By Rachel H Grant
Caroline surveyed the glorious gardens she had created, a smile of satisfaction staining her face. She adored Aden Mansion and its grounds, it was her love and her life. “I am Lady of the Manor, and I am never leaving here,” she assured herself. “Even death cannot wrest me from my home. It is mine, forever.” It was the year 1835.
Derek ran after his friends, panting, his long dark hair falling in to his eyes. Reaching for his inhaler, he shuddered as they opened the alcohol. Aden Country Park was not a pub. It was a place of beauty, serenity, nature and wildlife. They were defiling it.
“Derek, hurry up, don’t be so feeble.”
The chill night air caressed his lungs. Confidence disappeared in the breeze. Anxiety attacked him like a swarm of wasps.
“I’m going home,” he mumbled incoherently.
With that, he turned and ran in to the trees, breaths erupting like volcanic ash trying to be free, scorching his throat and burning his lungs.
And then he fell.
Caroline knew she would never leave Aden, her heart, her history. Her spirit cared not be free, tied to the house like an anchor in a storm. Each night she drifted through the ruins of her home, and danced in the shadow of trees. Aden was her adventure playground, her laughter unheard, her final song unsung.
Derek lay in a pool of pain, his foot twisted underneath him. He groaned.
Then he felt it. A hand on his leg. He looked up, but there was no one there.
Caroline missed motherhood, but enjoyed watching over the children who came to the park, guiding lost toddlers back to mum, an invisible hand on their back. The park was meant for children, their laughter brought it to life and breathed energy in to its soul.
Tonight, a teenager needed her help. He lay on a dark path, injured. And he looked so like her son.
Derek peered above, the night light playing tricks on his eyes. He could see a lady, smiling at him. But she was transparent, the trees visible through her slim body.
He groaned. She was a ghost.
Caroline found a large tree branch for the teenager, it would help him walk home. The boy looked at her and through her, a fog of feeble disbelief in his eyes.
“I am Caroline. Not many people see me,” she whispered. “You are lucky.”
She laughed, a silver whisper in the night air, the sound of a thousand tomorrows, and a hundred yesterdays in one. The song of time triumphant.
Clumsily, Derek got up, and with the large tree branch stumbled the twenty minute walk home, trying not to cry in pain. Caroline came with him some of the way, and then she was gone.
In the morning, Derek awoke with the words “it was all a dream” in his mind. Then he turned over and felt the pain in his foot.
Caroline … who was she?
Later that day, an internet search revealed the names of the Russell family, lairds of the once grand Aden Estate. There was indeed a Lady Caroline.
Derek grinned. He had an idea.
Caroline danced alone by the river, a flicker of light at the corner of your eye, and then gone. Her life was an arabesque on ice, a lone dancer with no friends.
But today, perhaps she did have a friend. The boy had seen her, he had known she was a ghost, his eyes like dark skies of disbelief. Perhaps there was one star of friendship in that night sky.
She was alone no more, her secret shattered.
Derek loved his English class, especially when they were allowed to write a story. Imagination was like a key to him, opening up other more exciting worlds.
And this is what he would do, he decided. He would write Caroline’s story.
Words danced like drunk ballerinas from his pen, tangled, an untidy tapestry of nonsense. He wrote and wrote. Then he went back to the beginning, untangling the creation, substituting sentences, pruning paragraphs and creating order from chaos.
He smiled, this was fun.
Caroline pirouetted around the ruined mansion house. Then she saw it, a white package lying in the ballroom. The large envelope stated: “To Caroline.” Inside, were typed pages. She began to read, and could not stop. Invisible tears formed in unseen eyes. The story was beautiful.
Derek strode timidly to the hall stage. He had won the end of year English award, for his novella “The Ghost of Lady Caroline.”
He could hardly believe his luck, it was like fortune had flirted with him ever since his ghostly encounter. It had been so easy to write, the words like a waterfall of fiction, powering his pen like an engine. Then winning this prize. Happiness sliced through his heart.
That night, he wandered alone in Aden Park, pausing within the ruined mansion. He looked for Caroline, but there was no sign of her in the twilight air. Disappointed, he walked home. Perhaps it had all been a dream after all.
Caroline watched from afar, happiness jumping in her heart. Another child she had helped. Derek disappeared from view, but Caroline still smiled. His success was the best yet. She clapped her non-physical hands.
Then she saw him, walking towards her. A young man, so different yet similar to how she remembered him. “Francis?” she murmured numbly.
“Mother, it is time to come home. There is a whole new world up there. There is even an Aden mansion where we all live, not ruined like this one. You’ve helped enough children. It is time to rest.”
He extended a hand towards her. She gently took it in her own.
A door of light appeared behind him. For one second, she thought it was the old door of Aden Mansion.
“Come,” said Francis. Together, they walked in to the light.
Aden Park seemed to sigh, then all was still as the night grew dark.
Derek visited Aden Park many times, however he never encountered Caroline again. A dream, a memory, a trick of the imagination, whatever she was, she had gifted him his novella. To his great surprise, his teachers helped him find an agent. He was to be published, him!
He wished he could see Caroline to tell her the news. He walked through the park alone, in the sun and in the rain. No unearthly beings disturbed the peace.
The Aden Park trees whispered in the wind, secrets in their silent heart.