Taken from


A collection of stories by Anne McCosker


The church hells stopped ringing.  Frances pushed the pillow away from her ears. 

How the bells rang in Malta! Soon after her arrival Frances had became aware of their endless clanging.   Many rang like those in the church next to her hotel, every quarter of an hour from early morning until midnight. It was midnight now. 

She sighed with relief. The endless intoning was being to disturb her. The bells were too close. The room stifled by their clanging.  She crossed the room, opened a window and leant out.  Life surged around her. 

Frances’s window opened out to a walled courtyard.  The hotel with its window-dotted walls formed three sides, the blank wall of the church with the bells the fourth.  Her room on the second top floor was at right angles to the church tower - with its bells. Frances, fair haired, slim build, in her late forties, recrossed the room, settled back into bed, switched off the bedside lamp and relaxed on to her pillow.  It had been a long day; walking, watching, and listening, in glorious Valetta.  Tomorrow she hoped to go across the Grand Harbour to explore the old city of Vittoriosa.  Now she must rest. 

Before sleep though the dawn-of-sleep came and she lay eyes closed, mind drifting round and in and then away from conscious physical concepts.  So much in Malta was so old.  Figures and faces, forms and shadows had seemed to follow Frances everywhere she went teasing, enticing.  They moved through corridor of palace, about pillar of church and through stone of humble dwelling.  They moved in and out of alley ways and wandered up and down the line of curving waves that touched harbour inlet, cove and crevice.  Surely here Time gathered itself into a Pavane to delight or terrify those who wanted - or were able - to see. 

As the woman remembered the day’s pictures and moods, a faint glow from the lights of Sliema coloured her bedroom.  Shadows moved across the walls from the uncurtained window opposite.  Silence settled in the room, settled, paused and stirred. 

Frances half rose from her pillow, alert, tense.  Was there some thing, some one in the room? There was no form near the door, no silhouette of head or outline of arm near her bed.  But some one was there, she felt sure.  Her mind caught another mind and held it to her intellect. 

“I did not mean to do it, I did not mean to do it.  I wanted to hit the docks. I did not mean to do it.” 

“No of course you did not” Frances found herself saying in mental language, not sure what she meant or who or what she was talking to  - or about. 

The room was still. No flesh moved, no words were spoken.  Her mind though communicated with, and to something.  Energy worked.  Mental energy was mental words.  She was understanding and could be understood.  Surely that meant another human being.  Frances realised that out of, and apart of this dancing Pavane called Malta, she was talking to an airman.  Energy had come to stand there beside her bed as a German airman from World War II.  He was in obvious distress. 

For a few more seconds Frances and the other were suspended in the dance.  Two people spoke, the living and another who wanted, it seemed, a human to talk to, some one still alive in this earthly world.  Then as swiftly as she had first felt its form, it was gone and the room fell back into the dance, all distinctive energy gone. 

The woman too fell back, onto her pillow.   Her head was no longer taut as it had been when her mind within her mind, her spirit self, spoke to another spirit whose soul was blocked in death.  The room was still coloured with the lights of Sliema.   Shadows still moved slowly across the walls from the uncurtained window opposite.   Frances lay quietly, had she just awoken from a dawn-of-sleep dream? 

Days later, Frances was in the main museum of Valetta where the proud World War II history of Malta was displayed.  She idled through the rooms then suddenly stopped by one glass case.  Here were displayed photographs of a German plane shot down over Malta.  Beside them a few pieces of the young German pilot’s personal property.  Those few tattered bits were all that remained of what was once a man, a human being with a soul and spirit. 

The woman tensed.  Those possessions were familiar.  Tiredness hovered around her.  She walked to the next display case.  Here were pictures of Malta, before, during and after the war; photos of the Grand Harbour, streets in Valetta, houses in Sliema, the church beside her hotel. 

The church beside her hotel! Frances stiffened and stared.  One photo showed a badly bombed church.  It had suffered a direct hit, hit it was suggested on the information label probably by mistake, bombs being meant for the docks.  The picture showed no hotel there then.  Frances’s bedroom would have been up in the sky beside the bells. 

A few photographs further on, the information label stated that the plane had crashed after bombing the church and the pilot killed.  Frances’s mind heard a dead man’s anguished voice again.  “I did not mean to do it, I did not mean to do it”.  She glimpsed a rubbled church and smoke filled sky, a living pilot’s last sight of this world. That smoke filled sky was now enclosed by hotel walls - Frances’s room.

Had walls and windows been built around the pilot’s spirit encasing him in a dead yet living tomb or had the building of the hotel given hope?  Hotel rooms would let him move among the living, touch out at human beings, not just empty space.  Had the airman moved in and out of all the bedrooms close to the church wall or was he focussed on just one room - Frances’s room.  Had a man hovered there night after night, seeking out each new guest in a desperate attempt to give his explanation? 

And what of the bells, had they hindered or helped.  Had he wait in growing agitation every day and night until they stopped, knowing no one would hear his voice above that clamour.  Or was their clanging cry an echo of the man’s soul praying for release. 

The woman stared at the photographs, stared and thought.  Had no one before heard, or cared to understand.  Why had she? Had she really helped him? Would he now leave this world? It was five nights since she had mentally heard that voice.  There had been no sense of his energy since then.  Had the pilot’s spirit character finally found peace? 

Frances walked through the museum exit door.  She walked out into the streets of Valetta, streets where the Pavane never stopped as Time advanced in measured busy circles, letting the intellect pick up and draw any character it brushed.   And as the woman walked shadows formed and followed and the bells of Malta rang. 


© Anne McCosker  2015