Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Old House

 It seems that I am, just as Carla and Jack are, stuck in the haunted house. Get me out!

Jack was numb. Why was the gravestone there? What did it mean? He’d only seen his Mum a few days ago; she couldn’t be…
Then Carla stopped in her tracks and fell to her knees in front of a small headstone.
“No…No….” she started crying, reaching out to touch the writing.
Jack looked.

Freddie Cat
Son of Fredrick the Furious
Forever one of us

Carla was sobbing in to her hands. Seeing her like, knowing it was his turn to help her, gave Jack a jolt of strength. He pulled her up.
“Like you said, it’s all lies,” he said. “They’re messing with our heads, ignore it.”
Slowly he managed to move Carla away, although she kept looking back at the little grave as she continued to cry. As Jack tried to focus on the mist ahead, he told himself to believe his own words.
A few steps later Jack could now see the house. The grey stone was ancient and falling apart in places, and there was loads of ivy climbing up the walls. The countless windows were tall and dark.  For a second he thought he saw an outline of a figure in the top left one, but then it vanished.
What with the swirling mist and the shadows, there was an undeniably sinister feel to the place. Without realising it, both children had come to a standstill and were looking up at the house. Carla reached for Jack’s hand.
“We don’t have to go in if you don’t want to,” said Jack, trying to sound brave.
“We have to,” replied Carla. “I don’t know what else to do.”
They moved forward then, the house now looming over them, threatening. The hair on the back of Jack’s neck stood up, getting the feeling they were being watched. He glanced back up at the top left window, but nothing was there.
On the mist was the hint of a whisper, “Come, come.”  
Carla’s grip on Jacks hand tightened.
They reached the stone steps up to the front door and paused again. The sky had darkened and suddenly there came a piercing howl from somewhere in the wood.
“I’m glad we’re out of there,” said Jack, trying to see towards the dead wood through the mist. 
They climbed the large steps, having to put both feet on one before getting to the next. One, two, three, then on the fourth one Carla slipped as the step beneath her crumbled away into a landslide.
Jack grabbed her and pulled her back up. “What happened there?”
Beneath Carla the entire half of the step had disintegrated to nothing.  
“I didn’t know I was so heavy,” said Carla, smiling slightly for the first time since they’d entered the graveyard.
The wooden front door was a least two metres high, with a gothic-faced knocker in the centre. Jack reached forward and lifted it, letting it fall back down with a boom that blasted out far and wide into the quiet around them.
Then, very slowly, the door creaked open, to reveal an empty corridor.
Not wanting Carla to know how scared he was, Jack stepped boldly over the threshold.
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” said Carla warily.
“They opened the door for us, didn’t they?” Jack replied.
Carla followed Jack in, and then the behind them the door slammed shut, making them both jump. A single standing lamp with an old, frilly lampshade, dimly lit the entrance hall. Ahead to the left was a grand staircase, which curled up and around to the right. Its banister would be perfect for sliding down, but Jack didn’t fancy it.
There were cobwebs everywhere: on the lamp, the side cabinet and even between the railings of the stairs. The whole place had the look of somewhere that hadn’t been touched for a many, many years. Along the walls were lots of paintings of people long ago. Women in big dresses, men in uniform and babies in long, white gowns. As they walked, Jack felt like each and every person in the paintings was watching them. Out of the corner of his eye he was sure he could see each pair of eyes following them, but when he looked directly at them they appeared just as normal.
There was an open door to the right which led into a massive, high ceilinged ballroom. There was a glittering chandelier in the center and the floor was a beautiful mosaic of flowers and ornate patterns. Two of the walls were lined from end to end with mirrors. Jack looked in the ones on his right and nearly jumped a mile. In the mirror he could see, behind him, a scene of men and women dressed in fine clothes, dancing a waltz around the room. He turned around quickly, but the room was empty.
“Look at this,” he said, pointing at the long mirror.

Carla gasped and moved closer to him.
“What is this?” whispered Jack.
Then he looked at the other wall of mirrors and things got worse. As if the phantom dancers weren’t enough, this time the room was filled with the ghosts of the same people still transparently dancing round and round, their faces skeletal.
Jack turned away, just as an icy wind passed through him.
They hurried through the ballroom then, neither daring to look into either of the mirrors again.
The double doors at the far end of the room led to another hallway, with more portraits peering down at them.
“Do you still want to find this guy?” said Jack, who was still holding Carla’s hand.
Carla nodded.
“Let’s try in their then,” Jack pointed to a slightly ajar door to their left. As his hand went out to push it open, somehow it blew open of its own accord, as if there was a sudden gust of wind.
The first thing Jack saw was the fireplace, whose flames roared up from the hearth. A couple of antique armchairs faced it, around a rug with a bears and paws round the edges.
No one was there.
Just like the hallway, the dark furniture was covered in cobwebs.
Then there was the sound of knocking on wood. Four times, sharp and fast. Then again. It was coming from a chest in the corner over by the window. Then again, followed by a muffled scream.
Jack and Carla didn’t wait to see who or what had screamed, but hurried out the way they had come.
Back out in the hallway Jack’s heart was beating hard.
“Maybe we should see what it is?” said Carla in a small voice.
Jack shook his head. “We came to see Mr. Old. I don’t think he’s in. Maybe we should leave.”
Carla shook her head back at him. “I want to look for a bit longer.”
Jack wanted nothing more than to get out of the weird, creepy house, but he knew Carla was right. He sighed and pointed at another door. “In there then.”
He paused before touching the door knob, wondering if the door might open on its own. When nothing happened, he turned it with a creak and pushed.
It was a kitchen with a big table in the middle, full to bursting with plates of hot food, including a whole pig, an apple in its mouth. There were potatoes and parsnips and carrots and balls of stuffing. There was a gravy boat, peas, Yorkshire puddings and sausages. There were also cakes and other deserts.
The smell was amazing and Jack became suddenly aware of how very hungry he was.
“Why’s it here?” he said. “There’s no one in the house.”
Carla had moved closer to the table and was staring longingly at a bowl of fluffy mashed potato.  
“We shouldn’t,” warned Jack, but as he said it Carla dug in with her bare hands, eating the potato with the desperation of someone who hasn’t had a meal in days.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

An air of eeriness

Carla was clearly upset by what had happened, and walked without talking. Jack didn’t know what to say to help. He wanted to ask her about this Spratsy thing but now definitely wasn’t the time.
They went out of Chimney Town, in the direction they had been pointed in, and Jack took one look back at the strange smokey place that he would be more than happy never to visit again.
“What a stupid town,” he said.
That got Carla talking. “Stupid’s one word for it. Why does everyone think that Chimney Town people know anything? They’re idiots!”
‘Hmmm,” Jack said in agreement.
They soon got to a wood-if you can really call it that-which was made of dead looking trees, none of which had any leaves on them. They stopped at the edge, weighing up if this was really the right way to go. Jack didn’t fancy it: there was something very eerie about the still, closely packed, bare branches. Just as he was about to say so, something caught his eye. A small, wooden sign was hanging from one of the lower branches, creaking as it moved slightly backwards and forwards. In white lettering were written the words,

‘This way to the Old House’

With an arrow underneath, pointing into the wood.  
“This must be it then,” he said, showing Carla the sign.
“Do you really think this Mr. Old will help us?” Carla said, with more than a hint of anger. “If he’s a friend of that imbecile Lord Puff then I’d rather not bother.”
Jack thought it over. He didn’t particularly want to go into the wood, but then what exactly were their other options?
“We may as well try,” he said. “If he’s an idiot then we’ll just leave.”
Carla paused for a while, and then nodded. “Alright.”
Inside the wood the sharp, lifeless trees seemed even more tightly packed, making it quite difficult to move through them. The children got scratched and poked continually as they went.
On the other hand, Jack was grateful that there were no leaves because at least that ruled out the possibility of having bullets rain down on them again.
The wood was extremely quiet, except for the sound of dry, brittle twigs snapping underfoot. Jack looked up and saw a huge blackbird, with bright yellow eyes, watching them. Its body was as still as the tree it was sitting in, but its eyes moved, following.
“Creepy,” said Jack with an involuntary shudder, but Carla looked up and simply shrugged, unfazed.
After about fifteen minutes they finally emerged on the other side of the wood. The air was thick and for a second Jack thought they’d somehow ended up back at Chimney Town, but there was no sickly sweet smell and neither of them had started coughing. It was more like a cold, murky fog.
It was hard to tell where exactly they were, because they couldn’t see very far in front of them. They started walking very slowly, until Jack walked straight into something rock solid, bashing his knee.
“What the-!” he cried, hopping up and down clutching his leg.
Carla knelt down next to the thing to get a closer look.
“It’s a gravestone.”
Jack rubbed his throbbing knee one last time and then knelt down too. Carla rubbed the stone, clearing away the ice.
“A-L-F- Alfred M-A-C-uls-field,” she read. “1950 to 2012, died aged 62.”
“What was that name?” Jack asked.
“Alfred Macclesfield,” Carla repeated.
A second shudder ran down Jack’s spine. “He’s not dead, I know him,” he said. “Well, he wasn’t dead when I left, anyway.”
“Could be a different person with the same name?” offered Carla, getting up.
But the age was right too…
As the mist cleared a little they were able to see more easily the huge graveyard they were in. Crosses, gravestones and tombs scattered far and wide, all made of old stone, crumbly and ancient.
“Wow,” breathed Jack.
Carla had gone to one of the nearby graves and was reading the writing on the headstone. When she came back her face looked pale.
“She was fine a few days ago. I don’t understand this.”
“Who?” asked Jack.
“A woman from my village. The baker.”
Jack suddenly felt a sense of morbid curiosity, pulling him on. He didn’t want to look at the graves but he also couldn’t help it. He needed to know. Carla must’ve felt it too, because without speaking they both began walking around, kneeling at different graves. By the time Jack had seen about a dozen, it felt like half the people he knew had been wiped from existence. Then, he saw one that made his stomach drop. He thought he was going to be sick, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the writing, let alone stand up and move away.
After a few minutes Carla came to find him. “What is it?” she asked.
Jack could hardly get his words out. “My Mum,” he whispered.
Carla touched his shoulder gently. “It’s a trick, it must be. We need to get away from this place.”
She helped him up and they walked on together, Jack’s legs wobbly and weak. He knew Carla must be right, but still he couldn’t get away from the words he’d read.

Martha Kingston, 1975-2012, aged 37. Taken too young, but never forgotten.