Post Christmas Blues - A Hidden Danger
‘Whose idea was this?’ I ask, as I skim the dust off my jeans.
‘Tim’s. At your suggestion.’
Lisa giggles into Dobby’s neck. Her arms wrapped around his waist. My gaze sweeps over Tim. At five eight, and with hair in need of a cut, I dismiss him. For the last couple of months, he has taken to sleeping on the sofa. There were no more sneaky kisses, or brief sly touches between us. And now here we are; climbing through a broken window at Old Man’s Willow’s house. The man died, ten – fifteen years ago and no-one has bought the place. Rumour has it the old mansion is tied up in some kind of probate, which is preventing the sale.
After a quick glance around the room, my heart falls. The once elegantly decorated room reeks of damp. The sudden rustle of paper disturbs my scrutiny, causing me to step closer to Tim. Then, with a giggle, I step away.
Lisa’s short brown bob bounces when she nods. Her light chuckle joining mine.
‘Maybe we shouldn’t have had that last glass of wine.’
‘I couldn’t have watched another Christmas rerun.’ I moan with an accompanying eye roll.
‘Me neither.’ Dobby stage whispers as he winks at me. ‘It’s cold – let’s light a fire.’
‘I don’t think so – What if someone sees the smoke and calls the cops.’
‘Amy’s right, Dobby. Besides, I can keep you warm if you want.’
With a shudder, I hope I manage to keep hidden, I spin away from their cloyiness. The faded green flock paper lying discard on the floor, swirls just as there is a loud crackle from upstairs.
‘The wind must be picking up.’ Dobby injects into the silence.
‘You think.’ I respond with a quirk of my eyebrow.
Lisa and I stare at each other, then with a giggle, we dash for the stairs. The banister shakes under our touch, and my foot slips. When I glance down, I notice the once immaculate carpet is threadbare. The edges frayed. The pattern faded. Mould lives in places. Further up the wooden staircase, a couple of planks have lodged free, and gingerly, I step over the wide gap.
When I reach the top of the stairs, fingers grab my waist, and my scream echoes in the neglected landing. As I twirl to face my tormentor, the flat of my palm smacks Tim firmly across the cheek.
‘Shit, Tim – That wasn’t funny. My heart fell to my feet, and I nearly peed myself.’
His answering chuckle makes me grind my teeth behind my smile.
‘Come on, Amy – It wasn’t that scary.’
‘No. Just creepy.’ With an oomph, I turn to follow Lisa. This floor is decaying as well. The house is draining its own life force. The stair carpet stretches across the landing. The red, brown and green interwoven woollen threads broken with holes. Red threads stretch from one side to the other. The walls are covered with green and black mould. Two doors are shut. A third lies open, and unitedly, we graduate towards this room.
I shake the rumours away. The rumours of the house being haunted. Every old empty building has its own story, and this one is no exception. The ghosts were here long before Old Willow moved in with his family. Hell, how long ago was that. Forty years or so, according to Gran.
Tim pushes the door further, the faded paper caught underneath the edge, drags over the bare floorboards. The door stops short, bouncing against something hidden behind it. Once we are in the bedroom, we discover a set of wooden drawers behind the partially open door. The top drawer is missing. The second, the front cover hangs off, and the handles are missing from the third. Bird muck has left dark abstract patterns over the scuffed top.
There’s another rustle as something flutters against my hair, tearing at a loose strand. My scream is loud as I practically jump into Tim’s arms. Only to pull away with a mutter at his mocking chuckle when a bird flies towards the broken window. As we scrutinise the room, a door slams on the next floor and our gazes fly to the ceiling as scurrying over the floorboards is heard.
‘We are not alone.’
‘Shut up, Dobby.’
‘Who’s going to the attic.’ Dobby holds the torch under his chin. His brown eyes crossed as he glares at us.
‘I will.’ My gaze drifts over my friends as I wait for one of them to volunteer to come with me. ‘– You expect me to go on my own?’
With a smile at Tim, I point to the stairs just as there is another bang. My gaze spins back to Lisa and Dobby.
‘What are you two going to do?’
‘We’ll go to the basement.’ Again, Dobby holds the torch up to his face. ‘We might find Mrs Willow’s body.’
I snigger and scrunch my nose at Dobby while I follow Tim up the stairs.
‘They’re just dirty rumours. Anyway, don’t you think if there is a body. It would have been found by now.’
‘So, you don’t think Old Man Willow killed his wife.’
‘It’s more likely she left him.’ I bellow as Dobby and Lisa disappear from sight.
With my hand on Tim’s waist, and the torch shining on the ground, we slink into the attic. The old skylight is broken, and glass lies shattered on the ground. This room is the saddest room we have come across. In the far corner is an old cot. Some of the brown slats are missing. The mattress is moth eared, and the musty smell of age, lingers heavy in the room.
Toys lie scattered across the floor, covered in dust and bird crap. As I continue with my appraisal, something runs across my foot. With another shriek, I leap back, shaking my leg at Tim, who shines the light across the floor. But we don’t see anything. Our giggles are not steady as Tim continues to flash the torch around the attic. A book lies on the floor. The pages ruffling in the draught from the broken window.
‘I guess that’s what caused the noise.’
‘Yeah – I suppose.’
I hug myself as the slight breeze grows stronger.
‘There’s nothing here Tim. Maybe the others have had better luck.’
When we turn to leave, a heavy gust of wind fills the room, causing the door to slam. Dust dances as the door frame shakes. Tim’s hand is on my waist, and I turn to face him. Only to discover he’s not standing next to me. The touch is still there on my skin. Fingers dig harder into my flesh as they drag me across the room. Tim is pinned up against the wall. Another gust of wind slams me against another wall, and I can only gawp at Tim as he gasps for air. My throat is tight as I try to scream. No matter how hard I try to pull away, I cannot break free from my prison.
Tim is no longer pressed against the wall. He’s flying through the air. His body spinning wildly before it drops to the ground, only to be pulled back up again.
I find my voice, but it’s too late. Tim hurtles towards the broken window. His fingers grip onto the edges. His feet push against the windowsill. All to no avail. The wind is too strong. As Tim plunges through the window, my body drops from the wall, causing me to stumble across the room. The wind has died. As I breathe in deep, my vision blurs. Tim’s body lies on the ground.
When there’s no response, I yell his name again, and still he doesn’t move. I need to draw in a breath. My heart is out of rhythm. My feet are heavy as I race for the door. It’s only when I’m half way down the stairs, I realise the attic door had been open.
‘Lisa – Dobby.’
Lisa and Dobby’s feet can be heard pounding on the stairs just before they reach the basement door.
‘Hey, slow down, Amy.’ Dobby’s gaze slides pass me as he searches the stairs. ‘Where’s Tim?’
‘He fell out of the skylight.’
Lisa is the one to ask. Her eyes are saucers. Her hands grips Dobby’s arm. My body is shaking, and I glance up the stairs. Everything is quiet, and there is nothing behind me.
‘The wind. Didn’t you feel it. It shook the house and lifted Tim off the ground before slamming me across the attic.’
‘Have you checked him. He might be injured.’
Dobby pushes me to the side. His size elevens on the stairs. His long stretch takes the steps three at a time.
‘I shouted his name, but he didn’t move… Where are you going?’
‘To check on Tim.’
‘You can’t leave us. I told you – He’s dead.’
‘And I’m going to check.’
I turn to Lisa, who still hasn’t moved.
‘Didn’t you hear the wind?’
‘What were you doing down there?’
Lisa giggles as she hooks her arm through mine, guiding me into the basement. As we stand at the base of the stairs, I smell old musk, and my body shivers. In the distance I hear dripping. When I glance towards the wall, I spot the steady markings of old water stains. The flaking plaster, darker than its surrounding area.
‘There doesn’t seem to be much here.’
‘No. Just a few boxes. Dobby and I decided not to lift them. Their bottoms are weak. Water soaked.’
Gingerly, I lift the flap of one, and a mouse runs out. His tiny feet scurrying over my hand. Lisa’s giggle, mixes with my scream. Then I join her in a fit of hysteria.
‘Shit – You’d think I was used to these furry creatures by now.’
‘I know – The place is infested with them.’
‘Come on – Let's find Dobby.’ When we turn to leave, there is a creak, and dust swirls around my feet. ‘We need to go – The wind’s picking up.’
Lisa peers at me, then her gaze is drawn to the far bare wall. A shadow dances along the bricks. The creak is louder, and as I glance up at the ceiling. A pipe judders, breaking free from its hook. My body freezes. My throat ceases. The words stuck, and my warning to Lisa comes too late. The pipe falls, catching her on the side of her head. Her body crumbles to the floor. The crimson puddle beside her head, spreads.
My stomach rolls as I drop to the ground. My fingers are frantic as I search her neck for signs of life. There is no pulse.
The yell, I emit, curdles my blood as I scramble up the stairs. He is closing the main door as I reach the top of the basement stairs. My breathing hurts as I gasp for air.
‘I don’t like this place – We need to leave.’
Dobby’s glance flickers over my shoulder. His gaze hidden in the shadow.
I can’t breathe, and I tug at the tight neckline of my Christmas jumper. The one bought for me by Tim. As I dash pass Dobby, he grabs my arm, and spins me towards him.
‘What the fuck – Amy. This doesn’t make sense.’
‘Maybe everyone’s right – The place is haunted.’
‘With a killer ghost.’
The mockery in his voice sends a shiver down my spine.
‘Go look at Lisa. The pipe fell for no reason and hit her.’
As Dobby continues to stare at the stairs, I break free of his hold. Old wallpaper has begun to twirl on the floor. Gentle at first, then it spins uncontrollably as it picks up momentum. I push my hands further into my pockets.
‘It’s coming, Dobby. Don’t you feel the change in the air?’
‘It’s late. It's winter. And the house hasn’t been heated in years– Of course it’s going to get fucking chilly.’
‘We have to leave Dobby – Call the police, An ambulance or something.’
Dobby turns towards the stairs.
‘You go call them. I’m going to check on Lisa.’
‘Did you feel it.’ I grab him by the arm.
‘Something touched me, Dobby. Whoever it is, is back. We have to fucking leave.’
Brittle leaves, which have blown in through the shattered window, brush against my arm. The house groans. A door slams, and a stair squeaks. My lips are dry, and the saliva gathering at the back of my mouth, does little to ease the coarseness in my throat.
Dobby looks me up and down. And although I can’t see the sneer, I know it’s there.
‘I never knew you were such a Drama Queen, Amy.’
He’s right, I’m not. I’m the cool one in situations like this. The time the four of us were lost in Wales. When all we did was drive in circles, the fuel tank getting lower with each mile we took. I was the one to bring us back on track.
‘Then shouldn’t that tell you something.’
‘It was meant to be a joke, Amy. When you suggested coming here tonight. It was to be nothing more than a joke.’
‘A joke. Lisa and Tim are fucking dead. There’s nothing funny about that.’
Dobby ran his hand through his hair. The stairs groan again, and I pull on the door handle. The door slams as the wind picks up, and no matter how hard I pull the handle, the door refuses to shift.
As I scream his name, he wobbles, His fingers clutching onto the doorjamb as he stands at the top of the basement stairs.
The wind grows stronger. Dobby’s fingers slide against the door frame. His nails scrape at the chipped paint. Then he’s toppling back. Thud, thud, thud echoes in the room. As the wind dies down, I run to the stairs. The flashlight shines on his twisted body. Dark liquid seeps on the bottom step where his head lies. I run to the door, tug hard and nearly fall when it opens fluidly.
Collecting the keys from Tim’s lifeless body, I head for the car. My gaze straight ahead. I pat my jacket pockets, inside, are the three hexed amulets, I’ve collected from each body. Hidden in the glove compartment is Old Man Willow’s journal. The one my grandmother, his lover, left me in her will.
© Wynter Aodh.