Skating on Thin Ice
by Sarah Das Gupta
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast.
It had begun to snow again when Jenny alighted from the last bus. The
village of Hampton was dark with all the Christmas lights switched off for
the night. Should she take the long route home or risk the short cut over
the fields? She was resigned to a cold walk whichever route she chose. No
taxi would come out to Hampton in this type of weather. Her fellow
passengers had quickly disappeared into nearby houses. Anyway, her
nearest neighbours were at least three miles away from her home, Fir Tree
Cottage. Jenny decided the short route was preferable. Christmas shopping
always exhausted her and she was longing to snuggle down in a cosy, warm
bed. Heaving her rucksack onto her back, she set off briskly along Mill Lane.
The snow had begun to settle and had already coated the top of the bare
hedges, like a layerof icing sugar. Jenny’s feet were numb, despite two pairs
of skiing socks. She pushed her gloved hands deeper into the pockets of her
fleece lined leather coat. The local playground looked surreal with the
swings covered in snow and the seesaw edged with dagger-like icicles. As
she passed the field at the back of the village school, she could see the dark
shadows of horses, their backs to the driving snow, their heads lowered.
Somewhere an owl hooted and a lone fox barked from a distant wood.
Jenny reckoned she was half way home as she clambered over the stile into
Warren Lane. She could feel the sharp -sided flints through the soles of her
rubber boots, pressing painfully against her freezing feet.
Jenny paused a moment before crossing Beech Common. The moon
emerged from behind banks of grim clouds. Walking was easier there. The
dead grass cushioned her footsteps and the moon shone through bare
branches onto the glistening snow. A few minutes walking
would bring her close to the dark water of Sheep Dip Pond.
Suddenly, she heard voices and laughter coming from the direction of the
Local legend told how the middle was very deep. There were stories of
suicides, lovers’ tiffs, mysterious drownings. It was the last place you would
expect to hear laughter on a snowy winter night!
Jenny couldn’t go back. The thought of returning to Hampton and walking
along the main Road was impossible to contemplate. It was probably a
group of drunken teenagers celebrating Christmas in this remote spot.
Jenny edged her way along the avenue of birches beside the water. A gap in
the trees suddenly gave her a full view of the pond. Instinctively, she
clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle the scream which threatened to
disturb the scene.
Six or seven figures were skating over the thin ice on the
pond. Three at least were children who were being supported by the adult
figures. One pair came close to Jenny, who tried to hide behind a
clump of snowy brambles. The man was skating smoothly and expertly. The
young girl, her hand tightly gripped in his, seemed less confident. He was
dressed in dark breeches and a fustian tunic. His skates reminded Jenny of
old Victorian skates she had seen in the local museum. The girl’s long, red
velvet dress billowed out as she completed the circle. With one hand she
clutched at her fur bonnet.
Jenny was almost in reach of the skaters. She was about to crouch down
behind the brambles, when she had a view, for the first time, of their faces.
The moon came out ffrom a bank of dark clouds. Jenny froze as she stared
at the empty eye sockets, the pale skin drawn so tightly over the skull that
the darker outline of the bones was visible. She stared into the girl’s blank
face. There was no reaction, no emotion, only a whispered comment
and a spine-chilling, hollow laugh from the man. Jenny looked at their feet
as they spun away. In places, the ice was so thin she could see the dark
water beneath. At the edges of the pond it had begun to melt into a brown
That's when she realised they were not skating.
Their feet were floating over the ice. There was no sound of the skates, no
reassuring swish as they cut into the surface. Their feet were a few inches
above the fast -melting ice. Over the far side of the pond a man in
breeches, a white shirt and black waistcoat was twirling
and dancing with a woman in a long white dress and bright green cloak
which swirled around her. The full moon was reflected on the surface and
they seemed to chase the reflection as it danced across the ice.
Jenny tried to creep away, along the path by the bushes. She couldn’t move.
Her feet were frozen to the spot. A force pulled her towards the edge of the
water. It seemed a power, a strong, unseen arm, drawing her slowly,
irresistibly. She could feel the water under her boots, hear the hollow,
She almost surrendered. It would be easier to slip in, to embrace
the water, silver and magical in the moonlight. She was drifting asleep,
the water now over her knees.
Then, suddenly the power vanished, she felt the aching cold of the water.
Instinctively, she waded back to the muddy footpath. She stared at the
pond where lumps of ice floated freely. The moon shone on the water, now
devoid of dancers.
Jenny pushed open the iron gate of Fir Cottage. Her thoughts were in a
turmoil. Had there really been skaters on Sheep Dip Pond? The ice was too
thin to have borne the weight of a young child, let alone a tall man. The
terrible, empty sockets seemed to stare back at her as she entered the dark
hall. She switched on the lamp and electric fire in the front room.
Somehow it was colder inside, despite the bright Christmas decorations, the
shining baubles on the Christmas tree and the cards on the oak
She flopped down into the old leather armchair by the fire. In a moment she
had drifted into a troubled sleep.
It must have been at least an hour later that Jenny suddenly awoke. She
could hear footsteps, at first on the stairs, then in the bedroom above. She
sat listening. The noise had stopped. She had often heard such noises in the
old cottage as the house seemed to stretch and turn in its five hundred
year- long sleep.
Jenny now felt wide awake. The room was still cold as she stood with a cup
of coffee, looking at the volumes in an old Victorian bookcase near the
window. At last, she discovered the shabby, leather-bound book she’d been
searching for. She had found it the previous summer at a church Jumble Sale
while emptying a cardboard box full of knick-knacks. Jenny returned to
the armchair with her coffee and the book with its gilt-edged pages. She
turned a torn page with a list of contents. Her heart missed a beat, the
room felt colder as she read, ‘Eight Villagers Fall Through Thin Ice at Sheep
Pulling a shawl tightly round her shoulders, Jenny began to read.
‘In 1867 the winter in the village of Hampton had been unusually mild. There
were reports of gardeners still picking roses in early November. However,
the weather changed shortly before Christmas. Heavy snow fell in the
district. There were reports of farms being cut off and sheep being dug out
of snow drifts. Sheep Dip Pond was said to be frozen over. Village
boys were seen sliding and skating on it.
One night before Christmas, a group from Long Meadow Farm were seen
skating, though the previous day the mercury had risen. Tragedy struck
when a child, near the centre of the pond began sinking as the ice cracked.
Two men skated out to rescue her and themselves were sucked down into
the dark water. The rest of the adults formed a chain reaching across
to the centre of the pond but the combined weight was too much for the
melting ice. With a crack like a cannon firing, a huge gap opened up across
the pond and the would be rescuers disappeared into its jagged, icy mouth.
Two young boys died attempting to reach their drowning father. One man
dragged himself to the shallow water. He only lived long enough
to tell the tale before dying of pneumonia the next week in Walford Hospital.
The pond is believed to be extremely deep. The body of Marian Forster, aged
nine, has never been recovered.’
Jenny put the book down. She thought about the ghostly skaters she had
seen that evening. Why would they return to a scene of such loss and
sorrow? What about the child, Marian Foster, had she returned or were the
spectral skaters still looking for her? In the silence Jenny heard the
footsteps again. This time they seemed to be walking across her bedroom.
She walked slowly upstairs and pushed the door open. As light flooded the
room, Jenny breathed freely again, the room was empty. She walked to the
window to draw the heavy curtains. The moonlit scene was bright as day. In
the garden the snow glittered like hundreds of tiny diamond chips.
Jenny suddenly shivered. She felt a cold draught of air. She knew someone
was standing behind her. She turned quickly only to be petrified, frozen to
the spot.Surrounded by a haze of light a girl stood in front of Jenny. The
skin on the arms was wrinkled and sloughed. A grey wax covered the face;
the teeth were a strange, pinkish shade. Mud and strands of water weed
clung to her long, blonde hair. Cuts and lacerations were scratched across
her hands and arms. A wet fur bonnet hung from skeletal fingers
while a sodden, red velvet dress clung to her waist.
This was the skater Jenny had seen a few hours earlier. The eyeless sockets
stared, without pain, without anger, without feeling. The figure beckoned
to Jenny with white, bony fingers and turned towards the stairs. Jenny felt
again the power, the energy she had felt at the pond’s edge. She followed
the girl down the stairs, into the moonlit garden, along the footpath,
towards Sheep Dip Pond.
Sarah Das Gupta is a retired teacher from near Cambridge, UK.who also taught in India and Tanzania. She started writing a year ago after spending time in hospital, following an accident. Her work has been published in a number of magazines from 12 different countries, including US, UK, Australia, Canada, India, Germany, Croatia, Romania among others.
About the Host
Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.