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THE SECRET OF BLOSSOM RISE
A Ghost Story
BY A.L. BUTCHER
When a young nurse accepts a job at a former military hospital she unearths a family secret and finds the spectral occupants a little too familiar.
A short ghost story.
Lt. Leo Campbell
- What is your name? Do you have a nickname?
My name is, or at least was Lt Leo Campbell, I was in the Kings IVth Brigade in the Second World War. To my knowledge I don’t have a nickname, or at least not one I’d share in polite society.
2. Who is your best friend? What kinds of things do you do when you’re together?
James Cameron, he was one of my men. What did we share? Blood, fear, death, killing and the greatest slaughter of men the world has seen. We served together in France, in that hell. Nothing brings out the best and worst of men than war.
I have Mabel too, she’s my nurse, or was. And we were going to elope after the war. Get a little house in the Cotswolds and try and forget the past.
3. If you have a family, how do you get along with them? If you don’t, are there people in your life that you consider family? How do you get along with them?
I was married – my wife Audrey was a cold woman, a proud woman. Catholic and quite devout. I suppose we’d loved one another once, but we weren’t suited. We weren’t happy, but marriage is supposed to be for life, isn’t it? In those dark days life was worth nothing and everything. Who cares about vows when you have a bayonet in someone’s guts. The world was mad, chaos and the old life was gone. I had three daughters,
I wonder what happened to them….
My father died in the Great War, my mother raised five of us on a widow’s pension.
4. Do you have a birthmark? Scars? Where are they? How did you get them?
Oh yes, I have scars. My leg was badly wounded, I almost lost it and shrapnel peppered my chest. The scars in my soul and my mind are worse… so much death and horror – the things we saw. The things we did. They were men like us, sent to war, to die. Duty was a heavy burden. The heaviest. We fought in small French village, or what was left of it. House to house, hand to hand. Bodies all around us, the streets ran with blood. I doubt any man who lived through that war is left unchanged.
5. What do you think of your current situation?
I’m dead. I know it. Maybe I died in the French street in 1942, part of me did, certainly. One gets confused about the is and was. I know I’m dead, I remember that blast, that bomb, the fire, the falling masonry….
Mabel lived, at least she was alive when I carried her out of the bunker. I’m know I’m dead, and James is dead but those who remained alive then I guess are dead now…time means nothing to me.
Beyond the fire, the blood and the pain, I remember her calling my name. Then it’s dark. But I walk the wards of the hospital, not just me. James is here, my poor friend. I don’t know why we are here? But I suppose after what we’d done Heaven wouldn’t have taken us, if there even is one.
We walk these corridors – the ghosts of the wards, the wars. Do I resent being a ghost? What good would that do? One does not have the same emotions after death.
6. What’s the one thing you’re afraid of losing?
I’m a ghost. What more is there to lose?
7. What makes you laugh out loud?
You should hear some of the jokes the nurses told when Sister was away. Nice young ladies? Yes but…broadminded.
8. Has anyone broken your heart? Who were they?
I suppose being separated from Mabel, and all those men I left behind in France.
9. What’s the one thing you want out of life that you don’t think you can have? Why can’t you have it?
I’m dead….But I suppose had I lived I’d have liked a little cottage with Mabel, perhaps a child together. My wife was Catholic so divorce would have been difficult, and then it was a shameful thing. But What is adultery, when man sinned the ultimate sin for his country, for freedom, every single day?
And peace. I’d like the killing to stop.
THE SECRET OF BLOSSOM RISE
A Ghost Story
BY A.L. BUTCHER
It was all a sham. All of it – civilisation, decency, morality – had been tested, and found wanting. His own father had been killed in Ypres and his mother forced to raise five children on a widow’s pension. He’d gained extra money and food poaching – knew how to use a gun. Eyes closed, he saw his mother’s face as he went to war – the fear, the regrets, and the sadness. Such emotions mirrored in his wife’s younger face.
“It’s my duty,” he’d said. “We cannot let the likes of Herr Hitler control Europe. It will be over soon enough.” He’d believed that then.
Leo laughed. But there was no mirth. Four long and terrifying years of war had proven Hitler was not a man who would give up his wicked machinations easily, and Britain would stand against him, alone if she had to. Neither side would capitulate until the enemy was in the streets and at the door.
The world had gone mad with slaughter in the War to End All Wars a generation past – but that had been a lie as well. Politics, death and lies entwined as the casualties grew. Freedom exacted a terrible price. Leo knew that as the bodies had piled up around him in that small French town – now little more than a shell. He’d led what was left of his men into battle, when their captain had been slain and pushed back the enemy, gaining some useful intelligence for his pains. But it had all been futile when the next regiment of panzers rolled in and he and his men found the landmines as they’d tried to retreat. The blood still flowed when he closed his eyes.
Leo dreamt of the faces of the men he’d shot or bayonetted behind the fluctuating German lines. Men like him. Simple men who had been sent to war or signed up unknowing of the horror. Politicians made war, but soldiers died in it far removed from the seat of their government. In this war, civilians lived in fear of the blitz from the sky. Even the clouds were not safe in a world of madness and blood. Was this the end of days? The final judgement for Man’s sins? Leo did not know, and his faith in a good divinity had bled away on the fields of war.
He longed to be far away, on a picnic blanket in the Cotswolds with Mabel. Home with his wife, Audrey, and his daughters, his conscience said. He’d lost much of that conscience in this war. What was adultery, when man sinned the ultimate sin for his country, for freedom, every single day?
Ostensibly Blossom Rise had been a private sanatorium for those sons of the wealthy who needed tending in a small country hospital, and then when Europe had been ripped by war it had become half a dozen wards used to treat those who had returned from the Great War broken or insane. After the Great War, the unit had fallen into disrepair – forgotten or ignored like so many of the unfortunate soldiers who’d passed through but left still clinging on to half a life. There had been a few in-patients – usually those persons whose families wished for them to be out of sight and mind, but not actually neglected. It was full of ghosts, so some whispered. And he knew the nurses gossiped. Once he’d have dismissed such talk as nonsense, irreligious and foolish, but he’d seen men he’d known to be dead walk the wards. Men from his dreams.
His friend James Cameron, half his face burned away, and one arm nothing but a stump had succumbed to death after a heroic but futile struggle.
Leo had seen James only last night limping the ward in the half-light – a shell of a man ravaged and hollow. But stalking like he’d once done – searching and alert.
A nurse had tried to usher the bandaged form back to his bed, but James had vanished when she returned with his medication. Disappeared. In some ways it had been a mercy, his friend had been so badly wounded and what life would he have – no face, one arm, partly crippled and more than half-mad? He had not wanted to live like that – a burden for his mother. Later Leo asked himself if James had really been at the hospital or was lying burned and maimed in that awful town. Was he just a memory, a guilty horror?
They’d talked, or at least Leo thought they’d had, in the small hours of the morning when the pain was too much to sleep, and the morphine hadn’t clouded their minds. But it was all so vague, so confused. Reality turned on its head in war, and time in this hospital – fluctuating between pain, medication and sleep was strange.
British-born A. L. Butcher is an avid reader and creator of worlds, a poet, and a dreamer, a lover of science, natural history, history, and monkeys. Her prose has been described as ‘dark and gritty’ and her poetry as ‘evocative’. She writes with a sure and sometimes erotic sensibility of things that might have been, never were, but could be.
Alex is the author of the Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles and the Tales of Erana lyrical fantasy series. She also has several short stories in the fantasy, fantasy romance genres with occasional forays into gothic style horror, including the Legacy of the Mask series. With a background in politics, classical studies, ancient history and myth, her affinities bring an eclectic and unique flavour in her work, mixing reality and dream in alchemical proportions that bring her characters and worlds to life.
She also curates speculative fiction themed book bundles on BundleRabbit – for the most part the Here Be Series
Alex is also proud to be a writer for Perseid Press where her work features in Heroika: Dragon Eaters, Heroika Skirmishers – where she was editor and cover designer as well as writer; and Lovers in Hell – part of the acclaimed Heroes in Hell series. http://www.theperseidpress.com
Links to A.L.’s websites, blogs, books, #ad etc.:
Amazon : https://amzn.to/3Mm8HCV
Thanks, A.L., for sharing your book with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!