A Mendip Tale
A Christmas ghost story by Jan Ellis
As they drove over the Mendips, it was soon impossible to see more than a few feet in front of the car. The indicators cast a sickly orange light as Edgar did a twenty-point turn and headed back down the hill.
“Damn,” he muttered, cursing himself again for forgetting the satnav. “Remind me what I’m looking for, will you?”
Clare lifted a sheet of paper from her lap. “Past the bus stop, second turning on the right after the barn, then keep left.”
“I haven’t seen a bus stop since we left civilisation, but we passed a barn half a mile back so it must be close.” Edgar gazed bleakly at the expanse of nothingness that surrounded them.
“Pull over – I can see a sign.”
He waited as his wife trotted to the fingerpost. He could tell she was grinning as she jogged the few paces back. “I know where we are.”
Clare decided to ignore the sarcasm. “There should be a lane up in the left – you can’t miss it, according to the instructions. Go slowly.”
“If I go any slower we’ll stop.” They progressed in silence, Edgar determined to avoid the row that had been bubbling under since they’d left the motorway.
“There’s someone on the road. Ask her.” Clare prodded her husband. “Go on.”
Reluctantly he wound down the window and called out to the walker. “Excuse me. We’re looking for Berrow Farm.” The girl looked at him blankly, a shawl held up to her mouth to keep out the dank air that oozed into the car. “Sorry – we’re from London!”
Silently she raised one hand and pointed towards what they now saw was a lane kinking back from the road.
“Brilliant, thanks.” Edgar was surprised by the relief flooding over him. He’d been driving for hours and was ready for a pint.
“We should have offered her a lift.” Clare turned in her seat and waved at the walker who was already melting into the fog.
“If we’d done that we’d never have found our way back.”
“So much for the Christmas spirit.”
“I’m right though,” said Edgar, smiling as a large farmhouse came into view. “Things are looking up.”
Clare jumped from the car and headed to the house, keys in hand. The curtains hadn’t yet been closed and through the windows she could see the glow of a wood burner. “I can’t wait to get inside.”
Edgar opened the rear door of the car expecting Mabel, their spaniel, to bound out as usual, but she didn’t budge. “Come on, old girl.” Slipping a lead around the dog’s neck, he tugged the reluctant animal onto the gravel drive. Towards the bottom of the garden he was surprised to see a slender figure very like the walker they’d seen on the road a mile back. “Can’t be... I guess she ran all the way, eh dog?” As Edgar watched, the girl slipped into a bank of trees.
Back in the house, he found Clare curled up on the sofa with a large glass of red wine. “I’ve decided I like this place.”
The next morning, when Edgar went to let the dog out he found Mabel bolt upright, nose pressed against the glass pane of a French window. Mirroring her was a scraggy sheepdog.
Clare appeared behind her husband, wrapped in a heavy cardigan. “This room is freezing,” she said, rubbing her arms. “What’s that?”
“Just a dog.” The collie raised its watery blue eyes, turned and trotted away. Edgar shuddered slightly. “How does a bracing walk followed by a pub lunch sound?"
The front bar was crowded so they took their drinks to a back room where a man at the next table raised his glass in their direction. “How are you finding it up at Berrow Farm?”
Edgar was going to ask the stranger how he knew where they were staying, but decided against it. “It’s very comfortable, though Mabel’s not so keen on the dog,” he said, stroking her soft ears.
“Which dog would that be?”
“A thin collie with amazing eyes. Do you know who it belongs to? He’s very keen to come into the house.”
The man peered into his glass. “Could be Horatio. He belonged to Sarah.”
“Local girl. She went into a cave to find the stupid animal.” The drinker shook his head, sadly. “Daft girl didn’t take a lamp. Eventually the dog reappeared but they never found the lass. Horatio circled the farm for years until he pined away.”
“How awful,” said Edgar. “And did this happen recently.”
“1898 or thereabouts.”
“Right.” Clare frowned, not sure what to think. “So you’re saying the dog we saw was a ghost?”
The man shrugged. “I doubt it. He’s seldom sighted without young Sarah. The caves are directly under Berrow Farm you see.” He finished the last of his beer with a satisfied burp. “You’ve not seen her, have you?”
“Us? No, of course not.” Clare laughed.
“Glad to hear it. The last chap who saw her was dead within the year. Same again? Or can I get you a whisky, young man? You’ve turned quite pale.”
© Jan Ellis
• Jan Ellis writes romcom and mystery from a 16th-century cottage behind Wells Cathedral. Her books are available from Waterstones on the High Street and other local bookshops. Visit www.janelliswriter.com for news and events.