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.


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.


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.


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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Life as improvisation

Life as improvisation

Until recently, I would have said, I knew little of improvisation, a theatre training technique used to train actors, entertain and encourage creative thinking. After doing a little research I realised I knew more than I thought!

The UK and US comedy show, Whose Line is it Anyway illustrates how improvisation works. Simply, you take a prompt and on the fly, solo or in a group you improvise sketches, stories or single lines to build on the original idea. Comedy can play a big role.

I realise the writing I do works on a similar basis. I get an idea and say yes to it, then more ideas of what to say tumble one upon the other. It has been like this for so long that I have never really wondered about the magic of that.

What struck me anew, is how Life as improvisation is the most natural thing in the world.

A beautiful way to see this is in the joy of re-discovering life’s earlier pleasures. Things from childhood or young adulthood, left along the wayside until one day, an impulse to return and pick them up again, occurs, out of nowhere. There is a sweetness in that return, for we bring a new understanding to the much loved activity.

A softness descends at the memory of hours lost in wonder filled play, indoors or out; solo or in the company of friends, real or imagined. The senses quicken in anticipation of re-experiencing that magic. The form may differ but the delight is familiar.

A wonderful example of this is showing up in my life. Moths caught my attention recently. A thread (that little quickening) pulled on me and I see clearly now, I said yes to the nudge, with no idea why I was drawn nor what might come of following the trail.

So far, like a lover besotted with the beloved, I have come alive and lost myself in research, a visit to a museum, conversations with entomologists and curators, sketching, story ideas, photographs, gathering data and musing with inspiration and wonder at these extraordinary creatures. The fantastic names, tickle my love of language: Cavorting emperor, Viper’s Bugloss, Splendid Brocade, Tawny Shears.

Ideas and delight have fizzed and bubbled as I enter into a hidden world as if by special invitation 

Moths are short lived creatures. Sometimes just a week or two. Likewise this fascination may be short lived but intense. Yet already the treasure is great. With no constraints, no need to define the purpose or point of the trail, I can simply enjoy being on it.

So many strands of my life are coming alive in this exploration: organic farming, poetry, story, pattern, sensory perception, conversation, art, science, nature. And all this before venturing out to look for moths at night. There’s a delicious freedom: Life as improvisation.

Rather like baking, there are simple raw ingredients like shape, form, colour, function which have the potential to combine in our imagination into extraordinary wonder filled flights of fancy, learning, action and creating something new, imbued with the wonder we feel.

Part of the magic lies in the openness and delight in letting our imagination guide and shape our experience whether it is den building, watching bugs, climbing trees, building homes or cities from random household items, playing tag, making up songs or stories, painting, sticking, gluing or dressing up. It is striking how little our imagination needs. In fact often fewer props lead to greater imaginative leaps. As children, this comes naturally. As adults we can forget.

But when we remember, there is mystery in that magic and recognition too

Recognition of something deep within us, that wants only to embrace life whole-heartedly, delight in aliveness for its own sake. Those early joys are intimate, bespoke signposts to that deeper sense: our True Nature. We know it when we touch it. It is impersonal, vast, immediate, ordinary and deeply alive.

To return to those pleasures with deeper understanding of the power of that dimension to nourish and inspire us, is like trailing your fingers in cool water on a hot summer day. Delicious, energising and something to revel in. T.S. Eliot puts it beautifully in this extract:-

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

—T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets (Gardners Books; Main edition, April 30, 2001) Originally published 1943.”

Life as improvisation, now there’s a thought! Saying YES, AND to Life. Agreeing with your heartfelt impulses and allowing your imagination to expand on them. To be in conversation and co-operation with the dynamic magic of Life.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections.

P.S. This piece has been inspired by many things including beginning Rob Hopkins, From What is to What If – unleashing the power of imagination to create the future we want. Highly recommend. He is one of the founders of the Transition Town movement, now worldwide. I love how good ideas spread!


If you’re drawn to discovering more magic and mystery, I would love to work with you.

You can find out more here and be aware, my fees are a guide not set in stone. If you have a little thread pulling you towards being in consultation with me, follow it and together we’ll let our imaginations loose and create something extraordinary. Email me and let’s start a conversation.

Poem: Hovering

Poem: Hovering


~ remain poised uncertainly in one place or between two states ~




Over and
Over again


© Juliet Fay 2018




Three Principles Facilitator, writer & speaker on wellbeing, creativity and enterprise

Helping individuals, groups and teams find more resilience, ease and joy in life and work. Find out more

Freelance Facilitator for Llanelli Mind. Accredited Wellbeing Mentor Coach for Wellbeing Coach Certification training for Wisdom & Wellbeing Consultancy, London, UK

“If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world.”

Sydney Banks