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Footsteps in Bay de Verde: A mysterious tale

by Charis Cotter and Jenny Dwyer (ill.)

Bridie loves listening to the stories that get shared whenever the neighbours come round: tales of shipwrecks, murder, pirates, and ghosts. One night, squashed between her sister and brother in a corner of their kitchen while the men smoke pipes and chew tobacco, she listens to the grown-ups discuss local news and gossip before the talk turns to Poor Keye, a local man “near blind with cataracts and half lame with his bad leg,” who’s had to go to the hospital in St. John’s “coughing something terrible.”

When the front door slams and Bridie and the grown-ups hear footsteps approaching down the hallway, everyone assumes it must be Poor Keye, home early from hospital. But instead of coming into the kitchen, the footsteps carry down to the “dim, cold room” known as the back kitchen. Noticing the time, the adults send the children to bed. When a telegram arrives the next morning, its message provides a chilling explanation for the footsteps.

Author and storyteller Charis Cotter has made a specialty of ghostly tales that include The Swallow, The Painting, and The Ghost Road. Here, she recounts a deceptively simple tale passed down from a fellow collector of Newfoundland ghostly lore, Brian Walsh (revealed in the afterword to be none other than Bridie’s son).

Jenny Dwyer’s shadowy illustrations provide a suitably spooky complement to Cotter’s words. Faces appear luminescent against dark backgrounds, expressions by turns wary and terrified. Poor Keye’s eerie portrait shows him bony and dead-eyed, so that by the time we read about his distinctive shambling footsteps (“step-shuffle-thump”) we’re primed for fright.

Although brief, and told from a six-year-old’s viewpoint, the story is creepy enough to be best suited for slightly older children and sits somewhere between conventional picture book and middle-grade markets. A quirky production from Newfoundland micropress Running the Goat, Footsteps in Bay de Verde may be slight but it doesn’t patronize its young audience – and will likely send a few shivers down older spines, too.