MAGDALENA'S GHOST: THE HAUNTING OF THE HOUSE IN GALLOWS LANE (8 page)

The barman picked up the glass of whisky and clasped her hands round it.

“Here, drink it,” he ordered.

She put the glass to her quivering lips and drank the liquid.

The barman could see she was in a state and was convinced that she shouldn’t be living alone up the road in that great big house. The other man looked on coldly but said nothing, he carried on drinking.

“You really ought to have some company in that house. Have you no family?” asked the barman.

“No, no family. All dead,” she replied. The back of her throat warmed to the drink and she felt her nerves calming.

“Not good for you to live alone in a place like that.”

“No, no … I don’t want company.
She’s
company enough,” she replied frantically.

She drank the whisky back in one. The shock of the barman’s remark had jolted her to her senses and she fled from the building in a blind panic. The last thing she wanted was interference from others, and she certainly didn’t want him meddling in her affairs.

The barman nodded pleadingly to the old man, who quickly cottoned on as he reluctantly followed her outside. He walked up to the house with her in tow, and she offered no objections. She was comforted by his presence, he made her feel safe, although she couldn’t fathom why. Maybe he was similar to her – solitary and reclusive.

She waited until he had gone into the house before following behind him. Once again he scoured the house for intruders, checking every room on every floor. He checked the security of the back door and all of the windows. Everything was rotting but still intact and fastened securely. He left the house after reassuring her that there was no presence, and she locked the door behind him.

She decided to make a hot cup of tea, so she put a pan of water on the range to boil. As she turned round, she found herself staring into the eyes of the cat which had been standing quietly behind her. But she knew those eyes, they were not the eyes of the cat at all, they belonged to her mother. She screamed in shock and horror, and kicked the cat all the way to the door. It shrieked as it fled from the house and into the grounds. Beryl locked the door and bolted it. She now had the answer to her problem. In order to get rid of her mother, she would need to get rid of the cat.

Soon after that last haunting the cat had gone and Beryl never saw her mother in Juniper again.

Several weeks had passed since the last incidents and Beryl had not set foot outside the house again, apart from collecting fuel from the old stores in the grounds. Life had taken on some normality for her, and she carried on her daily routine as if the recent past events had never happened. She slept more soundly in her bed, and the only disturbing noises to be heard during the night in Juniper House were from her snoring.

But one day as she dozed in the old rocking chair, the front door was broken down. Two men wearing white coats marched through the house and into the scullery where they saw the mad woman. They yanked her by the arms and dragged her screaming and kicking out of the door and into a waiting vehicle.

Beryl never saw Juniper House again. She spent the rest of her days in the York asylum where she had so cruelly arranged for her mother to be detained, after having had her sectioned in her master plan to gain everything for herself.

But it didn’t end there for Beryl. Crazed with fear she often found herself being strangled into a straight-jacket and injected with drugs, as she put up a panic-stricken fight. But the most terrifying thing of all was when she looked into the face of the nurse who administered the drugs – she saw only her mother!

Juniper House was closed up and seized by the authorities and used to pay for the fees to keep Beryl locked away for the rest of her life.

There was no-one to mourn her death a few years later, when word had travelled to the small hamlet that she had finally died of madness. It came as no surprise and she was soon forgotten. She wasn’t missed, she wasn’t remembered, and no-one really cared. She’d ended her life as she’d lived it: a life without compassion, kindness, or consideration to others. Her parting had now suffered the same fate and lack of sentiment.

She was cremated and her ashes buried with those of her mother’s inside the grounds of the asylum.

As one year after another slipped by, Juniper House was gradually forgotten by the residents of Judge Fields. Nothing major changed in the hamlet, life continued day after day, month after month, and year after year. Tall grasses and weeds from the long-neglected garden began to mount the old stone walls, keeping it hidden behind the trees and bushes and well away from the prying eyes of the outside world.

Although the authorities chose to offer the house for sale, it aroused little interest, until it was finally abandoned altogether. The marketing board which had been erected finally fell, and gradually over time it rotted into the ground. And as Gallows Lane didn’t lead to anywhere except a narrow, winding, precarious road, which was difficult to access and which was treacherous in winter, it was hardly ever used. And so no-one ever learned of the existence of Juniper House and from then on it ceased to exist.

But inside strange things were happening, unexplained things, sinister and eerie, and no-one suspected. Somewhere in those empty spaces, faint stirrings of the past and its memories had been frozen in time and were relived in the still of night, undisturbed and undiscovered.

7
NOW

Anton had been told by the local authority that his offer would be considered and they did not anticipate a problem. If things went according to plan, they expected the transaction to be completed by early the following year. They had even been told that the council could possibly arrange the finance. It was all too good to be true as far as Anton was concerned. He just knew that they were destined to become owners of Juniper House; it was fate that had taken them to the hamlet of Judge Fields that day – he just knew it. And to top it all, it was likely that they were going to get it at a bargain price if they accepted his ridiculously low offer.

He’d been told very little about the previous owners, except that the last two women had lived as recluses and had both gone mad. There were no other known family members. The house had been empty for many years, and as there was no-one personally responsible for its upkeep, it had deteriorated with time.

Lucy had had misgivings about the house from the very start, but she was even less impressed when she heard about the last two occupants having gone mad. Her mind continually reverted back to the old woman in ragged clothes, who she was convinced she had seen at the foot of the stairs that day. Maybe the old woman was one of the mad ones. But of course Anton thought
she
was mad for even suggesting it, and he was certainly not prepared to accept that she’d seen anyone and so refused to discuss it further.

But there was definitely something about that house and she just couldn’t put her finger on it. All she knew was that she had reservations about the place and wished that Anton had never set eyes on it. He wouldn’t listen to her, or see reason, which was so unlike him; and to crown it all he thought she was being neurotic and ungrateful.

He seemed to have gone through a personality change since the first time he’d seen Juniper. But that in turn made Lucy wonder whether she was now only just seeing the
real
Anton. Perhaps she’d been walking around wearing rose-tinted glasses and hadn’t really been able to see through him – until now. She tried to push those terrible thoughts to the back of her mind otherwise she risked the two of them becoming distant.

But the nagging thoughts returned over and over again. Why was he so hooked on the place? She was mystified, and concerned too. But they had already set out on the road of purchasing the damned thing, and he wouldn’t be deterred no matter what. Even if she refused to go along with it, he would still go ahead regardless and that hurt her deeply. So she had no choice but to stand by his side – or leave him. And the latter was not what she had in mind. However, the more she dwelt on it all, the more she came round to his way of thinking. Maybe he was right about her being typical of most women who walk around big, old, empty houses and become jittery; imagining that things will go bump in the night and the corridors will be haunted by previous occupants. Each time she approached the subject he was driven to laughter, making her feel rather dejected and silly. She decided to keep quiet in the end and not mention any of her speculative thoughts again.

During the time that Anton was the main key holder and whilst waiting for the loan to come through, he had been back to the pub a few times but it was never open. The old man seemed to have disappeared. He had hoped to see him again to thank him for his help and to buy him a beer, but every time he went over to Judge Fields to work on the grounds of Juniper, there was no sign of life.

He continually dwelt on the identity of the old man – the man with no name. Perhaps he was an ex-convict, guilty of some heinous crime for which he had served his sentence. His speech, Anton had noticed from the very beginning, had not been local but refined and he somehow had an air of superiority about him, plus an intelligence which was uncommon in a place like Judge Fields. His appearance contradicted his mannerisms and made Anton think he could be someone in disguise, someone who didn’t want his identity known – maybe he was Lord Lucan. But he soon dismissed that because he didn’t think he was old enough. He probably looked older than what he was, due to his stature and dishevelled appearance. The unshaven look and the long white hair may be part of his wish to remain incognito. Nonetheless, Anton was disappointed and sorry not to see him again. He presumed the pub was closed for the winter months because there was no point in opening, after all it did make sense as surely there wouldn’t be sufficient customers out of season to keep it going. And with that thought in mind he looked forward to the turn of the season, in the hope that he would once more find him in there propping up the bar.

Anton continued to keep an eye on the house by spending his week-ends there and clearing the gardens and bagging up rubbish. The authorities didn’t care one way or the other what he did. Lucy stayed behind at their flat as she still had reservations about the house and its
occupant
and Anton couldn’t understand her resistance and lack of enthusiasm. But undeterred he spent every minute of his leisure time there and the two of them hardly saw one other.

It was early February when the transaction was completed and they could call themselves the proud owners of Juniper House – at least Anton could do, Lucy wasn’t so enthralled. He had promised her that the first thing he would do once they knew it was theirs was to change all the locks, hoping that way she wouldn’t continue to harp on about another resident.

Lucy, meanwhile, had plenty to do at the flat to keep her mind occupied, such as packing and cleaning. They had a couple of months left on their lease, which would allow Anton some time to be getting the house habitable fairly quickly. He didn’t mind roughing it, but he didn’t feel it was fair to expect Lucy to do so. He took some holiday time which was due to him, having stored it up for when they would need it, and he worked day and night on the place. He had managed with great difficulty to get the electricity supply restored, which enabled him to get cracking on the internal work.

He did, however, have one guilty secret. Something had cropped up at work which meant he would have to be working away for a few weeks, as the job was long-distance. It meant leaving Lucy in the house alone for as long as the job took, and she wouldn’t be too pleased about that. He deliberately kept it from her until the house was ready for them to move into, and even then he would have to pluck up some Dutch courage to break it to her. He brushed it aside knowing full well that he would have to face it sooner or later, but until then he didn’t intend to worry about it.

8

They had hired a transit van to move their furniture. Anton wanted to do the house-move himself because they didn’t have much money, and they had very little furniture seeing as how they’d lived in a very tiny flat. In fact it all looked rather pathetic once it was gathered together in the main hall. Lucy was feeling dejected because she didn’t have Anton’s foresight, she couldn’t imagine how the house would look once all the work was finished, and it was just so vast. He tried to reassure her over and over again that it would be perfect by the time he’d done. Lucy wanted carpets, but there wasn’t sufficient money left for such luxuries, so he planned to restore all the floorboards. Once sanded and stained, he promised, they would look great and a few rugs scattered around would add the finishing touches. Whilst Lucy was unconvinced she was happy to leave it in his capable hands – after all, he was always right in the end. Her design talents were restricted to the cosmetics and she had to trust Anton to have it all perfect in readiness for her input.

Anton had worked on one of the bedrooms for several weeks before the move. He had given it all a coat of paint and carried out any necessary repair work. The room he chose was the best in his opinion because it had two large windows which were all intact, therefore letting in lots of natural light; and it also had a large walk-in closet which would hold their clothes as well as additional storage. He had sanded and stained the floorboards and hung curtains and he was rather pleased with himself at the result.

So Lucy set to work on cleaning the bedroom in readiness for the evening. She wanted to make sure it was perfect before they moved their bed and other bits of furniture up there. Whilst she cleaned, Anton said he would carry their clothes up and hang them all neatly in the closet. They had bought a couple of rugs in readiness, which they both felt would look great once they were down.

“You forgot to move that old mattress out that’s in here,” she called to Anton as he mounted the stairs loaded with clothes. Her voice seemed to echo in the large empty spaces.

“Oh sorry love, I’d forgotten about that. It won’t take a minute cos it’s so worn out that the weight has all gone out of it, so I can manage it on my own.” He started to put the clothes in the closet. “I’ll have to do something about those creaking floorboards on the landing I’ve never heard anything as bad before. If you hear those creaking in the night you’ll be thinking we’ve got intruders.”

“Well how could they creak during the night if we’re in bed asleep? They’re only likely to creak if we walk on them.” She didn’t know whether to feel unnerved by what he’d just said. She hadn’t thought of them creaking whilst they were sleeping, and she didn’t much like the idea now he’d mentioned it, it was likely to set off her imagination again.

“Wouldn’t we be better leaving them as they are then, so we’ll know if someone is walking on them when we’re asleep?” Her mind was working overtime and she was feeling jittery at the thought. She’d never lived in a house so big in her life, and all the empty rooms didn’t do much to make her feel secure. She was rather wishing he hadn’t come out with that last remark.

“I wasn’t thinking straight love, I’m just being silly. Of course no-one will be walking on them when we’re asleep – unless we have guests, so don’t fill your head with that kind of nonsense.”

The subject wasn’t mentioned again.

They both carried their bed and mattress upstairs. The wide curved staircase made it so much easier than a normal one. Anton took the old mattress outside and threw it in the van, whilst Lucy began to add the finishing touches to the bedroom with some new crisp bedding which they had bought as a special treat. She placed two table lamps on the bedside cabinets and after adding the two rugs and some other odds and ends, she had to admit it was looking cosy and inviting and she couldn’t wait to try it out. The lamps gave the room a soft glow once she’d closed the curtains, and she looked around to admire the finished result.

Anton also gave it his seal of approval before the two of them went downstairs to make a cup of tea. He had already lit the fire in the sitting room and the one in the Yorkshire range, and soon the heat flowed evenly throughout the living area and the scullery.

“We can use the range for cooking until I build a kitchen, then you can have a proper cooker as well. But I’m rather looking forward to using this,” Anton said excitedly as he poked around at the wood to stir some life into it.

Lucy could see he had worked hard at cleaning the range. The jet black shone so much you could almost see your face in it, and there was a pan of water simmering gently on the stove.

“Here sit in this old rocker whilst I make you a drink.” He beckoned her over as he moved it closer to the fire.

She did as she was instructed because she was feeling exhausted, and more than a little hungry.

After raiding their food stock, Anton returned with a cup of tea and a pan containing soup. He handed the tea to Lucy and placed the pan of soup on the range to warm. He retrieved their foldup table from the hall, which they normally used in their camper van, and moved it towards her. He then brought in some bread, butter, cutlery and condiments and got organised at making them something to eat.

“Fresh bread and butter and soup, it’s just like being in the camper,” he said enthusiastically.

Lucy could see he was really excited by the whole experience, and she left him to it whilst she closed her eyes and sat back in the rocker. But she had the strangest experience when her eyes were closed. She saw an old woman – in fact it was the same old woman who she had first seen at the foot of the stairs, she was certain of it. She saw her standing in front of her, glaring at her as she rocked the chair gently. She opened her eyes swiftly, but of course there was no-one there. All she could see was the pleasant glow of the fire and Anton rustling up some grub. She blinked her eyes and closed them again. But after a minute or two, she saw the image once more and this time it seemed even more real. It made her feel restless and uncomfortable, as if she shouldn’t be in the old rocker at all, so she stood up.

“What’s wrong?” Anton asked.

“It’s not very comfy,” she fibbed.

“No probs, I’ll get you a proper chair to sit on.”

He went to retrieve a chair from the hall and brought it back for Lucy to use. She placed it a safe distance away from the rocker, as she didn’t want to take any chances. The old woman’s face had haunted her from the start, and sitting in that chair had brought it all back. She didn’t know if she’d imagined it or not, but the experience had left her somewhat perturbed.

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