The old house stood crooked like an aged old man, still going strong but its bones weakened by age.
As I moved nearer we saw the old gate hanging limply from its rusting hinges, as if it had long given up all hope of standing proud and upright, and had reluctantly resigned to the gravitational pull that had been threatening it's self-respect for so long.
As I stood and stared, an owl hooted his warning, "Get out of here, stay away!"
If only I had heeded the call – ignorant soul that I was.
I ran screaming up the garden path, stumbling over loose cobbles and uplifted tree roots. As I ran the trees themselves seemed to want to punish me just for being there, and banish me from that place forever. They reached out their long, bony arms, taking hold of me with their spindly digits and lifting me up and away from solid ground, my running legs pendulating in mid-air.
I could feel the wind beating at my face and eyes in a vengeful rage of anger as if trying to push us back the way we had just come.
Church bells rang eerily in the distance. As we reached the old crooked house the full moon shone down brightly and hit one side of the house with a full blast of crusty yellow.
I could taste blood in the air. It was bitter – tainted with the pain, hatred, and misery of a hundred agonising years.
I could feel a presence, someone could see me, they were watching my every move, taking in my every foggy and fearful breath. They were watching as I staggered about in a frenzy of uncontainable fear, as smoky fog clouds grew ever thicker, choking me with their grainy evil.
I blew the cobwebs from a broken window pane and peered in. The remains of dinner still lay in plain view on the table, from all those years ago. That succulent meal – of fossilised bread – nourishing my senses. A pile of washing up still lay in the sink, some of it half done as if the previous occupants had left in a hurry. What had happened here? I wondered. Who were they and why had they all fled?
A china doll lay on the grass near the front door – a deep crack in her porcelain skull. She looked lost and seemed to be staring into an unreachable gulf – darkness sucking her in. She was just another of the many family possessions left behind in the sudden frenzied rush to get out.
I brushed my fingers against her bony cheek – she was ice cold.
The door itself stood locked and bolted and there was no sign of a key, as if they had intended to someday return.
As I tiptoed around the side of the house I saw the roof of what had probably once been a very fine conservatory had completely caved in on itself. The beautiful shimmery blue glass that had once let through beams of tinted golden sunlight was now thin and brittle from years of neglect.
It no longer contained the luxuries I was beginning to imagine it may once have done, the plush chairs and comfy cushions which may have once encouraged the occupant to cuddle up alone, with a book in one hand and perhaps a scotch or whisky in the other, and to shut themselves away from the outside world and watch the clouds fly by.
The floor had been stripped of carpets, the walls were bare…
Moving around to the back of the house one of the slabs of concrete pavement was loose, and wobbled beneath my feet. I pulled it away to reveal an old metal tin, rusted through and peeling, hidden under the dirt for so many years. A page of torn and jaundiced parchment was loosely folded within and as I pinched the two halves closer together and held them up to the moonlight I read:
The simple things in life are what I shall miss the most,
The innocence of a child, a forever constant ghost,
Perhaps one day you shall see,
That it was my daddy who murdered me,
He did not beat me, he did not scold,
He just left me outside in the cold,
Then one day he held me tight,
It was on the evening of full moon at the stroke of midnight.
His tears caressed my frozen cheeks,
My frame shivered, my spirit weak,
Love was granted all too late,
Resigned to my forgotten fate.
Could this be the family's reason for leaving like they had I wondered, influencing their decision to never return? I could feel the young girl's eyes upon me from another dimension, that we as mere mortals do not yet understand.
It stated to rain, and I could feel her tears like burning acid upon my paper skin.
Loyalty, hatred, love, friendship, misery, sorrow and despair cascaded down as bloated raindrops around me – her pain a terminal illness infecting my soul.
As the rain ran down my face, dripping from my chin and nose, it stained my skin with her pained presence as I tried to catch the cold, wet drops – in my eyes, in the palms of my hands, on the tip of my tongue. A small, wet drop trickled from my pail lips and into the chasm of my mouth – it tasted salty like human tears.
She seemed to be full of a desire for revenge.
Thunder and lightening clap sounded, as though championing her anger.
I wanted so much to help her.
I wanted so much to hold her.
I wanted so much for her to be able to rest in peace.
I felt like calling out to comfort her, and telling her that everything was going to be alright… but she wasn't really there, just an illusion created by the wind and the rain that was now falling so very fast and so very heavily around me.
It had all seemed so real. I had felt her pain, and although I couldn't quite believe it I thought that maybe she was there watching me. Maybe she was the one who was keeping me there, preventing me from leaving; I would be her prisoner, enslaved by her misery forever.
There was a small dwell just behind the house, which occupied an area of grassland – dry and withered now as if time had taken its toll. Just for a second I thought I saw her, laughing, playing as she cradled her china doll tenderly in her tiny arms – the very same doll which now lay discarded and forgotten.
The doll had once been so precious and so loved by her – neutered, protected, cared for everyday as if it was her baby – her own flesh and blood who she might have herself brought into this world, sweating with the effort, and so had seen it as her duty to protect with all the oozing semblance and purity of a loving mother's heart.
I plucked from the devil's own pastures a single black tipped rose, shrivelled, and forgotten by the world. I threaded its stem carefully through the velvet ribbons holding together the matted plats of the doll, as a spider's web binds together the dust of the ages. With the hands of the fairy dust touch I placed her, in all of her faded beauty, at the foot of a wilting blossom tree. Her purpose was now not to bring joy but to to grieve, a final memorial to the spirit of the once playful child who had loved and cherished her, with all the bursting innocence of a child's heart.
Almost at once I felt a small, gentle breath upon my face. A great weight had been lifted up and away from my tired shoulders – as if the door to a cage only half my size had been stripped of the iron chains and padlocks preventing my escape. She had wanted me to remain hers forever – a caged bird prevented from spreading my wings and kept from experiencing the freedom of the world.
Your kindness has been greatly rewarded.
We are forever in your debt,
We who were once slaves of the past,
Are now kings and queens of our own future,
Survivors of some unknown dimension,
Enslaved by evil deeds and the greed of other men,
You have released us,
Now you too are free,
It felt as though a galvanizing breeze swept through my entire body, allowing me to breathe freely once again. I was free. I had released her from her prison – she could now rest in peace – and in return she had released me from mine.