THE HAUNTING AT CLIFF HOUSE

cover of The Haunting at Cliff House by Karleen Bradford
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Summary ~ Reviews ~ Excerpt ~ Trailer

  • Canadian Children’s Book Centre Our Choice 1987/88

SUMMARY

“Alison, you must come back! Alison…”

From the moment she sets foot in the forbidding house high on the cliff, Alison senses a mysterious presence in one of its rooms. There she discovers an ancient diary belonging to a girl who lived in the same house, centuries before. A girl exactly her own age, and whose life bears an uncanny resemblance to Alison’s. A girl who calls to her and cannot be denied.

What does Bronwen want…and why is she so certain only Alison can help her?

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REVIEWS

Canadian Children's Book News, the Canadian Children's Book Centre

“Karleen Bradford demonstrates once again the ability to develop a pervasive mood and sustain it in a story full of intriguing characters and mystifying events.”

Quill & Quire

“...a compelling read right to the exciting climax.”

EXCERPT from THE HAUNTING AT CLIFF HOUSE

CHAPTER ONE
The House on the Cliff

The house stood grim and forbidding, almost at the edge of the cliff. Far below, the ocean crashed and snarled in huge, breaking waves against the rocks. The walls of the house were made of thick, drab grey blocks of limestone, and the slate roof shone blackly in the rain. Alison shivered. This lonely, wild place was not what she had imagined when her father had told her they were going to spend the summer in Wales.

“We’re off to Wales!” he had announced. “Just for the summer. But it should give me time to get a good start on that novel that’s been running around inside my head. No friends or colleagues to distract me. Getting this house is a gift from the gods—although I’m sorry poor old Great-aunt What’s-her-name died, of course, bless her soul,” he added quickly.

Her father’s ties with Wales had long been cut and the news that he had inherited a house from a distantly related, never even heard of, great-aunt had come as a surprise.

“We’ll leave as soon as school’s out,” he had announced, barely pausing for breath before starting to prepare for the trip.

This had not given them much time to organize, but Alison’s father had never been one to worry about something like that. Somehow or other he had gotten their passports, arranged for someone to take over his summer classes at the university, and had them both ready to go the day after Alison finished grade eight. He had even managed to sneak in a few crash classes in Welsh.

Alison sighed and pushed back the tangled, sandy curls that always seemed to be in her eyes. She had not had too much to say about the whole affair. As far as she could remember, her father hadn’t even thought to ask her if she wanted to go. She was used to that, though. Truth to tell, she rather enjoyed it. Her mother had died when Alison was very small. Since then she and her father had pretty much depended on each other and had developed a close relationship. Living with him was unsettling—but different. Her grandmother had offered to take her in for the summer but she preferred to go with him.

Still, she had expected something a little more civilized than this. Great-aunt What’s-her-name must have been a real recluse!

Her father didn’t seem at all taken aback, however. He stood beside Alison, staring up at the house in delight. “Isn’t this something?” he exclaimed.

“It’s certainly something, all right,” she answered.

A slight cough from the taxi driver, who had finished unloading their bags, startled them. They had forgotten all about him. Mr. Evans paid him, then hoisted up two of the bags and a parcel of groceries they had picked up on the way. “Well,” he said, “let’s see what it’s like inside.”

Alison reached for her suitcase and her overnight bag. She followed him up the path to the front door through a garden that was really not much more than a tangle of weeds and wild, runaway bushes.

“That’ll give me something to do when the computer gets too much for me,” Mr. Evans said, looking around him. Gardening was another of his passions and Alison knew he would regard these grounds as a challenge.

A high stone wall ran out towards the back from either side of the house, ending at the cliff’s edge. Through an old gate standing half open Alison could see that the back garden looked just as untamed.

“Lots of luck,” she muttered. “Just don’t ask me to help.” Gardening was not a passion she shared with her father.

“Oh, don’t worry. You’ll probably have lots to do inside. Remember, you volunteered to cook this summer.”

“Volunteered! Was volunteered, you mean.”

“Nonsense. I distinctly heard you say, ‘I’ll take over the cooking this summer, Daddy dear, so you’ll be free to write the novel that’s going to make us rich.’”

Alison laughed. “You’ll be sorry,” she warned. She started to say something else but stopped. A stone carving over the front door had caught her eye. It was a dragon, painted a dull red, rearing up on its hind legs with its front claws outstretched. From its back grew enormous wings and its tongue licked out fiercely. Underneath it were carved the words, Pen-y-Craig. For some reason something seemed forbidding about it to Alison. She felt a shiver run down her spine.

“Dad! What’s that?” She pointed to the figure and was startled to hear her voice shake.

Mr. Evans looked up. “What’s the matter, Alison? It’s just a dragon. The dragon’s the symbol of Wales, you know. Just as the rose is the symbol of England. I expect we’ll see dragons carved all over the place here.”

But Alison couldn’t explain the uneasy, almost frightened feeling that had taken possession of her. “Those words,” she blurted out. “What do they mean?”

Pen-y-Craig,” Mr. Evans read. He put down the suitcases he was holding and reached into his pocket. Pulling out a pocket dictionary, he leafed through it, muttering. “Pen means top, I know that . . . Ah, yes. Rock. Top of the rock—top of the cliff. That’s what it means.”

“It is that,” Alison whispered. The roar of the ocean below drowned out her words.

Mr. Evans unlocked the door and held it open for her. Alison gave herself a shake and stepped through into a long hall.

On either side of them were large rooms with great, heavy oak beams stretching across the ceilings. One room had a long table with chairs around it, the other seemed to be a living room or parlour. Both were crammed full of furniture, clocks, bric-a-brac and dark, looming pictures. At the far end of the hall was the kitchen. Alison could see an ancient stove leaning dejectedly against the wall. She certainly would have her work cut out for her if she was going to have to cook on that. A staircase with a tattered, musty-looking carpet on it ran up from the hall and disappeared into the murkiness above.

The house was clean, the estate people had seen to that, but the smell of the sea had seeped into the shut-up rooms and hung rankly and damply in the air.

“What an incredible place,” Mr. Evans said. “It looks like a museum.”

“Like a haunted museum,” Alison said, then wished she hadn’t. Her voice echoed in the empty hall and seemed to die there.

“Come on. Let’s explore.” Her father was off and up the stairs, two at a time.

She followed him reluctantly. At the top she paused and set her suitcase and overnight bag down. She was in a dark, panelled hall with two rooms off to the right of her and two rooms, one of which looked like a bathroom, on the left. She could hear her father banging around in the farthest room on the right, calling her to come and look at the view, but she stayed where she was.

There was something wrong. Something felt wrong.

Alison stood, her head tilted to one side as if listening. Had she heard a voice calling her name? Impossible. And yet . . . She wished her father would be quiet for a moment.

There. Again! She looked at the closed door of the other room to the right of her. At that moment she felt sure someone was in there. Calling her.

Her father burst out of his room. “There’s a desk in there—would you believe it? A huge old desk! They must have known a writer was coming to live here.” Then he bounded past her back towards the stairs. “I’m going to go down and see if I can get a fire going somewhere,” he announced. “Take the chill off a bit. It’s cold—even if it is supposed to be summer.”

Alison paid hardly any attention to him. She was staring at the door, almost as if she expected it to open by itself. Not really wanting to, but unable to stop herself, she walked over to it and put her hand on the knob. She stood for another moment, listening again. Nothing.

Slowly, she turned the knob and pushed the door open.

The room was big, with a window on the far side looking out over the ocean. It was almost dark now and the corners were filled with shadows. Alison stepped in. A bed loomed against one wall, covered with a dusty-looking quilt. Alison loved quilts—she had even taken a few classes during the winter and had made one for her own bed at home. Never one to follow patterns, she had invented a wild, brightly-coloured scrappy covering that made her smile every time she looked at it. The quilt in this room looked more traditional—faded flowers entwined in circles. She moved over to examine it more closely.

The door swung shut behind her and she jumped, startled, as it slammed. For a

moment she almost panicked, then she caught herself.

It’s the uneven floors, she thought. They’re tilty. Old houses are often tilty. Doors swing open and shut all the time.

But the air within the room felt dead—heavy. She almost had to make an effort to breathe. And it was too quiet. Alison realized that for the first time since they’d got out of the taxi she couldn’t hear the noise of the sea. She walked over to the window and looked out, as if to reassure herself that it was still there. Of course it was. In the darkening evening she could see the white caps of the waves as they dashed toward the cliff on which the house sat. A few seagulls and kittiwakes wheeled and circled far out above the angry water. Rain had begun to spatter at the windowpane. Suddenly, the wind came up. An unexpected blast shook the glass violently, shattering the silence. As if sound everywhere had been turned on again, the roar of the waves invaded the room and in that moment Alison had the distinct impression that someone was watching her. She turned around quickly, expecting to see her father, but there was no one there.

“Dad?” The word faded away as if it had never been spoken.

The room was still empty.

She looked around at the shadows. The rest of the furniture in the room was shrouded in white covers. Indistinct shapes gleamed faintly in the dusk. The feeling that something was wrong came over her again, even more strongly than before. And something else as well.

It feels as if it’s waiting, she thought. As if this whole room is gathered around me, waiting. And then, out of the darkness, she heard a voice.

Alison.

Her name echoed in the room. It hadn’t been spoken aloud. She was certain of that. But she had heard it. She had!

Alison ran for the door and out into the hall. Slamming it herself this time, she darted across the hall and leaned against the wall, gasping, staring at the closed door. Someone was in there. Someone who knew her name! Even as she thought it, she heard the voice again, whispering in her mind.

Alison. You must come back, Alison. You must!