The Girl in the Park
The Girl in the Park tells the tale of a boy who encounters an enigmatic young woman in the park. As he grows, he begins to fall in love with her, but it is only at the end of his life that he discovers how he can be with her.
This was the first of the stories in this collection that I completed. At the time I wrote it, The Girl in the Park was one of the best things I had written, and easily the longest ‘short’ story I had ever written. It tells the story of a young boy who sees a girl in the park where his father works, and goes on to see her throughout his life including after he takes his father’s job as groundskeeper at the park. He spends his entire life to find out more about this enigmatic young woman, but it is only at the end of his life that he discovers what he needs to do to be with her.
The inspiration for this, like other stories in this collection, came from multiple sources. The first was a short story by Joe Hill, 20th Century Ghost. It is a ghost story, but also a love story. I had never really tried a traditional ghost story to that point, so I though that was something I’d like to try. There is no haunted house in TGITP, but there is a ghost (spoiler!).
The protagonist in this story is also the narrator. He starts as a boy, but we follow him through to the end of his life as an old man. This character was based on my father-in-law who spent his working life as a gardener, and when he retired, he had worked his way to being the head groundskeeper at Wollaton Park in Nottingham, UK. He never saw a ghost as far as I can tell.
The park in question is based on Wollaton Park, here in Nottingham where I live. It has a large Elizabethan Hall in its centre and is surrounded by acres of fields and trees with a large boating lake in the middle. Below, you can see some of the images I had in mind when I was creating this story:
I took these photos one misty morning, and it wasn’t hard to visualise the potential for including these images / settings into a ghost story. While I sat in my car after taking these pictures, I was able to scribble down some notes and ideas, and by the time I got home, I had the bones of a short story, which evolved into TGITP.
Our protagonist talks about the first two times he meets the girl:
I think I was on my second or third sandwich when I saw her. Further up the slope there was a large group of hydrangea bushes with a gravel path snaking between them. She stepped out from behind one of these bush onto the path and stared at me. If I had to guess, I would say she was somewhere in her late teens, maybe early twenties. She wore what looked like a pale nightshirt that reached to the floor. That was enough to pique my interest, a nightshirt in the middle of the day? But what caught my attention was the patch of red that blossomed on the front of her shirt, just above her left hip. She appeared untroubled by it, and simply stood and stared at me.
I sat transfixed for several moments, and not knowing what else to do, I waved at her. It was a half-hearted wave, almost apologetic. The woman smiled and waved back, before turning and retreating behind the bush. I remember returning my attention to my sandwich, and to my father, who was now recounting the potential pitfalls of running a large hydroponics operation.
I didn’t think about her again after that day, but that briefest of meetings had left an indelible impression, because when I next saw her, several years later, I recognised her instantly; she wore the same pale nightshirt, displaying the same red patch. Her face looked the same as the first day I had seen her. Exactly the same. I guess that was when I realised something was different about her.
That second time I saw her was also in Westbrooke Park. I was deep into my teen years, and my girlfriend of the time and I were strolling around the lake at the far end of the park. We were hand in hand, engrossed in our conversation, when I happened to glance across the water. I saw a woman standing on the opposite bank, too far to make out any details, but when she waved, I knew it was her.
I made no mention of this to my partner, who was still talking, and we continued this way until we reached the other side of the lake. Whilst maintaining my façade of interest in my partner’s conversation, I looked for the mystery woman, and was surprised to find myself disappointed not to see her. Turning my attention back to my girlfriend’s inane chatter, I trudged on, following the path.
As we moved away from the lake, I caught sight of her again, standing by herself, alongside the path, her hands clasped in front of her where the red had been, except there was no stain on the night shirt; it was an immaculate white with a small, pale bow on one shoulder. I turned to my girlfriend, who was still talking about something or other. She gave no indication that she had seen this woman, despite us passing no more than six feet from her. As we walked I looked back over my shoulder, and caught one final glimpse of her before we rounded the corner.
The courtship of my partner of the day did not last for long, as my obsession for this enigmatic woman grew. For some reason, I did not talk to anyone about what I had seen, instead I visited the park most days in hopes of seeing her again, which I did, but I had to wait until I had replaced my father as the head groundskeeper at the park.
The Girl In The Park is one of six darkly disturbing tales in A Sinister Six and is available now from HERE.
My Question to you:
Have you ever seen a ghost? Ever seen anything you can’t explain (not counting Brexit)?