The Loneliest Girl in the world
Of course, there are ghosts around here.
Its cool, said Max. Just stay where you are.
He reached his arms out until he felt the cold stone beneath his fingers,
and made his way along the wall. When I find the door, we should
be able to get out, easy. He hoped he sounded more confident than
he felt. Nobody knew where they were. There was nobody to hear them
At that moment there was another creaking noise, and a sudden shaft
of sunlight. Holly stood framed in the gap left by the doors she had
How did you do that?
Holly shrugged. They werent locked, she pointed out.
They all stumbled back out, onto the steps. Im sorry, they
dont usually do that. Something must have upset them, she
What do you mean? asked Nic.
Holly shook her head. Max had taken his cap off, and was twisting it
around in his hands, as he looked up, around, and about him, as if seeing
the world for the first time. They all felt cold suddenly.
There must have been a sudden gust of wind, said Max.
I didnt feel any wind, said Nic.
My knee hurts, Sam said quietly. Nobody took any notice.
What is this place? he asked, trying again.
Its called a mausoleum, Holly explained. Its
where the Tempest family were buried when they died.
Tempest is my grandmothers name, said Max.
Why did you bring us here? Nic looked suspicious.
I wanted to show you, Holly replied simply.
Show off, more like, Nic muttered. More loudly she asked,
What did you mean? When you said someone must be upset? Who must
The ghosts, of course.
Ghosts? Max repeated.
Are you mad? asked Nic.
Of course there are ghosts around here. Not just here, they dont
just stay around graves. But lots of people have died here. Along the
cliffs, at sea, in the moors. Pirates, Smugglers, Soldiers, Highway-men.
Theyre all here.
Lets go, said Sam, tugging at his sister.
Nic stood her ground. You dont really believe in all that,
do you? she asked.
Holly just smiled. Youre not scared of ghosts, are you Sam?
she asked, sitting down on the top step.
Yes, Sam replied. He waited a moment. No one else was moving,
and he didnt
want to go off into the woods alone. Besides, he was tired. He sat down
next to Holly.
Max, with a wary eye on the doors, wandered inside again to look at
the wall inscriptions. The name on this last one isnt Tempest.
Its Chloe...Chloe ...Harrington. 1775-1795.
But...she was only twenty years old, Nic said.
She died of a broken heart, Holly said.
Can you die of a broken heart? Sam was wide-eyed.
Holly nodded. Chloe did. It was a long time ago, and they didnt
know much about medicine, but the trouble was that she didnt want
to live, after he was killed.
Who was killed? asked Sam. Max too, was leaning against
the doorway, and listening, while Nic took a place on the step below
James Tempest. He was sometimes known as the Devils Cub,
because his father had been even worse than he was. Hollys
voice had been gradually growing quieter and quieter. She forced her
audience to gather in around her. He was the youngest son of the
family, and there wasnt much money left for him. He had four older
brothers, but he was by far the most handsome and daring. When he was
very young he was always drunk, and hanging around with smugglers so
he could sell their wine to all the fine houses in the county, and scaring
all the villagers by driving his racing chariot too fast in the lanes.
Then, when a war broke out between England and France, he became a spy.
He crossed the channel all the time, even though it was really dangerous,
and he knew all the routes the smugglers used to use. In France he was
wanted - dead or alive. He stole the battle plans of the French army,
and rescued their prisoners. He was the most famous spy ever, at the
time. He smuggled out all the treasures from the chateaux which were
being burned in France and kept them safe in England until they could
be claimed by their rightful owners. All was going well, until he met
the daughter of a neighbouring family, Chloe Harrington.
What happened? Max asked.
He fell in love. Chloe was the beautiful daughter of a judge.
His home was the only one that didnt have cellars full of smuggled
wine and whiskey in the whole area. He didnt like his daughter
seeing James Tempest at all. But Chloe was in love with James too, and
they were secretly engaged to be married. She promised she would run
away with him, if he promised to stop going to France, and get a steady
job in London as a lawyer. She was afraid of the danger he was in, you
see. He agreed to do this after he had finished one last mission.
What was that?
Holly did not seem to think the question very relevant to her story.
Im not exactly sure, because it all had to be so secret,
you see. Maybe only James Tempest knew exactly what he was doing, but
it was very brave, more dangerous than anything hed done before,
and very important to Britain. There were a few moments when he was
nearly caught, but he was so clever at disguises that he never was,
and he made it all the
way back across the sea. He almost reached the coves, where Chloe was
waiting for him on the cliffs above. These very cliffs here. Then, disaster
struck. Holly made a dramatic pause, and looked around to check
she still held everyones attention. Someone had betrayed
him. He was lured into the wrong cove by a false light, and shot in
the dark by a soldier who claimed he mistook him for a smuggler, was
attacked and was forced to use his shotgun in self defence. But there
were some people who didnt believe that, and said the soldier
who shot James Tempest had been paid by Chloes father. Chloe stayed
on the cliffs, waiting for James to come home. When her family and friends
begged her to come inside, she refused, wailed, sobbed, screamed, clung
to trees. Some say she went mad with grief and guilt. Her family disowned
her and when she died the Tempests buried her here, close to the
sea, for her loyalty. Shes still here though. She wanders the
cliffs at night, crying, and waiting for him to return.
A tear was running down Hollys cheek. Everyone was silent, awed,
Werent her family sorry? Sam asked.
Holly shook her head vigorously. She flicked away the tear.
Max was still stood in the door way, looking inside. I cant
find a grave for this James Tempest here.
No. He fell back into the water, and his body was lost at sea.
It was never found, and he took his secrets with him.
Where he left all the treasures, of course. He was keeping them
in such a secret, safe place, that only he knew where. But the rumours
say it was somewhere near here, and he did leave some clues, but no
one has ever found out where. Over the years the Tempest family tried
to find the treasure, but they never did.
Is this true? Max was excited. My family really has
a lost treasure?
You look as if you really need it, too, said Nic.
I guess my grandmother could do with something, said Max.
Things have looked a bit, er, run down around here.
We could look for it! said Sam.
We could, agreed Holly.
But first, could we go somewhere not so...haunted...could we go
and have something to drink and sit down.
Holly, Max and Nic laughed. Suddenly they didnt feel as on edge
as they had done ten minutes ago. The clearing seemed warmer, and less
My grans house is full of old stuff that looks like it hasnt
been touched for years. We might find clues about the missing treasures
there, Max suggested.
We could get something to drink anyway, said Nic. Im
Im not exactly sure how to get back from here though,
I know, said Holly, leading the way once more, this time
by following a blue ribbon.
You know I dont believe any of this. But it might be fun
to pretend I do, Nic admitted.
Tempest Hall was an impressive, turreted mansion built on a rise in
the land before it ran down to the cliff edge. The woods and gardens
which surrounded it had grown in so close about it, and been cut back
so rarely, that the Hall could barely be seen from outside, apart from
the odd glimpse of the very pinnacles of the gabled towers. Nic and
Sam had no idea what to expect, but they knew they must be getting closer
when they started to pass statues, and pick their way through thorny
overgrown rose trees. They were no longer walking through woodland,
but what was left of an ornamental garden, once ordered, now taken over
Following Holly they climbed stone steps onto a large terrace. Its stone
slabs were completely covered by a carpet of old and slimy leaves.
Uurghhh! Sam hopped around in his socks, hating the damp,
squidgy feeling beneath him. Nobody took much notice of him. The back
of Tempest Hall rose above them. It was built of mellow stone,covered
over by ivy. Max had always gone in by the front door before, and thought
the house quite symmetrical. Now he saw it was not. It was a jigsaw,
put together by several generations of owners in several styles, without
any attempt to make the new additions blend in with what was already
there. The house was a mess, a crumbling and fading beauty, but he thought
he liked this side better than the showy front.
Im not too sure where the back door is... He mumbled,
embarrassed by how alien it all was to him.
Sam hopped ahead, wanting to get inside quickly. As he ran past one
of four stone lions placed in a square shape in the centre of the terrace
he gave a sudden terrified yell. The floor seemed to give way below
him, and he disappeared loudly, clutching at leaves and foliage which
gave way in his hands.
Sam! Nic yelled, hurrying to help him.
Careful. Max warned. There must be a hole in the terrace
Testing the ground beneath them carefully, they stood on the edge of
the hole and pulled Sam out, spluttering and spitting rotten leaves
from his mouth.
Are you OK? Nic asked anxiously. Seeing he had no injuries
apart from the odd scratch she demanded; What did you think you
How was I to know thered be a big hole there? He felt
close to tears.
Their attention was drawn back to Holly. She was slumped beside the
stone lion, quietly shaking with laughter, tears streaming down her
What-is-so-funny? Nic felt furious with Holly.
Im sorry, Nic, it was just...when Sam disappeared...so suddenly,
and...he was so surprised, and...Sam, Im sorry. Youre not
hurt are you? She stood up and ruffled
Sam shook his head.
It could have been worse. You could have fallen into the deep
end, Holly said.
What did you say? Nics voice sounded dangerous.
Well he only fell into the shallow end of the pool, so he didnt
disappear completely under the leaves. I mean, he could still get out.
You mean this is an old swimming pool, filled with leaves?
Oh yes. Hasnt anyone told you? Holly was surprised.
The lions mark the four corners.
You mean you knew? Nic was really angry now. You knew
and you never warned us? You just let Sam run into all that, and get
covered in slime...
I didnt get time to tell you. He ran on so quickly..
You didnt even try!
Sam was brushing himself down, and rubbing the dirt in more. Its
all right, he said. I dont mind, Nic. Im OK,
Its not Hollys fault. She probably just forgot...
I suppose youd wander blindly into hell if Holly said so,
would you Sam? Its not OK at all. Whats Mum going to say
when she sees you?
Lets go inside and see if we can get us all cleaned up a
bit, said Max. I can see a door over there.
No, Nic was clearly not happy to let Holly get away with
it. I want to know how Holly knows so much about everything. I
mean how do you know there used to be a swimming pool here? Do you spend
all your time just snooping about other peoples homes? Dont
you have a home of your own to go to?
Holly just stood still, she didnt say anything.
Nic carried on. You lead us all about on wild goose chases, telling
us stories, and how do we know anything you tell us is true? You tell
us were going to hunt for treasure, but why should we believe
you? Why should we do what you want all the time? And all these ghosts
of yours. I suppose theyre personal friends? How do you know so
much about them?
Holly made no answer.
I did wonder about that. How do you know all about these ghost
stories, Holly? Max asked curiously.
Well, they tell me...
Dont be stupid, Holly! Nic was scathing. You
cannot tell us that ghosts tell you all about themselves, and expect
us to believe you.
Holly went red. Ive seen them, she said. And
Ive read all about them. There wasnt much to do about here
before you all came, you know. Sometimes the ghosts seem more real than
anything... She sounded wistful.
She cant...she cant see ghosts, Nic was not
prepared to give up.
I guess she can if she wants to, said Max, glaring as if
to say, leave her alone. He
had the feeling that it was cruel to try and pin Holly down and make
her explain herself.
Nic felt irritated at the ways the boys were taking Hollys side.
Its all very well for her. She leads us about through woods
and ponds and graveyards and holes full of smelly leaves. Some of us
have a Mum wholl want to know where weve been and why we
look such a mess, even if you... She stopped herself, remembering
Hollys Mother was dead, and blushing.
Nobody cares what I do, said Holly. She reached her hand
out to Nic. Lets just go inside, shall we?
Yes, said Max and Sam, almost together. Max led them to
a small wooden door, and took them through it, inside Tempest Hall.
They were inside a vast kitchen with stone-flagged floors, a large wooden
table and light pouring in through dirty windows. The room was like
ones Nic and Sam had seen on school trips to Stately Homes in the Home
Counties, where they could look from behind a barrier at tables piled
high with plastic food, a range and models of hard working cooks and
servants. There was none of that here.
Have you got servants? Sam asked Max.
Max shook his head. Gran doesnt have anyone. He didnt
need to say it. It was obvious. The table was piled with cans and the
plastic containers which held ready meals. It was hard to tell which
were empty, and which were waiting to be eaten. The huge sinks were
piled high with washing up, plates rose spattered and gold rimmed beneath
the traces of congealed gravy or pasta sauce. Dinner services made for
huge banquets meant one person could get away without washing up for
months. The large old fashioned black range stood cold and cobwebbed,
obviously unlit in decades. There was no sign of any other means of
cooking, except for a microwave on the floor in a corner of the kitchen.
It was old and uncleaned too.
We came here to get clean? Nic asked. The tension from earlier
was broken by laughter.
Is this what youve been eating? Baked beans and Pasta Carbonara?
Sam asked, clearly jealous.
Who cooks? asked Nic.
Gran cooks for herself, I guess. She told me to help myself. Maybe
Ill do some cleaning sometime.
He took them through to a pantry at the other side of the room. Here
there was a large fridge and chest freezer - both looked like museum
pieces. From inside the fridge Max handed them cans of Coke, and Kit
Kats from one of the shelves. All the shelves were well stocked, with
what looked like several months supply of quick and easy Microwave
Does your Gran go shopping? Nic asked, wondering how on
earth one old lady
could manage all this food, even if she did have a car.
Max shook his head. She orders everything on-line, I guess.
Your grans got the internet? This time Sam and Nic
were really impressed.
Max just shrugged. Mom hooked her up to it last time she visited,
a couple of years ago. So that she didnt need to worry, and Gran
could get all her food delivered in vans.
Theyd have to be big vans, Nic said. Doesnt
your mum worry about your Gran being here all on her own? I mean couldnt
she get someone in to look after her a bit?
Max frowned. Theres nothing wrong with her, shes just
not used to having to do stuff in the kitchen. She would have had people
in to cook and clean once, I guess.
Well, why doesnt she now? Im sure people cant
be that scared of this place. It could be really nice if it was done
I think she just doesnt like people coming here anymore.
She likes things as they are.
But she couldnt mind someone just coming in once a week
to do some cleaning, could she? We used to have a cleaner when we were
in London. What did your Mum say when she saw all this mess?
Max was not enjoying himself. She didnt see this. She didnt
bring me here. One of my Dads secretaries from the London office
met me at the airport, and put me in a car to bring me down here.
Nic was very curious. It seemed really odd to her that Maxs parents
would send him to be looked after by someone it seemed hed never
met and who could barely look after herself, in a strange country. When
did you last see your Mum and Dad? she asked.
Do you have to ask so many questions? Max asked, walking
quickly back into the kitchen.
Stop being nosy, Sam told his sister.
People dont have to tell you every little thing about themselves,
you know, said Holly.
I just dont understand why everything has to be such a big
mystery around here, Nic muttered. She didnt like to admit
it, but several times that day she knew she had gone too far.
They followed Max into the kitchen. He didnt stay annoyed for
long. It is a mess. I guess when I saw it I just thought all the
English were eccentric, he said this with a grin.
Some of us more than others, Nic said, looking at Holly,
who was bending to get a closer look at Sams hurt knee.
Youve been really brave, Holly told Sam. We
should get you washed.
I know that, snapped Nic,
Well go upstairs and find a bathroom, Max said, and
led them out of the kitchen
and up a stone spiral staircase.
Wheres your Gran now? Sam asked. Will she mind
us being here?
Max shook his head. I shouldnt think so. The house is so
big she wont notice. She hasnt noticed me being here much.
Ive hardly seen her.
As they crept up several flights of back stairs, feeling more and more
weary, they all secretly hoped they wouldnt run into Maxs
The bathroom was large and airy and quite obviously unused until Max
Theres another bathroom which goes off from my grans bedroom,
I think, Max explained.
The shower, bath, toilet and sink had probably been the latest and most
expensive models when they had been bought, but that was about fifty
years ago. Max found some soap and all the children tried to wash themselves
a bit, without much success.
Getting soapy water all over his shorts and t-shirt only seemed to make
Sam look even worse than he had done.
At least weve cleaned the dirt away from your cut knee,
said Holly. Your mum cant get too mad, can she?
Nic smiled grimly. You dont know my mum. Maybe you could
find some Anti-septic or something around here, Max?
Before he could answer they were all stopped by the sound of someone
singing down the corridor. Daisy, daisy, love, love me do, Im
half crazy, say youll be mine... The tune was lost and the
words were confused.
Max, Nic, Sam and Holly all stood, rooted to the spot, trying to keep
quiet. The singing broke off. The voice called out, Max? Max,
are you there?
Max opened the bathroom door, and they all shuffled out. His Gran was
a tall old lady with long white hair caught up beneath what looked like
a diamond tiara. Her eyes were a vivid blue and seemed younger than
the rest of her. She wore a long silk shift dress which was bright blue
with red, green and orange flowers.
Ah Max, there you are. And these are your new young friends, how
nice to meet you all. Did you like the song I wrote this morning?
They all felt taken aback. They hadnt expected her to be friendly.
Somehow this felt scarier than the unwelcoming ogre they had expected.
It was lovely, said Holly.
Mrs.Tempest turned her attention to Holly. She looked at her for a long
time, gasping a little. She reached out her wrinkled hand to touch Hollys
face, and her red hair. Oh dear, she whispered. Oh
dear, how sad, how very... Tears were running down her cheeks.
She turned abruptly and almost ran away, back down the corridor and
through one of the doors.
© Jayne Sharratt 2001
Chapters ONE TWO
More Fiction in Dreamscapes