Monday 31 October 2011

Hellicious Halloween - AN UNQUIET SLUMBER by J. Bramwell Slater

Hellicious Halloween opens - and closes - with the creeping Gothic horror of J. Bramwell Slater

Written by an author that knows how to tease, An Unquiet Slumber will tickle your nerves, play with suggestion - and leave you floundering...

AN UNQUIET SLUMBER by J. Bramwell Slater

The Coach & Horses was a large and pleasant Inn on the edge of the Presili Hills, in Pembrokeshire. With beautiful tracts of land that stretched out for miles in all directions, it was in the perfect location for those in search of solitude and respite whilst on the kind of holiday which required some physical effort to enjoy it to the full. The type of recreational travel which rewarded one with some of the most majestic scenery and bracing weather whilst calming the soul of its day-to-day frustrations and clutter.

It was on a night where the wind had taken the valley by force, that there came a large knocking that attracted Samuel, the Inn-Keeper. He had locked up early as it had been clear — since his last customer had left at eight — that there would be no more custom that night. In any case, he reasoned, his sick wife would appreciate the attention he might afford her with a few extra hours to spare.

Samuel, with lantern in hand, pulled back the bolts to the front door and greeted a tall figure clutching at the collar of his coat. With a Methodist compassion, he instantly saw that the man was cold, wet and most probably lost on a night such as this. As the wind battered their faces, he bid him to come inside. Once before the fire, Samuel spoke with the man and asked him his business but although he appeared shaken and somewhat reticent, eventually enquired if there was a spare room for the night that he might stay.

Samuel was a good host and was well respected amongst the local farmers and his other regulars. However, he was also known for his vivid imagination and fondness for telling strangers about the many ghosts he claimed were resident in his establishment. The locals knew it was nothing more than a rouse to attract custom from the curious and the thrill seekers. But it seemed harmless enough, and they forgave his outlandish claims, indulging him on the many occasions that he would tell stories on dark nights around the crackling fireplace.

Eager to entertain his new guest as he tucked in to a hot meal of soup, he told yarns of headless horsemen and grey-clad women who were often known to roam the corridors and yards of the old building. But, undaunted by these recollections, the mysterious guest explained that he was tired from travel and wanted nothing more than to rest for the night. Samuel obliged graciously and showed him to the master bedroom, above the bar at the front of the Inn.

The room was of suitable appointment, having wood paneling; a large double bed; a dresser and fine views out onto the Hills. Samuel wished him a good night and left the traveler about his privacy. Once alone, the stranger wasted no time in making himself comfortable. He washed, undressed and laid down to sleep. The wind ripped violently outside but it made no difference to him as he settled back into the starched white, Welsh linen sheets and duck-down pillows.

Shortly after half past twelve, the man was disturbed by a sound. Not made by the gales that lashed the window, nor by the creaking of boards that follows the cooling after a fire has gone out. These were deliberate sounds and ones which caught his attention from deep within his slumber, raising him up like a shipwreck from the deep. He opened his eyes in the darkness and called out.

“Who is this that disturbs my sleep? Tell me. Who dares come creeping at such an hour? Landlord? is it you?”

There was no answer, so the man rose from his bed, lit one of the candles that were at his bedside and went in search of the source of the disturbance. The wind hissed down the chimney to be let in and at the window: the devil sucked his teeth in defiance at the warmth within. In the corridor beyond, the man stepped lightly over the threshold and was confronted by a crouching figure dressed as a grotesque who rose up before him.

“What is the meaning of this,” he said and the figure quickly removed its mask and holding it nervously - as he realised the error of his actions - he spoke:

“Are you not Philip Loxley?” enquired the figure.

“No, I am most certainly not. How dare you break my sleep with this childish foolishness?”

“Then, you must be: the true owner of this Inn. May God help me,” he cried, and fled away into the dark and down the stairs as though he had encountered a ghost.

The following morning, the man was perturbed and somewhat angry about the precedings and challenged the landlord: asking him why he had tried to fool him and break his night’s sleep.

As Samuel served up a hearty breakfast of cooked bacon and hen’s eggs, he was puzzled by the traveler’s accusations, explaining that it could not have been himself, as he was attending to his sick wife in their cottage at the other side of the stable yard. But, he went on to explain, that one of the stories of the building recounted the tale of Eli Barnes, a former landlord who had tricked the original owner into selling him the Inn and his mischievous ways had followed him through life, getting him into a number of difficult situations.

“Eli Barnes used to play the most outrageous pranks on his guests until one fateful night when his good friend Philip Loxely was staying here. They were well known for their rivalry of practical jokes between them,” said Samuel.

“The rest of the Inn was empty that night, save for this one room (the one you stayed in) and Eli had crept up the stairs looking to frighten his friend. What he didn’t know was that Philip had risen to take a night walk due to the most terrible gut ache. The story goes, that Eli crept in, hoping to scare Philip but instead met a terrible spectre in the room. So terrible was the encounter and so afraid was Eli that he ran back down the stairs, tripped and broke his neck. He was found by Philip, poor man, who sobbed as he ran for help.”

The stranger was neither unmoved nor impressed by the tale, pushed back his chair; paid what money he owed; thanked Samuel for his hospitality and left. His cold manner had not troubled Samuel up to this point but his sudden departure unsettled him. A gentleman such as he would surely have exchanged more pleasant conversation or lighthearted chatter. He felt, for a moment: vexed, that perhaps he had failed to cater sufficiently and that, most possibly, the traveler would go on to tell of the Inn with less than favourable impressions but his worry was soon to be steered a very different course.

Later, as he went to clear the bedroom and collect the towels, Samuel was astonished to find that the bed had not been slept in. In fact, not a single thing in the room had been touched. The towels were exactly as he had left them the day before and the bed was in immaculate order - its sheets untouched by so much as a finger let alone a man who might have slept there.


Bio: J. Bramwell Slater

Ever since I could hold a pencil I have been documenting the absurd, beautiful, complicated, divine fiasco that is my life so far and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I am an: ex-advertising agency art director, copywriter and son of a plumber. I have taught music; studied to be a driving instructor; am a member of a civil war reenactment society and can get a tune out of most instruments. I've been a freelance cartoonist; a rider of horses and a builder of crystal radios. I have one tattoo, two cats and three beautiful, talented children (as well as a very understanding partner who lets me indulge myself in the selfish world of writing). A brief spell as a broadcaster and radio presenter only underscored the torrent of words and ideas that I had at my disposal.

From an early age I have written children's stories; sci-fi and poetry and even a biography of jazz legend: Charlie Parker. However, it's only recently that I have begun to listen to the inner voices and hone the craft and to facilitate this desire. I am currently studying creative writing at York University. I regularly submit works to competitions and compendiums and in 2010 I had a play that I wrote, performed to critical acclaim in North Yorkshire. I am currently working on many exciting projects including the novel - which simmers nicely thank you. My work in progress explores the relationship between the tyranny of ageing and midlife subcultures. With influences as diverse as Kierkegaard and Camus, new synergies are created from both explicit and implicit layers. I have always been fascinated by the theoretical limits of the mind and as shifting impressions become transformed through boundaried and diverse scenarios, the reader is left with a statement of the inaccuracies of our era. 

I am also bitterly aware of the idea that: to make a small fortune as a writer, one must first start with a large fortune. Perhaps one day I shall win the lottery and with that dream in mind, my ticket remains firmly gripped.


  1. It's a bit early in the day for shivers down the spine - but J, you certainly engendered them with this little slice of the macabre!

    A worthy entrée to the series! :-)

  2. Nice riff on a classic theme. I liked the way the traveller still seemed very modern, and the "ghost story within a ghost story."

  3. Nicely done and I love the line in your bio that a writer must start with a large fortune to make a small one. How true. Great start.

  4. Loved the "old time" feel and the way you told it. A true horror yarn, for sure. Nice turn of events at the end!

  5. nice one! twists with a ghost within a ghost story, for a change! Beautifully written.

  6. Thank you for the comments. Nice to know my 'dream' can thrill others as much as me. The style is intentionally archaic - I felt it fit with the mood of the piece.

  7. Love the classic 'old world' feel to this. Very atmospheric. Lovely writing and descriptions, and enough intrigue to keep us guessing to the 'goose bump' end.


  8. My dear Mr Bramwell ~

    I was hankering to acquire lodging in the stalwart Coach & Horses (if ever a name of a pleasant inn there was), to settle into starched white, Welsh linen sheets and duck-down pillows, then break fast with cooked bacon and hen's eggs. Might I ask of you to have a room far far away from the intense gent I met on the stairwell? We didn't fare well.

    Ah good sir, but you did, over and again in the flair of storytelling air. As an ex-advertising agency director myself, who simply (thus strongly) adores Charlie Parker, the delights flowed, more so knowing your novel (the stuff of fortunes, how e'er measured), simmer nicely in their new synergies. World needs more synergies.

    ~ Absolutely*Kate,
    (absolutely wishing to read that novel)

  9. {You know I did not overlook the Slater ... I was simply going for the stairwell and the fare well with the Bramwell . . . Your perfect era pitch tone quite begged for it} ~ A*K

  10. Ah KT my dear, what a beautiful lexiconographic wrangler you are, you are. Glad to see you in this collection of tinglescent tales and see our paths cross once more.

  11. Sorry this has taken me awhile to get to, but this is superbly chilling. Lines like this, "The wind hissed down the chimney to be let in and at the window: the devil sucked his teeth in defiance at the warmth within." are remarkably symbolic, and really add depth and layers to your piece.
    Well done!