The bright autumnal sunlight arched through the tall windows of Howard’s new third floor apartment in the recently refurbished Georgian building just offEdinburgh’s Royal Mile. As well as being his new home, this was Howard’s showpiece, the pinnacle of his career in interior design. Howard busied himself putting the finishing touches to the preparations for the soiree he was holding for a few close friends, one of whom, Sally, was bringing a potential new client, an American woman called Sandra.
His guests were not due for more than an hour. Howard drifted into the bathroom. Howard smiled contentedly at the effect he had achieved in this his favourite room, with its glossy black and white tiled floor, its grand, gilded fittings and glass brick shower.
Suddenly Howard noticed some brown-coloured staining around the golden clawed feet of the roll-top bath. He rubbed at the mark with a flannel, failing to make any impression on it.
Howard hurried into the kitchen and armed himself with bleach and floor cloth. Returning to the bathroom, he began to scrub at the stain, but there it wouldn’t budge. Howard’s brow furrowed; he had a potential client coming in half an hour and everything needed to be perfect, however, fearing that he might damage his beautiful tiles with further scrubbing, he artfully draped a towel over the side of the bath so that it spilled onto the floor obscuring the stain.
An hour later, the evening was getting into full swing; Howard’s friends had complemented him on every aspect of his new apartment and Sally’s friend Sandra, a rather over-bearing American woman (weren’t they all), was particularly taken with the bathroom, gushing compliments, like one of his gilded taps.
“I just love these old buildings, Howard,” she drawled. “I’d just bet they’re full of phantoms and ghouls. Do you know any ghost stories about the place?”
Howard didn’t. The thought hadn’t really crossed his mind.
“I know, let’s have ourselves a séance!” Sandra announced with great enthusiasm. Before anyone could object, Sandra was clearing the polished mahogany dining table and directing the rest of the guests to sit around it, telling Howard to turn off the music, dim the lights and bring more candles.
Sandra took the high-backed seat at the head of the table. She stretched out her hands taking those of the guests on either side of her and indicating that everyone should do the same.
“Now we will summon the spirits!” Sandra winked at Howard who was sitting opposite her, before lowering her head and beginning to make a series of loud ‘omming’ noises.
“Omm”, she intoned, “make yourselves known, spirits of James’ Court.”
Howard looked around the table; everyone seemed to be taking this seriously. All his guests were staring down at his beautiful polished table, as Sandra chanted on. He thought the whole thing rather silly, but it was well worth humouring her if there was money to be made.
Suddenly Howard felt a chill rush through him, then a warm sensuous feeling, as if he was being borne away in the folds of a huge eiderdown. Then there was a jolt and he found himself standing in the bathroom. All his senses were alert, but he was unable to move anything except his eyes. He could feel the hard, cold tiles under his feet and a soft fabric against his skin. He noticed that he was wearing a cream silk robe.
The bath was filling up; the water foamed with rose-scented bubbles. Howard felt his arm stretch out across the bath and turned off the taps. He noticed that the arm was pale and smooth and the long, delicate fingers of the hand were painted with dark red nail varnish. He felt the robe slide to the floor as trancelike, he stepped into the hot, fragrant water. The arm reached out and took a glass of champagne from a little side table which had been set alongside the bath. As he picked up the glass he noticed a small silver box. He sipped the cool liquid which fizzed lightly on his tongue.
Setting the glass down, his hand picked up the silver box and with elegant, carefully manicured fingers picked out a shiny new razor blade. In one swift movement the fingers drew the blade across the slender wrist of the left arm. Blood dripped into the water. Switching hands, the vein in the right wrist was also severed. A second rivulet of blood ran down the other arm. With a graceful red-toe-nailed foot, he turned the hot tap back on and settled back into the steaming tub.
Howard watched in calm fascination as the blood mixed with the scented water. He was floating again. Blood-stained water started to spill over the rim of the bath, pooling on the tiled floor around the golden clawed feet. Howard drifted on.
Then Howard felt himself being shaken vigorously; someone was slapping his cheeks. “Howard! Howard darling, wake up,” a voice seeped into his consciousness. Then louder: “Howard!”
As his eyes flickered open, Howard experienced a rushing feeling, a chill wind rising up through his body and out of the top of his head. His eyes focussed on a sea of concerned faces crowding over the chaise-longue on which he was resting.
“Shit, Howard, mate, you gave us a fright!” Jim, Sally’s husband gently helped him into a sitting position. “We thought you’d left us for a moment there.”
“Lucky I’m safety trained.” Sandra’s face came into focus. “I wouldn’t want to lose my new interior designer before he’s even started work on my place.” She threw her arms around him and hugged him warmly.
Howard disentangled himself and made his way to the bathroom. He pushed open the door, fearing what he might find. But the enamel surface of the bath gleamed and the towel which he’d carefully draped over the side was hanging neatly on the towel rail. The black and white floor tiles shone immaculately. There was a faint scent of rose petals. The brown stain had gone.
©2018 Chris Hall