The ghost of Serpentine manor

Don't play games in a dead woman's house.

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1. The ghost of Serpentine manor

The house of a dead widow is no place for a game of hide and seek. But the children had other ideas.

They raced around in the cold interior; then bounced off in various directions, squealing, leaving one to count alone. Alone in the dark.

She was a serious faced girl, her corn coloured hair in tight bunches which stuck out on either side of her head. She waited for a full ten seconds ,as the house groaned and creaked all around her,  skittishly looking about, at the foot of an ancient staircase, before yelling “TWENTY!” “COMING READY OR NOT!”

She skidded at a sprint up the stairs, up the crumbling, marble stairs; the echo of her own footsteps chasing her in the silence, moonlight seeping in from windows suffocating in dust, spilling over her body, soaking her in an eerie yellow glow.

She paused at the top, panting, and listened hard for any sound of her peers. One of the wooden doors on the landing stood open, just a tantalising crack, but wide enough for a little girl to slip through.

She turned and yanked the great oak mouth shut behind her: for she is a huntress now, and her prey must not escape. For a moment she was swallowed by darkness, but then, as her eyes adjusted, she spotted a huge tatty curtain clinging onto one of the stone walls by a thread.

Her small hands grabbed hold of it, and with one tug, the curtain flopped to the floor, throwing up a cloud of dust into her eyes.

As the dust settled, the curtain lay still not at the foot of the promised window, but of a smeared, cracked old mirror. The girl stared at her own reflection for a second, pupils growing huge and round in the dark.

With a burst of static, a haunting opera began to play. She jumped round, to face the noise, but was only confronted with an elderly record player. The girl cautiously pinched the pin between her forefinger and thumb and the music stuttered to ringing silence. Silence which weighed down upon her fragile bones.

Directly above the record player, on the wall, was a monstrous canvas panting of a woman and a man, stood in front of a bright estate. The woman is beaming with dimples and all, right at her husband, but he looks rather bored; if not uncomfortable at being so close to the woman he married. There are no children in the painting, although the woman has her pale hands clasped over her abdomen, expectantly.

A drumming sound had the girl spinning around again, to face an empty rocking chair this time. The chair rocked to itself violently, the drumming getting faster and faster mimicking the girl’s heart.

Her blood pounded in her ears, and a sheen of sweat now covered her face.

She turned back to the painting, to see… to find that…

It has been slashed.

She backed away, until pressed up against the dusty old mirror, mouth open in soundless horror as she regards the painting, the painting with three long gouges sunk deep into its flesh, the heavily oiled canvas torn apart to revel a nest of spiders nestled behind it, which scuttle out, oozing out of the gash across the man’s face similarly to thick, sticky black blood.

The girl shot another startled glance sideways, into the mirror, and jumped back from it, as if it were red hot.

 For a minute there, she thought she had seen… but no, she must be wrong. The rocking chair is empty.

The girl wanted to leave then, and she knew that she had to get away fast. But she couldn’t help but look in the mirror again:

A face as white as death itself swam out of the gloom, behind the rocking chair this time.

She faced that chair now, that dammed, stupid chair.

But it was empty, along with the shadows behind it.

She screwed up her eyes, a single tear falling to the floor from her porcelain face. It landed with a loud bang, upon the wooden floor, a salty ocean.

The girl knew where the face would appear next.

Her eyes opened again, now glazed over, and stared sightlessly into the mirror.

She watched the face smile, directly behind her.

She watched as pale, black finger-nailed hands closed around her slight throat.

 

 

We have not played in the house of the late Mrs Serpentine since our fathers brought out Alicia’s cold body, her neck raggedly slashed in three long lines.

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