother was kind enough to visit after I died and put some timeless things in for me to keep. It was the last time I properly spoke to her. She’s still scared, frightened. She doesn’t understand me. That’s why she doesn’t talk to me or about me, I’m sure. Does she ever mention me?”
“Not really,” Katherine answered, placing the photograph back into the grave. “But she can see you, can’t she? I can see you.”
“We see what we want to see,” her father replied. “She sees me for what I am. A ghost. You see me for who I could be to you, a potential father. But your mother was clever. She remembered what I asked of her ten years ago.”
“What did you ask her to do?” Katherine asked, feeling a slight shudder overtake her body. She had a suspicion of what her father had asked.
“On the tenth anniversary of my death, I asked her to bring my daughter to Cardinal Spring Cottage, so she could add to my time capsule; give me new things to enjoy while stuck in my grave,” her father said. “And she did. Your mother’s a remarkable woman, Kathy. Never forget that.”
“I won’t,” Katherine responded, frowning. “So you want me to leave something in here? Like what?”
“Something personal to you,” her father said. “Something so I can always remember you.”
Katherine smiled and nodded her head. “I have just the thing.”
She picked up the Raggedy Ann doll that had been her constant companion throughout the day and showed it to her father, who smiled. The doll was rather old, one that her mother had had as a child, and she knew it would help her father remember them both. The blue dress was dirty, aged from how long it had been in their family, and the red hair had faded into an unbecoming pink. Still, it was Katherine’s favourite possession. She hugged it once more, before kissing the doll’s soft forehead, and placing it in her father’s grave. Her father watched, a proud smile on his face, as Katherine said goodbye to her constant protector.
“Ten years, Kathy,” he said, while Katherine worked hard to fill the grave once more. “Ten years and someone else needs to add something to my grave. Please don’t forget.”
“I’ll come back and have a look in ten years,” Katherine promised. “And if I can, I’ll try to get mum to visit too.”
“You are the best daughter I could ever ask for,” her father said, before slowly fading as the grave sealed up once more.
Katherine coughed, placed the shovel back down, and glanced around in the darkness. The only light available came from the stars, but she found that the night sky didn’t terrify her anymore. The thunderstorm had stopped, and the bright graves danced like beacons in her vision.
For the first time in thirteen years, Katherine felt safe.