Holly and the Ivy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Holly Palmer fell in love with the old public house as soon as she saw it.

All of her instincts should have told her of the mistake that she was about to make.

They didn't.

Submitted: February 09, 2015

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Submitted: February 09, 2015

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It had been a year to the day since the fire at the Ivy. The public house stands on the A169 between Pickering and Whitby in Yorkshire, and Holly Palmer fell in love with the place from the moment she first set eyes upon it.

She and her husband, Dave, had been on holiday and travelling across the North Yorkshire Moors, when a wrong turning had them scratching their heads in a lay-by with a map spread across the bonnet of their Audi. All had been going swimmingly until the satnav packed up ten miles down the road, and now they found themselves in the middle of nowhere. Holly looked up in exasperation and caught sight of the roof timbers further down the hill. She wandered off, leaving her husband to come up with a solution to their dilemma.

“Dave!” She shouted, suddenly. “Come and look at this!”

Her long-suffering partner sighed, folded up the map, and trudged down the road; he stopped abruptly when he saw where she was pointing.

“This is it!” She exclaimed, pointing excitedly at the ruin standing across the road. “This is just what we’ve been looking for!”

The Ivy stood before the couple, majestic in its dereliction, and Holly decided that this part of the North Yorkshire Moors was precisely where she wanted to live. Making a note of the estate agent’s address and telephone number from the ‘For Sale’ board, they made an appointment to view as much of the property as was safe on the following day. Returning to their car, Dave quickly worked out the route back to Pickering, and they booked in at the Black Swan on Birdgate.

It was later that evening that the first inklings of trouble began to creep into the mind of Dave Palmer. They were in the pub’s bar when one of the locals overheard Holly’s conversation with the landlord, Mike Proctor.

“The Ivy?’ He asked. “That derelict on the A169?”

“Yes.” Holly replied. “Marvellous place. Lots of possibilities; just what Dave and I are looking for, isn’t it, love?”

“More fool you.” The man said. “Got a history has that place.”

“What history?” Said Dave, brusquely, irritated at the interruption.

“Haunted.” The local replied. “You don’t want to be bothering with it.”

“That’s not good enough.” Chipped in Holly. “We’re not scared of ghosts.”

Old George, as they called him at the Swan, sniffed in that way Yorkshire folk do in the face of unbelievers, sidled up the bar and stood face-to-face with Holly Palmer.

“There’s a curse on that place. Goes back four hundred years.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Old lady living on a plot of land at the back of the place fell foul of one of the locals. She gave the woman’s boy a potion for a sickness he was suffering with. Lad died a few days later and she copped the blame. They had her up on witchcraft charges, convicted her and burned her at the stake. Just before the flames took her, she screamed out the curse. Building’s been jinxed ever since.”

There was a brief pause after Old George finished his tale, and the silence was broken by Holly’s outburst.

“I’ve never heard such a load of old cobblers in my life!” She snorted. “Witches? Curses? What century are you living in? All that sort of stuff went out with the Inquisition!”

Angered not only by the young couple’s unwillingness to take him seriously, but also the humiliation and loss of face suffered at the hands of Holly Palmer, he slammed down his empty glass on the bar and stomped off to the door. There he turned.

“Mark my words, young lass!” He shouted. “You’ll regret them words of yours!” With that he stormed out, slamming the door behind him.

Silence returned to the bar and, with the remainder of the locals returning to their drinks and conversations, Holly shrugged at Dave, shaking her head in disbelief.

“Oh, don’t mind Old George.” The landlord said, breaking the hushed atmosphere. “He doesn’t really mean anything, and none of the rest of us takes him too seriously.”

“Is what he said true about the Ivy?” Dave asked.

“Well, some do say so.” He replied. “Seems a bit far-fetched to me, and there isn’t anything in the local history books about it. Most folks take what he said with a pinch of salt, although it’s not the first time that fire’s broken out there, and there is a local legend which does have a semblance of credibility.”

“Come on then.” Holly said, pulling up a couple of bar stools and pointing Dave to one of them. “Let’s have version two.”

“Well, legend says that a fire must burn continually in the hearth to avert catastrophe.” The landlord’s voice dropped several levels in an almost conspiratorial tone. “According to local history the curse stems from the 1730s when the landlord, a retired sea captain, allowed smugglers to use his inn so that locals could avoid paying high taxes on goods.”

Holly leaned forwards on the bar, sensing a more plausible tale. The landlord’s eyes narrowed, and he continued.

“One night after an unsuccessful raid by the tax inspectors, one of the excise men stayed behind but was caught and murdered by the smugglers. His body was buried under the fireplace and so that no one would ever find the body, the landlord told his family that the fire was never to go out. The idea was that no one would ever search under a fire that was lit. By the time the landlord died thirty years later, not letting the fire go out had become a tradition.”

Holly and Dave finished their drinks and ordered more. The landlord, stringing out the tale in the hope of further income, took his time and continued on his return from the ale pumps.

“Legend has it that if the fire ever goes out, the ghost of the Excise Man will haunt the Ivy and terrorise its inhabitants. The fire that burned in the grate of the pub is no longer lit – hence all the trouble Old George referred to. The pub’s is now closed and there was a planning application to convert it to thirteen holiday flats, but that got withdrawn suddenly about six months ago.”

“So, has anyone died there since the excise man?” Holly asked, still unconvinced at the so-called legend.

“Well, there’s been one or two injuries, mainly to builders brought in to work on the place, but I can’t recall anyone dying in the time I’ve been at the Swan.”

“A couple of local ghost stories aren’t going to scare us off.” Dave said, feeling left out of the conversation. “We’re buying the place tomorrow; c’mon, Holl, busy day ahead.”

They finished their drinks, thanked the landlord for an interesting tale, and made their way upstairs to their room.

“Not easily put off, these young ‘uns.” The comment was from another local with a tray of empty glasses awaiting refills.

“Seems not.” The landlord replied. “Too clever by half, some of them. Might live to regret it if they’re lucky. Same again?”

Holly and Dave Palmer were as good as their word, and a few months later work began on a ‘Grand Designs’ project to restore the Ivy to its former glory. The plan, however, did not begin without a series of curious circumstances. Having failed to arouse the interest of any of the local architects, the couple had to spread the net wider but eventually settled upon Eldridge Roberts, a new firm in Scarborough. Dennis Eldridge, the senior partner, himself a paranormal sceptic, worked late into the evenings to produce the designs required by his clients for their vision of the pub’s future; this despite inexplicably falling and breaking a wrist whilst taking measurements at the rear of the property.

“You okay?”  Asked Dave, when they met up for one of their site visits.

“Oh, I’ll be fine.” Dennis replied, looking down at his splinted wrist. “Lucky it wasn’t the right one. Should have been more careful; my wife says I never look where I’m going.”

Having casually laughed off the architect’s unfortunate mishap, conversation returned to the more serious issue of the structural integrity of the Ivy. Eldridge pulled a set of documents from his briefcase and spread them across a workbench. A sudden gust of wind on an otherwise calm day had them flying in all directions, and both men stood looking at each other in puzzlement once all the papers had been retrieved.

“From a safety point of view,” Eldridge said, once the documents had been securely weighted down. “There’s nothing much wrong with the building – surprising after the fire which almost gutted it and the weather during the intervening winter.”

“So, we’re okay to proceed with the restoration?”

“Pretty much. I submitted my calculations to the planning committee, and their reply was fairly quick – amazing, isn’t it?”

“I’d say.” Dave replied. “Took Holly and me months to get extension plans approved back in London.”

“Well, apart from the occasional site call to monitor the building work, I’d say I’ve done as much as I can right now. Good job, really.” He raised his left wrist. “I think I might need a bit of rest and recuperation.” He smiled, and they parted.

Holly was just arriving as Eldridge left, and they smiled as he passed on the way to his driver and car.

 

With the build drawings now finalised, the couple put the job out to tender with every builder in the area – there were no takers, despite a series of telephone calls which Dave made chasing up the enquiry. All he got in return was that the firms in question were currently very busy and therefore unable to help. Once more the net was widened, and eventually they settled on Geoff Higson, a building contractor from Bridlington, to carry out the work.

“Just the two of you here?” Higson asked at the end of one particularly tricky day.

“Yes, why?” Replied Holly, frowning.

“No relatives come up for the weekend, then?”

“No.” She said. “Something wrong?”

“Well, not really.” He shook his head. “It’s just that me and the lads keep losing tools, and they turn up in places where we know we haven’t been working.”

“Not one of your blokes messing around, then?”

“Wouldn’t have thought so, with this being a fixed price contract. Any of them buggering about and wasting time will get the edge of my tongue.” He shook his head and walked away. But it was not to be the only strange instant during the build.

Holly Palmer had never been one to let the odd bump in the night unsettle her. Even as a small child, the concept of monsters in the wardrobe had caused her nothing but amusement. All through her early school days, she had been puzzled at the tales told about ghosts and ghouls by children in her classes. To her, bedtime stories were just that – tales told from books which bore no relation to reality. She had been a very quick child, with an ability to separate truth from fiction. As a result, life had held no fears for her – until now. The conversation with Geoff Higson had been an isolated one, and no further instances of lost tools, or the like, had come to the ears of either her or Dave. The build was nearing completion when she was alone one evening some weeks later. Dave was spending that time with Dennis Eldridge, tying up paperwork and preparing for a penultimate payment to the contractor.

The evening was still; very still. It had been extremely warm during the day, and the brickwork on the outside of the Ivy was still giving out the heat it had absorbed during the daytime. Nevertheless, as Holly moved through the downstairs areas of the old pub, a chill ran through her. As she entered what had become the lounge area, with the old fireplace now restored to its original condition, the temperature plummeted. She pulled on a cardigan and wrapped her arms around herself, shivering against the sudden cold. Her breath came out in clouds forming in the chill of the room, and she turned to see, to her amazement, a shape beginning to form in the doorway.

“What the…?” She began, automatically taking a step backwards towards the empty fireplace.

“She’s coming.” The voice, hollow and spectral, was coming from the mouth of the vision, now acquiring definite shape. “It will be very soon.”

The figure wore a blue tunic with tails at the back and brass buttons all down its front. White trousers and a black top hat completed the outfit, and the image was completed by what was now a clear face. This was a man of middle age; he had large sideburns and a moustache. His face bore the look of a very frightened individual.

“Who?” Asked Holly, recovering something of her composure now that the apparition had remained still. “Who is ‘She’?”

The figure looked around. He was now shaking visibly and Holly was beginning to suspect some kind of elaborate ruse perpetrated by her husband to complete what had been quite a stressful project. It was certainly in his nature to conjure up this kind of practical joke, and she began to smile, looking over the shoulder of the ‘hired’ stooge. The figure then turned, passed through the doorway and headed for the stairs.

Holly stood in silence as she gathered her thoughts. No, this was too elaborate for anything manufactured by Dave, and her innate curiosity began to get the better of her. Snapping back out of her reverie, she followed in the path of the apparition and arrived at the bottom of the stairs as it disappeared round the corner of the upstairs landing. She arrived at the top to hear a bedroom door slam and, trusting in all of the instincts denying the existence of the paranormal which had been with her since childhood, pushed open the door in question without a second thought.

The sharp intake of breath bore no relation to fear of any kind, but was a sign of surprise at the tableau which stood before her. The room was not as she and Dave had restored it. Gone were the modern décor, the newly installed windows, and the carefully renovated fireplace and ornate coving. Instead, the room was depressingly drab, and bore a musty, almost decaying odour. Holly wrinkled her nose in disgust. That feeling was accentuated by the old crone seated on an ancient rocking chair in the far corner of the room. The apparition, which she had chased up the stairs, was standing motionless to the crone’s left.

“Welcome, Holly Palmer.” The voice bore a cracked edge, and the toothless smile sent a shiver down Holly’s spine. “You may go.” The second remark was aimed to the left, and the motionless figure burst into life as if it had been hitherto frozen to the spot. “I am done with you.”

“Thank you, Miranda.” He said, his entire being exuding a feeling of intense relief. “I’m sorry, Holly Palmer.” He looked at Holly, his face crushed with regret. “It was the only way. I’ve been trapped here for too long.” With that he faded and was gone.

“Holly?” A familiar voice echoed up the stairs from below, and Holly realised that she hadn’t even heard the door open and then close. “Holl! Where are you?”

“Dave.” She said, almost in relief and, ignoring the figure in the rocking chair, turned back through the door and onto the landing once more. “Here, Dave! Up the stairs!”

She began to run back down the corridor which led to the top of the stairs, but was suddenly aware that the corridor itself was becoming longer the further she ran. It was almost like a scene from any number of horror films which she and Dave had watched together, and his voice, loud and strident at first, was gradually getting softer and softer.

 

Dave Palmer looked around the Ivy for one last time. His heart still hung heavy at the disappearance of his wife, and he now saw no point in remaining in North Yorkshire any longer. It had been six months of hell since Holly had vanished – seemingly off the face of the Earth. The police investigation had been detailed and thorough. His life had been turned inside out and, even though he had a cast iron alibi for the day in question, no stone had been left unturned as the local CID regarded him as their prime suspect. Dennis Eldridge’s testimony had been his saving grace, and with no clear motive the police had been forced to release him and leave the case open.

“You should have listened to me.” Old George had remarked one evening of the previous week in the bar of the Black Swan.

“What?” Dave looked up from his pint as George sat down, uninvited.

“I told you about the curse, but you just laughed it off” He took a pull on his pint, wiped a sleeve across his mouth, and shook his head. “The old witch had took her.” He said.

“Witch?” Dave stared incredulously.

“Miranda Beverley.” He said. “They burned her at the back of the Ivy hundreds of years ago, remember?”

Dave stood up, forgetting the rest of his drink, and left the pub for the final time. Still, he was unable to shift George’s words from his mind, and they came back to him now as he stood in the large lounge which was the crowning glory of the restoration. The old fireplace, where legend had it that a customs man had been buried, stood in all of its renovated glory in the centre of the far wall.

A glint of light caught Dave’s eye as he turned to the door, and he stopped in his tracks. There it was again, coming from the back of the fireplace, a flashing reflection of the sunlight pouring through the windows at the back of the room. He blinked and shook his head; the glint of light was flickering, almost like the old Morse code patterns which he had learned in his days with the Boy Scout movement. He frowned and walked slowly over to the fireplace.

He didn’t see it at first, but the closer he got the more detail he picked up. It was an item of jewellery. Was it a brooch? A pin of some sort? An icy feeling ran the length of his spine as he crouched down and stared into the fireplace’s far corner. It was an earring – an earring with a solitary diamond at its centre; one of a pair, and identical, he thought, to the ones which he had given to his wife for Christmas the previous year.

Dave picked it up – it was warm to the touch; almost as if it has just fallen from the wearer’s ear. He stared at it in amazement; there was no doubt in his mind that this was one of that pair, and not just a similar item. A tear cascaded down his right cheek as he raised the earring to his lips. The room turned suddenly colder, and the chimney echoed to the sound of a wind blowing across the top of its cowling up on the roof. Dave Palmer did not hear it clearly at first, but the true horror of the situation struck him as clear as day when the wind changed gradually into the sound of a human voice.

“Dave…” Came the whisper. “Dave. Help me…”


© Copyright 2018 Phil Neale 1952. All rights reserved.

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