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Ghost of a Kiss by Anna Reith


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When an artist inherits a beautiful villa in Cornwall, she discovers the strange draw the land has on her.



Artist Sarah Poole never expected to inherit her Aunt Charlotte’s 1930s Art Deco villa in Cornwall, England. She travels to the tiny village of Porth Greavy and falls in love with the beautiful white house on the cliff, but with it comes a mysterious visitor.

Who is the intriguing Michael Polrose, and what does he really want?



This short story is also available in the volume ‘Black Ice: collected stories’, which can be purchased in ebook and paperback formats.


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Anna Reith



Kindle ASIN



13,472 words (37 .pdf pages)

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Anna Reith

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© Anna Reith. All rights reserved.

Kemer uith na rey gara an vor goth rag an vor noueth.

~Take care that you do not leave the old road for the new road.

(Old Cornish proverb)

“Oh, please tell me you’re kidding!”

Sarah Poole shook her head, smiled, and ignored the rise of hysteria in Jeni’s voice. They were sitting in Baccini’s, their favourite coffee spot—not far from Central Park, but not so close as to be full of tourists—behind cappuccinos thickly laced with foam and cinnamon sprinkles. Golden summer sunlight slunk around their ankles. Sarah loved New York like this; she saw why Jeni thought she must be crazy to leave.

“It’ll only be for a few weeks,” Sarah said, to convince herself just as much as Jeni. “Just to see what kind of shape the house is in, deal with getting it on the market.”

“But you could do all that from here,” Jeni wheedled. She swiped her spoon through the layer of froth that ringed her half-empty cup and quirked an eyebrow. “Anyway, it’s going to be some awful, tumble-down old heap with rats and rising damp. Probably haunted, too.”

Sarah chuckled. Jeni shook her glossy black hair back off her shoulders and widened her dark brown eyes incredulously. They’d been friends since high school, and ever since people had remarked on the contrast between them: Jeni’s Mediterranean looks against Sarah’s pale, freckled skin and gingery, frizzy red locks. As if they’d planned it like that.

“Well,” Jeni said indignantly, “homes you inherit from long-lost relatives always are, aren’t they? And England has some really old houses… it’s probably got a butler and a crypt in the back yard.”

Sarah’s laugh got harder and gave rise to a snort. She clamped a hand over her mouth, and the heat of a blush washed over her cheeks as Gianni—the barista whom she and Jeni sometimes lazily flirted with over the coffee and amaretti—glanced at her across a tray of cups he’d been collecting from the empty tables. Sarah bit down on the last bubbles of mirth and glared at Jeni.

“Shut up! Anyway, Auntie Charlotte wasn’t long lost. We used to see her all the time when we were kids; she only moved over there about fifteen years ago, after her husband died.”

“Your uncle?”

“Yeah. I think she married again. Mom got a letter when I was at college. Can’t remember the guy’s name, but I know she said they met and married abroad. Whether she meant England or not… I don’t know. Charlotte always did love to travel.”

“Sounds like a woman after my own heart.” Jeni lifted her foam-laden spoon in a mock toast. “To Auntie Charlotte, her rising damp… and her creepy English butler!”

“Stop it,” Sarah said mildly.

In truth, she still hadn’t assuaged her guilt about Charlotte. All her memories of the woman—family Christmases and huge, sprawling Thanksgiving meals, birthday presents, and hugs that smelled of talc and rosewater—and somehow she’d let contact lapse. The lawyers had said they’d spent weeks trying to track her down. She hadn’t even known her aunt had been ill.

Funny to think of those blue eyes wizened with age, the tight, rosy skin of her cheeks sallow and sunken. Sarah hated that they’d lost touch the way they had, because what could there be to connect lives, except other people?

All that holds us together in a light silken web, so easily snapped.

“Well, I’d still have got the lawyers to handle it all without me.” Jeni sniffed. “It’ll be a nightmare—bet you anything. Where the heck is it again?”

Sarah shook her head out of the clouds… or maybe the clouds out of her head.

“Uh… it’s a little village called Porth Greavy, in Cornwall. Right down at the most southwesterly part of England.” She said the words as if she was reading them from a cue card, some half-remembered fragment of one of the online guidebooks she’d glanced at since that fateful call. “Cornwall’s been home to lots of artists and writers. People say it’s very beautiful.”

Jeni snorted. “You mark my words. Rats. And wood rot.”

* * * *

Sarah left before the close of the week. Self-employed as a landscape artist since she’d finished college, she had no need to negotiate with a boss for time off: just one of the things she loved about painting. Since her parents’ divorce—an irreparable breakdown after twenty-six years that had surprised everyone with its long-held viciousness and simmering hate—and her mother’s subsequent move to Manitoba, Sarah’s art had become her refuge.

In her landscapes, in the sweep of paint on canvas and the smoothness of brush in hand, she could build over and over again a calm, beautiful place. Not that she felt she used it as therapy—it absorbed her too much for that. Sean, her last boyfriend, had accused Sarah of being obsessive about her art. What had he said?

I don’t know what you’re trying to find in them. They’re just stupid trees.

She’d wondered about that. It didn’t seem to Sarah that she was trying to find anything in the landscapes she painted; they came to her. The look of light falling on leaves, or the way the sky took on the texture of rain… that spoke to her where other subjects didn’t. She never painted people. Their faces lied.

Still, with all her current commissions finished up, Sarah looked forward to the chance of something a little bit like a vacation. Who knew, maybe she’d even find some inspiration across the pond.

She wasn’t sure what she expected and though her first impressions might have been a little addled by the journey, Sarah felt sure—somewhere after the internal flight from London to the southerly city of Exeter—that she’d dropped off an old-fashioned map into the part of the parchment marked out ‘here be dragons’. The long haul flight had been bad enough, but she hadn’t realised that, after the internal leg, she’d still have so far to travel. Sarah found herself stuck for another two hours on a cramped, rattling train that eventually crossed the white, arched Tamar Bridge and into the county of Cornwall, which passed by the windows in a blur of green and brown. She had almost fallen asleep by the time the conductor—in a voice so heavily accented by static and incomprehensible vowels as to be indecipherable—announced her stop.

Sarah alighted at the tiny railway station of St. Breage, staggering slightly and yawning. The place appeared to be little more than a snack shack, a Portapotty, and a concrete platform barely the length of the train. She’d been surprised the journey had to be so complicated… and it wasn’t even over yet. All day, her foreignness had seemed to interest almost everyone she met, and she felt like the token Yank in a bad British horror film. In fact, as her only prior experience of the West Country had been the movie American Werewolf in London—particularly that creepy scene where two characters entered a bleak moorland pub only to have total silence fall and every patron in the place turn to look at them with suspicious glares—it left her decidedly ill at ease.

“Yes, I’m from New York,” she answered, for what could have been the eightieth time that day.

The taxi driver she’d hailed at the station—a small, wiry man with a shock of grey hair, a broad smile, and an even broader accent—beamed widely into the rear view mirror.

“’Ee not come down on ’oliday though, ’ave ’ee, love? Not with all that luggage.”

Sarah wrinkled her nose. She thought she’d packed pretty light, what with airport baggage constraints and not knowing how long she’d be here. She’d figured she could buy whatever she needed once she hit the nearest town, but that had begun to look considerably less likely, the farther behind she seemed to leave civilisation.

“I’ve inherited a house up on, uh, Barr Road,” she said, and the sense that he somehow expected her to justify herself made her uncomfortable. “I really only need to stay long enough to deal with the legal side of things…. I’ll be staying at the, uhm… Red Lion Pub?”

“Ahh.” He nodded. “We’ll see you right, my love. Don’t you worry ’bout that.”

She’d had trouble with the accent at first—very broad vowels, with the ‘a’ sounds drawn out, almost lovingly, the ‘r’s long but not rolled, so that some words seemed to welter and dip in their centres; they pitched and changed like the very landscape around them. Sarah had gone over a lot of tourist information in preparation for her trip. She understood that Cornwall had a special place in British culture: a peninsula only eighty miles long and tapering from forty to just seven miles wide, where you could rarely be more than a stone’s throw from the sea. The people here—proud, defiant, and hardy—had always relied on the trinity of farming, fishing, and tin mining, and, now the fishing and farming were in trouble and the mining had all but died, tourism played a bigger than ever role, to the distaste and anger of many.

Cornwall had long been a favourite holiday spot for the rest of the United Kingdom, with miles of rugged cliffs and coastlines, empty, lonely moors, endless lush pastures, and countless quaint, white-washed villages with picture postcard views. Its beauty and its meaning had been enshrined in books—Daphne du Maurier, Agatha Christie, even Virginia Woolf had succumbed—poetry and paintings. Artists flocked to the colony at St. Ives, apparently for its famous quality of light and, of course, centuries of English myth and legend dealt with this place as the magical land of Lyonesse… the home of Merlin, Arthur, and Morgan le Fey.

As the taxi hurtled with terrifying ease through a series of country lanes with bends as tight as ski slaloms, Sarah began to wonder if the guidebooks hadn’t been talking about somewhere else entirely.

The sprawl of sad, grey stone and concrete buildings that leached out from the tiny town of St. Breage quickly gave way to fields, the not-so-delicate aroma of cows on the breeze, and the phenomenon of Cornish hedges. The driver, who introduced himself as Alan, explained that these featured strongly in the landscape. Behind the vivid cloaks of hedgerow plants, trees and verges, there lay about two tons of soil and granite blocks—ancient walls laid out centuries ago to mark the boundaries of fields and farmland and long since overgrown, now a very part of the land they divided.

Sarah shivered lightly, the air from the open windows cool on her bare arms. She understood that sense of the place as somehow alive, somehow thinking…. Easy to believe it could remember. So much history, so many years; the life of the place had worn a groove into the land and given it an identity all of its own.

As they neared the village of Porth Greavy, the car zigzagged madly through tiny lanes so choked with vegetation that the light dappled the road through a canopy of leaves. Trees, venerable and numinous, had grown into interlaced fingers that encased the car in chattering veins of green. Each strange tunnel seemed to bend the light, thick with birdsong, until the car appeared to be no more than an echo of itself, something incidental to this tapestry.

Sarah blinked in confusion when the trees parted above them and the road widened out again. The sun sliced at the tarmac. It felt as if she was rising up from under a weight of murky water, surfacing like some bedraggled, perplexed Lady of the Lake.

They passed a van hire depot, opposite a dilapidated white clapboarded building with the words ‘Village Hall’ above the door, and a small church set back from the lane had a wooden notice board at the mouth of its driveway. A faint tang of salt tugged at the air, beneath the smells of diesel and the taint of manure that masqueraded as ‘the countryside’.

At a fork in the road which was apparently the centre of the village—though you had to be careful not to blink and miss it—stood a large white building with an old-style thatched roof. Everything from its position at Porth Greavy’s hub to the tiny, diamond-leaded windows and the gold-lettered sign above the wide, pilastered door showed it to be an archetypal English country pub. The name—The Red Lionwas borne out by a stone lion, painted bright scarlet, that lay atop the porch, nestled in the thick layer of ivy that coated the pub’s façade.

To the left of the pub sat a small square of shops, narrow-fronted and arranged around a virtually empty parking lot. A hairdresser, real estate agent, electrical repair shop, and something that looked like a handcrafted pottery store seemed to be all, apart from The Red Lion, that served Porth Greavy.

Alan the taxi driver shut off his engine and nodded to the building. “There ’ee are, my love. Does a decent bit of scran in there too, and almost staggerin’ distance from Barr Road.”

Sarah made a polite noise in the back of her throat and tried not to think any more about those British B-movies.

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1 review for Ghost of a Kiss by Anna Reith

  1. Rated 5 out of 5

    (verified owner)

    A really lovely story with an oddly creepy twist! I thoroughly enjoyed follwoing Sarah’s journey of discovery through a new place, and I could really feel present in the story. Very abosrbing!

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