Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

Clayton Hall: The Feather in the Hall

On 14th September, I was at Clayton Hall as writer-in-residence for one of the annual Heritage Open Days. I was writing flash fiction about the hall, based on one-word prompts given by visitors. I asked everyone who popped in for a visit that day to add a word to the board (an adjective, an object or a person), and then I wrote a few short pieces inspired by these words.

Here’s the first one – the prompt word was ‘feather’.

The Feather in the Hall
by Hannah Kate

The girl stood by the fireplace in the wood-panelled room. In the grate, an electric heater cast orange lights, and a flutter-scrap of cloth danced in imitation of flames. To her right, a man in a Tudor ruff and cap sat at a wooden table, sharpening the end of a feather quill.

“Is this room haunted?” the girl asked.

The man in the ruff looked up from his feather. “I’ve never seen a ghost here. And I’ve never felt anything bad in this room, either.”

The girl crossed the floor in front of the fireplace and ran her fingers over the broom propped against the wall. “What’s this for?”

“It’s to give you a feel of what it would have been like to live here. In the old days.”

“When?”

The man in the Tudor costume stood up. “Have you been in the children’s bedroom yet? You can get dressed up in old clothes in there.”

“I’ve been.” The girl walked slowly across the room, letting her hand rest on an open book lying on an old bible box.

The man watched her for a moment, but when she didn’t say anything else he sat back down and busied himself with his feather again. He laid the scalpel against the stem and pushed lightly to shave another layer off the point. It was probably already too sharp, to be honest, but it was something to do to pass the time while the majority of visitors were in the history talk next door. Including, he presumed, the girls’ parents.

He laid down his scalpel and smoothed the point of the quill between his fingers.

“What are you doing?” the girl asked, suddenly turning around from the bible box and looking at the man with curiosity.

“I’m making a pen out of this feather.”

“A pen?”

“Yes. This is how they used to make pens, in the olden days. They’d sharpen one end of a feather quill, and then…”

But when he looked up from the feather he was holding, the little girl was gone. He hadn’t heard any footsteps on the wooden floor—or any creaking floorboards—so she must’ve moved very quietly. And he couldn’t help but frown at her lack of manners.

The man in the Tudor costume sat back down at the wooden table and picked up another feather. The history talk in the next room would be finished in a few minutes, and then the group of visitors would be through to look at this room. He tucked his scalpel away for safety and twirled the feather between his fingers.

“Is this room haunted?”

He looked up from the feather in his hands. But there was no one else in the room with him.

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