“During the nineteen seventies, the young couple that brought this house claimed they heard mysterious noises in the night. The disturbances grew worse and they found their only child sleepwalking multiple times. On one memorable occasion, they found their son Matthew standing in the kitchen, a knife held at his own throat. When he woke, he had no memory of the incident.”
At the back of the tour group, a lanky young man in his mid-twenties scoffed. His dark hair fell in strands over his eyes, and most of the group members who turned to look at him missed his eyes rolling. The girl beside him nudged his side, but as the tour leader’s gaze fell on him, he smiled.
“Please. It’s just all bullshit made up to sell a story. How much did the couple make from saying their seven year old son almost killed himself?”
The woman who had been speaking gaped. “Sir, there are people here who are genuinely interested in hearing the morbid and fascinating history of this house. If you are not here for the same reason, then I must ask you to leave.”
He grinned, shaking his head. “You don’t know anything about the history of this place.” With that he turned and headed out into the foyer, decorated with paintings of people over a century dead, a coat of arms hanging at the top of the stairs. The girl followed.
“Do you have to be so stubborn?” she muttered, as they headed past the receptionist desk. The desk was set right in the middle of the floor, greeting people the moment they stepped into Britain’s biggest haunted house. “I know the Carter’s story is bullshit, David, but really! Do you have to make a scene?”
He carried on walking, dipping his head at the bored young girl at the desk. She giggled, blushed and turned back to the computer as he pushed open the big oak doors and stepped onto the porch.
“It just pisses me off, is all,” he muttered, taking a cigarette packet out of his pocket and lighting one, inhaling deeply as he stared out at the grand garden, complete with lengthy driveway, steel gates and bushes cut to look like animals. “I mean, they’re taking money from tourists and they don’t even know the true history of this place.”
“I know, Seth.” She reached out, putting a hand on his shoulder. “But how are they supposed to know?”
“They’re exploiting people.”
“People who are probably well aware that what they’re being sold is fiction,” she said. “You really think half the people who walk into this place believe in ghosts? They just want to see the place the Carter’s lived. That’s all.”
“Bloody bastards,” he muttered, running a hand through his hair. “They got just enough right, too.”
“The accounts had holes in it, though.” She glanced around, before grabbing his hand and leading him off the porch and around, to the back of the house. “Do you think the kid was like us?”
“Sure he was. He’d have done a hell of a lot more interviews if he was faking it.”
“Okay. So. We have Mummy and Daddy, down on their luck, hear about this magnificent place going cheap because it needs a lot of work done to it.” They crossed the back garden, walking on the perfectly kept grass until they reached the car park at the very back. “Look at the house. You see it?”
Seth turned, eyes scanning the back of the house. Through the huge glass doors that led out onto the patio, he could see the tour group. Lifting his gaze, he glanced over the windows of the bedrooms. “Yeah, I see it,” he muttered, eyes locked on the window at the far right, in what would have been the Carter kid’s bedroom. The curtain dropped, hiding the figure from view. “Holly?”
“You were saying?” He leant against their car, as she unlocked the door and sat on the passenger seat, sitting half out the car, so her legs were hanging out and she was facing the house. She reached down under the seat and pulled out a folder, rifling through it until she found what she was looking for.
“So. They buy the house in, what was it, 1973?” She scanned the page. “No, sorry. ’72. Move in early ’73. But the house is practically in ruins, barely any of it inhabitable. They see potential in having it as a tourist destination.”
Seth nodded. “Makes sense.”
Her eyes flickered up to him, before falling back to the page. “But it costs a lot of money to do up a place like this, so they borrow left, right and centre.”
“You got to remember, Seth. They’d convinced themselves they’d make the money back.”
“But, at this point, they were just expecting it to be a run of the mill stately home, right?”
She nodded. “Right. If they’d brought it two decades later, well, they would have had more luck. But as it was, they contacted a few tour companies and none of them were interested.”
Seth glanced back at the house. The doors to the patio were opening, the tour group filtering out with the guide gesturing across the garden. Probably telling them how the Carter’s had claimed to have seen a man, hanging from one of the trees.
“They got company,” Seth muttered, nodding his head towards the group. Holly looked up, eyes roaming over the crowd before spotting what Seth was talking about. At the back of the group was a woman in a white gown, arms wrapped around herself as if she was cold or scared. Her head turned suddenly, eyes fixing on the pair by the car.
The woman’s mouth formed a small ‘o’, before she disappeared.
“We got to help them, Seth,” Holly whispered, shaking her head. “God knows what they’ve been through since this place became a tourist haven.”
“God doesn’t know,” Seth said. “God was never a ghost.”
X X X
They returned late at night. The gates were locked, the staff all gone home for the night. On the way home earlier in the day, Holly had outlined the rest of the events during the Carter’s time in the house. Seth had been the one to point out all the holes, Holly nodding along in agreement.
The Carter family was made up of Papa Joseph, Mama Mary and little son Jack. It had been Jack who had seen the ghosts, Jack who had told his mother of the little kid who came to play with him and the woman who sat in the rocking chair, knitting as she watched over the children.
The story had made headlines in the UK, but had remained pretty much national. A few years later, in New York, events that seemed to have more basis in truth – though, Seth always claimed, the actual horrific events in the house were much easier to get hold of – would become famous. There had been no films made of the Carter’s time in the English countryside, but there had been a few books. Books which had first bombed, then picked up in sales when people scrambled for their own British Amityville Horror.
Of course, once the events in Amityville were revealed, the Carters began doing talks about what had happened to them. Their son, twelve years old by then, had tried to do as little as he could, had shied away from the reporters. As soon as he was old enough, he left the family home and disappeared from the public eye.
Jack was the key to the story, the one who saw the first ghost, who saw just enough for anyone who knew anything about the history of the house to verify what he said. But before he cut himself off, he had turned around and said he had made the whole thing up. His parents testified differently, but without Jack, it became clear that the ghosts they claimed to have seen were pure imagination.
Seth climbed up over the iron fence, landing easily on the gravel of the parking lot. Holly followed, clutching her backpack tightly. Her eyes moved to the house.
“Our friend’s back,” she muttered, nodding her head towards the window.
At Seth’s hip, hanging like a sword, was a cross. It swung back and forth as he moved towards the house, one careful step at a time. The crucifix was made of plain silver. On his other hip was a vial of holy water and, besides that, a small pot of salt.
In her backpack Holly carried more technologically advanced gear. Seth had been brought into the whole sorry mess by two men in their fifties, two men who taught him everything he knew. Holly had the blessing of being taught by her parents, two people who always had the latest gadgets and gizmos, whatever it was.
Now, she glanced down at the cross.
“Can you feel that?” he muttered, as they headed closer to the house.
“Yeah. More than I could today.” She reached a hand out, stopping him as she swung the pack off. “You sure that’s going to be enough?” she asked, gesturing to his belt as she lowered herself and the bag to the floor. On her knees, she opened the pack and rummaged through it.
“Your gadgets could fail,” he said, hand wrapping around the bottom of his crucifix. “This won’t.”
They had had the discussion a hundred times, and neither was willing to give the other way a chance. Holly’s gadgets hadn’t failed yet, and Seth’s simple items had protected him enough times for his faith in them to remain strong.
She took out a small, circular device. The screen was black, with a single green arrow twitching on it, like a compass needle trying to find north. Holly stood straight, held the item in the palm of her hand, and stared down at it.
The arrow shook before it began to spin madly. Holly frowned. “I’ve never seen it do that before…”
“See? Your gadgets can fail.”
Holly frowned at him before putting the compass back and pulling out a black box, a similar screen on it. Instead of an arrow, however, the screen was dotted with numbers. She held it in front of her, watching as the numbers skyrocketed.
“You shouldn’t need technology to tell you what you can feel,” Seth said, grabbing her under her shoulder and pulling her to her feet. Hastily, she grabbed the bag and slung it over her free shoulder, shooting a quick glare towards him.
“You know I’m not as sensitive as you are.”
“Whatever. Come on.”
“Why do you always have to be like this?”
“Be like what?”
“Like…” She waved a hand at him. “You act like you’re forty, not twenty-six. You’re my age, Seth, not older, so stop treating me like a little kid.”
He held a hand up, palm flat as he raised a finger to his lips. She fell silent, turning her gaze towards the house.
The house really did have a sordid and horrible history. It had been sold, cheap, to the Carters, because to the locals it was cursed. They knew the stories, they knew the rumours, and they had refused to tell them to anyone when the reporters had come knocking. As far as the locals were concerned, they didn’t want to give more fuel to the Carters.
It had started life in pretty much the same way every other stately home did. Built by the rich man who owned the farmlands nearby, to house him, his wife, their children and the servants.
Seth lifted a hand, gesturing to the patio. There, in the doorway, stood the same woman they had seen following the tour group.
“Edna Rose,” Holly muttered, and Seth nodded his agreement.
The first victim of the house.
Edna stared at them and even in death, she was beautiful. There had been no photos of her, but the people in the village had passed down descriptions of her through the generations. She had only been a young girl when she had arrived at the house, seventeen, eighteen maybe. Sleek dark hair and round eyes, seeking work as a servant. She had been put in the kitchens, out of sight of the mistress. The mistress of the house, who by then had had three children, had been instantly jealous of the girl. But as the weeks progressed, the master had demanded more and more often that the girl be moved into the general household chores, giving him more glances at her.
The rumours claimed he would usher her into his study, cleaning there while he was ‘working’. Beyond that, what happened in there wasn’t known though everyone had their guesses.
As Seth and Holly watched, Edna turned and walked back into the house.
“Come on,” he said, grabbing Holly’s hand and yanking her forward, up the stairs. At the doors, Holly knelt down, taking a lock pick from her pocket and working on the lock itself. Seth stared in through the windows. The patio doors led into the parlour, where Edna now stood, tears streaming down her face as her hands moved through the air, having a conversation she had probably repeated constantly over the hundred or so years she had been dead.
Seth winced as Edna’s head went back, a bright red streak of blood appearing on her neck. The ghost’s knees buckled and she fell to the floor, dead before she even hit it. The ghost disappeared.
“Damn it,” he muttered. “What’s the time?”
Holly checked her watch. “Just gone eleven.”
He nodded, letting her return to the lock as he stared inside. “How many do you think are in there?”
“Well, Edna was the first violent death,” Holly muttered. “There were at least something like nine confirmed, over the years. But there’s probably more.”
The door clicked and Holly stepped back, flashing a grin at Seth.
“After you, darling.”
“Not scared, are you?”
“When am I ever scared, Holly? Beauty before age, that’s all.”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever.” She waved a hand before stepping inside, glancing around the room carefully as Seth followed her in. They walked through the parlour, Holly shivering as they passed over the spot where Edna’s ghost had disappeared. “Can’t do anything for her. Not at the moment,” she said, glancing up towards the ceiling. Seth turned his head, staring at the door that led into the foyer.
“She’s back, mind.”
Holly turned to see the ghost walking slowly through the corridor, glancing around nervously. “What do you think?”
“I think she’s been called by her mistress. Come on, let’s head upstairs. We need to know how many there are for sure.”
They passed into the foyer. The villagers called the house cursed. No one who had lived there for long had survived, either being killed, committing suicide or dying by strange accidents around the house.
“There’s more than nine,” Seth muttered, spotting the shapes and figures flickering out of the corner of his eye.
“Well, nine murders,” Holly said, a light blush creeping across her cheeks. “It was harder to get the figures on the rest.”
Hanging from the stairs was a man, in his forties, dressed in the style of third decade of the 1900s. On the floor beneath him was a letter. The man twitched and jerked, before becoming still. Holly crept over to the letter.
“Draft letter,” she said. “Second World War.”
Behind them was a body, shuddering in the last throes of death, clutching at his neck. They caught glimpses of him, of his arm moving up to his head, his leg twitching, through the desk. By the door was a woman in her thirties, wearing the sort of clothes fashionable in the fifties. As Seth watched, her head went back, a bullet hole appearing just above her eyebrows. She went down, landing flat on her back.
“There’s a lot of power here,” Seth said. “Don’t feel anything particularly nasty though, not yet.”
“I don’t get it,” Holly said, eyes going from one ghost to another. “Why here? There’s nothing really special about this place.”
“Curse on the house?” Seth suggested. “If a witch was really powerful….”
“Like that one last year?” Holly nodded. “Maybe. But she would have been, like, super strong, to bind them here this long.”
“So maybe we’re dealing with a super strong witch.” Seth got to his knees, running a finger along the floor. It was immaculate, no dust or dirt anywhere. “Or maybe the land enhanced whatever power they had.” He dipped his head, frowning.
Holly was transfixed by the staircase. It dominated the middle of the room, leading up to the first floor. From there, the balcony ran alongside the bedrooms and bathrooms. But she wasn’t taking note of the craftsmanship. Instead she was watching as a little boy came out of one of the rooms, tottering along. He had come from the room where the Carter boy had slept, and she wondered if he was the first ghost the child had seen.
The boy was laughing, glancing over his shoulder like someone was chasing him. A nanny, Holly assumed, terrified of the accident that could befall a boy in such a big place. And she would have been right to be scared. A rug appeared, flickering, right at the top of the stairs. The boy’s foot caught on it and he went down, tumbling head over heels.
She heard a snap, just before his body came to land at the bottom of the stairs, eyes open and looking up at the ceiling. Wailing filled the house.
“Shit.” Seth leapt to his feet, eyes fixed to the floor as he rubbed his hand against his jeans. “Where did most of the deaths take place, Holly?”
“Down here,” she said. “Here and the parlour.”
“But there were still some upstairs?”
She gestured to the body of the boy, now beginning to disappear. Seth didn’t say anything, just moved quickly towards the stairs. Holly followed, wrapping her fingers around the strap of her backpack. She took the stairs two at a time, trying to keep up with him. At the top, Seth turned and headed straight for the bedroom where they’d seen the ghost in the window.
When he opened the door, the ghost was there. She turned from the window and faced them. Curly blonde hair fell down her shoulders. Her eyes were wide, bright blue. She looked the picture of innocence. Like an angel, even.
“Help me,” she said, gliding forward until she was in the middle of the room. “Help me.”
“Who is it?” Holly asked, from beside Seth.
“I don’t know.”
The girl, wearing a white nightgown, turned away from them and continued to stare out the window. Seth closed the door, moving back and heading for the next room. A boy sat on the floor, a woman – his nanny – in a rocking chair.
“It’s a different boy,” Holly said. “From the one that fell down the stairs.”
Seth grunted, clutching his chest as his breathing became heavy. “Jesus, no wonder the Carter kid never wanted to talk.”
“You can’t feel it?”
She focused, closing her eyes as she moved into the room. When her eyes opened, they both watched as the nanny put down her knitting and crossed to the window. She opened it, flung herself out. The boy screamed and, in his panic, followed her.
“This room,” he muttered. “It’s…bloody hell.”
“Why is there so much power here?” She asked. “I thought you said it was coming from the ground?”
He walked further into the room. Although the main stories came from the Carter family, the company that now owned the house tried to give it a historical look, taking inspiration from the time periods in which the ghosts the Carters claimed to have seen had lived. In the child’s bedroom, there was an old Victorian era rocking horse. Seth moved towards it, running his hand over it. He swore and pulled his hand back quickly, wincing.
“Some ghosts,” he said, rubbing his hand. “They live off fear, or imagination, or a mixture of both.” He glanced around the room. “The power originated from the ground below. No idea why, it might just have innate power, like Stonehenge.”
“But if all you have in here is children, and they see these ghosts over and over again…”
“They’re going to get scared,” she finished. “And kid’s imaginations are stronger than adults.” She nodded slowly, absorbing it. “We do deal with kids, a lot.”
“Yeah. I think we need to clear out this room, first.”
The nanny and the boy were back, acting out their last moments. The boy glanced up at the pair. “Play with me?” he asked.
Holly knelt down beside him.
“Leave them alone,” the nanny said. “Can you not see they are busy?”
Seth looked around, carefully absorbing what he could about the room. There was nothing particularly special about it, nothing that hinted towards the reason someone would have cursed the place. But he knew from his own experience, some people didn’t need a reason to issue a curse. For some, it was simply to test their own powers, or acting out against the world at large.
“Holly, no!” he cried, as she began to move towards the window. Her backpack was against the wall, and he cursed himself for not having given her any protection amulets. Seth leapt forward, grabbing her arm and yanking her back hard enough that she fell to the floor.
The nanny was out the window, the boy following her. Holly’s eyes were glazed over, and Seth, without thinking, dropped to the floor, straddling her with his hands pinning her arms down.
She blinked, just a few times, and life returned to her eyes.
“Seth?” she muttered. “Why are you pinning me down?”
He let her go, but stayed in place as he ripped a bracelet off his wrist.
The bracelet was simple, strips of leather wound together. On the back were markings, symbols of protection. Seth slid the leather bracelet under Holly’s wrist and tied it together.
“You never take that off,” she said.
“You need something,” he muttered, getting to his feet and holding his hand towards her. “It should stop you jumping out the window, at least.”
“Jumping out the…” She laughed. “Don’t be silly.”
“You almost did.”
“You’re not joking, are you?”
“Don’t you say you can count the jokes I’ve made on one hand?”
Under his gaze, she blushed. From the belt, Seth took the salt and holy water. He held both in one hand, uncorking the water and sprinkling it across the room.
“Well,” he said. “Speak.”
“Oh, right.” Holly took a deep breath and began to recite a verse in Latin. As she spoke, Seth began to alternate between the water and salt, his voice soon joining in with hers.
At the edges of the room, a darkness crept forward.
“It’s fighting back, Seth,” she whimpered, stepping closer to him.
He said nothing in reply, just continued with the verse and shot her a look. She nodded and recited the words once more, eyes fixed on the darkness slowly edging forward.
“Look away, Holly.”
But she couldn’t. The darkness had her caught, images rising up on it like a cinema screen coming to life. Her, six years old, screaming as her mother held her back and her brother was dragged away from them, begging and pleading as their mother cried and he was yanked down into hell.
Fifteen, sneaking into an eighteen rating horror film with her friends, thinking they were so cool and adult and mature and they could totally handle it. The others could, but two of them had to half carry her out towards the end, when the ghosts converged on the heroes, and all she could see was her brother and the boy they hadn’t saved and the parents who had sacrificed themselves for their children…
Hands on her shoulders, pulling her back. She struggled against him, crying and shivering as Seth wrapped his arms around her and kept on speaking the verse, over and over again, throwing handfuls of salt and water at the darkness.
He positioned himself between her and it, keeping Holly behind him as he faced the dark. Seth moved forward as Holly crumpled to the ground, whimpering.
The ghosts that had been in the room appeared and disappeared rapidly, flashing in and out of his vision. He ignored them, ignored the cries of children that filled his ears, ignored the sight and sound of Katherine’s death, replayed to him over and over again.
Seth’s voice rose as if to cover it all. He sprinkled the last of the salt and tore the crucifix off his belt, holding it out towards the dark.
The words tumbled from his mouth and behind he could hear Holly reciting the Lord’s prayer, her voice quiet and meek, but enough, enough with the faith that was behind it, the faith that burned bright in Holly as it never did in Seth, the faith that amongst all the evil they faced there was still good and light and hope.
Seth finished and the darkness disappeared, leaving behind only the room and the ghosts. The nanny stared at him, clutching the hand of the boy.
“I can rest now?” she asked, eyes full of tears. Seth nodded.
“You can rest.”
They faded, the nanny smiling and thanking them until her voice was gone from the air.
Holly stepped closer to Seth, arms wrapped tightly around herself as she glanced around the room with frightened eyes.
“It was powerful,” Seth said, reaching a hand out before drawing it back. Holly didn’t look at him, just gazed out at the window. “We need to leave,” he said, putting his cross back. “Before the rest of the house senses what happened.”
She nodded and backed out of the room, her eyes scanning every inch and corner until she was at the top of the stairs. Seth followed, speeding up as Holly did, making their way down.
“We have to come back, don’t we?” she whispered, as they headed for the parlour.
“Yes. It’s strong, and if we leave it…”
She threw her shoulders back, lifted her chin up and nodded, striding ahead of him. “It’ll defend itself,” she said. “Not just against us.” They came to the patio and she turned, staring right into the house with eyes full of anger. “We’ll come back,” she said, to the house and not to him. “And we’re going to kick your arse.” With that she turned and headed for the car, Seth chuckling as he went after her.