After a traumatic and unhappy childhood, Beatrice Davey believed that as she reached adulthood she had already been in contact with the spirit of her mother before she had even died.
An instinctive fear of the shadows of the dead is quite irrational, for as the physical body no longer exists there would seem to be little danger of material harm. A phantom of a living person, however, should perhaps cause deeper concern, for there is still a living power related to it that might be capable of real injury.
The Laity children of Redruth - Lionel, Douglas, and Beatrice - had a very unhappy childhood. Beatrice speaks, not in a spirit of hatred, but with sadness and bewilderment of her mother's vicious way of life, both in thought and action, and of her father, an ex-naval man of a hard, earlier school, unbending and unforgiving. Weakness to him was the ultimate sin and crime: if in the constant recriminations and corrections one of his children cried, or if one showed any sympathy with the other, the punishment fell more heavily and more bitterly.
In the difficult years of her early teens, the only compassion Beatrice felt at home was from her brothers, especially the eldest, Lionel, who had blazed the path of misery and tried as best he could to soften the blows he knew so well.
One tiny gesture in particular became the symbol of this deep understanding between brother and sister: when Mr Laity bullied his daughter, hoping that he could force her into tears so that his fullest fury could be unleased, Lionel would sense when his sister was at breaking point and maneuvering so that his father could not see, he would gently touch her on the crown of her head and let his hand slide down to the nape of her neck, just once. Instantly, Beatrice knew that she was not alone, not taking the weight of her father's anger on her own shoulders, but in some way sharing it.
In 1939, the family moved to Plymouth and when the war broke out the two boys immediately joined the navy, so Beatrice was left alone to face her misery. She was just 14 when the whole of her frail world collapsed: the brother she worshipped was killed in what must have been one of the cruelest tricks that fate played during the war.
Lionel's ship, HMS Registan, anchored late on the night of 27 May 1941 just outside Falmouth harbour at the end of a patrol, awaiting first light to enter, when a single German plane dropped a single bomb which fell straight down the funnel, exploding in the very heart of the vessel. Everyone in the area was torn to pieces.
Beatrice was distraught: her parents, perhaps to hide their own feelings, were unable or unwilling to show any sympathy or understanding. Beatrice's grief and emotion built up dangerously in her isolation: she rejected her deep belief in religion, and daily the peace of extinction grew more appealing. One night when the call for self-destruction had become irresistible, she suddenly felt the pressure of a light hand soothing her head from crown to nape, and she knew that from somewhere her brother had come to comfort her for the last time. Only this time it was not tears he was blocking, but death itself. From that momentary touch, her hatred and bitterness vanished: she could face the lesser but still staggering blow of her second brother's death in HMS Dorsetshire a few months later with resignation.
But time moved on, and healed. The war ended and in 1949 Beatrice married, at last finding peace and happiness in her husband and children. The nightmares of the past seemed to be just nightmares, and if they did not disappear on waking, they could at least be put into perspective. Then in 1961, came the experience that brought the black tides of the past flooding back: Beatrice had been deeply asleep but found herself instantly awake with her sense preternaturally clear and keen. There, standing silent and ominous at the foot of her bed was the grey form of an elderly woman with distinctive bush hair and outline, but with her face veiled and unrecognisable in what seemed deliberate shadow. Although there was no sound and no visible expression, Beatrice knew that the being was filled with an unbelievable hatred towards her - a malevolence which intensified as the apparition moved slowly and with undisguised menace towards the head of the bed.
Beatrice called out, "Who are you? What do you want?" and as the figure moved inexorably and soundlessly on, she desperately invoked her deep religious belief to dispel the vision. Whether it was this, or whether it was because she leaned towards her husband's bed to waken him, the phantom slowly faded. "I knew", says Beatrice, "that I had never done anything in my life to warrant such hatred from another human being, and I admit that for many nights I was afraid to go to sleep." But slowly the most pressing dread faded, though the intensity of her fear had burned the image with absolute clarity into her consciousness.
In 1969 Beatrice's father died, and though relations had in no way mellowed over the years, her mother, lonely and elderly came to live with the family. Yet this, it seemed, and the three grandchildren, seemed only to add fresh fuel to the old lady's blazing fire of antagonism and bitterness.
One night in November 1970, Beatrice woke to hear a faint shuffling sound, and a moment later a grey shape of a figure slid past the frosted glass of her bedroom door. Instantly, the memory of that fearful phantom of nine years earlier leaped from the past as Beatrice slipped from the bed into the darkened corridor. The landing was completely empty and silent: she hurried apprehensively to the door of her daughter's bedroom which was open, and there, in the faint glow from outside she saw with horror the same grey shape looming motionless and menacing at the foot of the bed. The outline, the bushy hair, and the slight stoop of age were identical with that other apparition, and with awful apprehension, Beatrice instinctively stretched out her hand to ward it off.
But more terrifyingly than if she had encountered nothing, her outstretched hand touched a solid human body: in a panic she switched on the dim night light and saw her mother standing there, her eyes blazing with a hatred that transcended even that of the other phantom. In utter silence, but with her eyes fixed with intense malevolence on her daughter, the old woman shuffled back to her room. Beatrice was so distressed and so physically afraid of what might happen that she saw her doctor the following morning: on his advice her mother was sent to stay with her own sister some distance away. Here she died six months later. "I know", says Beatrice, "that the 'person' I saw years earlier was not the ghost of a dead person as I had thought, but some kind of presence of a future conflict with my own mother." She wonders now just why that apparition should have appeared in 1962, not long after the birth of her daughter. Was it resentment so powerful that the shadow could be projected? Was it a warning of what might have happened on that night in 1970? Or was there some other reason for the strange wandering?