The Cupboard Under the Stairs

The Cupboard Under the Stairs

I wrote this modern fable after a conversation with a dear friend and colleague. The image of the haunted cupboard under the stairs arose during the call. The transformation image arrived some hours later. Calling up something I’d seen online which gave me a heart leap (a common occurrence). As sometimes happens, the story asked, nay demanded to be told. I wrote it late one night and offer it to you dear readers to make of what you will.

As always I love to hear from you, with your reflections, questions or comments.

THE CUPBOARD UNDER THE STAIRS

Dark, dank, dusty, she didn’t like to look in there. Best to keep the door closed. Sometimes she thought she heard a wailing coming from the cupboard under the stairs.

One stormy night, when the wind was howling and the windows were rattling, she distinctly heard the sound of the latch on the door of the cupboard under the stairs.

NO!

She grabbed the broom from the kitchen and ran to force her weight against the door. Wind or not, she wasn’t taking any chances. She rammed the broom handle through the door handle. There. Now whatever was in there, for she feared there was something malevolent in there. Whatever it was. Would not be able to get out.

Weeks, months and years went by. Many summers and winters passed. The broom handle stayed put guarding the cupboard under the stairs. The door rattled. Sighs, groans, whimpers, cries and shouts came from the cupboard under the stairs. She gave it a wide birth. Sometimes she played loud music or went to town. She almost forgot about it.

One day she got curious in spite of herself. As she heard the foot stamping and the door began to shake instead of heading in the opposite direction, she stopped outside the door. She leaned her head closer and turned her ear to the door.

She heard whimpering which turned into an almighty wail. The sound was like the keening of a lost soul. It cut right through her and she found herself pulling the broom out of the door handle and flinging open the door.

It was so dark in there.

She turned the torch on her phone. At first all she could see was shapeless bundles. Old curtains stored years ago. A leather file case spotted with mildew. Some coats tossed on top. The keening had stopped but she could hear breathing. It was faint. Slowly, her heart thudding, she raised the torch to the far back of the cupboard under the stairs.

There she saw two brown eyes peering round an old eiderdown. It was a child. There in the torchlight, she gasped: it was like looking into her own face. Her own young face looking back at her with frightened eyes.

Her heart melted and all she wanted was to reach out and comfort this scared little scrap of humanity. Ghost or apparition, it didn’t matter. She knew she must bring this child into the warm but when she beckoned to her, the child sadly shook her head.

Whatever had the little one appearing here, could not sustain the form outside the cupboard under the stairs. She understood. Stepping inside, she leant across the bundles and reached out her hand.

Their fingertips met.

She felt the chill, dull energy of the form. It was wavering but still the likeness was true. Her. Aged maybe seven. Come here my love. She offered her curled arm, an invitation. The figure sidled up to her and leant briefly against her side.

So cold. She was so cold.

They sat together for some time. She began to tell the child a story. Once upon a time, there was a brave, strong little girl who lived long ago and far away. The child listened and after some time, her eyes drooped and she began to fall asleep. She laid her gently on the eiderdown and withdrew, leaving the door to the cupboard under the stairs ajar.

She went to the kitchen and made herself an oat chai latte. How to warm and care for the sprite? Ghost or not, she couldn’t abandon her now that she knew it was her own young self. I’ve got it. She pushed herself off the bar stool excited. She would turn the cupboard under the stairs into the most gorgeous reading nook.

There she would sit and read stories to her little self until they had told all the stories that needed to be told.

The next day, she set to, emptying the cupboard under the stairs of all the old and mouldy items. Soon the floor appeared. The little girl watched. Sometimes floating in the roof space. She worked like a demon. Soon everything was out.

Out came the old linoleum, torn and stained with desiccated mouse carcasses and shreds from bags and cushions.

She swept it all up. Over the next few days, she varnished the wooden walls, laid new ruby red soft carpet tiles. Fixed beautiful reading lamps along the wall. And filled the space with a soft futon mattress and deep soft pillows, shawls, blankets. Planks upholstered with wadding and deep purple and turquoise velvet made a Queenly Headboard.

The under treads were sanded and shelving fashioned. Then she rounded up all her books of folk tales and fairy tales from around the world and filled the shelves. She added mirror tiles, dreamy landscapes in gilt frames and a hook on the inside of the door. There she hung two robes, an adult size one and a child size one.

Just inside the door were two pairs of sheepskin slippers.

For the next few months, every day, after work, she’d slip off her shoes and slip into the Cupboard Under the stairs to sit cuddled with her younger self, reading tales from long ago.

She re-imagined those old tales, telling of brave and strong little girls who overcame loss and betrayal to dance under the moon and bring magic into the world. She told of worlds beyond the known and night skies full of brilliant stars. Of mythical creatures who came to aid our heroines and evil monsters they pursued and vanquished.

Little by little the child grew transparent until all she could detect of her was her breathing. One day as Spring appeared, she went to the Cupboard under the Stairs and found it empty. She continued to go and read in there and many years later, her grandchildren loved to go in the reading nook.

They told of the little girl who appeared now and then in the mirror, smiling and encouraging them to tell all their stories aloud.

Decades passed and the house changed hands but a warm glow always seemed to emanate from the Cupboard Under the Stairs. The house lay empty for some years but then a new family arrived and soon enough the children found the nook, a little worn and tired now but there laughter and stories soon livened it up and so a whole new generation of tales were told and the little child smiled on them all.

-end-

For those on Facebook, here is a reel by Making it with Abby, I saw some years ago that caused the heart leap. A cupboard under the stairs transformation 😍

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The Queen and the Dragon’s breath

The Queen and the Dragon’s breath

Once upon a time there was a Queen who lived in a beautiful castle high on a hill with commanding views of the fertile valley below where cattle grazed peacefully. Along the valley floor, the winding river gleamed with sea trout making their journey upstream to spawn.

This castle was furnished with the finest tapestries and beautiful oak tables and chairs. Silver candlesticks gleamed reflecting the glow of roaring log fires burning in huge stone fireplaces. The vast larders were full of the finest food and the soil of the castle farms was laden with crops tender and bountiful.

In the castle yards young girls practised archery and chased the boys through the market stalls. There was laughter and the sun shone.

The newly crowned Queen was melancholy. She sat in her opulent bedroom, before a small window and looked to the bleak wastelands of the north. The mountains in the far distance were dark and forbidding and her mind wandered to that cold and terrible day when her mother had set out to find the dragon of the Black Mountains.

Tales of the dragon and his terrible wrath began to fill her dreams. His fiery breath burnt through the chambers of her mind and left her with an endless chill in her heart as she mourned her warrior mother.

Her mother had never returned so she was declared Queen of this prosperous kingdom. But day after day the new Queen would sit in her bedchamber and sorrow filled her chilly heart. She grew pale and thin.

As the seasons turned, the sun sank lower and the laughter died away. Winter came and an icy wind blew in snow storms night after night. The chill in the Queen’s heart began to seep into the castle walls. The fires burnt night and day yet still the cold grew. The castle walls began to decay and a deep despair settled on the kingdom.

The ground was frozen hard and the winter crops remained stuck fast. The cattle grew thin as the hay ran out. Labourers drifted away, hearing things were better in the neighbouring kingdom.

The once overflowing pantries grew sparse and the children disappeared, fallen ill or gone away. All except one. Ana.

Ana was a distant cousin of the Queen. When she was born, she had about her head a halo of soft gold. As she grew, the halo shone brighter. When the kingdom prospered it did not show so much, as all the land and people in it were bathed in sunshine. Now in this dark winter, Ana’s halo shone like a golden fire around her head.

One day the Queen, walking listlessly to her throne in the great hall saw this golden light illuminate the dark walls of the narrow corridor.

‘“Who’s there?” she called in slight alarm.

“It’s me, Ana, your cousin, ma’am” the Queen was curious.

“Come,” she said.

Ana came and went into the great hall with the Queen. She talked and the Queen listened for three days and three nights.

On the third night, the Queen had a dream. She saw her mother’s warm and smiling face as she reached out to embrace her. Her mother beckoned and pointed to the small window.

The Queen looked and saw for the first time the glorious snow capped peaks, iridescent in the moonlight. As she gazed in wonder at the beauty, she saw in the outline of those craggy mountains, the shape of a dragon in mid roar.

At the foothills, the mist of the dragon’s breath wrapped tenderly round the small settlements shielding them from the icy cold of the clear skies above.

She felt her mother’s brave and generous heart and a peace descended on her such as she had never known. She fell into a deep and restful slumber.

The next morning, the sun rose higher and higher and the terrible frost began to thaw. The soil cracked open and new shoots appeared. The dogs shook themselves, the cattle lifted their heads and children appeared once again in the courtyard. Laughter rang out.

You may wonder what young Ana said to the Queen through those three days and nights. What great secret did she share?

She simply talked of her life in the castle: her love of running through the woods and climbing trees, of chasing the boys round the market stalls, of the smell of her father’s cooking and her joy at riding on horseback with her mother. She talked of finding a swallow’s nest under the eaves of the hay barn and watching every day. The thrill of seeing three pairs of eyes appear when the eggs hatched and waiting breathlessly until the day they fledged.

As she talked of the wonder and beauty of Life, Ana’s halo grew brighter and brighter. And the Queen saw all she was missing, in her beautiful vibrant kingdom.

The kingdom prospered. Ana and the Queen spent many hours laughing together in the woods, walking by the river and telling stories by the roaring fire with full bellies and happy hearts. Their halos shone brightly as did the halos of all the beings in the kingdom.

© Words and image Juliet Fay 2020, photograph of Carreg Cennen Castle, Brecon Beacons, Wales

What you appreciate, appreciates. And so it seems …. deeper and deeper …. wider and wider …. for me, for you, for everyone. It is one of those sayings we hear and we nod sagely. “Ah yes”, we think, that’s true, then return to our habitual worrying and fretting about things done and not done, said and not said. This modern fable is for all of us, to help us remember.

Juliet Fay is a poet & Three Principles Facilitator living on an estuary in West Wales, UK. She is dedicated to exploring and appreciating the wonder and power of the human spirit. Going deeper, beyond what we know. To do that she engages in heartfelt conversations pointing back home; mentors pioneers, creatives, community leaders, helpers and healers; hosts regular gatherings around books or topics close to her heart (by invitation only) and creates soulful poetry, podcasts, illustration, artwork & prose to awaken the heart. She welcomes curious new subscribers to her email list ~ subscribe.