It was a warm summer afternoon, and Bess sat cross-legged on the wooden bench in the back yard of the red brick apartment building while her mother hosted a tea party. Bess had just finished her new novel when she heard blue jays screeching in the nearby evergreen tree. She smiled when she watched red squirrels play tag on the white picket fence. Bess had been writing everything down that she saw to share with Megan, who was grounded for the rest of the week.
Bess set her book down and looked around. The weeping willow formed a perfect canopy and reading nock which was one of her favorite spots. She listened to the chorus of birds as they crowded around the bird feeder that hung from a low branch of the maple tree in the corner of the fence. Bess gazed at the manicured lawn surrounded by a border of marigolds and daisies. Her thoughts wandered to all the noises she had heard in the attic. What could be causing them? She put her book in her special little alcove and walked towards Mr. Mars, the caretaker, as he started to clean the old lawnmower. “Do you think there are ghosts?”
Mr. Mars wiped his greasy hands on a rag. “I haven’t seen any. Why?”
“There is banging, creaking and footsteps coming from the attic every night.” Bess said.
Mr. Mars chuckled as he put his tools and lawn mower in the metal garden shed. “Shall we look?”
Bess slipped her slim fingers into Mr. Mars gnarled ones as they walked along the cobbled path to the green back door. The heavy door creaked when Mr. Mars opened it. A beam of light shone through the round boat like window until Mr. Mars pulled the cord that dangled from the bare bulb in the entrance way. Bess followed him up the steep uncarpeted stairs to the third floor landing. On the landing Mr. Mars pulled the handle on the hatch door and pulled down the fold-down staircase. “Do you want to go first?”
“No, I will follow,” Bess peered up into the dark cavity.
“All right then. Let’s go, shall we. You know its just a dusty room full of old furniture and stuff.” Mr. Mars said when he reached the top of the stairs.
“This room gives me the creeps,” Bess squinted as she looked around in the dim light. Dusty boxes and old rickety furniture cluttered the space. She wrapped her arms around her chest as she peered into the shadowy corners “I’ve got goose bumps.” She listened to the muffled sound of voices drifting up through the heating vent. The apartment she shared with her mother and father was just below.
“It appears someone else has been up here recently. See the footprints and the scrapes on the floor where furniture has been moved. When renters move and leave things behind it’s stashed up here for at least five years. It’s time to clean out some of the accumulating stuff.” Mr. Mars walked across the wide planks to pull the cord on the overhead light. The bare bulb bathed the room in a golden light but didn’t reach the corners. “Those shutters are broken and could bang creating some of the noises you heard. I will have to fix them. I told the people that moved into the main floor apartment they could get furniture from up here because they didn’t have much. It could have been them walking around that you heard.”
Bess looked at the cobwebs hanging in the corner. “If you take down the spider webs I will help you. I hate spiders.” She gazed around in amazement at the array of assorted items. “At night? We did hear heavy footsteps one night. Mostly just creaking and pitter patter of little feet.”
“Hmm.” Mr. Mars stroked his goatee. “Two will get the job done faster. Possibly find the source of your ghost. The missus has been after me to clean up this space, anyway.”
“Our apartment is one floor below, and I hear strange noises at night,” Bess pulled out a couple of boxes of old newspapers.
“It might be time for a bonfire,” Mr. Mars offered, looked through another box of old magazines and books.
Bess opened a box of books and an old book smell and faint scent of vanilla wafted upwards. “Can I keep them? Don’t throw them out. Here is an old copy of Grimes Fairy Tales.”
“Those were left laying in an apartment five years ago. Just tossed into a corner of the bedroom. Take what you want.” Mr. Mars opened another dusty box marked possessions of the Frank family. “It’s full of old toys. If I remember correctly their child died in the hospital and they didn’t want any reminder of that sad time. There is a teddy bear on top.”
“The toys could be donated to someone. There is another little teddy bear buried in the middle. It needs a little love and would go with my collection. “Hey look at these photo albums.”
“I often wondered where those disappeared to,” Mr. Mars looked over Bess’ shoulder. “The wife almost turned the apartment upside down searching for them.”
Bess knelt in front of the box of toys and pulled out two more dusty teddy bears “Just need cleaning and cuddling.” She continued to rummage through the boxes making a lot of discoveries. “Look at those scrapbooks. Someone took a lot of time doing them.” Bess inhaled the scent of paste and the musty smell of old paper. “There are all kinds of treasures hidden up here.” Underneath was a collection of cut out pictures of cats and other baby animals and a collection of old recipes. “Do you know who these belonged to?”
“I don’t recollect seeing them before. The boxes and furniture have been up here for a long time. Shall we continue?” Mr. Mars said. “No sign of your ghost though. Maybe tree branches scrap the windows. Was it windy when you heard the noise?”
“No, not always.” Bess set the books, teddies, and albums to one side. She skipped across the wide plank floor. The last time she had come up here was with Mother when she looked through the old dressers for one to refinish. She had only been six then and didn’t like the gloomy attic.
“A slight breeze makes those old shutters bang,” Mr. Mars continued, pulling an old trunk across the floor, leaving a trail in the dust.
Bess looked up at the exposed rafters when she heard a rustling above her head. “Is there something up there? I heard some squeaks.” She dashed over to the window to peer outside when she noticed a broken pane. “Look at that.”
Mr. Mars followed Bess to the window. “Critters could easily get inside.”
Bess looked up at the ceiling as a beam of sunlight peaked through a dusty window pane. “Isn’t that a nest in the rafters? Are birds getting in?”
“Looks too big for a bird’s nest.” Mr. Mars replied.
“There is that noise again. What’s up there?” Bess was poised to run as she stared into the corner. The hair at the back of her neck prickled as she listened to the overhead noises.
“We shall we find out, shan’t we?” Mr. Mars assured. “I’ll get the step ladder, and we’ll have a look. Wait here. I will be right back.”
While she waited, Bess continued to look through the many boxes. She looked nervously over her shoulder as goosebumps formed on her arms. Bess set some items to one side when she heard the clatter of the ladder when Mr. Mars came back up.
“Let’s set the ladder up in the corner. I brought a flashlight because that corner is quite dark.” The step ladder creaked when Mr. Mars opened it.
“Can I look?” Bess’ curiosity was winning over any fear she had of the strange rustling in the corner. She scrambled up the wobbly ladder as Mr. Mars held it steady. She held the flashlight in one hand as she peeked over the edge into the large nest made of twigs, leaves, mud, and bits of colorful string. “Oh, there are cute baby squirrels up here. They wouldn’t make that much noise would they?”
“Their sleeping now but I reckon they would make a lot of racket. The roof and window will have to be fixed.” Mr. Mars said, as Bess climbed down.
“What will happen to the squirrels?” she enquired.
“I will contact the Animal Services, so they can relocate the squirrels to the nearby park.” Mr. Mars assured her.
They turned their attention back to decluttering the space and worked silently each lost in their thoughts and soon had piles for donation, bonfire, and keeping.
“Help push those old dressers against the wall. Someone might be able to use this old furniture. The wife donates items to needy folk,” Mr. Mars leaned an old oak mirror against the wall.
“Can I have the mirror and corner book case?” My shelves are overflowing,” Bess asked.
“Of course. You’ll need a place for those old books.” Mr. Mars said. “You have been a big help. I have been putting this job off for months now, and am glad its done. There is a wardrobe that matches the bookshelf.”
“Won’t Megan be surprised when she learns the source of our ghost,” Bess chuckled, as she clattered down the narrow stairs.
About the author
I grew up in rural Manitoba the fourth in a family of five. My parents were older almost old enough to be grandparents. When I was growing up we didn’t have a TV. I loved music and constantly listened to the radio. My dad often said I wore out the radio because he was constantly taking it into to town to replace the worn out tubes. I was an avid reader and devoured every available book. One of my favorites was the Anne of Green Gables series. LM Montgomery was and still is my hero.
I was creative and used my imagination to entertain myself. I would always dream up stories but never wrote them down because they looked pretty dismal on paper. I have always loved animals and every time I went for a walk our dog, Lady, a border collie and a string of cats followed me. I still have an dog, Odie and two cats Patches and Delihah.
I still like to read and read a wide range of books. I work in my garden and do art work in pencil, pen and ink, colored pencil and acrylic.
I have gone full circle. I grew up on the farm and then lived in the city for over thirty years. I now live in a scenic small town. It took me a long tine to learn to get out of my own way. Once I learned to relax the words started flowing and my characters were finally able to get out of my head.
Writing is as natural as breathing and makes me a complete person. I was taught to keep my feelings hidden and often hid them from myself. Writing gets me in touch with my creative self, spirit and my inner child who finally can express herself. Writing makes me a rounder and fulfilled person. Writing is a must do not a want to. I have an inner compulsion to write that has to be listened to.
Art work has always been the same. I draw and paint because I have to. Drawing and painting releases pent up emotions and keeps me in touch with my creative side which grows stronger all the time.
There have been different artists and writers who influenced my style at first and I have gone on to develop my own unique style. Reading about other writer’s lives and meeting other artists has given me a great deal of encouragement during periods when I didn’t feel like continuing with my work.
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Books by M. E. Hembroff
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Bess’s mother moves them to Pineview, away from her best friend Megan, and she terribly misses her. Six months earlier, Bess’s father died in a car crash, and she’s also in the midst of recovering from the final stages of polio. She’s in a sad and lonely place.
From the moment she and her mother settle into their new home, Bess hears whispering voices and encounters a ghostly figure in the well-kept garden and in her dreams. She can’t make sense of everything and so shares her observations with Megan by writing her regular letters.
During the summer, she makes new friends, including an orange and white tomcat that she names Pumpkin, and her new neighbour Josie. With the help of Mrs. O’Toole, the woman who watches her, Bess continues to recover, both physically and emotionally. She becomes more and more curious about the garden and the unexplained clues that she finds there.
In Bess’s Magical Garden, Bess discovers her own true strengths through enduring life’s struggles. She – with Josie and Megan’s help – also finds some hidden items in the garden, including a map, that leave the girls with more questions than answers. Who was the figure that visited Bess? Will Bess and her friends be able to uncover the garden’s secrets? Or will those secrets be mysteries forever?
After Bess Silver had settled into her new home in Pineview she thought her biggest problem would be settling into a new school. She was surprised to learn that it was a one room school house which was different from what she was used to. That all changed when Megan Skye, her best friend and cousin, dashed into their kitchen late one afternoon with exciting news. Megan’s father discovered an old cabin, hidden behind a wall, when he started kitchen renovations. Megan asked him to take the suitcases, ledgers and trunk they found to Bess instead of throwing them out. Clues turn up in the suitcases and in a secret compartment in the cabin which leaves Bess puzzled. When she first looked around the cabin she sees a ghostly figure that disappears in an instant but was as real as Megan. Dreams about the cabin and occupants haunt Bess. These feel so real that Bess can’t shake the feeling that she was actually near them. Who is the figure that Bess saw in the cabin? What is she trying to tell her? Why is she having dreams about the old cabin? Will Bess be able to figure out who the mysterious figure is? Or would these secrets remain secrets forever?
Gramma Mouse is visiting and relaxing when her grandbabies beg her to tell them a story. Tiny, Gramma Mouse, tells them about her trip across the old garden to visit Cousin Mouse. Tiny struts off staying out of sight at first. Then she pops out to look around and immediately forgets Ma and Pa’s advice. She stops to visit and look around. She receives warnings of approaching danger that she ignores. Tiny is having fun playing and investigating and forgets to watch for danger. She has a few narrow escapes but does learn valuable lessons along the way.