She climbed out of bed, slid into her slippers, and donned her dressing gown. After lifting the torch which Anton had left in a drawer for her, she walked gingerly over to the door and unbolted it. Opening it cautiously she peered across the landing and down to the big hall below. The lamps were struggling to compete against the vast open spaces and were beginning to flicker, no doubt because the old electrical system was no match for the storm outside. She felt the sudden attack of butterflies in her stomach as she began to imagine the consequences of the electrics failing, but it was too terrifying a thought to contemplate.

The hammering of the wind against the house was deafening, and the intermittent onslaught of lightening lit up the dark and gloomy hallway casting sinister and eerie shadows. But the voice could be heard again above the noise of the storm.

“Mummy, where are you mummy?”

The frail sounds were cries of anguish and they were coming from behind her across the landing. She turned swiftly and saw the shadowy image of a young boy standing outside the sealed-up door. He was staring at her pitifully, but she wasn’t afraid. Her earlier emotions had been replaced by a sadness which was now almost reducing her to tears. And though the image was almost ethereal, she judged him to be around six years old. She could also identify that he had fair to blonde hair and striking eyes. He looked well-to-do by his appearance, and his countenance had an air of superiority about it. His features appeared to be of a highly intelligent, sharp-witted being, although refined and cultured in his manner. His attire, though old-fashioned, was beautifully designed and gave the impression that he was well-bred and came from a good background. She had calculated a lot in those few split seconds and she was immediately drawn to him.

Her curiosity now aroused she walked towards him, lighting her way with the torch along the dark and shabby landing, but he immediately turned his eyes away from the flashlight as she moved closer. She instantly stopped a short distance from him, careful not to frighten him away.

“Who are you?” she whispered gently.

He shielded his eyes with his hand but made no response. Lucy began to edge her way towards him again, but to her astonishment he vanished through the sealed door. She tapped on it lightly, it sounded hollow but there was no sound coming from within. All had gone quiet, apart from the storm gaining momentum inside the building. And then her attention was quickly diverted by sounds of a different nature coming from the direction of the secondary staircase that led to the attics. It was a noise which was unfamiliar to her, a distant whirring sound which she couldn’t place. She was overcome by an unexpected calm as she walked over to the door that would take her to the staircase which led to the attics. She pushed it open gently and was greeted by a blast of cold air and darkness. She steeled herself against the stale smell of decay which oozed into the atmosphere as she stepped over the threshold. She remained motionless as she surveyed the inner space with its dilapidated grey walls and flaking plaster, highlighted only by the dim light projected from her torch. Scrawling initials and faint messages were scratched into the fading chalk of the decaying walls, the initial M being the most prominent. It was like peering into an old prison cell where one desperate being was clutching to life by writing on the walls. But the absence of any light, apart from the torch beam, made it impossible to read more. A cold shiver momentarily penetrated the dreamlike state which had descended upon her and numbed her senses to fear, but it didn’t shake off her calm mood. She glanced up at the time-worn, curved staircase with its crumbling steps and years of dust and debris, not knowing where it would take her. But she still mounted them, hesitantly and slowly one by one. The distant sounds drew her to them as if magnetising her along the way and she felt compelled to continue. The fading light being projected from her torch which she tried to focus on in order not to stumble on the way up, exacerbated the dreariness of the walls and made the approach ever more unnerving and even threatening. She could almost make out a name on one of the walls part way up and she stopped to take a closer look. She could just decipher the first three letters –
but the rest were too scribbly to make out. Had someone once been imprisoned in this cell-like place? It was too disturbing to dwell on.

Somehow she made it to the top of the staircase as it curved its way to a long, wide landing, and at that point she hesitated so that she could take stock of her surroundings. The whole experience was like walking into a tomb – dark, ancient and foreboding. Yet she felt no fear.

She could see the reflection of a light in the distance which was flickering on and off in harmony with the whirring noises. They had become louder and more significant as they echoed from across the landing. She walked towards an open door where the sound and light were clearly coming from. She peered inside the room apprehensively. It was dark and was being sporadically lit up by an old-fashioned film projector. The images appearing on a large white screen were black and white and it was very much like watching a home movie from the fifties. There was no sound except from the projector itself. The film running along the screen was of a happy family scene, taken in the grounds of Juniper. Cracks and interference were evident in the film, as she watched it portray a young child of about six-years-old playing cricket with his mother, a relationship which was obvious to the onlooker by the striking resemblance they bore to each other. The child wore white shorts and top and he had striking eyes and fair hair. The woman had a dazzling smile and her hair, which was tied back in a neat and sophisticated style, flattered her elegant and beautiful features. She wore a simple, but graceful dress with lightly padded shoulders, and she darted nimbly about as she bowled to the boy. Lucy was mesmerised for a few moments by the beauty of the woman, before realising that the boy in the film was almost certainly the same one whose shadowy figure she had seen disappearing through the sealed door. The whole scenario was surreal.

As the film continued through different scenes, a young girl with a surly expression appeared in the picture. She was followed by a male figure, a tall, slim man with smooth black hair and a dark trim moustache. He was wearing a coloured striped blazer and light-coloured slacks and was holding a cigar. He looked very dapper. The girl however, who looked to be about ten-years-old, did not bear a resemblance to any of the others. Her manner appeared dull and abrasive as she watched mother and son playing happily together, and it was hard to work out if she belonged to the same family. The man stood by casually with one hand in his trouser pocket, whilst he observed the two at play. Lucy couldn’t help but think that whilst he looked charming, polished and refined, he looked very much a ladies-man which was obvious by his body language, and somehow in the film he also came across as a cad and a bounder – it was just the way he looked.

The pictures flashed on and off as the scenes changed, but Juniper House stood gracefully in the background of each one. A large black car discreetly parked on the driveway in the distance, gave the impression of a privileged lifestyle. The house was meticulous and free of any plant growth burdening the stonework, and the colourful and pristine gardens stretched for quite a distance into the background of the picture. It was a happy family scene clearly filmed on a warm summer’s day, except for one slight contradiction – the young girl with the surly expression. She came across as a misfit, someone who didn’t belong – and maybe she didn’t. But that was something Lucy couldn’t possibly determine.

Now convinced that the boy in the film was the one she saw on the landing, there was only one conclusion to be made – she had witnessed the boy’s ghost, of that there was no doubt in her mind. And whilst the ghost of a child did not frighten her, there were questions to be asked. Why did he appear to her? What had he been trying to tell her? His appearance on the landing and his disappearance through the door must be because he was trying to relay a message to her, surely? What could it be? How was she to know or understand? One thing was for certain though, when Anton returned she would ask him to open up that concealed door and investigate what was behind it.

As she looked around the room she could dimly see an abundance of long trailing cobwebs everywhere, and the walls were dark and black with age. The windows were hardly visible due to grime and she could see an old fireplace in a corner. One wall was covered in blackboards to half-height, and stubs of chalk were lying in the channels. Faint remnants of messages were still visible on the boards, which could easily have been lessons from another age. She shone her torch around and it was obvious that it had once been a nursery, or school room. A faded rocking horse stood to one side of the room, clearly suffering from age and deterioration. Cobwebs stretched from one item to another, and an ancient and decrepit nursing chair stood forlornly in a corner, occupied only by a ragged teddy bear with one eye missing and a torn ear. The dampness of the atmosphere had clearly left its mark over time. A variety of wooden toys were piled neatly into boxes and a train set was placed in readiness on a track. Miniature cars and toy soldiers were scattered about the floor along with a large fort, mostly all mildewed. A day bed placed against a wall was made up with bedding suitable for a child, and whilst it had deteriorated with age it seemed to have stood still in time.

The whole room appeared to have been abandoned, almost as if the inhabitants had been evacuated without warning and had never returned. Then something else caught her eye, and she walked across the room aided only by the torch and the intermittent flashing of the projector. On top of a cupboard stood what could only be described as a small shrine. An old framed photo in black and white was surrounded by candles. When she looked closely at the faded picture she saw it was a young boy, the same one as in the film. Deteriorating with age and covered with cobwebs, it was beginning to crumble. But to her horror she saw a message scrawled into the dust on the cupboard which read:
‘Where are you Billy?
And it was evident by the freshly disturbed dust that it had only recently been written. But who, or what, could be responsible?

Suddenly out of the blue, she heard the sound of the train running around the track. Recoiling in shock she looked around her as the fear returned without warning, and the trance abandoned her to the reality of where she was. The projector stopped and at the same time the torch went out, leaving her in total blackness. The courage which had clung to her and aided her for so long had now failed and she began to quake with terror. The reality of where she was, alone on that floor, grabbed her by the throat as if to strangle the life out of her and she shook in absolute terror as she began to panic. Unable to negotiate her surroundings in the dark, her fear was out of control and she could hardly utter a sound. Her heartbeat raced like a speedboat out of control which had no possible chance of stopping; a situation which could only lead to devastation and destruction. Her heart was in her mouth as she fought against her fears and tried to grope her way out of that abominable place. Her screams which followed penetrated the silence like a knife slicing the life out of another human being, as her face got entangled with a mass of cobwebs. She frenziedly tried to claw them off, her rapid breathing drawing them closer to her mouth as she inhaled. They felt almost alive as they clung to her face, her nose, her eyes, and even her throat, driving her into a crazed state of frenzy.

Then to her horror she felt a strong presence in the room. She opened her eyes as best she could, and even in the darkness she could make out the dim outline of the old woman in rags. She was standing a short distance from her and was taunting her mercilessly. The sinister and threatening atmosphere almost drove her out of her mind, and as she stood there feeling trapped and vulnerable she thought with total certainty that there was a strong possibility she might be about to meet her doom.

Filled with blinding panic, she knew she must get out of there if she valued her life and her sanity. She fiddled with the torch but it had well and truly died. Darkness surrounded her, but against all the odds she tried to fumble her way to the door, and in those few seconds she became aware of what blindness must be like. She began to cry as she was unable to navigate her way out of that terrifying place, her feet trying to pace the floor as her hands groped the walls. She was freaking out, and was becoming concerned that fear and dread may take over and she would lose control of her mind. Could this be what had happened to the previous occupants? She suspected it must have been. She had to find the courage and ability to escape from there and make it back to her room otherwise she would succumb to the menacing forces that still clearly inhabited Juniper.

Thankfully she could remember the general direction in which she had come, and all it needed was a calm mind and positive approach if she hoped to get out of there. She took a deep breath and summoned up all the courage she could in order to calm her nerves sufficiently to be able to move stealthily towards the entrance that her memory was guiding her to. She groped the walls in order to feel her way there, but she tripped over some obstacle which had been invisible to the eye, and her fear multiplied tenfold as she fell to the floor. There was one advantage however, she fell midway through the doorway that would lead her to the landing and staircase which would be her escape route. She scrambled along the landing on her hands and knees in her haste to escape the demons of the night. She knew she was heading in the right direction, but didn’t dare risk losing time by trying to get to her feet. Somewhere behind her, in the distance, she could hear loud, mocking laughter, almost like a witch’s cackle. She moved even faster, her knees grazing badly as she crawled at speed across the floor until she reached the turn of the stairway. She almost wept with relief.

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