Post series: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor

Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 4 – Finale

  1. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 1
  2. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 2
  3. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 3
  4. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 4 – Finale



The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor: Part Four, Finale


A loud rapping on the door interrupted some murky dream. I awoke in the armchair disoriented, and could not recall where I was or the time of day. Outside, the gray skies were heavy with rain, and water ran in rivulets down the window panes. There was no fire, only a pile of cold ash in the grate. One the floor next to me, there was an empty bottle of brandy and two empty tumblers. 

The rapping on the backdoor grew louder and more insistent, and I heard voices.

With great effort I heaved myself from sitting, and without thinking, put my full weight on my bad ankle. I cried out in pain, instantly crumpling to the floor. 

Footsteps scraped in the vestibule by the backdoor, and the double doors to the kitchen rattled. Muffled voices called out, “Caroline? Are you in there?” 

Limping, I hobbled to the kitchen, leaning heavily on my crutches as pain shot through my ankle with each step. “Hold on a sec. Coming,” I called out weakly, groggy and in pain. 

Hilary and Carey stood in the vestibule, peering into the kitchen through the bolted double doors. Hilary gasped as soon as she saw me, and Carey looked down at the floor. 

I undid the bolt and Hilary burst through the doors with a huff. Carey hung back uncertainly. 

“Caroline! My God, look at you!” Hilary continued to barrage me with questions. “Your friend Roberta called worried sick about you. Said you were mumbling, almost incoherent the last time she spoke to you. Do you have a fever?” 

My head muddled with sleep and brandy I looked around uncertainly. Wind whistled through the eaves, sounding like voices whispering in my ears. 

I strained to focus. “Sorry, my ankle is acting up. I need to sit down,” I said, ignoring her questions, groping to remember how long I had been here and why. 

“Caroline, you’ve got everyone worried. What’s going on with you?” Hilary sat down next to me, leaned her elbows on the table. Carey warily took a step into the kitchen, watching me. 

I was having difficulty processing her questions. My head throbbed, and the kitchen seemed to tilt sideways. “What time is it?” I asked meekly, looking around for the clock. My throat dry and husky, and my tongue flopped around in my mouth. 

“About four o’clock,” Carey said, looking at his watch. It’s the first words he’d spoken since he arrived, and his voice sounded tinny and far away. 

“Edward is coming tonight,” I said, glancing toward the back door. “I’ll put the kettle on.” As I got up, I stumbled, suddenly dizzy knocking the chair over.

Carey righted the chair, and pushed it under the table. 

Hilary took my arm. “Caroline, I think you need to go to hospital,” she said, glancing up at Carey.  

“It’s all right, Edward will look after me,” I said woozily. 

“Who’s this Edward you keep going on about?” Hilary asked, handing me my crutches. 

“Edward. Your farmhand,” I said. “He works for you,” I added, swatting at the air, when she looked at me bewildered. 

“Ed? From Karolcare House?” Hilary asked, looking at Carey at again. 

The kitchen swam before my eyes. How could she not know Edward? Frustrated, I said, “He takes care of your horses. You know, when they break out of the barn during a storm.” I sat back down again, confused.

“My horses? What are you going on about? The horses are in Dumfries with us,” Hilary said. 

“Before,” I said, trying to explain but I could not seem to find the words. “The storm. Before you took the horses, ” I stammered, trying to explain how Edward had tramped through the woods after midnight to find the mare loose in the pasture. 

“Caroline, you’re not making any sense,” Hilary said, alarmed. “Ed’s never come by in the middle of the night.” 

When I didn’t answer, she said, “Caroline, I don’t think things are right with you. I don’t know who this Edward is, but he’s not one of ours.” 

“Edward will explain,” I said, pointing a limp finger toward the direction of the barn.

 Hilary gave Carey a sideways glance. “Carey and I are going to have a look around the place. We’ll be gone fifteen, twenty minutes. Then we’re going to drive straight to the clinic in Carnwath.” 

The backdoor slammed shut, I listened to the bone click of gravel as their footsteps receded. A dragging sensation tugged my insides. As if under a spell, I shambled into the sitting room and slumped into the armchair. The low scrape of the barn door, and the rusty clunk of a metal gate were the last sounds I heard as I closed my eyes.


Leaves rustled and scratched against the side of the house, the wood plank floors creaked and groaned. A chill seeped into my bones and a musty odor filled the air. 

“Come, Caroline,” a voice whispered like a sigh upon my ear, the words barely above the faint ticking of the clock. 

I looked up from the armchair. Edward appeared next to me like a specter, shrouded in his black tattered coat and knee-high boots. 

“It’s you,” I said, softly, bleary-eyed. “Did you talk to Hilary?” I asked, smoothing my hair and wiping sleep from my eyes.

He shrugged his shoulders, a small gesture. His cold blue eyes, shiny and brittle, gleamed. “I came for you,” he purred. 

My lids felt heavy, my head spun as if I had been drugged. 

“Come.” A command. “We belong together, Caroline.” 

I stood shakily, patting the pockets of my sweater uncertainly as though I was forgetting something important. Like trying to grasp the last remnants of a dream, the feeling lasted but an instant then was gone. 

Edward nodded reassuringly, that peculiar placid smile on his face. “Here.” He extended his arm, proffering his hand. His long delicate fingers were cold. The chill bit my skin and crawled up my arm, I had the sensation of descending a set of damp stair steps, into another place: as if lying down to sleep after a long illness.

Spellbound, I glided, following Edward through the house and out the backdoor. The brittle moon was white as bleached bone. Covered in early evening frost, the world glittered with thousands of tiny crystals. 

“Oh, I need my crutches,” I said weakly.  

“Nay, Caroline. Come with me. Trust me,” Edward said, his eyes glittering in the moonlight.

I took a step and felt no pain in my ankle. In fact, I felt no pain at all. 

Somewhere behind us, Hilary and Carey yelled, “Caroline? Where are you?” Their voices muffled and far away, devoured by the night. 

“Hilary,” I said, trying to turn back. “We should go back. I’m so cold,” I said with great effort.

Come with me. Come with me

As we neared the border of the dense wood an owl puled a lonely, piteous cry. Somewhere beneath, deep in shadow, my soul creeps down from the bared limbs and into Edward’s cold embrace.

Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 3

  1. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 1
  2. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 2
  3. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 3
  4. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 4 – Finale



The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor: Part Three


Regaining his composure, Chris went on, his nose red and color rose in his neck and cheeks. “A stranger knocked on the door in the middle of the night, in a storm no less, and you let him in?”   

“I know it sounds ridiculous. But it turned out to be Edward, Hilary’s farmhand. He’s an old man,” I said. “You should have seen him, bedraggled and soaked to the bone, he looked worse than what the cat dragged in.” I laughed, feeling a bit defensive. “What should I have done? I couldn’t very well have left him outside in the storm. He looked positively cadaverous,” I said, not admitting that I considered doing just that.

“The Ed I know is young. Big, brawny guy. An no talker, that one. A bit daft in the head,” Chris said.

“Well, maybe this was a different Ed. They have more than one farmhand named Ed,” I said, not entirely sure this was true. “It was a judgement call,” I said, feeling chastised. As I looked out the window, I recalled the wretched sight of Edward in the vestibule. 

“You’re too trusting, Caroline,” Chris said, mollified. “You need to be careful. In Scotland, tramps are still known to roam the countryside.”

I guffawed. “Tramps?”

But Chris was not deterred. “Scoundrels, or whatever you want to call them. Men up to no good gadding about knocking on doors, taking advantage of lonely widows like yourself.” Chris made a sharp left at the roundabout in New Bigging. 

“I’m not lonely!” I said, a bit too defensively.  

Chris glanced in the rearview mirror. “Look, I’m not trying to scare you but you should know,” he said uncomfortably. “Several years ago, there was a woman, Elspeth not much younger than you, who disappeared one night. She was from America, like you, staying in a cottage just down the road from Lanark Manor.” 

“That sounds ominous,” I chortled. “What happened to her?” 

He shook his head. “Don’t know. They never found her. She left her passport and belongings behind. No one remembers a thing. It’s like she disappeared into thin air.” 

“You trying to scare me? She probably got swallowed up by one your bogs,” I scoffed.

 “You think I’m kidding you,” he glanced at me, shaking his head. “I’m not,” he said. “Look, I’m telling you the Lowlands are known for people disappearing under… mysterious circumstances.”

“Mysterious circumstances. What does that even mean? Heathcliff is going to come and carry me off across the moors?” I looked at him, trying to detect a sly smile but Chris’s face was serious, his eyes hard and narrow. “Besides, it was the ghost of Catherine that came for Heathcliff, not the other way around.”

“The independent woman,” he chided. “You Americans think you’re invincible. Can’t believe in anything that doesn’t have a rational explanation.” 

“Tramps, maybe,” I said. “But mysterious ghosts? I doubt Americans are the only skeptics in the world. You don’t really believe in all that, do you?” 

Chris huffed under his breath noncommittally. 

“Well, even if there are ghosts, Edward wasn’t one of them,” I went on. “He was very real. We had a very nice conversation by the fire. Actually, I was worried for his well-being. He could have died from hypothermia.”  

Chris shook his head again, and adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. “I don’t know, the whole thing sounds weird to me,” he said, muttering something about tricksters and evil spirits. “Farmhand, in the middle of the night? Ed’s a big galoot, one of those disabled fellows from Karolcare House outside Dolphington—over bloody five miles away. He’s not going to be walking to Lanark Manor in the middle of the night, much less having a wee chat by the fireside. The man sounds a bit dodgy, if you ask me.” 

Chris admonished me the rest of the way to Biggar, urging me to call Hilary. “I think she’d want to know about the horses and this business with Ed or whoever it was.” 

Tired of his own diatribe, he said, “Caroline, promise me you won’t open the door to someone you don’t know. You need to be more cautious.” 

Chris dropped me off in the parking lot of the Co-op, promising to pick me at Aroma Cafe in an hour. My ankle was throbbing, and I was eager to purchase more anti-inflammatories. 

Since I was leaving on Sunday, I only needed enough food for another two days, I picked out two ready-made pizzas and another bottle of red wine, stuffing them in my small backpack. 

I was already at the coffee shop sipping a flat white, when Chris texted asking if it would be all right if he was delayed another hour or so. He had a last-minute hire to Carstairs railway station, and he would text when he was on his way to Biggar. 

With my errands done, I was not in a hurry to return to an empty house. I had always wanted to visit the local museum and texted Chris to pick me up there instead. 

The Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum was a cozy building with limited, but well-designed exhibits on the history of the area. An hour passed quickly, absorbed in reading about the Thankerton Man and excavated Bronze-aged cairn fields and stone cists along the River Clyde. The docent was a friendly elderly woman named Ardyce, and as I was the only visitor that day, she was generous with her time and very knowledgeable about the area. 

We were still chatting as I browsed the small gift shop, when I came across Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights next to two titles: Scottish Ghost Stories and Weird Ghosts and other Spirits of Lanarkshire. I picked up Wuthering Heights and the book on weird ghosts, and began thumbing through them with some interest. 

“Books on ghosts are always popular,” Ardyce said in a creaky voice, sidling up next to me. “Poor Catherine Earnshaw. She was so lonely, wasn’t she, doomed to roam those dreary moors by herself for eternity?” Ardyce asked wistfully, her rheumy eyes blinking behind a pair of gold-rimmed glasses.

“Funny, I was just talking about Wuthering Heights this morning,” I said, and we spoke of other famous literary ghosts for a moment. Then, I told her of the woman in the woods, and wondered if I hallucinated the whole thing. 

“Oh, you can see all sorts of strangeness on a walkabout. Being alone, coupled with gloomy weather can do that to people. We Scots are always going on about ghosts and strange happenings,” she said, chuckling. “You’re up at Lanark Manor, you say? You wouldn’t be the first to have stories about that place,” she said but did not elaborate.

“Do you know anything about an American woman who disappeared several years back? Close to the Lanark estate?” 

“Hmm, can’t say I do,” she said, shaking her head slowly. However, I got the impression Ardyce knew more than she was telling me. 

“No one actually believes in these weird ghosts, do they?” I asked, pressing, reading the back copy.

Ardyce shrugged and smiled cryptically. “Well, ghosts have been around as long as people. Everyone I know has a story. Unexplained bumps in the night. Mysterious visitations. Like your woman in the woods. There are loads of anecdotes like that. To hear people talk, you would think Lanarkshire is positively crowded with wandering ghosts, unhappy spirits lurking in every bog and behind every rock cairn. For every person who goes missing on the moors there’s some preternatural theory.” 

Ardyce smiled wanly. There was something in her manner that led me to believe she knew more than she was letting on.

Laughing uneasily, I set the books back on the shelf. I began relating my conversation with Chris, and wound up telling her the whole story about the storm and Edward from last night. For some reason, the episode seemed distant and incredulous as a dream. Chris had unsettled me so it was comforting to talk to someone who might be more receptive. For some reason I had not texted Hilary, and I think I wanted Ardyce to reassure me that I had done the right thing.

Ardyce’s eyes widened and her brows furrowed, as I reeled out the details of Edward’s visit. She fidgeted with her collar, and adjusted her glasses as if she didn’t know what to say. I could see the wheels in her head turning as she imagined herself answering the door to a stranger in the middle of a stormy night. 

“Of course. I nearly didn’t go to the door at all. But he was so old,” I said, finding myself on the defensive again. We spoke a few more minutes about storms and tricky horses. 

But Ardyce left me with the impression that she, too, like Chris, thought the incident dodgy and worrisome. “Well, it looks like everything worked out. Although, I would be careful who you open your door to, dear,” she said, echoing what Chris had said. 

A note of warning underscored her words, and despite her outward skepticism, I suspected she was alluding to something more. 

As I was about to leave, hoping to lighten the mood, I asked, “So, what exactly is a weird ghost as opposed to a regular ghost? Weird, as in, out of the ordinary?” 

“Witches. A weird ghost is a ghost witch,” Ardyce said knowingly. “A ghost witch not only comes to haunt you,” she said, pausing to straighten the books on the shelf. Then she turned, looking at me over the rim of her glasses. 

“They come to take you with them.”  


As Chris drew near the farm, the backdoor to the vestibule was ajar. I thanked Chris for the ride, and we bid each other a pleasant evening. The inside of the house was cold, and dead leaves were scattered across the floor. I latched the door behind me, this time securing it with twine I found in a kitchen drawer. 

I spent an uneventful evening reading by the fire, but found myself restless and on edge. Each time I went into the kitchen, my eyes would involuntary check the backdoor in anticipation of some knock or unexpected visitor. 

But more than my jittery nerves, I was overshadowed by a sadness, almost as intense a suffering as had ever felt. Long after I had gone upstairs, I watched the heavens from my bedroom window, seeking comfort in some unusual beauty of the night sky. In the depths of the great purple dome, I was plagued by an inkling of dread about leaving. Instead of my friend or visions of the gaiety of Paris, I found myself thinking of Edward, wishing to see him again. 


I woke to sunshine pouring through the windows. The sky was a glorious dazzling blue and the sheep frolicked playfully in the pasture. The melancholy from last night was gone, and I felt unusually energized. I called Hilary just after nine o’clock. But instead of telling her about the storm or the horses, I found myself asking if she minded if I stayed on a bit longer. 

“Just for a few more weeks,” I said, thinking how lovely November would be here on the estate with the flock of pheasants that pecked on the front lawn, and the riot of fall colors dotting the hillsides. There would still be time to visit Roberta before I had to be in Paris for December. 

“You can stay as long as you like,” Hilary said. “We could sure use the extra time in Dumfries to wrap up the renovation.” 

Hilary sounded relieved and we briefly chatted about other matters. Finally, she said, “Good. This is good, Caroline. I will let KarolCare House know we need Ed for a bit longer.” 

“Oh, by the way, I met him the other day. He said you have a tricky mare,” I said, but for some reason did not tell her about letting him in the house. 

“What’s that you say?” she asked, sounding distracted by a loud voice in the background. “Carey! The electrician is here,” she yelled, muffling the receiver. “Sorry, Caroline, I’ve got to ring off. Thanks again and we’ll be in touch. Bye-bye!” 

The outside beckoned, and I left the house dreamily, going for a long walk plodding merrily on my crutches and boot. The air was crisp and filled with the mature scents of dill, sage and wild onion. Sheep bells tinkled faintly as two hawks circled lazily. 

Following an old railway bed east along the South Medwin, I walked further than I intended. By the time I turned to head back, clouds had begun to gather south over the hills and I felt the first drops of rain. 

  I cannot say what came over me, whether it was the exhilaration of the walk or the effects of the sun and the wind, but I was giddy with anticipation. I knew rain was coming, and eagerly made my way back to the house. But this time, there was not a feeling of dread or loneliness, but expectant, as if I were looking forward to some party or friendly gathering. 

By the time I reached the main house, I was not surprised to see Edward emerge from the barn next to the caretaker’s cottage. It was as if I had been expecting him.  

The sun was already disappearing behind the clouds, and a chill had penetrated my clothes. But I warmed immediately at the sight of him. “Hullo!” I called gaily, waving to him with one of my crutches. 

There was a high color in his cheeks, and in the graying light of late afternoon, he seemed years younger than he had the other night. Without his rain hood, his head now filled with a thick mane of gray hair that curled about his neck and shoulders. He still wore the tattered long black overcoat, and the same dark weathered boots but his shoulders no longer hunched, and his general countenance was vigorous and robust. 

I was weirdly pleased that he now appeared much younger (decades younger, I thought), any evidence of frailty gone. 

“Good day to ye,” he said, seeming equally pleased to see me. Even his voice held a deeper, stronger tenor than the thin papery voice the night of the storm. 

“Look at you,” I said. “You recover quickly. I wasn’t sure you’d make it the other night. You slipped out before I could offer you breakfast.” 

Edward did not answer but a boyish smile played on his lips. “That I did,” he said.

Rain pelted my face, and the sky darkened. “Looks like we’re in for more rain this evening.” A hawk screeched, swooping above us in a long gray furrow.

Edward looked up at the darkening sky, a shadow seemed to pass through his features. “Aye. ‘Tis the season for it.”

Possessed with some strange energy, I asked impulsively, “Have you had supper?” 

“Are ye asking me to supper? I won’t say no,” he said with a peculiar smile, already following me to the backdoor.


Rained lashed the windows, and wind battered the roof. Edward and I barely noticed, so ensconced by the fire with two large snifters of brandy. Edward’s nose was bright cherry red from the drink, and his eyes glinted, catching the warm reds and yellows from the flames. 

I laughed uproariously at a bawdy joke, feeling the blush creep up my neck and face, and tears fill my eyes. 

We both sipped our brandy, and lapsed into companionable silence and a pleasant feeling of contentment overcame me. A kind of rapture, not of exultation exactly, but of a kind of uplift of spirit. I did not have romantic feelings of desire for Edward, but there was a sense of intimacy, an instant connection I had felt the first night we met. We “got on” as Chris said. Edward and I clicked. It is my only explanation. 


The dusk deepened. The earth tilted. A turning-away from the sun, the day turning into night and chilling slowly, gradually, half a degree at a time. Shadows lengthened, creeping down out of the hills and across the shieling. 

Through the sitting room window, the sky was a thick gray-white mantle. And cold. I shivered almost uncontrollably in a thick sweater and slippers. Leaves fell in slants to the ground, and a murder of crows cackled somewhere in the choke of trees in the distance. 

I cupped both hands around my coffee, my head fuzzy. The bottle of Triple Barrells sat empty on the table in front of me. Vaguely, I recollected Edward coming over every night this week, spending evening gabbling by the fireside. 

Next to me, my iPhone rang, rattling me out of my fugue-like state. I picked it up, answering in a kind of wonderment. 

I cleared my throat. “Hello?” 

“Caroline! I’ve been trying to call you for ages,” Roberta said, “But I can barely hear you,” Roberta said. “Can you speak up?”  

Roberta peppered me with questions, and I was finding it difficult to concentrate on the conversation.  

 “I’m doing fine,” I said dismissively, ignoring her questions. I drained my coffee, now cold, and massaged my temples. As I ran my fingers through my hair, several gray strands floated aimlessly to the floor. What had begun as a mild hangover was now a full on knocking behind my skull. I begged off, lying about having to be somewhere. “I’ll call you soon, I promise,” I said, hanging up before Roberta could get a word in edge-wise. 

In the kitchen, I groped through the drawers for Paracetamol, swallowing several tabs with tap water. The fridge was empty, dirty dishes were stacked in the sink, and a rotted food smell emanated from the garbage pail. As I was about to sit, a knock on the back door shattered the quiet. 

“Hullo? Caroline? Are you there?” Hilary called out, cupping her hand to the backdoor and peering in. 

I hobbled to the door, stepping gingerly onto the cold hard brick inside the vestibule. 

“Hilary! I was about to call you,” I lied, opening the door and letting her inside. 

“Caroline,” she said, looking me up and down sorrowfully. “You’re not answering your phone! Everything all right? Are you ill?” 

“No, no. Just a little hungover,” I said, embarrassed, feeling as though I had been caught out. 

“I was worried you’d taken a tumble down the stairs and hit your head,” she said, earnestly. Her nose crinkled as she sniffed the air, peering into the kitchen behind me. “Are you sure everything’s all right?” 

“I’m fine, really,” I said, my hand instinctively going to my head. I brushed an errant swath of hair from my eyes, and tugged the sleeves of my sweater. “Sorry about the missed calls. The service has been spotty since the storm last week.”

She nodded, but eyed me skeptically. “Are you sure we can’t get you anything before we head back to Dumfries tonight?”

“No, no,” I shook my head. “Thank you. And sorry… for all the trouble.” 

A gust of wind scattered a bed of leaves, and the peacock cried shrilly. Hilary shifted her weight, and glanced at the sky. A slate of dark pewter clouds hung oppressively. 

Hesitantly, she said, “Caroline, if you don’t mind me saying so, you don’t look so good. Are you sure you’re well? I can tell you’ve lost weight… you’re practically swimming in your clothes. Do you have enough to eat? Chris said you haven’t texted for a ride for weeks.” 

Weeks? What was she talking about? “I’m fine,” I said, with a sudden flash of annoyance. “Look, I need to go,” I said, glancing behind me as if some urgent task awaited me. 

Hilary nodded reluctantly, and even before she turned to go, I shut the door and latched it.

Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 2

  1. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 1
  2. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 2
  3. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 3
  4. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 4 – Finale



The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor: Part Two


As soon as I reached the bottom of the stairs, I stopped on the last step listening with racing heart. However, all I heard was the wind and rain lashing against the window panes, and the wild clanging of a metal gate down the hill. The knocking and loud scraping had not returned, and I convinced myself it had only been an errant door thrashing the side of a barn.  

Still trembling, I turned the light on, setting the dining room ablaze. Since I had polished off the last of the good Cognac, I poured myself a dose of Triple Barrels Brandy. It was more stringent than the aged Cognac, but it was all I could afford. My husband had not left me much in way of savings. 

I gulped the first pour and then sloshed another thick finger into the glass and carried it into the sitting room. Only a few embers still smoldered in the grate, so I put another log on top and wrapped a blanket around my shoulders. 

I must have fallen asleep because I woke to a loud knocking coming from the backdoor. My hands and feet were numb, and the blanket had slipped from my shoulders to the floor. Apparently, there had been a power outage and not a single light shone. Except for the faint orange glow of dying embers, the house was shrouded in complete darkness. 

Bleary-eyed and still woozy from the brandy, I stumbled out of the sitting room and followed the loud thumping to the backdoor. 

Wind slashed rain against the windows, the thick storm blotting out any light from the moon and night sky entirely. I crept through the kitchen, shuffling warily, uncertain if I should go to door at all. But compelled by the thought of Hilary and Carey, or possibly one of the farmhands with some kind of emergency, I slipped a jacket on and unbolted the double doors and stepped down into the vestibule. I fumbled, feeling around for matches and the two small tapers I knew to mounted on the far wall. 

The vestibule filled with an eerie glow, and I waited for my eyes to adjust to the low light. 

It was pitch-black outside, and I gasped at the looming figure of a tall man standing outside the door, his head bowed under a hood. His clothing so dark, it was like seeing a shadow within a shadow, ink black on black. But the hunched slim figure was vaguely familiar, and I felt sure it to be the man I had seen earlier that morning. 

Lightning flashed, and I glimpsed his ghastly sallow face. Thunder rumbled, as rain lashed his cheeks, and he held a hand over his eyes to shield them.  

When our eyes met, he gave me a curt nod, and took a small step back from the door. His long arms hung loosely in front of him, and he crossed his hands, dutifully waiting for me to unlatch the door. 

Hesitantly, I opened the door a crack. The wind and rain were fierce, and I had to hold the door to keep it from flying back and hitting me in the face. The light from the candles flickered sideways. 

“Hello? Are you Ed? What are you doing out in this weather?” I asked, yelling into the wind, looking behind him trying to discern his car or other vehicle. 

He smiled through thin apologetic lips. In a cracked voice, he said in a thick Scottish burr, “Aye, madam. Edward. My apologies. Terrible storm, it is.” 

Relieved, I still was confused. “Did Hilary call you? Is something wrong? She said you might be stopping by but not until tomorrow.” 

“Aye. The mare is a skittish girl. And tricky, too. The storm unsettles her, and she got loosed. I found her running wild down yonder in the east pasture like the devil himself was after her.” 

Although I could not imagine how the horse escaped the stall, much less the barred doors of the barn, I took Edward at his word. Given the general dilapidation of the estate, I did not think this was particularly out of the ordinary. 

A gust of wind knocked me back, and the candle light guttered wildly. It was after midnight, and I still was uncertain why Ed had knocked on the door to notify me. 

“Is she all right? The mare?” I asked, regaining my composure.

“Aye, she’ll be fine. No worse for the wear. It’s happened before.”

We stood there a moment, increasingly feeling guilty for making Ed stand out in the wind and rain. The open door was letting in the wind and rain but I was still aware of my vulnerability and precariousness of chatting with a stranger in the middle of the night. I expected him to turn around and leave, but he seemed hesitant and I had the sense he wanted to ask me something. 

“Well, that’s good,” I said, nodding, still uneasy. “Is there something else?” 

“Sorry to bother you, but if I could trouble you to let me weather it out inside until daylight, I would be much obliged,” he said, gesturing behind me to the low wooden bench. “The footbridge is washed out, and it would be dangerous to go by the main road.” 

Lightning flashed followed by a loud thunderclap. Edward’s narrow frame shuddered and the rain poured so, his skin seemed to be draining off his face. He was older and more wizened than he first appeared. “Did you come on foot?” I asked, somewhat incredulously, wondering where he lived. 

“Aye, madame. I did,” he said. “I live across the boggy meadows, just past those trees.” He pointed a grizzled bare finger in the vague direction over his left shoulder. “Came along the footpath. ‘Tis quicker.”

A tough ol’ bird, I thought. Despite my hesitation, I felt mean-spirited and somewhat foolish. This was Hilary and Carey’s farmhand, after all. I did not think I should ask him to weather the storm out in the barn like livestock. At the time, I had not thought to ask how he arrived if the footbridge was washed out.

             “Of course, you must be cold and soaking wet.” I opened the door wider and stepped aside. A gust of wind rose and the garbage bins clattered across the courtyard.

            “Much obliged, madame,” he said, bowing his head. Water poured from his rain hood and pooled on the bricked floor.

“It’s Caroline,” I said.

“Well, Caroline, I am grateful to ye, I am.” He stamped the thick soles of his boots, as if trying to tamp the numbness from his feet. 

I closed and latched the door behind him, and when I turned around, he stood expectantly, and held his hood in front of him clasped in both hands. His overcoat and trousers were so black, they seemed to absorb the light. The coat hung limply, dripping from the hem onto his boots, which were scuffed and muddied. A thick shock of white hair clung to his head and dripped mercilessly onto his shoulders.

Sopping wet and shivering, he was a pitiful sight.

A fusty smell of decay filled the vestibule, and even in the dim candlelight I must have disguised my revulsion poorly. 

Edward chuckled. An unsettling, gurgling noise. “Not used to the smell of horses and the outdoors, are ye, eh?” He said frankly, easing himself down onto the bench. He undid his coat with shaky fingers, and set about wrestling his boots and socks off. His eyes caught the flickering light of the candles, and for a moment gleamed red. 

“No, I… sorry. Where are my manners? Let me get you a towel to dry off.”

Embarrassed, my initial reluctance to shelter a stranger seemed needless and almost irresponsible. Edward was older and more frail than my initial impression. I was humbled to think I considered leaving him out in the storm. 

He nodded, leaning back on the bench with a sigh. I could feel his eyes follow me as I scurried into the kitchen to grab a fresh towel atop the dryer. 

“I’d offer a cup of hot tea, but the power is out, I’m afraid,” I said, uncertain what else I could do for him. 

Another gust of wind whipped rain against the windows, and the candle flames suddenly dimmed in the draft. 

Edward took the towel, dabbing his face with trembling hands. I had to resist the urge to dry him off like some wet dog. 

“I’ll be alright. You don’t need to fuss over me,” he said, seemingly amused at my discomfort. 

He dropped the wet towel next to his muddy boots, and it puddled into a heap on the floor. He folded his arms on top of his chest, and stretched out his bare feet, crossing them at the ankles. “At first light, I’ll be on my way.”

I waffled uncertainly at the threshold. My plan had been to close and bolt the double doors from the kitchen, leaving Ed to wait out the night on the bench. But now, to shut the doors on the old man seemed unnecessary, unfriendly at the very least. 

Edward leaned his head back and peered intently at me under heavy-lidded eyes as if he suspected my quandary. 

A damp chill pervaded the house, and I mumbled that I would be back to check on him soon. After a moment’s hesitation, I left the doors open to the kitchen, and I made my way gingerly through the house into the drawing room, careful not catch my crutches on the throw rugs or uneven wood planks. There was but one glowing ember left, so I threw kindling and two pieces of choice oak into the fire, stoking them heartily. 

Remembering Edward’s bare feet, I grabbed several throws from the back of the couch. When I reached the kitchen, the overhead lights suddenly came on, almost blinding me. I must have been more anxious than I let on, because I could have whooped for joy. 

“Oh, good! The power is back on. What a relief!” I exclaimed. 

When I looked toward the vestibule, I was taken back by the sight of Edward. His face was slack, and so pale, it almost glowed. And when I looked at his bare feet, they were almost blue. In the dim light of the candles, I must have completely underestimated the dire state he was in. 

“Ed!” I exclaimed. “You look absolutely done in. Come with me, let’s get you to the drawing room next to the fire.” 

He opened his eyes, roused at the sound of my voice. “Eh? What’s that?” 

“Come. You need to warm up. I won’t take no for an answer,” I said, and hobbled next to him, laying a hand on his shoulder, shaking him. The cloth of his overshirt was damp and was so cold, I instinctively withdrew my hand. At this point, I was truly worried he was suffering from hypothermia and could have kicked myself for being so stubborn and selfish. 

Edward rose slowly from the bench, his wretched dripping frame unfolding like a jig doll. “Aye, a warm fire does sound nice. And maybe some hot tea to warm these old bones.” 

I led him to the fire, and gestured to the leathered wingback. I wrapped a throw around his feet and shoulders, color already returning to his cheeks. I stoked the fire once more and placed another, larger oak log on top. 

I excused myself and returned to the kitchen to heat water in the kettle. I took the opportunity to get his heavy overcoat and stockings from the bench, heavy with stench and water. I stuffed them inside the dryer and added a few sheets of softener to help freshen the scent, although they needed a thorough dry cleaning. I scaped the mud off his boots and wiped the outside with a damp cloth, as best I could. 

By the time I returned to the sitting room with a tray of tea and a pack of Digestives teetering precariously on one forearm, my ankle was aching and I hopped to the armchair on one crutch. Edward was sitting up straight and took the tray from my arms, whisking it expertly onto the small table between us. He rubbed his hands together at the sight of the tea and cookies. 

“You outdid yourself,” he said, but he had a gleam in his eye and I detected a note of playfulness in his voice.

“You’ve perked up quickly,” I said, relieved to see a healthy color in his cheeks, and concluded he was out of immediate danger. “I wiped your boots down, and put your coat and socks in the dryer. It will at least wring most of the water out.” 

“Aye, thank you kindly. You remind me of Bess, you know,” he said with a faraway look in his eyes. 

“Who was she?” I asked. I had heard stories of various families and other people of bygone years linked to Lanark Manor, but the name Bess was unfamiliar. 

“She was the caretaker here many years ago. Took care of me, she did. A real peach, that Bess,” he said, dunking his Digestive into his cup of steaming tea.

By the way he spoke, I intuited there had been more to their relationship. “Was she your sweetheart?” 

Edward shrugged, staring into the fire. “Aye, I wanted her to be, I did. She stole from me,” he said, tapping his chest over his heart.  

“What happened?” I asked, touched by his sincerity.

 “She wouldn’t come with me. That’s what,” he said wistfully, his cup rattling in the saucer.

“Marry you, you mean?” I asked, first intuiting this as a local colloquialism. 

Edward gave me a knowing look, but did not answer. And warmed by the fire and hot tea, we gradually slipped into conversation about the area, and eventually books and poetry. I grew accustomed to his stilted speech and extravagant brogue, and he impressed me as knowledgeable and amiable. He spoke no more of Bess and I did not ask. 

The wind and rain continued to batter the roof and windows, but chatting next to a warm crackling fire, I felt unusually safe and content. The next few hours passed like a strange dream, and any lingering reservations left me entirely.


I woke stiff and cold, sun streaming in through the windows. Clouds scurried across a blue autumn sky, sending wavery shadows dancing across the room. The air was frigid, the fire was cold, nothing but a heap of white-gray ash in the grate. 

I remembered Edward with a start, but the wingback was empty. The only evidence of his visit was a dark patch of water pooled on the hearth and a lingering moldering smell.

“Hello?” I called, and hobbled jerkily on my crutches into the kitchen. “Edward?” 

The double doors leading from the kitchen into the vestibule were open, but the backdoor was closed. Edwards boots were nowhere to be seen, and his coat and socks gone from the dryer. 

True to his word, he must have slipped out at first light. 

I was surprised that I had slept through the noise of his leaving, but more surprised at the pang of disappointment. I had wound up enjoying Edward’s company, as unexpected and peculiar as the circumstances had been. It had been a long time since I enjoyed companionship with someone. Edward was much too old for me, but there had been a connection, nonetheless. One I cannot quite explain except to say he felt like an old friend. And I found myself hoping I would run into him again before I left. 

Later, I called Chris to drive me to Biggar so I could pick up a few grocery items and more Paracetamol. Yesterday’s activities, especially all the hobbling back and forth worrying over Edward had strained my ankle. I tossed my crutches in the back seat, and heaved myself into the front of his cab with an umph

Last night’s rain had flushed the air and the hills across the valley formed a distinct blue-brown ridge against a glaring blue sky. There was still a chill in the air, but the sun felt warm on my face. Chris and I commiserated about the ferocity of last night’s storm and I soon was telling him about Edward’s visit.

“You did what?” Chris asked, incredulously. He swerved, narrowly avoiding a small herd of sheep. “Bloody hell,” he muttered. 

Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 1

  1. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 1
  2. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 2
  3. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 3
  4. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 4 – Finale



The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor: Part One


I was living in South Lanarkshire after I had broken my ankle. It was a typical October day, blustery with intermittent rain lashing the thick leaded windowpanes. A damp chill penetrated my socks and slippers. Recently widowed, I was house sitting at Lanark Manor, site of an old estate in the Scottish Lowlands thirty miles southwest of Edinburgh. Long past its former grandeur and regional influence, the property was now dedicated agricultural land and the caretakers, Hilary and Carey, farmed sheep and a small herd of beef cattle. Perched high on a ridge, the diverse swards held sweeping views of the ancient glacier-carved valley and the Pentland Hills and Tinto Hill Cairn to the southeast. 

New to the area and to rural living, I was still charmed by the sprawling rustic estate. Built in the 1700s, the Georgian house was a long rambling structure added onto over the decades, surrounded by a hodgepodge of barns and storage sheds in various states of dilapidation. There were high ceilings, tall mullioned windows, wide plank floors of antique pine, and each room had an ornate marble fireplace. The curved staircase of carved stone, Hilary assured me, had been quite elegant during its heyday. The graywacke sandstone, thick and mossy, was dead quiet in the middle of the night if you closed the windows. 

At half past ten in the morning, the sun slanted from the east as low clouds wafted spectrally over the fields. After several weeks of peaceful slumbers, I was nursing a mild headache from an inexplicable night of poor sleep and unsettling dreams. 

A sense of uncanny foreboding lingered, when Hilary called to ask, “You alright if we stay on through the weekend?” 

Hilary and her husband, Carey, were renovating a small farmhouse to the south in Dumfries and had run into a snag with one of the local contractors. “We need to be here to help get this sorted out,” she said with a heavy sigh, adding, “With winter coming, I’m afraid if we don’t get this taken care of now, who knows when the contractor will be back.” 

I had planned to leave the next morning to spend a few weeks with Roberta, an old childhood friend now living in West Wickham south of London. Then to another friend’s pied-de-tierre in Paris for the month of December, to include a lovely, if a bit lonely, Christmas by myself. 

My friend in West Wickham and the apartment in Paris were not going anywhere and as I was still convalescing from a broken ankle, I would not be able to do much sightseeing, anyway. Also, my friend Roberta was boisterous and often pushy, and I had begun to regret my hasty promise to visit. Secretly, I relished the excuse for a few more quiet days of reading and staring out the window.

“No problem. I can stay through Sunday if you like,” I said, gauging the skies through the sitting room window. Sun streaked through a curtain of rain along the rim of gray-blue hills across the valley, and the houses below loomed solemn and otherworldly. 

“That would be a huge help, Caroline. If the power goes out or if you need anything, you can call Chris.” 

Chris drove a taxi-for-hire, and lived down the road, a mile as the crow flies. He had driven me to Biggar for grocery shopping, and once to Wishaw for follow-up x-rays on my ankle. He was a kind middle-age gentleman, talkative and a bit of a mother hen. 

Hilary thanked me again and promised to return early Sunday morning. “Sunday night at the latest. Ed will be round later this week to move the sheep to another pasture. Text if you have questions. Bye-bye!” 

I called my friend Roberta to tell her I would not be arriving until Sunday, begging off quickly, hinting at some prior commitment before she could demand a more lengthy explanation.

As I set the kettle onto boil in the kitchen, I noticed the back door standing ajar. Between the backdoor and the kitchen, separated by a set of heavy double doors, was a brick floored vestibule with a low wooden bench and coat rack, used mostly as a mudroom during the wet sodden winters. The double doors leading from the kitchen were still bolted shut, so it was not that it was letting in the cold air. 

But it was odd. I had not been out the backdoor since the day before and I am always careful to close and latch the door behind me. 

As I unbolted the double doors and stepped down into the vestibule, a gust of wind blew a riot of leaves through the door and rain slicked the floor. When I leaned out to pull the door to, I glimpsed a tall narrow man as he disappeared, almost oozing, around the corner of the long crumbling barn across the gravel drive. His hunched outline was indistinct, like his body was gathering shadows as he went. 

I had seen the farmhand coming and going, but always while gazing out the window or across the field at a distance. I had never met Ed, so figured he must have come early. 

Briefly wondering where he had come from I watched for a bit waiting for him to reappear so I could properly introduce myself. But when he did not reappear after several minutes, I gave up. 

I did not hear or see anything again until later that afternoon when I went outside to take my daily walk. My ankle was still sore with limited range of motion, but the doctors had recommended daily exercise to strengthen the muscles and prevent buildup of scar tissue. 

I trundled around the western edge of the house, through a gap in the ancient moss-covered stone wall. The rain had cleared and although it was still cold and windy, the low smokey gray clouds had dissipated and the sun now shown brilliantly in a bright blue sky. Grand views of Mount Tinto and palisaded pastureland to the south, still green and lush this time of year, were worth the trek through the mud and squelch. 

In boot and crutches, I hobbled slowly down the narrow gravel path as cyclones of dead leaves whirled like apparitions. The dark greens of summer were gone replaced by curled leaves fringed in yellows and browns clinging stubbornly to the branches. The path cut through a dense copse of trees, and the eerie crackling of small twigs and desiccated leaves sounded like footsteps. 

I got the feeling someone was watching me and more than once I turned around expecting to see the farmhand or a tractor rumbling up the dirt tract. 

For the first time since I had arrived, I felt an unease related to the vulnerability of my position. A middle-aged female housesitting a remote farmhouse alone with a broken ankle. Chris, the closest neighbor, was over a mile away. And foolishly, I had left my iPhone on the kitchen table. 

Although not easily spooked, the whole situation made me pause. I stood under the trees for a few spine-tingling moments wondering if someone had followed me. 

But there was no one, only the loud honk of the peacock that paraded behind the house. I shrugged it off, attributing the feeling to an overactive imagination or some holdover from my fitful night leeching into my waking hours. 

However, the memory of the dark figure of the man I had seen this morning unsettled me. I could not rid myself of the feeling something was lurking just outside my peripheral vision.

The nagging sense of being watched followed me as I tottered like an invalid down the mud-slicked road to the first gate. I stopped, leaning on the cold metal bars to rest my arms, and readjust the straps on my boot. The wind blew through the hollow holes in my aluminum crutches and the melancholy sound was like that of a shepherd’s lute. As I gazed across the desolate windswept valley and listened to that mournful tune, I was inexplicably filled with a sense of loneliness and a longing for something I could not name. 

Another bank of dark clouds conspired to the northwest, so I turned back before it began to rain again. On my return through the trees, I heard a low moaning somewhere to my left. My heart gave a start as I caught the figure of an old woman standing amidst the shaggy underbrush. Dressed in a long dark cape, she wore an old-fashioned black-lace mantle, much like a Spanish mantilla over her head. Although her face was in shadows, she appeared to be peering off into the distance as if waiting for someone. I do not think she noticed me, although how she could not have heard me lumbering along the path was a mystery.

“Hello?” I said, warily. 

It was gloomy under the trees and at that moment, the clouds passed over the sun, so we were plunged into almost complete darkness. A gust of wind blew my hair in a tangled nest about my head and when I cleared my face, the strange woman was gone. 

“Hello?” I asked, loudly this time, peering through thicket. The moaning had stopped.

Suddenly a pair of pheasants exploded upward, squawking angrily at being flushed from the undergrowth. My heart hammered in my chest, and I stumbled, almost slipping on a blanket of wet leaves. 

When I shuffled through the tangled brush to where I believed the woman had been standing, there was nothing but the jagged hollowed remains of a large tree trunk. I swiveled and called out a few more times but no one answered. 

I soon reasoned what I had seen had really been just been the pheasants or a trick of the light. However, much like the figure of the man this morning, the whole incident was strange and off putting.

Disconcerted, my headache throbbed at my temples. 

I returned to the main house damp and thoroughly chilled to the bone. I made a small fire in the grate in the sitting room and swallowed my last three capsules of Paracetamol. All perfectly quiet in the house, I poured the last dregs of Cognac from an old dusty bottle into a snifter and settled into a cozy armchair. I spent the rest of an uneventful afternoon reading a small volume of poetry, badly dogeared and water marked. Occasionally, I heard the bleating of sheep, and the loud piercing cry of the peacock. 

My headache soon receded and I dismissed the woman in the woods as a figment of my peculiar mood. Eventually, the sense of being watched left me all together. Warmed by the fire and the Cognac, I read and drowsed as the wind and rain pelted the house.


I awoke in the middle of the night by a loud rapping. I bolted up right in bed, shot through with a frisson of fear wondering who in the world could be at the backdoor. I held my breath, waiting to hear the noise again. My first thought was perhaps Hilary and her husband had come back early. Had they been locked out? 

The banging started up again, more insistent this time, echoing throughout the house. Then began a loud scraping sound, a rounded, rusty noise. 

“Hello?” I called out from the bedroom, tingling with fear running like an electric current under my skin. 

I felt ridiculous, dressed in a thin cotton tee and underwear. The room was cold, and wind whistled under the window casements. I had no weapon, save my aluminum crutches and a small hardbound book of poems sitting on the bedside table, reminding me again of how unprepared and inadequate I was.

At the sound of my voice, the scraping noise ceased for a moment but resumed intermittently before stopping altogether. I listened for the sound of a car or footsteps outside, but heard nothing. 

Wide awake and shivering, I resolved to get dressed and see if I could make out what had caused the ruckus. Balanced on one foot, trembling, I awkwardly pulled leggings over my bum ankle and shoved my arms through an old moth-eaten woolen sweater. I had left my ankle boot, wet and muddy from this afternoon’s walk, by the back door, so I teetered out of the bedroom on my crutches in stocking feet. 

I descended the stairs precariously, gripping onto the metal railing, calling out, “Hello? Who’s there?” my voice swallowed by the darkened stairwell.