The Turnkey, p.1
Table of Contents
About the Author
FLOSSIE BIRDWHISTLE IS THE TURNKEY AT LONDON’S HIGHGATE CEMETERY.
As Turnkey, Flossie must ensure all the souls in the cemetery stay at rest. This is a difficult job at the best of times for a twelve-year-old ghost, but it is World War II and each night enemy bombers hammer London. Even the dead are unsettled.
When Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier carrying a mysterious object, she becomes suspicious. What is he up to?
Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could result in the destruction of not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country.
Can Flossie stop him before it is too late?
December, 1940 In which Flossie has a visitor
Flossie lowered the book she was reading as she felt the girl awaken from rest and leave her grave.
Amelia Deering. Interred in London’s famous Highgate Cemetery September 8, 1852. Cause of death: scarlet fever. Age: seven years. Five years younger than Flossie herself had been when she had died of rheumatic fever at the age of twelve.
Flossie could see Amelia’s image in her mind’s eye, just as she could see all those who were buried within the cemetery grounds. Amelia wore the most beautiful white lace dress, a light blue sash tied around her waist. A matching blue ribbon held her long hair back.
As Amelia approached, Flossie thought about summoning her Advisor, Hazel, then decided not to. She could handle this on her own. She stood from her armchair and opened the door to her Turnkey’s cottage, which existed only in the twilight world she now resided in.
“Hello, Amelia,” Flossie said, beckoning her in.
Amelia inspected the small room with its two large armchairs and threadbare rug upon the floor. She took a hesitant step inside.
“Did you want to sit down?” Flossie asked her.
Amelia shook her head.
Flossie closed the door behind them both, noting that Amelia seemed nervous, but not confused. Still, Flossie always found it was a good idea to check if her visitors knew exactly who she was.
“Now, you understand that I’m your Turnkey. It’s my job to see that you’re happily at rest.” This was true. Flossie cared for everyone here at Highgate. Out of all the interred buried within it, the cemetery had chosen her for the task. She would be Turnkey until another was called upon. This could be hours, days, weeks, or even centuries away.
Highgate Cemetery was part of the Magnificent Seven – the pet name for the seven huge cemeteries built on the outskirts of London in the 1830s and 1840s. There was Highgate, of course, as well as Abney Park, Kensal Green, West Norwood, Brompton, Nunhead and Tower Hamlets. Some of the cemeteries were more well known than others. Highgate, for example, was famous for its extremely beautiful Egyptian-style architecture, which had been all the rage in Victorian times. Kensal Green was stately and garden-like and had been modelled on Paris’s fashionable Père-Lachaise cemetery. The seven cemeteries, however, had been left to their own devices for decades and were now a mess of crumbling headstones, ivy and tree roots.
“I know who you are,” Amelia answered. “I know why you have that iron ring and key in your hand.”
Flossie followed Amelia’s eyes down to her own left hand and the iron ring she held within it, one ornate key hanging from it – the key to Highgate Cemetery’s gates for the dead. Amelia offered her something, which Flossie took.
“Oh,” she said.
It was a very old sort of photograph called a memento mori – a picture taken of someone after death in order for the family to keep and treasure. It seemed a horrible thing to want to have, but Flossie had seen pictures like these when she was alive and her mother had explained to her that back in Victorian times it was very expensive to have your picture taken. A picture taken after death might be all a family would ever have to remember a person by. Flossie attempted to keep her expression even as her still heart broke. The image was of a lifeless Amelia, a number of dolls placed around her – obviously her favourites.
“I was hoping that I might have one of my dolls, please,” Amelia asked, so politely that Flossie’s heart broke all over again.
Flossie had no idea what to tell her. Eighty-eight years had passed and all of Amelia’s dolls were surely long gone. But then she thought of something. She knew what she’d do.
“I’ve got an idea …” Flossie began, but her voice was immediately drowned out by the wail of the air-raid siren. She froze, imagining the scene playing out in the skies above. “You probably know the living are having a war,” Flossie yelled. “A very noisy one.” She expected Amelia knew – even when at rest, her interred had a basic understanding of what was going on within their immediate surroundings and theirs had been bombed. They were aware, yet blissfully unaware, in their dreams. Flossie herself had been at rest for a short time before becoming the cemetery’s Turnkey and it had been just like a lovely dream. She remembered it well. She had been having a picnic on a grassy hill with her sister Emmeline and … she stopped herself as the siren bore into her thoughts.
Flossie and Amelia stood in silence, waiting for the all clear to sound. Maybe it had been a false alarm. But no, the siren continued to wail.
Flossie moved in closer to Amelia so she wouldn’t have to yell. “Why don’t you return to rest and I’ll be back later. I’ve got to see how bad things are out there tonight, but I’m sure I’ll be able to work something out about your doll too.”
“Oh, thank you!” Amelia’s face lit up and then she was gone from the cottage. That lovely, peaceful feeling of one of her interred returning to rest swept over Flossie.
She started towards the door.
Time to see what was going on out there this evening.
In which Flossie assesses the damage
Flossie stood atop St Paul’s Cathedral and surveyed a burning London.
It was usually incredibly tranquil up here on the Golden Gallery – the circular walkway that was nestled on top of the cathedral’s dome. Flossie adored the clear view of the River Thames stretching out before her and the feeling of floating above the busy city below. Tonight, however, a war raged all around and things were anything but tranquil. A battle was playing out in the skies above the city, aircraft shells bursting into brilliant explosions of bright white and searchlights roaming the sky. Below, flames licked at the streets and buildings, colouring the smoke-filled sky with various shades of pink. The barrage balloons bobbed about the heavens in order to stop low-flying aircraft. They were a surreal shade of salmon compared to their usual shiny silver.
There had been so much damage this evening. After leaving Amelia and Highg
She had closed her eyes then and thought of St Paul’s. Not a second later, she had appeared there. This was something only Turnkeys could do. By simply bringing a place to mind, she could be there in an instant. Even the name of a location was enough to go by.
When Flossie had opened her eyes once more, she had seen exactly what she’d hoped to see – St Paul’s standing tall, proud and untouched. The building had been highlighted against the strangely lit sky, a beacon in the midst of adversity, determined and strong like the Londoners beneath her.
An aircraft shell exploded somewhere close behind the dome and Flossie jumped, bringing her iron-ringed hand to her chest. She might have died sixteen years ago and didn’t need to worry about her weak heart any longer, but old habits were hard to break. Another explosion saw her swivel her head to the far right as an aircraft shell exploded far above with a boom.
There was a man standing in the alcove that led out onto the Golden Gallery’s walkway. His attention was fixed on the explosion, which meant he hadn’t seen her yet. At first she thought he was a fire watcher, stationed up the top of St Paul’s to protect it from burning. But, no, this man was a twilight visitor – a man of the dead, not the living – she could tell by his ashen hue. Everything was a muted shade in her world; it was how you could tell the living world from the world of the dead.
Flossie frowned as she took in his uniform, grey-green against the lit-up sky. It was cinched in at the waist by a leather belt with a silver clasp and matched with high black leather boots, the pants tucked into them. He had a long ceremonial sword at his side and his torso was studded with medals. But it was the half-view that Flossie had of his cap that took her non-existent breath away. Because there, in the centre of it, flashed something else made of silver – the Totenkopf. It was this that saw her face fall, because she knew what it was: the distinctive skull and crossbones symbol of the SS – probably the most feared organisation in the Nazi regime.
His head started to turn her way and Flossie moved into action, scuttling further around the dome. Out of sight once more, she paused, her brow creasing. It didn’t make sense. What was a Nazi officer of the twilight doing at St Paul’s?
As another shell exploded near the last one, Flossie popped her head around the corner again.
Thankfully, his attention was again to the right. This time, she inspected him more closely. Maybe he was a Turnkey like her? After all, it was only Turnkeys who could come and go freely from cemeteries. While a Turnkey could take one of their interred outside the cemetery gates with them to settle unfinished business and so on, it often wasn’t advisable. It could be an unpleasant feeling for them to be separated from their body – whether it had been buried or cremated. The dead were meant to be at rest.
He wasn’t a Turnkey. He didn’t have an iron ring or a key of any sort in his hand. He did hold something, though – a strange object that he shifted now from underneath his right arm to his left, tucking it neatly and carefully into his left elbow.
Flossie was confused. If he wasn’t a Turnkey, how had he got here? And what on earth was that thing he was holding? It was too bright to be of the twilight world, which it absolutely had to be. He couldn’t carry an object that belonged in the living world. Whatever it was, it brightened with each shell that burst above, as if catching and holding the light. It was only as the man began to turn her way again that Flossie forced herself to slink back around the corner once more, disappearing from view at the last second.
None of this made any sense. A man of the twilight, carrying a strange object, without a Turnkey accompanying him, in a foreign land. Not to mention he was a Nazi officer in London. He was currently the enemy of her country. There were many reasons he shouldn’t be here, dead or alive.
What should she do? Maybe nothing at all. There might have been a war raging in the land of the living, but her task was to see to the residents of Highgate Cemetery. Whatever he was doing here, it wasn’t any of her business, was it? If his Turnkey had seen fit to let him leave his cemetery and go to London, it was nothing to do with her. Anyway, what harm could he do? He might have been the enemy if they had both been alive, but they weren’t. Now he was dead, the war was over for him and that was that.
Still, something about it didn’t seem right.
Flossie stepped out from behind the stonework just as another aircraft shell exploded to their left.
He saw her at once.
His eyes on her, he didn’t move a muscle, that glassy-looking object glistening in the light of the shelling.
“What are you doing here?” Flossie shouted above all the noise.
He whirled into action, fleeing down the stairs.
“Stop!” Flossie cried. To run off like that, surely he was up to no good. She was at the top of the spiral stairs in a second, but he was quite a way down them already. “Stop!”
He paused momentarily before starting down the stairs again. It was only then that Flossie remembered her advantage as a Turnkey. Closing her eyes, she reached the bottom of the stairs in a flash, just as he rounded the final bend of the spiral.
He stopped on the spot when he saw her, pushing the glass object behind him.
Oh, yes. Something was definitely up.
Flossie was now determined to find out what it was.
“Who are you? What are you doing here? What have you got there, behind your back?” she demanded.
It seemed she didn’t have the advantage after all. Because, just like that, the man disappeared into thin air and was gone.
In which Flossie returns home
Flossie simply couldn’t work it out. Who was this man? What was he doing in London? And why had he run away like that?
Maybe if she described him, one of the newly interred at Ada’s cemetery might know of him. He was obviously an officer of great importance. Perhaps he had been in the newspapers. Ada was the Turnkey of Tower Hamlets, one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries currently receiving many dead. It was situated in the East End – one of the hardest hit areas of London, due to its proximity to the docks.
Before she went to visit Ada, however, Flossie reminded herself that she needed to make a brief stop at her old family home in Mayfair.
* * *
Flossie was relieved to see her home’s stone facade was untouched. Every time she visited, she was almost sure she would find that something awful had happened. Just last week she had viewed a similar townhouse, only streets away, sliced strangely in two, a piano hanging precariously from the drawing room. It was like a macabre life-sized doll’s house, just waiting for a gigantic hand to descend from the sky and rearrange the pieces inside, ready for the absent family to return and for play to continue.
The all clear hadn’t sounded yet, which meant that the streets were still devoid of life. There were no streetlights to illuminate the scene, of course – the strictly enforced blackout made sure of that – but the moon was bright and Flossie took the opportunity to view the silent street. Her family and the families close by them had been lucky so far. Green Street had suffered only minimal damage. Well, perhaps they had not been so “lucky” after all. All that was left of Flossie’s immediate family was her mother.
Flossie visited her mother every so often. She’d been glad when her mother had moved to the old family home in Buckinghamshire, away from the troubled skies of London.
At first her mother hadn’t wanted to leave the city, thinking that her late husband, Flossie’s father, wouldn’t have been happy a
Closing her eyes again, Flossie appeared outside her old bedroom.
Her bedroom was usually a place Flossie avoided. Inside it, nothing had changed since her death all those years ago. Her hairbrushes lay neatly on the dressing table. A book or two, the pages marked for future reference, were strewn here and there – on her side table, on the window seat – as if she were still alive and could walk through the door at any time and resume her reading.
Flossie leaned back against the closed door before forcing herself to move into the room. As she passed by the looking glass above the decorative fireplace, she went to glance at herself as she always used to do. Another reason not to enter – her lack of reflection always disturbed her.
Flossie ran over to her writing desk with its little shelves set above. She focused on the item she wanted and prepared herself for the strange feeling that was about to come. Turnkeys could make copies of objects, dragging a likeness into the twilight world. It was an unpleasant sensation, which meant that it wasn’t done often. Wrinkling her nose, she grabbed the doll and, with a whoosh, drew a copy of its form into the twilight.
A wave of sadness washed over her. The doll had been a present from Paris, where her sister Emmeline had been on her honeymoon. “I know you’re far too old for dolls,” she had told Flossie. “But I was walking past this toy shop and there was just something about her. I simply had to go in and buy her!”
She hugged the doll to her, missing her sister more than ever. Emmeline had died giving birth to Flossie’s niece, Clara. They were both buried in Highgate and while Flossie loved having them nearby, it hurt not to be able to see them. She would never awaken them though. A good Turnkey would never awaken one of their interred from rest unless absolutely necessary.