MAGDALENA'S GHOST: THE HAUNTING OF THE HOUSE IN GALLOWS LANE (9 page)

Later that evening they were both thoroughly bushed, but at least they could sit in front of the fire in the sitting room and relax. Anton had done his best to make it as comfortable as possible, although it was just a temporary arrangement. They had the range to cook on in the scullery and the room had to also double up as a kitchen, along with the back hall containing the pot sink. As for their kitchen appliances, they had to be positioned in various parts of the sitting room wherever they could find a power point. Fitting additional ones was on Anton’s priority list, but it would all take time. Although there wasn’t a real kitchen as such – no work surfaces or cupboards – there was an old pantry which they would be able to use once it was cleaned and decorated, and they could manage quite well with their old kitchen table to work and sit at for the time being. After a summer season touring around in a camper van, they were able to adapt with ease at their new surroundings and they looked on it all as an adventure. Anton knew it would take a very long time to wade his way through the entire house; it was big and rambling and had three floors, and although it was a daunting task he was determined.

They retired to bed early as the house was getting chilled, and they were too exhausted to do anything else having been hard at it all day after a very early start. At least the bedroom was cosy and inviting and they were both snug and warm in bed, so much so that they both fell sound asleep within minutes.

But Lucy awoke with the sound of Anton snoring, so she pushed him hard to roll him over to face the other side; at least if he started again it wouldn’t be in her ear. She got comfy once more and was soon fast asleep. But she was soon awakened again by the sound of snoring. She sat up in bed and could see that Anton hadn’t moved since she’d shoved him over. But whilst she could hear snoring, it clearly wasn’t coming from him. She sat in the same position for a while in complete confusion. How could she hear snoring if it wasn’t coming from Anton? She had no answer. But once she concentrated and listened carefully, she realised the snoring sound was coming from the floor and directly beneath where she was sitting. But how could that be? She was perplexed. Leaning over the side of the bed, she stuck her head underneath whilst clinging onto the mattress, but then she began to slide slowly down the bed and had to cling on tighter. At that point Anton woke up and turned his head towards her

“What are you doing?” he asked, rubbing his eyes as if he were seeing things. He sleepily eyeballed her bottom which was sticking up in the air.

Lucy almost fell off the bed as she struggled to get back up again, so Anton grabbed her by her nightie and dragged her back onto the bed.

The snoring had stopped, so she knew she was going to look rather foolish.

“I heard snoring – it was coming from the floor underneath the bed.”

Anton groaned, grabbed the bedding and swiftly turned over burying himself under the duvet. Within minutes he had resumed his sleep and was snoring, and there was no mistaking this time where the sound was coming from.

Lucy wasn’t too happy about the experience. She shivered, but it was more from a feeling of eeriness than cold. She was certain that snoring was coming from the floor underneath the bed. She turned towards Anton pulling herself as close to him as possible, before burying her head under the bedding. Fortunately she had muffled out any chance of further noises and soon fell asleep.

Anton awoke early the next morning and turned to face Lucy, but she wasn’t there. He sat up and looked around the room, but there was no sign of her.
Perhaps she’s got up early to make a brew and something to eat,
he hoped. So he jumped out of bed and opened the bedroom door.

“Luce!” he called, his words echoing down the empty staircase.

“What do you want?” was the muffled reply.

He spun round to see her legs and feet sticking out from under the bed. She slid herself back out, stood up and brushed herself down in the process.

“What are you doing?” he exclaimed, looking puzzled.

“I was looking to see where that snoring noise came from.”

Anton looked at her in exasperation, threw his arms up in the air and gasped. He marched round to the bed, pulled on some clothes which he had, unusually, left on the floor the night before, and disappeared out of the room.

Lucy got dressed and tidied up the bed, before following meekly down the stairs. When she walked into the scullery she found he had retrieved their electric kettle and he was now boiling water and preparing bacon for frying on the range. He had made sure it was packed with fuel the previous evening in order for it to stay in all night in readiness for breakfast. She knew he was annoyed with her about the snoring sounds, after all, it did sound pretty stupid in the cold light of day. She’d probably imagined it as usual anyway. She knew the best thing to do was to get on with helping him to make breakfast and keep quiet – he’d snap out of his little tantrum!

By the time they sat down to eat their food – which by now was on the dining table in the sitting room – he had forgotten all about the incident and was back to his cheery self. He wasn’t one for sulking, or getting angry, he had a calming influence on Lucy because he was so laid back about everything and nothing ever presented a problem to him. There wasn’t anything he could not tackle, or sort. She could understand him getting a little bit frustrated with her after all the hours he had put in to get the house ready for habitation, she couldn’t blame him for that. She couldn’t help but think how she loved his orderliness, his organised methods and eagerness to get everything as perfect as possible. He had surprised her that morning by organising the table and chairs at the back of the sitting room so they could have a proper dining area; it was just like him to do that and she loved him for it. She was a bit of a scatterbrain herself, but she did try to be more organised so that she wouldn’t let Anton down.

They ate in silence and although the house was virtually empty and needed a complete overhaul, the scullery and sitting room glowed warmly from the heat of the fire and the range, plus the cosy atmosphere which they had managed to create with their joint efforts.

“Oh, I see you’ve moved the old rocker,” she interjected as an afterthought.

“Yes, I’ve decided I’m going to use it, if you don’t find it comfy enough. I thought it was quite comfortable when I tried it, especially with that old cushion on it which I found in a cupboard. It’s so old that rocker that I would suspect it could tell a tale or two. It’s one of those things you’d sit on in front of the fire on a cold winter’s night telling ghost stories. I think you should wash that old blanket Luce, the one which was on the floor, it’s ideal for wrapping round the legs whilst rocking. I love old things like that, it’s very nostalgic. My old granddad had one very similar and I used to sit on his knee as a child when he was on it. He would rock away whilst I cuddled up to him. Ah yes, fond memories, I remember it all so well!” He sighed deeply, as his reminiscing brought back happy thoughts of his childhood. “So, I’ve decided that I’m going to keep it and the old cushion and blanket as well. I think I’ll leave it there where it is at the side of the fireplace.”

Lucy couldn’t help but think the old cushion and the drab, grey, woollen blanket were past their sell-by-date, and she wasn’t much keen on washing them either. Who knows where they’d come from, or what they’d been used for; she cringed at the thought.

Her thoughts turned to Anton. It was evident that he was turning into a slightly unrecognisable and over-contented human being. His lust for excitement and adventure seemed to have disappeared, having been replaced with Juniper; and that’s all he seemed to need now. She frowned as she watched his smug expression of satisfaction. Clearly
he
wasn’t being visited by some strange old woman in rags when he sat on the old rocker. Lucy felt strangely demoralised. Was there some kind of strange conspiracy going on here, which was beyond her understanding? The whole scenario was certainly questionable.

He continued to scoff his food, and gave a sigh of approval when he’d finished. There was no doubt he was as pleased as punch in his new surroundings and was enjoying the simple basic lifestyle which they were currently stuck with, at least for now. He was king of the castle in his own little fantasy world, and Lucy felt as if they’d suddenly turned into a pair of old, married pensioners, and the two fun-loving young people that they used to be before Juniper had ceased to exist.

“It may sound strange, but I feel as if I’ve finally come home.”

“This is home,” she reminded him, whilst at the same time reflecting on what she’d just said and wondering if she could ever think of it as
home
.

“I know, but it’s more than that. I feel as if I’ve just returned from a very long voyage and I belong here. It’s as if this has always been home for me. It has that kind of welcoming feel, one that recognises you as if you’re a past friend.” He sat back in his chair with a look of self- satisfaction on his face, having just had his belly full and looking quite content. Lucy couldn’t help but think he was behaving as if he were ‘lord of the manor’, not mortgagee of an old decrepit house – and with a huge debt round around both of their necks.

She could see that Juniper had really got under his skin and she was beginning to feel as if she didn’t belong in his fantasy world any more, as if this house was all about
him
. In fact, he was making her feel like an intruder – or the charwoman, and she wasn’t certain which category she most fitted into. But the constant nagging thoughts remained firmly fixed in her mind, that whilst
he
was being welcomed home – as he put it –
she
was being made to feel like an outsider, or maybe even an obstacle! She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she certainly felt no sense of belonging and she couldn’t help but wonder if she could ever truly settle.

9

As the days passed Anton worked his way through the house from morning until night, whilst Lucy scrubbed and cleaned and cooked – having eventually got the hang of the range. She soon found herself enjoying their new home, or at least part of it. The finished parts had taken on a reasonably friendly atmosphere, once they had begun to put their own stamp on it, but there was still a long way to go. Lucy began to wonder if perhaps she had been acting rather foolishly lately by insisting that she’d seen that old woman, and complaining of snoring sounds in the bedroom – not to mention her petulant behaviour with some silly notion that she was having her nose pushed out. She had to admit to herself that she’d been sounding rather neurotic lately, and that could easily build a bridge between them if she didn’t pull herself together. Anton had gone out of his way to push ahead with the house purchase and work extremely hard at creating a home for her. Any woman would give her right arm for a man like him, and right now she was suffering from a guilty conscience.

Anton had plumbed the washing machine in and together they were quite organised. Although the house looked sparse and drab elsewhere, the sitting room and the scullery looked and felt more homely, and even inviting to a certain extent. Fortunately with Anton having worked hard on the gardens and grounds whilst waiting for the mortgage to come through, it was all looking good outside and soon they were both proud to say they were the owners of Juniper House.

Days turned into weeks, and the time was growing close to when Anton would have to tell Lucy that he would be working away. He wasn’t looking forward to it, particularly as she had been in good form lately showing signs of enjoying their new home and paying him a lot of attention – just like she always used to do. He’d been feeling pretty good about that. They’d been going to bed early and getting close, and she seemed to have lost all her superstitions about the house having a presence – or two.

At least he’d managed to finish decorating the most important rooms, which were the sitting room and the scullery, plus the back hall with the pot sink in it, and a few more parts here and there. There was no doubt he was being somewhat over-sentimental when he’d put the old cracked mirror back on the hook above the sink, especially when Lucy had earmarked it for binning. But it was there when they moved in, and somehow he felt that it rightfully belonged there.

In general it looked much more enticing – and not quite as spooky, as Lucy had been quick to point out. However, the long hallway from the entrance door to the grand hall, plus the staircase and landing, were gloomy, shabby, dilapidated and darkly lit – not to mention the second floor which was uninhabitable! He was able to see through the dilapidations up there and imagine how it would look once all the work was done. But he knew Lucy would never venture up onto that floor in a thousand years, so there was no urgency to start on that area, and there were still plenty of rooms downstairs to make a start on. It was a pretty big house with six bedrooms on the first floor, plus more rooms could be found via the secondary staircase leading to the second floor, which probably once served as the nursery and staff rooms. Anyway, as far as he was concerned, the parts which mattered to Lucy the most were looking ship-shape for when he was gone. Surely she wouldn’t mind him working away after all the efforts he’d put in, and, after all, it was for her benefit. However, he still kept putting it off until he knew he couldn’t put it off any longer.

“Lucy love,” he began.

Lucy was immediately alerted to something fishy going on. He didn’t call her by her proper name unless he was sheepish about something. She walked over to him and eyed him suspiciously.

His courage failed him when he observed her with her hands on her hips. He pretended to be looking elsewhere, nonchalantly tidying up here and there.

“What are you up to?” she quizzed bluntly.

“Err … well – you know that lovely bathroom suite you saw … and the shower cubicle?” He squirmed as he edged his way around the truth of the matter.

“What about it?” she asked sternly. She was no fool when it came to Anton looking sheepish.

“Hum – I’m going to do some overtime so I can get it for you. I can do all the work myself, so it isn’t out of reach pricewise.” He spat it out so quick that he didn’t fool her for one minute.

“And what exactly do you mean by overtime?”

He shuffled around feeling uncomfortable, and he couldn’t look her in the face. But he knew he had to come clean, so best to get it over with.

“I’ll be working in Somerset for a few weeks.”

“Well that’s what you think!” she snapped.

“Sorry love, but it is part of my contract. I know how much you want a nice new bathroom, rather than that old cast-iron one up there. And to be honest I think I should earn enough to be able to get the materials for the kitchen as well, which I want to build for you. You’d like that Luce, really you would. You know you don’t like having to work between the scullery and the sitting room, and it’s the only way we’re going to get what we want. We can’t live like this forever.”

He was guilty of bribery tactics and he knew it, but he’d had to pull something out of the hat quickly before an explosion erupted.

She came down off her high horse once the reality of what he was saying began to sink in.

“But what will
I
do?” she whimpered. “I don’t want to be here alone at night!” In fact she shuddered at the thought. “I’ve never lived on my own before.”

“But you won’t be living on your own will you? I’ll be coming back again. It’s only going to be for a few weeks.”

“Only a few weeks?” she gasped in alarm.

“Well, maybe only three…” He broke off as his courage failed him again and he couldn’t bring himself to admit to the likelihood of it being much longer.

“But I can’t stay here alone for three weeks!”

“You’ll be alright love, there’s nothing to be afraid of, and it’s only until the job’s done. Maybe it won’t take so long, and then when I come back we can go and choose the bathroom and kitchen.” He put a reassuring arm around her shoulders and hugged her to him, but she quickly pulled herself loose.

“It may not seem long to you – you’re not the one who’ll be staying here alone.  It sounds like a life sentence to me and I don’t think I can do it,” she moaned pathetically.

She was beginning to panic internally. Her mind began to wander back to the things that she had tried so hard to push behind her: the old woman, the snoring, and the sheer creepiness of some parts of the house – in fact most parts of the house. It didn’t bear thinking about.

Suddenly they were all becoming real again and her imagination was beginning to take over once more.

“I’ll make sure everything is secure before I go. By the time I’ve finished you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.”

Lucy had never imagined that she would have to consider sleeping alone in the house, she was only just adjusting to actually living in it – and even that was touch and go!

She had to concede that this was one debate she was definitely going to lose. And whilst she was far from pleased, she knew she couldn’t do a thing about it. Maybe if she focused on the idea of a new bathroom and kitchen, it would distract her from the fear of sleeping alone at night in a house which was far too big for a couple, let alone one person – and to make matters worse, a house which would scare the living daylights out of any normal person.

She really did want a new kitchen, there wasn’t one as such, and as for the bathroom it was really grotty. She had tried everything possible to clean the toilet, but nothing worked and she really hated having to use it. So there were plenty of reasons to feel happy at Anton’s plans – but being alone in that big empty house was not one of them. In fact, the mere thought of it scared her half to death! She knew she would now spend every minute, of every day, leading up to when he was due to leave, living in sheer terror at the idea.

The dreaded day came too quickly and it was upon them before Lucy had time to adapt her mind to it. She had packed Anton’s clothes and toiletries in the van the night before he was due to set off. By the following morning she had butterflies in her stomach and she was wondering how on earth she was going to cope without him.

Sensing her fear and anxiety from the outset, Anton had installed some external security lights for her, which was a help, although Lucy wondered if they would make matters worse. What if, for example, the lights came on outside due to the wind, or perhaps even a stray cat? After all, they were sensitive to any movement catching the beam, so it could easily happen. And if it did, she would have good reason to suspect intruders were trying to get in. So she would have preferred a straightforward external lamp which could be manually operated by a switch inside the front door, so that she could leave it on all night. But Anton insisted he knew what he was doing. He had also installed a make-shift alarm, but once again Lucy thought that could be a problem if it went off and turned out to be a false alarm – what would THAT do to her? And anyway, it wasn’t outside intruders that she was worried about, that wasn’t her main concern. It was whatever lurked indoors that made her afraid. Once he was gone, she would be vulnerable on her own to whatever sinister presence might be lying in wait for her – for example, that old woman! And who knows, she may even have accomplices.

She had really tried to drum some sense into her head. She’d tried to brainwash herself into believing that there was no such thing as a ghost, and haunted houses didn’t really exist if that’s what was worrying her.  But it wasn’t working. She was becoming seriously imaginative, and by the time he was due to leave – she was a dithering wreck!

“All you have to do love is to leave some lights on as soon as it starts to darken. A lamp down here and one in the hall and the ones in our bedroom will make you feel safer. You’ll be alright, just wait and see,” he reassured her again. “If you take your mind off all the empty parts of the house, they’ll soon cease to exist and you’ll wonder why you ever made such a fuss.” But funny enough, it wasn’t working!

“Putting lights on in the hall makes it look creepier than ever,” she mumbled as a pout forced its way through.

“But you’ll get used to it, honest you will. It’s only because there isn’t any wallpaper on the walls, and it’s all darkened with age.” He held her by the shoulders and looked at her confidently. “It’s
our
home now, our little nest. Think of it like that. It’s true what they say you know, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and so is fear. It’s all part of your imagination which causes you to believe that things are happening just because you’re alone. But think about it, why would something happen because I’m not here, if it doesn’t happen when I am?” He gave her a quick peck on the forehead.

Lucy looked at him in bemusement.
It’s alright for him being brave, but he’s not the one staying behind.
So his logic couldn’t penetrate her mind – he hadn’t left yet and she was already feeling quite sick.

“Why can’t I come with you?” she pleaded.

“Aw, you know you can’t love. I’m going to work – it’s not a holiday. What would you do each day and who would look after the house? And anyway, we need the money.”

“I could stay in the van. I could have your meals ready each day, just like I normally do.” She was beginning to feel frantic.

But Anton just smiled and shrugged it off. He knew she would eventually settle down to the idea – she had no choice. She was just behaving like any other woman who was faced with the same predicament; they always get scared when they’re alone in the dark. It’s just the way it is.

And so it was left like that.

Anton set off early and Lucy was alone in the house for the first time. She was glad of her part-time job to go to otherwise she would have felt extremely lonely by herself day and night. It was only a short walk to the bus stop that would take her to work and she had become quite used to it, but she had to make sure she arrived at the bus stop in good time as there wasn’t another bus for three hours; such was the hamlet of Judge Fields.

He had promised to drive back up North to be with her each week-end, so she felt much better about that, and her little job would help to kill some time. She would be out in a morning and by the time she did some shopping and caught the bus back home, it would be mid-afternoon. She would spend the rest of her time cleaning and sorting out some more of their belongings, and by the time she had cooked something to eat it would be bedtime. Hopefully the days and nights would pass quickly, but even though she’d tried to convince herself of that, somehow it didn’t seem to penetrate her mind sufficiently for her to feel better. It’s just that the days were not a problem – the nights were!

When she got home that day it was four o’clock. She had offered to work some extra hours and that had helped to utilise some time before popping to the shops for something for tea. When she got through the door it felt empty and lonely. She hadn’t realised just how quiet it was until now, apart from the sound of her footsteps echoing loudly on the bare floorboards. She walked across the main hall – which now seemed even more shabby and dilapidated – and as she walked into the sitting room and across to the scullery, she stopped suddenly. She had just walked past the old cushion and it was on the floor; it was the one that Anton used on the old rocker. And what’s more, the rocker had gone! She stopped and stared in bemusement as she picked up the cushion. She walked into the scullery and to her surprise found the rocker back in its former place in front of the old range. She stared at it in amazement, her mind momentarily blank. She was certain it was in the sitting room, where Anton had left it, before she went to work. She certainly couldn’t recall him moving it back in front of the range. Perhaps he’d moved it back and she just hadn’t noticed. But it wasn’t like Anton to throw the cushion on the floor –
she
might just do that, but he definitely wouldn’t.

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