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The Curator

By Kahn Priestley

I was staying nearby for a couple of days and curious. The old manor had been described in the journals as 'the most haunted yet found,' but even they weren't always to be trusted.
'It's closed to the public in winter,' said my friend, 'but there's still someone there. If you ring and explain, the curator might show you round.' So I made an appointment.

The steps to the front door were wide and sheer. I shrank under the looming bulk of the house as I rang the bell. I was greeted by a small, pale woman, with parchment skin and a pinched waist. She had the bulging, blue eyelids of a baby bird. Her voice was quiet from years of hush among fragile furnishings and half-closed blinds. 'Welcome to the Manor. I do hope you will find it of interest.' She ushered me into the drawing room with a languid curl of her right arm.

By instinct I crossed to the gauzy light of the French windows at the far end, the Ottoman rug muffling my steps. 'What beautiful gardens. From the road I would never have guessed they were here.'
She nodded with condescension, lifting a delicate silver bell from a side table and ringing it, 'I will call for some tea.'
As I opened my mouth to thank her I saw the starched curve of her back disappear around the door jamb to be swallowed by half shadows in the hallway.

I turned my attention to the interior of the room. The walls were covered in a faded teal fabric. On the east side a white marble fireplace coldly demanded attention, while opposite, even in the dim light, the polished grain of a huge mahogany cabinet burned like flames. On its shelves rows of white, glazed porcelain creatures jostled each other shoulder-to-shoulder in tiers layered one on top of the other like icing swags on a demonic wedding cake. I was still making my way along the shelves inspecting the glowering lustre of each twisted, face in turn when I heard booted footsteps in the hallway.

A brisk, trouser-suited woman pushed open the door and entered with her hand outstretched, 'Ah, Ms Priestley, I see you have found your way to the drawing room. I'm Catherine Owen, curator of the Manor. Shall I make us some tea?'


Note to 'The Curator':


In November 1896, after a period of particularly restless paranormal activity in the house, a seance was held at Preston Manor during which celebrated medium Ada Goodrich Freer (AKA 'Miss X') from the Society for Psychical Research is reported to have made contact with two unhappy female spirits, one of which claimed to have been murdered and buried at the manor. Shortly after the seance a problem with the drains at the manor became apparent and workmen were called in to excavate...

My idea for Alt-Brighton is to tell the story of that seance, and the events that followed.   


This page was amended on 09/04/2014
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