Authors: PEPPI HILTON
The haunting of the house in Gallows Lane
(Author of THE APPOINTMENT)
Copyright © 2015 Peppi Hilton
All rights reserved
This book is a work of fiction
All those who fear the empty hours
She rocks alone in her old rocking chair
That little old lady with no-one to care
She lives with the memory of a youth she once had
Recapturing moments of the good and the bad
Years which have long since passed her by
And as she remembers a tear fills her eye
A little old lady who sits in the gloom
Of that cold dismal empty and sad lonely room
Slowly she rocks as each hour passes by
That little old lady just waiting to die
The taxi-driver pulled into the grounds of the big old house as instructed. He looked up at the three-storey building and grimaced. He knew nothing about it, other than what his passenger had told him along the journey from her maisonette a couple of hundred miles away. It belonged to her elderly mother she had told him without being prompted. She had decided to move into the property to take care of her, she had said, although the mother knew nothing about it. Wouldn’t agree to it she confessed. They didn’t get on – never had. But it was going to belong to her one day so might as well get used to living there again, was her opinion – and she voiced it strong. Glad to get away when she was younger; but now the old lady is showing signs of failing – so she’d heard along the grapevine – she’s keen to move back in. He’d met her type before, many times. And then there was the cat. It had wailed all along the journey and he was not much pleased about that. But now he had finally arrived at the destination, thank god! The journey had been made monotonous by the constant drone of the woman’s voice and her rat-bag harmonising in the background – not to mention the smell. He climbed out of the car, opened the boot and dragged out the suitcases, several of them. Goodness knows what’s in them. By their weight he wouldn’t be surprised if they contained all the family silver; although she didn’t look as if she possessed anything worth a fortune. The clothes – for want of a better description – looked as if they’d come from the Salvation Army, or a jumble sale. But on reflection if they’d come from a jumble sale she’d have had to pay, and she didn’t come across as someone who would part with her money easily. She admitted to renting the place she had left behind, and that didn’t look up to much. But Juniper House, this was something else; landed on her feet by the look of it. This looked typical of the type of place that stood neglected whilst some old miser hid the money under the floorboards. Probably worth a fortune on the open market if someone did it up, although it wouldn’t be for the faint-hearted he could tell that much. The daughter didn’t sound like she had any intentions though; probably another one of them who hoards it and spends bugger-all! She had him beaten down on price for the journey up North, and he felt peeved about that. After all, if she could afford to travel by taxi in the first place she must have money stashed away somewhere. But times were hard and he couldn’t afford to turn the job down. At least it would be a much pleasanter journey back.
She paid the fare but left it short as she didn’t have any loose change she said, and he didn’t attempt to argue. He left her and the cat, which was still whining from its basket, at the entrance, a side door which was set back inside an old, open, wooden porch, most of it beginning to rot. She rang the bell and he heard the chimes echo hollowly inside. He dropped the final case by her side and returned to his car. He climbed inside and drove off out of the grounds and back into Gallows Lane. He didn’t bother to look back.
The wind howled through the loose window panes and the sound echoed along the empty corridors. Dust-ridden floorboards creaked and groaned, and the shadows of the night created images which danced on the bare walls as the moon seeped in through gaps in the old wooden shutters. Outside, the leaves rustled as they were blown around the dense, overrun garden, and darkness cast eerie shadows across the tall gables of Juniper House. Inside, sounds could be heard in the distance, faint sounds of a piano playing a melancholy tune and a cat mewing as it mounted the stairs and wandered along the bare landings. An ageing woman was sound asleep in her bed, oblivious to any goings-on – that is until she heard a frail voice calling outside her bedroom door.
“Are we having a cup of tea?”
She sat bolt upright in her bed, now wide awake and listening. Everything was silent. But a few seconds later she heard the disturbing sound again, quite clearly this time: “Are we having a cup of tea?”
Her heart began to pump heavily as the fear ran through her veins, and she listened intently for the sound to repeat itself.
“Are we having a cup of tea?” echoed the faint, familiar sound which she recognised well.
“Mother is that you?” her voice shaking as she spoke, not knowing whether to expect an answer or not.
But of course it couldn’t be, and she couldn’t answer – her mother was long dead.
She got out of bed nervously, her old bones bending with age as she hobbled over to the door. She hesitated before flinging it open to be greeted by an old bedraggled cat. It stared at her in bemusement, before turning and wandering back along the landings and down the stairs. She peered out of the door and squinted as her failing eyes attempted to see along the dark corridors. But there was nothing. She closed the door and shivered as she retreated back to the refuge of her bed.
“Damn cat,” she muttered.
The wind continued to whistle through the cracks and crevices of the draughty interior, but to the unsuspecting world outside, Juniper House remained silently hidden in the shadows of Gallows Lane.
The air grew cold as the wind gained strength, and night cast its spell over the hamlet of Judge Fields. Juniper House, with its tall gables, was hardly visible behind the overgrown and chaotic garden. It was still and silent but for the wind rattling at the loose window panes, and as it lay empty behind the tall weeds and grasses, so it was ignored by the residents of the few scattered houses in the village. But something sinister had remained long after the last occupant of Juniper had gone. Some form of communication had continued behind its walls, and a presence born out of pain, anguish and cruelty could not be extinguished by mortal will alone.
The house creaked and groaned as it battled the elements. Winter was taking its toll as the wind fought its way through every slit and chink, and every nook and cranny that could be found within the old stone walls, until it unmercifully invaded the empty interior. And as it howled through each nick and gap in the roof and rafters, the sound echoed in the hollowness of the vast spaces inside.
The distant screeching of a door could be heard inside as it opened and closed, and soft footsteps were barely audible as they slowly made their way down the long dusty hallway and across the sitting room floor. An unexpected streak of lightning flashed through the gaps in the shutters and momentarily lit up the room to expose and warn any intruder of the oncoming storm, a threat that was soon to be realised as a loud crack of thunder ripped through the fabric of the building.
But above the noise of the gale a melancholy tune interrupted the atmosphere, as the sound of a piano playing beautifully and melodically echoed hauntingly throughout the empty spaces. The straining of a rocking chair as it creaked on its hinges, could be heard moving in harmony, back and forth, to the soulful notes which filled the air and continued all through the night.
But during the storms of the night, and the calm of the day, to the unsuspecting world outside Juniper House still remained silently hidden in the shadows of Gallows Lane.
Anton and Lucy braved the cold weather as they packed some items into their camper van and decided to set off to a small and very remote village in Cumbria. It was, historically, part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and could be found nestled in a narrow valley on the western slopes of the Pennines within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It was one of their favourite places to visit, and there was a good Caravan and Camping site where they could pull in for the night.
There were several routes to choose from in order to get to the village, but there was just one which they had never tried before. It was a narrow, winding road which looked down on a remote valley; and whilst the road was picturesque, so they’d heard, it was not for the faint hearted. Always up for a challenge Anton was keen to try it out, and he’d had his map sprawled out on the floor earlier that morning, familiarising himself with the directions; whilst Lucy busied herself sorting out a few pots and pans.
“We go through a hamlet called Judge Fields, I know where it is. It’s not far from that place we sometimes eat at, which is just on the borders; you turn off a lane just before it. Looks like there’s a pub with food, and there’s a small campsite and pull-in park too,” he’d called to Lucy enthusiastically.
“Right, that’s it, we know where we’re going – easy-peasy this one!” He’d folded up his map and jumped up off the floor, invigorated at the thought of setting off later; and Lucy was just as enthused.
They weren’t fazed by the weather, they’d only had their camper van for the first season that year and they’d made the most of it; come hail or shine they were off every week-end. The season would soon be coming to a close and they wanted to make sure they did as many trips as they could before it all ended.
“Everything’s packed,” Lucy called, wondering where Anton had got to when he didn’t respond. She walked through their tiny one-bedroomed-flat and peered out of the window to see Anton checking out their vehicle. She went outside to join him. He was her first real love, and she knew there couldn’t ever be another. He was tall and lean, whereas Lucy was petite only measuring five foot two in her bare feet; she had to stand on her toes to put her arms around his neck and even that was a struggle. They had known each other for a year before they’d decided to set up home together. Both of them were mature enough to make sensible decisions, and living together was one of their wiser ones. They had met for the first time when she was twenty six and he was thirty two, at a dance club for country dancing. He had turned up perfectly dressed for the occasion, wearing a red check shirt, blue jeans, western style boots and a large Stetson. He had been the centre of attention, and the star of the show, when it came to showing off the dance routines. And he had chosen her to be his partner. They became dance buddies immediately; but it soon turned into something much more special. They got on like a house on fire, and had so much in common that it was inevitable they would fall in love.
“Is everything alright?” she asked hesitantly, as she watched him inspect the van.
“Err yes I think so.” He was walking around it kicking the tyres. He was dressed in his normal attire of blue jeans, thick check outdoor shirt, and boots which looked like hikers. Other than wearing overalls for doing jobs and messing around, he never wore anything else. In fact he often bragged about his need for only three drawers and no wardrobes; one drawer for his socks and underwear, another for his shirts and tee shirts, and one for his jeans. He rarely wore a jacket, or coat of any kind, as he preferred his old woolly cardigan which always looked as if he’d slept in it – it had belonged to his granddad. His short, tousled, fair hair complimented his boyish looks and seemed to magnify his soft blue eyes.
They’d had no problems with the van ever since they’d bought it back in the spring, and Lucy was hoping it would continue. It was quite an old vehicle, but Anton was pretty handy at sorting things out, after all he was an engineer so he had a fairly good understanding of anything technical, or mechanical, and he was a very practical person too.
After what looked to be a good inspection, he decided it was in perfect order and so he was itching to get going. Lucy packed a few final things in the drawers and cupboards of the vehicle, and locked up the flat. They were away well before lunchtime.
Anton soon spotted the turn-off which would take them through the hamlet of Judge Fields, so he turned into it. He drove up the narrow lane, passing a few ancient houses on the way, and within seconds they were passing The Old Inn.
“Looks a bit grotty,” exclaimed Lucy with disappointment in her voice; although they were not planning on trying it out anyway, so as far as Anton was concerned it didn’t really matter one way or another.
They soon came to a mediaeval church with a small graveyard to the front and side, in which there looked to be some very ancient headstones, so they slowed down to take a closer look.
“Have you seen the street-name on the wall?” Lucy said excitedly. “We’re parked in Gallows Lane.” She shuddered once its implications sank in, whilst Anton found it intriguing.
“That’s an unusual name,” he answered. “Do you think they might have hanged people around here in the past? Funny the hamlet’s called ‘Judge Fields’ as well.”
“I don’t want to think about it!” she responded, cringing at the same time. She wasn’t too enamoured with the hamlet, it was very remote, dead as could be, and there was a strange atmosphere in the air.
“This is the way to pick up the top road over to where we’re going, so I can’t imagine where they could erect gallows along here, if that’s what they used to do.”
“Maybe they used to string them up on the trees,” she offered, half jesting. She pointed towards a high stone wall. “Look at all those trees on the left, maybe
covering up something.”
Anton set off again and drove slowly up to where the trees were. He stopped the engine and got out, whilst Lucy stayed inside the cab. He walked a few metres and then stopped. He called back for Lucy to join him. “Hey Luce, come here and take a look at this.” He then seemed to disappear through the trees.
She stepped out and walked over to join him, and soon discovered that he was walking around someone’s garden. She looked up at a very large and very ancient house with tall gables, which could hardly be seen behind the overgrown weeds and grasses. It was almost invisible from the roadside, as the overgrowth had almost reached to the bottom of the first floor windows. Although it stood in a substantial plot, the property looked to be in very poor condition. To its side was a wooden porch with no outer door, and the wood was rotting badly and almost looked as if it could drop to bits at any time. Anton had disappeared round the back somewhere, but Lucy decided to peer through the small window in the porch door. She had to rub hard to create a small area in the dirt-ridden glass in order to see through it. She was careful where she stood on the rotting platform of the porch, as she didn’t want to lose an ankle through the gaps in the wood. She clung onto the door and leaned across at an angle, whilst keeping an eye on her feet. She put her eyes close up to the gap in the pane of glass and peered inside. She squinted as she tried to focus, the glass misting up with her warm breath. She could just make out a long hallway which was empty and bare of any carpets or mats. It looked to open out into a larger hallway at the very end, and she thought she could almost see the bottom step of a very wide staircase. She rubbed the glass again in an attempt to see more clearly, as everything seemed to blur as she struggled to see into the distance. She could hear Anton coming back, the sound of his shoes crunching as he walked over the long weeds and grasses and at that very moment she saw a movement down the hallway. She couldn’t just make it out, so she squinted even more before realising that it was an old woman dressed in ragged clothes. She jumped back, almost losing a shoe in a crack in the rotting platform, and in her attempt to avoid it she lost her balance and fell backwards from the porch and into the overgrowth, just as Anton was approaching her.
He ran over and helped her to her feet. “Are you alright?” he asked in a worried voice.
Lucy brushed herself down and said, “Come on, let’s get out of here. Someone is living here – I’ve just seen an old woman inside.”
She rushed him outside and back to their vehicle. They both climbed inside and Anton started the engine; but he hesitated and sat there for a while.
“You must be mistaken Luce there’s no-one in there, I’ve looked through the windows. It’s empty but for a few sticks of furniture here and there. It’s fascinating round the back though. I’ve just been exploring some old outbuildings, some of which looked to have been stables. You want to see the old bicycle – it’s ancient. And there’s an old washhouse, the likes of which I’ve never seen in my life. This place seems to have stood still in time. And what’s more, there’s an old estate agent’s board lying in the undergrowth. It must’ve been there for years. I tried to pick it up, but it seems to have rotted in with all the weeds and everything. It has obviously been up for sale at one time or another and never sold.” He was very excited.
“Well, I could’ve sworn I saw someone,” she said, looking confused.
“No way, love. This place has been abandoned. It doesn’t look as if anyone’s been near it in years.”
He began to turn the car round and head back the way they’d just come.
“What are you doing?” her voice raising an octave.
“I’m going into that old pub to ask some questions. We might as well have a drink whilst we’re there. Maybe we could grab a sandwich or something.”
“But it looked grotty – like I said!” She had never seen him this excited before, she didn’t know what had come over him. And what was the point of asking questions? It was just a big old empty house, clearly unloved, and in her opinion – unfriendly too. And whether she saw anyone in there or not, hardly mattered. She would much rather they carry on their journey, which was, after all, the general idea.
But Anton was determined and he carried on and drove round to the back of the pub to some make-shift car parking area. He jumped out and beckoned her to follow. He marched over to the entrance and Lucy followed behind him, her small steps struggling to keep up with his long stride.
The inn was indeed very ancient, with flagged floors and lots of dark wood panelling and exposed stonework. The ceilings were also heavily beamed. As for the horseshoe bar, neither of them had seen one like it before, it seemed to have frozen in time. Pewter tankards of varying sizes were hanging from hooks around the top of the bar, and old fashioned beer pumps were still in use. But logs were blazing in a stone fireplace in the corner of a room which looked like a snug, and they were both immediately drawn towards it.
A middle-aged man appeared behind the bar and asked if they wished to order. He was unshaven and his grey hair was long and greasy. Across the other side they could see an old man standing at the corner of the bar, nursing a schooner of beer and eyeing them cautiously. Otherwise the place was empty.
Anton was keen to ask questions, but decided they’d better order something first.
“Are you serving food?”
The man didn’t answer but simply pulled a menu from under the counter and passed it to Anton. He eyed them both suspiciously.
“Ah, thanks.” He ushered Lucy to a seat near the fire and they both browsed the menu.
“It’s not exactly welcoming here, is it?” he whispered to her.
Lucy just grunted in response – she was not impressed.
“Shall we order a sandwich?”
Lucy leaned over to him, pinched his arm, and hissed in his ear: “I don’t want to eat here, it’s grotty!”
“A sandwich should be okay. I’ll order ham sandwiches and tea for both of us.” And giving her no time to raise further objections, he got up and wandered over to the bar and placed the order.
Lucy couldn’t understand what had come over him. Why on earth were they sitting in some grotty little pub, which was as dead as a doorstop, ordering food, when they should be on their way to their lovely little village which they both adored? It was so out of character for Anton. After a sharp intake of breath, she exhaled abruptly as she sighed in exasperation.
He came back with a huge smile on his face.
“I’ll bet that old codger over there can tell us a lot about the house.” He motioned over to the old man who was still standing at the far corner of the bar.
“What house?” Lucy asked, looking bewildered.
“The one we saw in Gallows Lane, silly!”
He pinched her cute nose gently, but she wasn’t amused. He had got a bee in his bonnet about that house and she was already beginning to hate it. And she knew there was someone in it, she had seen her. What was the matter with him? What was it about that house which could make Anton forget all about their plans for the day? He was behaving like a complete stranger and she wasn’t a happy bunny.
“If we act like normal customers and eat here, I’ll feel more inclined to ask about the house. I wouldn’t like to have just wandered in, not buy anything, and just start quizzing about it. And afterwards, we can have a nosey around that graveyard – it looks really ancient.”
Lucy was speechless. He was getting excited again, almost delirious, and she couldn’t fathom why. And she feared they were heading for an argument. They didn’t argue, they had little tiffs now and then, but nothing serious, and he always gave in to her anyway. They shared everything together, so much so that all their friends couldn’t understand why they chose to do everything on their own, without the benefit of any of them joining in. She was suddenly feeling very neglected.