This may sound like nothing, but I cannot tell you the uncanny monotony of its nightly repetitions. We refused to recognise it, of course, being sane, a family of atheists and, above all, British. One night, my furious doctor father, up book-writing in the early hours, bellowed: “Whoever’s charging up and down the stairs, will they stop?”
His wife and children rallied indignant: “Well, it’s not bloody us.”
One night, emboldened by drink, I roared: “Shut the ---- up” and it did, briefly, before recommencing with still more emphatic zeal. (There was a silver lining to this episode: my little sister, then nine, recently alluded to my big-sister bravery with the line: “Hannah shouts at ghosts.”)
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Back then, we didn’t use the G-word. In fact, we strove not to use any word at all – not to acknowledge our summer haunting, certainly not to discuss it. And so the house tried harder, with what, I imagine, would be referred to as classic poltergeist activity. We would return home to find the taps turned on full-force, requiring wrenching back into inaction. An oven, on the third floor, would have its rings switched to red hot, making the house’s already airless attics crackle dangerously with heat. After the second time it happened, we had it disconnected. It happened again. (And, believe me, as I write this, I too think it is mad.)
Matters became worse. One night, the boarded-over fireplace in my room ripped open with a clamour. I wrenched my pillow over my ears, telling myself it must be a trapped bird. In the daylight, I investigated. Behind the fireplace, crammed up the chimney, were Victorian newspapers recording the house’s murder. I couldn’t read them.
My mother started behaving oddly – pensive, distracted. We eldest and Nanny Williams, our beloved summer-holiday addition, interrogated her. Finally, she cracked. Waking in the night, she had seen a dead child. This is how she described it – not a ghost, but a dead child dressed in Victorian clothing, visible from the knees up. It had a certain logic: a child appearing to a mother. I became determined not to see any such thing. Sounds could be denied; but sights would be too appalling.
But my mother was not the only person to be so affected. The house’s most oppressive room, overlooking the garden, we still do not venture into. It is colder than the rest of the house, now a repository for our old toys, which adds a certain Gothic element.
Back then, however, my four-year-old brother occupied it. Like all youngest offspring, he was a golden child: charming, vivacious. That summer he changed: rendered quiet, hollow-eyed, with the air of a tiny old man. Asked why he was so exhausted as he sat yawning one morning, he answered: “Every night, it’s the same: the lady with the big bottom [a bustle? I wonder] and the two men fighting over my bed, then one man hurts the other and the lady screams.” From then on, he slept in my mother’s room.
My grandmother bedded down there next, innocent of that summer’s events, then refused to ever again. My mother braved it to prove her wrong. Next morning, the room was locked. When we quizzed her, she refused to divulge what had happened, saying only that it was “something to do with time”. Somehow this was – and remains – the most horrifying thing I had ever heard.
READ: Ghost stories: A night in England's most haunted bedroom
Still, the part of the narrative that brings most fear to the few friends in whom I’ve confided it is this. One bright August day, drinking tea in the kitchen, we elders – me, my sister, Nanny and mother – finally admitted that something was happening. We laughed and teased each other but, my God, it was a relief.
Suddenly, a mirror sprang off the wall and shattered. On the back of its glass, in an old-fashioned script, the numbers 666 were repeatedly etched, along with the message: “I’m going to ------- kill you all.” I know you won’t believe this – I don’t believe it. But it happened.
Like you, I am wary of ghost stories: their linear march and relentless building to a crescendo. This is a story with no denouement. Over time, a year or two, events gradually petered out. Again, I am told that this is standard form: ghosts (I can barely type the word) act up with newcomers, then they – and you – adjust. Plus, I like to think that Bettses are far more terrifying.
Today, I love my parents’ house with its greenery and servants’ bells. It is our home. Yet still it has the capacity to act up. Our neighbour’s new cleaner recently informed him that she would not be returning, having seen a woman walk through a wall (our buildings were once joined). On another occasion, one brother’s girlfriend remarked that everything in her room had shaken at 4am. Was there some sort of quake?
“Some sort of quake,” we replied.
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A Haunted House Story
Ok, I know it's not exactly an original title, but it does what it says on the tin!
When I was eight years old, my family moved from the South Coast of England, to a house in the heart of the industrial Midlands.
It was a beautiful village, and quite a nice house, although it was very cold. In the winter, you would wake up with your face frozen to your pillow, and the net curtains would be frozen to the window.At first, everything seemed Ok. Looking back it seems like there was a slow build up of events, and I am not sure that everything can be explained by a Haunted House theory.
Things started to break down in the house. The washing machine flooded the kitchen, the fridge broke, the cooker electrics went haywire and untold number of little annoyances like these.My brother who had been working away for some time, was returning home, and I volunteered to air his bed out for him. This meant sleeping in his room, and I was excited because my brother hated anyone going in his room. I went to bed early that night, and read as I always do. A little while after turning the light off, I heard what sounded like footsteps in the room with me. As I listened they seemed to get louder. This frightened me from the word go, as there was carpet on the floor, and where the sound was coming from, a thick sheepskin rug lay. I turned on the bedside light and the noise stopped. I looked out the bedroom window in case it was raining and I was hearing the drip of the rain on the ledge. It wasn't raining. Every time I turned the light off, the noise started again. When I turned the light on, it stopped. This went on until the early hours and just stopped of it's own accord.
I never told any one in my family about this at the time, as I didn't think they would believe me.
Not long after, some friends came round to my house, and the only person other than me at home was my brother, who was in the kitchen.
I had told my friends about the footsteps, and they suggested something along the lines of a seance.
I drew the curtains, and placed a glass in the centre of a coffee table, and started asking if anyone was there - the usual questions associated with seances. We didn't have to wait long before we had a response. We heard footsteps almost running down the stairs, and then the lounge door flew open with a bang. My friends and I ran to the kitchen where my brother was but we acted cool, and said we were just wondering what he was up to. However, we would not go back to the lounge on our own for the rest of the day.
After that, things would happen every day. Things would go missing, only to show up in oddest places. My brother always left change around his bedroom, and one day he couldn't find a penny. He found it a couple of days later under the sheepskin rug in his room.
I always felt as though someone was around me, and would see shadows and hear noises constantly. It was also a lot to do with feeling things, like temperature changes. It was a cold house to start with, but then you would get a cold spot in a previously warm patch. It was also just feeling of something not wanting you there.
It's hard to describe, and seeing it in writing it doesn't seem a lot.
Just to put the final horror story finish to it, the day we were leaving, a neighbor told us that a previous occupant had hung herself in the stairwell.
I know for a fact that the previous occupant to us had had very bad luck financially and health wise. We had bad luck, not from the minute we walked in, but it started not long after.
I also know the occupant after us had bad luck professionally and personally, and I would like to know about any further occupants.
I took my son to see this house about five years ago. I can't believe it seemed so innocuous. I would love to set foot in it again, just to see if it still affected me as it did all those years ago.
Contributed by Dawn Burnett and Copyright © 2007 all rights reserved. No part of this story may be used without permission.
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