Ghosts have always walked there. Now they’re not alone...
In the depths of Edinburgh, an evil presence is released.
Hannah and her colleagues are tour guides who lead their visitors along the spooky, derelict Henderson Close, thrilling them with tales of spectres and murder. For Hannah it is her dream job, but not for long. Who is the mysterious figure that disappears around a corner? What is happening in the old print shop? And who is the little girl with no face?
The legends of Henderson Close are becoming all too real. The Auld De’il is out – and even the spirits are afraid.
FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launched in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.
About the Author
The need to earn a living led to a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance but Cat is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels and novellas, including Waking the Ancients, Wrath of the Ancients, The Devil’s Serenade, Dark Avenging Angel, The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine and Linden Manor. The Haunting of Henderson Close is her first novel for Flame Tree Press.
She lives with her longsuffering husband and black cat (who remembers that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt and sees no reason why that practice should not continue). They divide their time between Liverpool and a 260 year old haunted apartment in North Wales.
When not slaving over a hot computer, Cat enjoys rambling around stately homes, circles of standing stones and travelling to favourite haunts such as Vienna and Orkney.
Read an Excerpt
"You have to remember, Hannah, people didn't live underground in Henderson Close. It was only built over after the last of them had left."
Hannah screwed up her nose as she stared around her. A dark street. Tenements on both sides, claustrophobically close, soared upward, only to be abruptly cut off by the foundations of the newer building above.
"They certainly lived close together in those days," Hannah said, "If they'd leaned out of their window, they could have shaken hands with the person living opposite."
Beneath her feet, the street was pockmarked with holes and littered with loose stones. At least it was dry though, which is more than it would have been back in the time when Henderson Close was a bustling, filthy hive of activity.
Ailsa, the general manager, went on, "Of course, in the old days, you would have needed to pick your way very carefully along here. As you can see, it's quite steep and you would have met all sorts of rubbish washing down the gutters."
"I can imagine." Hannah followed Ailsa up the silent street, clutching at the handrail for support.
"Sensible," Ailsa said. "I always advise my visitors to hang on. It's quite gloomy down here and so uneven. I've tripped a few times myself, and I know where the potholes are."
Hannah laughed. Above her, someone had hung Victorianstyle shirts and a couple of sheets on a line stretching across the street. Ailsa kept up a running commentary while Hannah concentrated on trying to memorize her surroundings and the stories associated with each location. She would be given a script later and would need to perfect her role.
Each of the Henderson Close tour guides portrayed a character known to have lived there at some stage — some at the top of society and some very much on the bottom rung. Hannah would start next week dressed as Mary Stratton, English housekeeper to Sir William Henderson, an eighteenth-century banker and philanthropist, after whom the Close was named.
For Hannah, newly arrived in Edinburgh from her native Salisbury, this was her dream job — even if the pay wasn't up to much.
Ailsa stopped outside an open door. "Now this is a significant stop for you. Sir William Henderson lived here with his wife and two daughters."
Hannah peered inside a workshop, which contained all the trappings of a Victorian printer.
"Obviously, Sir William and his family would have lived higher up the building, so their quarters were destroyed when the redevelopment began in the late 1890s. The lower down the pecking order you were, the closer you lived to the stink of the street. Everything got poured down there. And I mean everything. Then you had chimneys belching out clouds of filthy, stinking smoke that coated the whole city with black soot. No wonder Edinburgh earned its old nickname of Auld Reekie."
"The effluent ended up in the Nor' Loch, didn't it?" Hannah had read about the disgusting foul lake.
"Yes, that's right. Along with all the so-called witches they dunked or drowned. They drained it in the early 1800s and constructed Princes Gardens. You wouldn't think what it had been when you look at all the lovely flowers, would you?" Hannah smiled. "Maybe that's the reason the flowers are so lovely."
Ailsa gave a light laugh. "You're probably right."
They moved off. Ailsa pointed out places of interest along the way. "Once you've told them a couple of anecdotes about Sir William, and old Murdoch Maclean, whose printing shop you were looking at, move your guests off and around this corner." Ailsa turned to the right.
"Just around here, you'll see where Miss Carmichael was viciously slain. You can make a fair meal of this." She stopped. "Now, look down. What do you see?"
The light wasn't bright, but Hannah could make out a dark stain.
Ailsa lowered her voice. "Miss Carmichael's blood."
Hannah stared. "Really?"
"Probably not, but it makes a good story. The guests love a ghost story and Miss Carmichael is the perfect subject. Little is known about her — what we do know is in the notes — but we're fairly certain that this is the spot where she was beaten, robbed and kicked to death by a gang of four ruffians. Three of them were captured and hanged. The fourth escaped and was never apprehended. It is said that, to this day, Miss Carmichael wanders this street, looking for her murderer and demanding justice."
Hannah shivered. Ailsa laughed. "That's exactly the reaction you want."
"Well, it is pretty gruesome," Hannah said. "Mind you, the creepy environment helps. It's so quiet here. Eerie."
"Especially just here."
The two stood in silence for a few seconds. The stilllness lay between them in the gloom. Hannah swallowed, feeling an almost uncontrollable urge to move on but not wanting her new employer to think she was spooked. She forced herself to stand motionless, as Ailsa was doing. Listening. When Ailsa finally spoke, Hannah jumped.
"You can't hear any traffic from above," Ailsa said. "So it's pretty creepy. I've often felt as if someone was behind me, but when I've turned, there's been no one there." She paused again. Was she looking for some reaction? Hannah concentrated on breathing steadily. It always calmed her in fraught situations. Maybe it was some sort of test. The place was eerie and no doubt there were guests whose imaginations began to run away with them. It wouldn't do for the tour guide to be the nervy type.
Ailsa exhaled. "OK, come on, I want to show you Eliza's room. She's another character you can get some mileage out of."
The manager led the way further down the dark, narrow street. An unexpected ripple of cold air ruffled Hannah's hair and she shivered.
"You'll get used to that," Ailsa said. "All sorts of unexplained drafts and sudden chills. Sometimes even smells, and not always pleasant either. If you shut your eyes sometimes, you could almost believe you were there, back in the days when it would have been a seething mass of humanity."
Hannah smiled and wished she meant it. That chill had been strange. Almost as if someone had breathed cold air on her.
* * *
"You certainly look the part." Ailsa straightened Hannah's white cap and stood back. "Yes, every inch the eighteenth-century housekeeper, newly arrived from London, Mrs. Mary Stratton."
"Whatever happened to Mr. Stratton, I wonder?"
"He probably never existed. Mary would have been given the courtesy title of Mrs. Same applied to the cooks. You didn't find too many married servants in the 1700s."
Hannah drew a sharp intake of breath.
"Nerves?" Ailsa asked.
Hannah nodded. "It feels like a flock of butterflies are dive-bombing my stomach."
Ailsa laid a hand on her arm. "You'll be fine. We've all been there. Just treat this dress rehearsal as if we were normal paying visitors. You know your part and you know the anecdotes and history of the Close. Just relax into your role and let Mary Stratton take over."
Hannah had an almost hysterical desire to laugh. "Sounds like a case of demonic possession."
Ailsa smiled. "You'll soon get the hang of it. Come up to the gift shop and we can get started. We open in just over an hour, so there'll be just enough time for the tour."
Hannah inhaled and picked up her long skirt as she followed Ailsa up the stairs.
A small group of ten people was waiting for her. Some were familiar, some not, but all were her new colleagues and they would assess her performance before she was let loose on the general public the following day. All the rehearsing, research and practice had been leading up to this.
Hannah said a silent prayer, moistened her lips, and began. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I trust your journey here was a pleasant one."
Smiles and murmurings greeted this.
"My name is Mrs. Stratton. Mrs. Mary Stratton. And I have the honor to be housekeeper to Sir William Henderson, who owns a private bank and also prides himself on his good works. Something we all know bankers like to engage in."
A ripple of laughter killed at least three of Hannah's butterflies.
"But more of him a little later. For now, I want to take you down the stairs, underground to a secret world known as Henderson Close. Please follow me and do take care to hold the handrails. The Close is inclined to be uneven and we wouldn't want any accidents. Medicine was a little primitive in the eighteenth century and I am advised that we are clean out of leeches." More giggles.
Hannah led her group through a door at the back of the shop and down a flight of stone stairs.
At the bottom, she steered them past some shattered old wooden doors and into a room devoid of any furniture, whitewashed and illuminated only by a few flickering candle lamps hanging on the walls.
Hannah took up her position in the center of the room and began the story of Eliza McTavish.
"She and her family of eight children and a ne'er-do-well husband lived in this one room. They cooked here, babies were born here, ate here, slept here and even died here. Eliza birthed sixteen children, lying on a meager mattress that was stuffed with hay." On cue, a corner of the room lit up gloomily to reveal a lifelike waxwork of a sickly looking woman, her face frozen in an agony of childbirth. She wore a filthy greying shift streaked with 'blood' and lay on one side, on the straw mattress Hannah had just described. The light shut off.
One of Hannah's male colleagues piped up. "Where did they go to the bathroom?"
Hannah pointed to a bucket in another corner of the room.
"Eugh!" the man said, echoed by his fellow 'guests'.
"Yes indeed, sir, 'Eugh'. Although after a little while, they do say you get used to it."
More laughter greeted this. Hannah gave an inward cheer as twelve more of her butterflies fluttered to the ground. Outwardly she wrinkled her nose and shuddered and slowly moved back to the far wall.
"The year was 1645 and plague spread through the streets of the Old Town. As always, it hit the poorest first. Those who lived at street level, amid the vermin and the filth and ...." She pressed a button behind her and the silhouettes of two enormous rats flashed up onto the wall her guests were facing. A couple of them gasped and laughter erupted.
"Yes, ladies and gentlemen," Hannah said, lowering her voice to add gravitas, "the rats came and brought the fleas with their deadly gift of bubonic plague. Poor Eliza McTavish caught it. Soon she was gripped by a violent fever, chills. She coughed up bloody phlegm and then, at the last, her body erupted in massive boils called buboes. Pretty soon, her children started showing similar symptoms. Right as she lay dying in her bed, they called in the plague doctor."
Another press of the button and the rats scurried away to be replaced by an eight-foot-high profile of a frightening-looking creature sporting a floor-length cloak, hood and an enormous curved beak, like some gargantuan crow.
Gasps and nervous laughter echoed around the whitewashed room and Hannah marveled at how authentically her colleagues performed their current roles.
"Fearsome-looking figure, isn't he? Yet he was a courageous — if somewhat foolhardy — man called Dr. Philip MacIver. He believed that by stuffing that beak with sweet-smelling herbs, he would keep the plague at bay. You see, it was thought that this plague and noxious fumes went hand in hand and, while there is a grain of truth in there somewhere, no one had actually thought to ask the rats about their involvement. Needless to say, poor Dr. MacIver perished of the plague soon after and, as you can imagine, there was no great rush of applicants for the position he had vacated."
The group was firmly on Hannah's side. She could almost believe they were real members of the public. All her stage fright had evaporated and she was enjoying herself and ready to deliver the reveal.
"So, what became of poor Eliza and her family, you may ask." Hannah paused, as she had rehearsed so many times. She counted to five. "Well, go on then. Ask."
The group laughed. Ailsa put up her hand. "What became of Eliza and her family?"
"I'm glad you asked that question, madam." Hannah made a gathering gesture with her hands and the group moved closer. She looked around her before lowering her voice to a conspiratorial stage-whisper.
"They do say that her neighbors were scared they too would succumb so, late one night, while everyone else was in bed, a group of them gathered out there, in the Close. They came armed with wood and sturdy nails and boarded up poor Eliza's room so none could escape. The cries of poor Eliza faded away after a couple of days, but it took nearly a month before the last child's cry was heard. Now what do you suppose that child lived on for all those weeks?"
Hannah jokingly rounded on the light-hearted male heckler with the ginger hair. "Ah, I see you are a man of discernment, well versed in the culinary arts, sir. Maybe you are right. Or maybe he feasted on something that tasted a little more like ... pork."
Laughter, exclamations of mock disgust and a few nods showed Hannah she had delivered her lines well.
"Now, good people, we must hasten away to the house where I reside and I will tell you how Henderson Close came by its name. Please be careful. The ground is more uneven here."
Hannah led her group through a narrow doorway, down to the left, and they stopped outside a tenement, with a partially open door leading into Murdoch Maclean's print shop.
"Are we all here?" Hannah began a head count, but caught a glimpse of a woman disappearing around a corner further up the Close. Hannah called out to her. "No, madam. It's this way, if you please. We go there later."
She was aware of puzzled looks among the group. Ailsa spoke up. "It's OK, we're all here."
Hannah counted. Ten. "Well, I definitely saw someone go down there. I'd better check. Maybe a visitor managed to get in before opening time. Please, ladies and gentlemen, wait here for a moment." Hannah set off.
"I'll come with you," Ailsa said, "just in case. If there's someone down here that shouldn't be, I'll deal with them."
Within a few seconds, Hannah and Ailsa had rounded the corner. The short passageway contained closed doors — each of which they checked.
"Locked," Ailsa said. "Exactly as they should be."
In less than a minute they had reached the brick wall blocking up the rest of the passageway.
"This used to be an alley," Hannah said, recognition flashing into her mind.
"Not just any alley, either." Ailsa pointed to the perpetual dark stain on the ground.
Hannah shivered. "Miss Carmichael."
"Looks like you've had the perfect initiation." Ailsa smiled.CHAPTER 2
Four a.m. Hannah stared out of the living room window of her small flat above a coffee shop on the Royal Mile.
By day bustling with as many nationalities as a UN meeting, now all was quiet. A stiff breeze sent discarded sweet wrappers swirling and dancing along the street. Hannah cradled her coffee mug and turned away.
Two table lamps at either end of the room cast a warm, comforting glow. Hannah rarely switched on the main light, preferring to relax, bathed in a gentle, candle-like softness.
She thought over her strange experience during her dress rehearsal that morning. She knew what she had seen — however impossible that might appear. Perhaps it had been a trick they played on new staff. Maybe one of them had been behind one of those locked doors.
In a few hours, she would begin her first official day. What if she saw that ... whatever it was ... again? How would she react? Ignore it? Could she even do that? Instinct had ruled her reactions earlier, but if her mind was playing tricks on her, as Ailsa and at least some — if not all — her colleagues appeared to believe, she would be humiliated in front of the general public. Someone might complain. Great start to her dream job.
Think back calmly. What exactly did I see?
In the sole fleeting glimpse, she had taken in a tall, slim woman in a long brown skirt and matching jacket, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a hat. Old-fashioned. Not unlike a photograph she had of her great-great grandmother, taken sometime in the 1880s.
In her mind, she replayed the reactions of some of her colleagues. Puzzlement, incomprehension, skepticism even, on one face after another. All except one.
Hannah searched for the young woman's surname. Ferguson. Mairead Ferguson. That was it. Her expression had been different than the rest. Surprise yes, but something else. She had nodded, almost imperceptibly, but it had been a nod nonetheless.
Exhaustion overwhelmed Hannah and this time she was fairly sure she would sleep, because now she knew what she was going to do.
* * *
Hannah arrived an hour before her first tour was due. She needed to see the one person who she was almost certain had seen what she had seen.
Excerpted from "The Haunting of Henderson Close"
Copyright © 2018 Catherine Cavendish.
Excerpted by permission of Flame Tree Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Q. What is the book about?
A. The story takes place deep underground in the haunted tourist attraction called Henderson Close in Edinburgh’s Old Town. My central character – Hannah – has taken a job there as tour guide and her role is to take parties of visitors along the spooky, twisting streets, telling them old legends of ghosts, plague and interesting characters. All is going well for a short time but then Hannah starts to see things she cannot explain; a mysterious woman standing in the street below her flat - a woman who cannot be there. A slip in time back to the Henderson Close of Victorian times, a little girl with no face. All of a sudden, the legends of Henderson Close are becoming all too real and the worst is yet to come.
Q.When did you first become interested in writing?
A. I have been writing for as long as I can remember. As a child I would make up stories for my dolls to act out, and adapt books I had read into stage plays. I saved up and bought my first typewriter (yes, I’m that ancient!) when I was ten years old.
Q. How did you get involved in fantasy/horror?
A. This goes back to a childhood reading Dennis Wheatley, Sheridan le Fanu and other authors of the genre. At school, I remember the deliciously scared feeling I experienced when we read The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs. The amazing thing about that story is that nothing gory actually happens, but when that knock at the door sounds... Oh, the shivers! I loved reading horror and stories that gave me goosebumps so I suppose it was only natural that I would gravitate to writing what I enjoyed the most.
Q. Is there any advice you can give someone starting to write?
A. Firstly, develop the hide of a rhinoceros – you’ll need it. Never argue online – especially with someone who has given you a less than flattering review. You never win those battles and I have seen some writers’ reputations permanently ruined. The main thing though is to produce the best work of which you are capable. The words ‘that’ll do’ should be eliminated from your vocabulary. Be prepared to be ruthless with your own work. If that paragraph doesn’t move the story on or serve some other useful purpose, out it goes. Finally, never, ever give up.
Q. Please in your own words write a paragraph about yourself.
A. I live with my long-suffering husband in a haunted 18th century building in North Wales. Fortunately for all concerned, the ghost is friendly and contents herself (she's definitely female) with switching on lights, and attempting to discover how the TV and washing machine work (it's a long story!). Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, I am now the full time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. My daily walks have so far provided the inspiration for two short stories, a novel and a novella – from twisted trees to… well, it’s amazing what you see down by the river, as it flows through a sleepy rural community. Those with delicate constitutions are advised not to ask!
Q. Where do you write?
A. In a corner of the kitchen. I have my laptop, printer and occasionally a black cat will attempt to add her contribution by stalking across the keyboard.
Q. Did you write in silence, or to any particular music?
A. Silence. I don’t even have a window. I need to be totally immersed in the world I am creating.
Q. Did you find it hard to write? Or harder to edit your own work?
A. That’s an interesting question. First drafts usually come together fairly quickly but then the real writing starts and I typically redraft several times, editing as I go. The hardest bit is when you think you’ve caught all the anomalies, pitfalls, plot holes, inconsistencies and so on, and you have been over it so many times, you lose perspective. That’s the time to put it away for a couple of weeks – or longer – work on something else and then come back to it. The problems leap out at you then and that makes editing easier.
Q. What makes you write even when you’re exhausted?
A. Frequently it is because I’m in the middle of a scene and I don’t want to lose the momentum. In common with many writers, my characters drive the story onwards. I am merely the poor sap that has to hurry to keep up with what they’re saying and doing. I can hardly stop them in mid drama, can I? Even if my eyes are losing focus! It happened a lot with The Haunting of Henderson Close.
Q. What are you writing now?
A. I am working on a story set in Haworth – Bronte country – not far from where I grew up (in Halifax, West Yorkshire). There will be ghosts. There may be Bronte references, and there will definitely be bleak moorland, horizontal rain and the lonely cry of the curlew…