In December 2021, I published ‘The Fairy Lights’ as a spooky short story in this post. As it happens, the ideas kept coming and so I have now expanded the story into a novel, with a release date of 10th November 2022. Here is the first chapter from the book, available on Amazon.

Chapter one

Aisling taped the last fairy light to the narrow stairwell of the redbrick Edwardian terraced house that she had called home for the past three months. The multi-coloured lights snaked up the handrail, around the bannister on the landing above, across the ceiling and down the other side of the stairs towards the hallway. They had a battery compartment, USB port and plug in attachment, but for now electricity would do. She plugged them in and slid the switch to the right, making the lights blink.

No: too garish; and it was bound to give her a headache. What if one of her guests had epilepsy and the blinking fairy lights triggered a fit? It was a serious consideration; after all, a seizure had eventually led to her own mum’s passing. Too much risk. She slid the switch through the middle setting – off – and over to the left side, which put the fairy lights at a static ‘on’ setting. Perfect. She stood back and admired her handiwork with a smile. A bit of festive colour would add seasonal cheer to her party, the first she had ever hosted.

Before she left the house to get party supplies, Aisling switched off all the Christmas lights: tree in the living room, front window LED Santa, snowman and snowflake, nutcracker lights strung across the kitchen and lastly, the fairy lights running up the stairwell. She pulled on her boots and coat and set off up the street to the main road to do some shopping.

When Aisling returned half an hour later, she was laden with two canvas bags full of drinks – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic – as well as party treats. She had tried to buy as wide a range of food as the local convenience store would allow for: vegan canapēs; a selection of Christmas cheese nibbles; a gluten-free yuletide log and of course, the all-time party favourite food, cocktail sausages. She fumbled with the latch key to the door and squeezed into the narrow hallway sideways to allow room for the two bulky bags without squashing anything.

Aisling stopped without shutting the front door and stared up the stairwell. The fairy lights were switched on. Hadn’t she turned everything off before she had left the house? Yes, she was pretty sure she had. She went over it all in her head: tree; LED lights; string kitchen lights; fairy lights. Yes, she was positive she had switched everything off.

There was only one explanation for it; the fairy lights had to be faulty. The three settings of the switch were indeed close to each other on the plug: left for on, middle for off and right for blinking. Maybe a minor malfunction of the wires allowed it to switch on by itself. Not to worry; Aisling set down her shopping carrier bags in the hallway, pushed the front door shut with her foot and traipsed up the stairs to have a look.

Aisling stared at the switch on the plug. It had been flicked to the left.

But that was impossible. She was positive that she had slid the switch to the middle setting – off – when she had left the house not half an hour before.

There couldn’t possibly be an intruder in the house, could there? A chill came over her as she set about checking every room. All the windows were shut and nothing looked disturbed. Besides, even if a burglar had broken into the house – in half an hour, no less – why would they have turned on the fairy lights as a marker that they had been and gone? It made no sense.

Aisling stopped on the landing and looked up. A small hatch opened into the attic. It measured maybe twelve by eighteen inches; narrow, but enough for a person to fit through. What if a person was living up there and sneaking about the house when she was out? It was an Edwardian, two-up, two-down ‘parlour’ house in Stranmillis Village in Belfast, probably built over a hundred years ago, judging by fact that it had a built in coal-bunker out in the back yard that now housed the boiler. It had a shed too, a built-in brickwork compartment next to the coal-bunker that was covered with a corrugated iron roof. The shed had once been, most likely, an outside toilet when neither electricity nor internal plumbing were commonplace. Such an old house probably gave access to roof spaces and other nooks and crannies where a person could hide.

The thought was unsettling, but that wasn’t why Aisling ruled it out. No, she ruled it out for another reason; if a person, or persons, were living in her attic space then food or possessions would have gone missing. Nothing had been stolen, moved or misplaced in the three months since she had moved in. Furthermore, she was a Queen’s University student like most of the people living on her street. Like many other students she could think of, Aisling was broke. What good would it do for a person to live in the roof-space above an undergraduate History with Irish student with more debt than money to their name?

No; Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is usually the best one. What did Aisling’s gut feeling tell her about the mystery of the fairy lights switching on by themselves?

That the fairy lights hadn’t malfunctioned. They hadn’t switched on by themselves.

That no living person was living in her attic.

No living person. Aware of the chill still lingering around her shoulders, Aisling hunched them close to herself and rubbed her arms for warmth as she glanced over the bannister at the fairy lights, shining benignly at her. If only they could speak to her, to tell her in their own words what had happened. Who – or what – had switched them on?

~END OF CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT~

Available for £1.99/$2.99 from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon CA or Amazon AU.

About Leilanie Stewart

Leilanie Stewart is an author and poet from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her writing centres around protagonists who are on a journey of self-discovery and who explore their identity by overcoming adversity. She began writing for publication while working as an English teacher in Japan, a career pathway that has influenced themes in her writing. Her former career as an Archaeologist has also inspired her writing and she has incorporated elements of archaeology and mythology into both her fiction and poetry. In addition to promoting her own work, Leilanie runs Bindweed Magazine, a creative writing ezine, with her writer husband, Joseph Robert. Aside from literary pursuits, Leilanie enjoys spending time with her husband and their lively literary tot, a voracious reader of construction vehicle books. CONNECT WITH ME ON SOCIAL MEDIA: https://mailchi.mp/17e6ca162ff3/leilanie-stewart-author

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