A Confession


Today, a true story - although whether you choose to believe is another matter. Nonetheless, I promise you 'tis indeed what happened.



The old watermill stood across the field from the cottage I shared with my grandmother; now a three-storey house, its pristine whitewash stood out in stark contrast to the dark trunks of the forest which began on the far bank of the stream. One particular weekend when I was in my early teens the owners were going away for a long weekend - to assist on a particularly muddy archaeological dig somewhere in Yorkshire, as I recall.  Oh, the glamour!  Their tabby cat had recently produced a litter of five kittens so they asked me to call in a couple of times a day to keep an eye on things.  Kittens?  Moi?  Oh, alright then.

Friday evening - all was well.

Saturday - all was well.

Sunday morning - all was well.

But on Sunday afternoon when a schoolfriend & I went to look in on the basket of feline fluffiness ... only four kittens. We searched the ground floor, on hands & knees peering beneath couches, under dressers & in the hems of curtains. Even the hiking boots & wellingtons cluttering the scullery floor were upended in case they had become a hiding place. To no avail.

And so we ventured upstairs to regions I had not previously visited, thinking that perhaps mother cat was in the process of relocating the litter to a world of blankets & pillows. On our bellies we wriggled beneath beds only to find dust-bunnies & discarded socks.  Grateful for the continued bright sunshine, we craned our necks to look behind chests, tallboys & wardrobes.  But still no hint of marmelade fur (it being the little ginger tom who had gone adventuring.  What a surprise!)  Not in the bathroom or the airing cupboard either.  Just the attics to go...

Now to reach the upper floor one had to enter an enclosed stairway - walls on either side with an open doorway at foot & head, the walls painted white, as was the corridor onto which they led.  Said corridor was also flooded with late-afternoon sunlight thanks to a large window overlooking the front garden plus a couple of smaller sky-lights. And yet...four steps up, I froze at precisely the same moment as Rachel, two steps behind, did the same. Across the opening at the top of the stairs hurried...something.  White against the white walls, all I could tell was that it was flat at the front & somehow trailed away at the back. A split second & it was gone.

I would like to say that we bravely channelled Daphne & Velma and hurried in pursuit. But no, we turned tail & fled the house, all thoughts of missing kittens forgotten. (I am happy to report that he was safely snuggling in the basket with his siblings when my grandmother later checked.)


I would probably have put the whole episode down to some trick of the light or teenage hysterics had it not been for an encounter the following year.  By this time the mill house had been sold & converted into three flats, and one day outside the village shop I happened to meet the woman who had recently bought the upper floor.

"Did you know Frida?" she asked, referring to the previous owner. "Was she a bit weird?"

"Well, she listened to a lot of folk music & wore tie-dye year round...But was there anything in particular?"

"She told me that if I met a woman in a white crinoline dress not to worry - she wouldn't hurt me."

I swear I had never heard Frida mention such a thing, but now - a full year after I saw "something" - her description fitted exactly with what I had seen.  A woman in a white crinoline dress hurrying along the corridor would indeed have a silhouette that was flat at the front & sloping away behind her.



So here is my confession, as promised:

My name is Penelope, & I believe in ghosts.