MAGDALENA'S GHOST: THE HAUNTING OF THE HOUSE IN GALLOWS LANE (14 page)

“No wonder it smelt Luce, it’s a dead animal. I’ve wrapped it up again and put it back in the box, which will act as a coffin. I’ll bury it later in the grounds. It must have been someone’s pet and for one reason or another they didn’t want to part with it. Sad when you think about it. But I’ll give it a good burial I’m sure whoever owned it would be happy for me to do that.” He washed his hands in the old sink and sat down at the table.

Lucy had hoped he would dump the carcass in the skip, as she didn’t want it staying around for longer than necessary. She was convinced that the mewing sound must have come from it, no matter how outrageous that would sound when she told him. The trouble was, the longer she put off telling him the harder it was going to be. She began to feel dejected again as she realised the difficulties ahead of her, and the decisions she may have to make if he didn’t believe her. She put two bowls of stew on the table and sat down beside him feeling quite disheartened.

“That smells delicious Luce. It’s my favourite.” He got stuck in as if he hadn’t eaten for a week.

After a few minutes Anton noticed that Lucy was looking very down at the mouth.

“Don’t let it upset you Luce, that dead animal will have belonged to someone who probably died years ago. There could be umpteen reasons why they left it in the box. It was probably forgotten. I didn’t mean to make you feel sad, I just speak first and think afterwards – bad fault of mine. But I’ll soon have it sorted.” He squeezed her arm reassuringly.

But Lucy didn’t care who the dead animal belonged to, she just wanted it out of the house. The thought of it being under the stairs in that cupboard was freaking her out. What if she heard it again – but then she suddenly realised that if it started its mewing whilst Anton was home, surely he would hear it and then she could tell him all about the house being haunted without the fear of him not believing her. At least she could hope.

After eating, Anton lifted the old rocker from the scullery and put it in front of the fire in the sitting room. He sat down and exhaled a yawn of contentment as he stroked his stomach in satisfaction.

“I can’t tell you just how much I wanted to get back to this house of ours. That’s why I volunteered to work week-ends so that I would get home sooner, which means I can get started on the jobs more quickly. I knew I was missing it, but sitting here makes me realise now exactly how much.” He sat back and sighed. Within minutes he had closed his eyes and was snoring.

Lucy looked at him for a few moments, he was so content. Normally she would have loved him even more for it, but somehow she felt troubled. He hadn’t mentioned missing
her. O
n the contrary, his thoughts had been all on the house since he returned. In fact the more she dwelt on it, the more she realised that he hadn’t told her he’d missed her at all. The doubts were welling up inside her once more, and the tender thoughts she’d felt earlier were beginning to disintegrate. And what’s more she was beginning to worry. If things didn’t improve between them, if he continued to put the house before their happiness, the consequences would be unbearable. It would divide them permanently and she wanted to avoid that at all costs.

She tidied up and washed the dishes whilst Anton still slept. She could understand him being tired, after all he’d had a long drive and he’d been working non-stop without a break. But she was left with little or nothing to do except more housework, and she was feeling frustrated that they weren’t spending precious time together, after being apart for so long. It was understandable, but dreadfully disappointing for her. And so she browsed nonchalantly through some of the old books which had been left behind in the bookcase, but they were mostly educational and completely lost on her. They were also damp and musty and eventually they would have to be discarded when they got round to it.

After a while she unpacked Anton’s luggage and put his clothes in the wash, but after running out of things to do, as well as energy, she decided to waken him. He awoke with a grunt, but was finally persuaded to go to bed. Lucy had put the hot water bottle in bed so that it would be warm and snug for him, but he didn’t even seem to notice as he was fast asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. He didn’t even kiss her goodnight. His back was turned to her, so she snuggled up to him and put her arms around his waist, just content that he was back and they were together.

In the early hours of the morning Lucy was awakened suddenly by the sound of a cat mewing. At first it was distant then it seemed to move closer to the bedroom. She thought perhaps she was still sleeping and the mewing was part of the dream, until she heard the floorboards creaking and she shot up in bed. She woke Anton up abruptly by shoving him rigorously, which he wasn’t much pleased about.

“Anton, listen, that cat’s outside the bedroom door, I’ve just heard it.” She was actually whispering.

He turned his head slightly and looked at her, his eyes hardly open, and after gawping for a few moments he turned over and went back to sleep.

“Anton,” she whispered, giving him a hard nudge in the back. “Listen, it’s at it again, can’t you hear it?”

He turned his head and looked at her again, but this time a look of disdain spread across his features and for a moment he thought he was dreaming. As he was about to nod off again, Lucy grabbed his arm and shook it vigorously to bring him to his senses. He jumped up, his face like thunder.

“There is no cat,” he yelled. “Go back to sleep and stop being stupid. You’ve obviously been dreaming.” He pulled his arm from her grasp and turned over once more, by which time the mewing had stopped.

By this time Lucy was wide-awake, so she jumped out of bed and decided to look for herself. She opened the bedroom door, looked out onto the landing and down into the hall below, but there was no sign of anything. She began to question her own sanity, and even worse she didn’t relish Anton’s reaction the next morning – if he remembered the incident at all.

But as delayed reaction set in, she found herself pondering on Anton’s expression when she’d shook his arm. She’d never seen him like that before. In fact, she could hardly take it in. He was furious with her, it was written all over his face. He looked strange, almost as if he was about to strangle her, or something like that. But she couldn’t help it, she thought defensively. She’d definitely heard the cat mewing and the floorboards creaking, so what did he expect her to do, roll over and go back to sleep as if it had never happened?

Her thoughts were in turmoil again and threatening to spiral out of control. Maybe it hadn’t happened. Maybe she was going crazy after all. Maybe, just maybe, this house was driving her insane, just like its previous occupants. Maybe
she
will one day roam the house and make the floorboards creak, and scare the living daylights out of somebody – when
she
too, perhaps, has become a ghost – just like vampires turn
their
victims into more vampires. But now she was becoming irrational, as well as delusional, as well as neurotic and hallucinatory and … for a moment she hesitated in her thoughts as the memory of Anton’s words slowly seeped into her mind. He’d called her
stupid
and she’d only just realised. The Anton she knew would never have done that. Something strange had come over him and she didn’t know what. All she knew was that they had to get out of this house and leave it forever. She would be insane not to demand it, and Anton would have to face up to the truth. It was haunted, whether he wanted to believe it or not, and as neither of them had ever had any experience of ghosts, or suchlike, how could they know what their intentions were, or what they would stoop to? Their lives could even be in danger! She’d never thought of that before, because she’d been so hell-bent on believing that the house and its demons were only intent on driving her mad. But what if that was what she was meant to believe, whilst they steered her in the wrong direction and away from the truth, whatever that truth may be. She had stimulated her brain so much that she couldn’t possibly go back to sleep. She couldn’t get the thoughts out of her head and she was becoming confused and muddled, and her brain felt like scrambled eggs. She pulled on her dressing gown and slippers and went downstairs, her fear having seemingly subsided.

She saw that the fire in the sitting room was still lit, so she gave it a stir and decided to boil some water to make a brew. She glared at the rocker as she walked past it on her way to the scullery, and for a joyful moment she imagined herself chopping it up for firewood and using it on the fire. Oh how she wished!

She sat down in front of the fire with her brew and warmed her hands on the hot mug. She felt quite angry at Anton’s reaction, even after taking into account that he would be shattered from his journey home. She appreciated that she’d wakened him suddenly from a deep sleep, from which he would normally be hard to resurrect at the best of times, but what if they’d had a burglar? Would he have said the same things to her then, just because he’d been wakened from his slumber? And more importantly, would she ever feel safe again knowing that he wouldn’t react in a responsible manner if for any reason she had to wake him up suddenly? And as her thoughts began to travel again at great speed, they were rudely interrupted by the sound of a cat mewing.

She put her drink down quietly on the fireplace and slowly tiptoed towards the hall from where the sound was coming. She stopped dead in her tracks at what she saw next. The faint outline of a ginger and white cat was strolling nonchalantly across the hall, before disappearing through the cupboard door – which was closed – under the stairs. It was a spine-chilling experience and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She wasn’t afraid of a cat, dead or alive, but seeing it going back through the cupboard door and no doubt into its box freaked her out. It all seemed so surreal. Did the cat belong to that old woman, she speculated? Was the old woman a witch? She’d often suspected it – and a dead cat as her accomplice did rather fit the bill.

But it was all constantly preying on her mind, and the worry of it was making her feel overstressed. She didn’t want to share it alone and why should she? It was never her idea to buy Juniper. The house oozed creepiness and bad vibes, and she could sense it strongly. She hurried back upstairs and jumped into bed. Anton was by now dead to the world and snoring, clearly unaware of what was happening whilst he slept. She pulled herself close to him, wrapped both arms around his waist and snuggled into his warm body. She felt him stiffen in his sleep as his warm body reacted to her cold one. Right now she didn’t care about the things he’d said, or what he might think of her the next day, she just needed to know he was there and she wasn’t alone.

12

The week-end seemed to come quickly, much to Lucy’s relief. Anton was supposed to have had a few days off when he returned from being away during the week, but he’d decided to go to work instead. Lucy was puzzled, because she’d taken the time off her own little job so they could spend a few days together to make up for the long absence, so she was feeling pretty miffed that she’d spent the remaining week alone again. He had been very subdued ever since the ‘cat’ saga and she was not too happy about that either. She still felt that she was in the right and that he was being unreasonable – especially if he had got the sulks because of it. After all, she was the one who’d been most disturbed. What did he know about it anyway – he’d just slept through it and left her to it! From then on he’d hardly spoken to her at all, he just grunted whenever she tried to talk to him, and when they were in bed he turned his back on her. Lucy was feeling dejected again. If anyone had ever told her that they would have a minor tiff which would lead to such an emotional and upsetting rift between them, she wouldn’t have believed it. Up to now they had always been inseparable. Would this have happened if he’d never gone away? She had no idea, but one thing she did know: it wouldn’t have happened if they’d never clapped eyes on Juniper House.

She still hadn’t managed to psyche herself up to give him the bad news about the house being haunted. And as time was moving on, it was becoming even harder still. She really wanted him to open up that sealed door, because she had a strong feeling that it held the clue to what was going on. She knew that it wasn’t one of his priorities, and he was leaving it until the more important jobs were done. But it was important to Lucy – if only she could get round to telling him.

Lucy woke up the next morning and rubbed her eyes. She turned to snuggle up to Anton but soon realised he wasn’t there. She sat up in bed abruptly. She glanced at her bedside radio and saw the time was eight o’clock. It was Saturday morning and Anton must have been up at the crack of dawn, because his side of the bed was cold.

She got washed and dressed, tidied up the bedroom and went downstairs to be greeted by the appetising smell of bacon wafting through the air. Anton had lit the fire and the range, and everything was looking clean, tidy and welcoming. The old rocker was in front of the sitting room fire, the table was set for breakfast and Lucy was relieved that he was back to normal – at least she thought he was.

She walked up to him and greeted him with a hug but he didn’t respond.

“If you sit at the table, breakfast is ready, it won’t be a minute,” he said brusquely.

Lucy obeyed him like a child who had just been scolded for being naughty. She was mystified by this new Anton and had no idea what had come over him. And why was it that whenever Anton moved that old rocker anywhere, it didn’t move itself back to its original position in front of the scullery range?
She
couldn’t even walk past it without feeling threatened. She was convinced it was that old woman who was stealing Anton from her.
Yes, of course, that’s it!
Her thoughts were spiralling out of control again. If that woman wants Anton so strongly, that she is prepared to drive Lucy away by putting the fear of god into her, then she will have a fight on her hands because Lucy did not intend to give in. She was still convinced that the child she saw disappearing through the sealed door was trying to communicate with her, and it was up to Lucy to toughen up and spur Anton into action. But it was easy to contemplate, but not so easy to do, so she decided to wait until they’d eaten breakfast before attempting to pluck up sufficient courage to face the music.

They ate in silence, although Lucy had made several attempts to converse, but he clearly was having none of it. Then she began to wonder if his mood was perhaps nothing to do with the cat saga at all. Maybe he’d had some problems whilst working away. She hadn’t thought of that before, and she was beginning to feel guilty all at once. Maybe he was upset about something – maybe he’d lost his job. Oh god! That thought had never occurred to her. One thing was for certain, he was deep in thought and she needed to find out why.

“Is there something wrong Anton? Anything I need to know about?”

“No!” came his frosty reply.

She was a little taken aback, because at least she’d expected the courtesy of a more reasonable response.

“Well something’s clearly wrong and I think I have a right to know what it is.”

But he just got up from the table, cleared the dishes and proceeded to take them into the scullery.

Lucy jumped up and followed him. “Here, let me do the dishes.”

Anton ignored her and continued to do them himself. It was so out of character that Lucy was beginning to get tetchy. She grabbed his arm and stopped him from carrying on.

“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong or not? You’ve been like this ever since you arrived back – or at least ever since I heard that cat.”

What she had just said evidently touched a raw nerve. He swung round and stared at her like a madman.

“Can’t you get it into your silly head – there was no cat!” he bellowed, causing Lucy to jump back in alarm.

So that was it! The cat saga had turned him into a monster and it was one that she didn’t much like. She wanted her old Anton back because somehow something, or someone, had possessed him, and she needed to act fast otherwise he was dangerously close to turning into one of the demons that was unmistakably inhabiting Juniper House.

“Well, whether you like it or not, this house is haunted!” she blurted.

Lucy was getting her mad up which was evident by her rebellious stance, and there was no stopping her.

“That cat isn’t all I’ve heard, and what’s more I’ve even seen it as it disappeared through that door under the stairs – and what’s more the door was closed when it went through it.”

She wagged her finger towards the sitting room.

“And what’s more that stupid old rocker that you seem to have adopted is haunted as well.”

She stamped her foot in retaliation and winced as it hit the hard stone floor.

He stared at her as if she’d grown two heads. But it didn’t deter her. Her eyes flashed in defiance as she pelted him with all the experiences she’d witnessed over the past few weeks.

Having got up on her soap-box there was no holding her back.

“You’d better believe it Anton this house has other inhabitants besides us. And what’s more they don’t want me here. Or to be more precise: SHE doesn’t want me here.” She pointed her finger to the old rocker. “She wants YOU!”

Anton glowered at Lucy, his face clouding in anger as he turned on her.

“You never wanted to come here, did you? You had your mind set on staying where we were forever. You just wanted things to stay the same because you don’t like change. All that talk about having a B & B was all it was – just talk. You never intended to
live
the dream it was just a fantasy to you and nothing else. Well we obviously don’t think the same, do we? Because
I
do want to live the dream, I do want to better myself and I intend to do just that.” His tone was sneering, his face twisting in rage.

Lucy was stupefied and stared after him as he stormed off. She heard the door slam, and minutes later she heard the van driving off. She couldn’t take it in. Was this really happening? She flopped down in the nearest chair and tried to think.

As she began to simmer down the tears came. She adored Anton, she didn’t want to lose him and she must get her head together. If she continued to antagonise him in a way that would compromise their relationship there would be no turning back, and the house and that old woman would win. She needed to think clearly. She had to have a master-plan if she wanted to keep Anton and fight off the demons. At least that row had forced her to confront the truth: that she could not lose Anton, as he was all she had and all she wanted. And deep down Lucy knew that it wasn’t Anton’s fault. He had been taken over by some strange and sinister force which belonged to the house and he was helpless against it, unless she could find a way to overturn it. And overturn it she must.

Common sense always prevails in the end, and as she analysed the situation she came to the conclusion that she needed to show more interest in the property, otherwise she was playing into the hands of the evil forces who were seeking to destroy their relationship. She needed to show more enthusiasm for their new home and share the challenges that they faced in achieving their final goal. She should encourage him more and show more gratitude – the list was endless; and she was also beginning to realise how unfair she’d been about it all. Anton had been over the moon when he first discovered Juniper on that eventful day in Judge Fields, which had begun with them both looking for a former site where gallows may have once been erected. That intriguing search caused them to stumble across the house hidden behind that chaotic garden. She felt a warm breath of happiness sweep through her as she recalled their happiness that day, until she’d spoilt it all by insisting that she’d seen an old woman peering at her from within the house. From that very moment she’d shown absolute disinterest, only wanting to continue their journey to their favourite destination. How selfish of her and how disappointed Anton must have felt. But through his persistence and sheer determination, they had ended up as property owners instead of renters. Why could she not have been more encouraging and more grateful? She was now seeing herself in her true colours, instead of constantly brooding about the dark side of Anton. No wonder he felt the way he did. He had directed his anger towards her because she’d let him down, and not because he didn’t care as she had so vehemently convinced herself ever since they’d bought the house. He was right when he’d said she didn’t like change. She didn’t want to spoil their perfect little life. She wanted it to go on and on. Well now she knew the truth there was only one course of action. She had to make it up to him, and hopefully break the spell that the spirits had cast on her unsuspecting Anton.

But that didn’t sort out Lucy’s dilemma regarding the ghosts, because she knew they existed and she knew she was never going to convince him. However, she would worry about that later. First of all she had to regain control of their love for each other, and remove the sinister hold which had been put on Anton. One thing for certain they couldn’t all live under the same roof together.

But maybe it was simpler than she thought. Perhaps if she changed her attitude towards the house – and that rocking chair – maybe the ghosts would disappear, and that would solve her problem of having to tell Anton after all. Maybe they were antagonised by her negativity towards Juniper, and maybe their intention had simply been a warning call to wake her up to the fact that if she continued in her crusade against Juniper she would lose Anton.
Yes, that’s the reason behind it all,
she thought. So they were friendly ghosts really, if she gave them half a chance, and to do that she must learn not to fear them.

She had covered every scenario possible during her time at Juniper – and right now she was convinced she’d just hit on the
real
truth once more, and therefore she could safely reject all of her earlier suspicions. She felt elated and relieved, as if an enormous weight had been removed from her tiny shoulders.

She jumped up from the chair and considered how best to put her plans in motion. She would make Anton his favourite stew again. She still had time to catch a bus to the shops and get what she needed. She was determined to let him see she was still the same person that she’d always been, the one he’d fallen in love with at first sight. And she knew how to make him happy. That big black cloud which had followed her around since moving to Judge Fields had now gone, and she was feeling much happier.

Later that day when Lucy returned from the shops, she noticed the van in the drive so she knew Anton was back. She felt happy and relieved, and there was a spring in her step as she opened the front door. Somewhere in the distance she could hear him hammering and banging and so she disappeared into their make-shift kitchen to prepare the tea. She weighed up how content she ought to be as Anton worked away in the house and she prepared dinner. This was the bliss that all loving relationships were made of – what more could she want and how could she have been so blind? Working together on their new home, and knowing they owned it, was the stuff every young couple dreams of, and from now on she would be a changed person with a totally different view about Juniper.

She laid the table with a pretty tablecloth which she had treated herself to whilst out shopping and placed a candle in the middle of it. It was simple and cheap but it gave the right ambience. She had treated them both to a bottle of wine, as part of her plan to create an intimate and romantic setting. It was a delayed celebration to welcome him home, and she hoped that Anton would be pleased at her efforts.

By the time she was ready to serve dinner, Anton had finished what he was doing and had gone for a shower. When he came back down the table was set, the candle was lit and the wine was served. He walked into the room and evidently couldn’t wipe the smile from his face. She knew her plan was working.

“Sit down Anton I’m sure you’ve worked up an appetite.” She pulled a chair out for him before disappearing into the scullery. She returned with two dishes of stew which she placed on the table. Before sitting down she put her arms around his neck and whispered sultrily in his ear: “I’m sorry for making you mad and for being so unreasonable and silly. I’ll make it up to you later.”

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