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Authors: C.M. Saunders

Tags: #horror, #ghost, #paranormal, #supernatural, #mystery, #occult

Sker House (3 page)

BOOK: Sker House
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Get a grip, she told herself. It wasn't like she was running away or hiding. She just wanted some time away. Obviously, she was aware of how it would look if her now-ex boyfriend, Steve, found out where she was, or who she was with. He didn't believe in platonic relationships and would just think she'd bunked off for a dirty weekend at the seaside with some other guy. But that was his problem, and he was in no position to criticize anybody.

She lay her compact pink suitcase on the bed nearest the door and opened it wide. All the things she thought she would need that weekend were neatly packed inside. There was no evening wear, bikini or beach towel. It wasn't sunbathing weather and she had already been warned that there were no clubs or fancy restaurants nearby. This was supposed to be a working weekend, so she'd brought only practical clothing and camera gear.

Her and Steve's relationship wasn't officially over. But only because there had never been an official relationship. That much was obvious now. She had only been a trinket to him, and he probably had a dozen other trinkets to play with. At first she had been more attracted to the reckless sense of abandon that seemed to radiate from him than his rugged good looks. It was exciting. But then she found out about his wife and kid. The dangerous, edgy facade was just that. A facade.

Well, that's what you get for getting involved with a married man.

If only she had known, she wouldn't have gone near him. But he wasn't about to tell her, was he? The whole experience hurt Lucy deeply. How could she have been so stupid?

It also triggered some kind of existential crisis. What, exactly, did she want from life? Where was she going? She didn't know the answers yet, but accepted the fact that she wasn't a teenager any more, and didn't have much time to waste. She had to get serious and apply herself to something, get on track, or she would end up forever floundering in a pit of obscurity. She had already wasted far too much time wallowing in Steve's possessive clutches and missed too many other opportunities, not to mention lectures and seminars. In order to graduate she had to not only turn in her final assignment, of which this Sker House feature was a major component, but get a mark over 90%. The Head of Department told her in no uncertain terms that if the paper failed, so did she.

No pressure, then.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

On the Scent

 

 

 

 

After much fussing around, Dale finally succeeded in establishing a Wi-Fi connection on his laptop. It was a weak signal, constantly flitting between a healthy four bars to a sick-as-a-parrot one bar, but it was a connection just the same. He wasn't even sure how much he would actually need to use the Internet during their stay at Sker beyond periodically checking his email. He wasn't really one for social networking, that was Lucy's department. He was baffled by some people's fascination with constantly telling everyone else in the world what they were doing. As if anyone really gave a shit. It was the word processor he needed, and that didn't even require an internet connection. He opened up a blank Word document and quickly tapped out:
Ghostly goings-on at Sker House.

He'd have to think of something better than that, but it would do as a working title. He retrieved a pencil and notebook from his rucksack. He preferred using a notebook when making notes, and even when interviewing people. He felt more connected that way, only using his digital Dictaphone as a safeguard. There were certainly advantages to using modern recording equipment. Not least that they looked a lot more professional and minimized the danger of misquoting someone. But Dale was old-school. He enjoyed the rustic feel of lead on paper. It felt more tangible and substantial. Plus, pencils never ran out battery. He wanted to get an early interview with Machen the landlord in the bag. Hopefully, he could fit in several separate sessions during their stay and splice together the best parts.

“I'm going to get the low-down from the landlord. Back soon.”

“Okay. Knock yourself out,” a mildly-irritated Lucy replied as she fussed with her suitcase. “I'll follow you down later to get some snaps. Need to unpack first.” He didn't know what had gotten in to her lately. She seemed even more unapproachable than usual. It might just be her time of the month, but something told him it was more than that.

“Sure thing.” Dale went back downstairs to the bar. As he entered, Champ the German Shepherd lifted his head off the floor to see who the new arrival was and sniffed the air. Satisfied there was no imminent danger, he allowed his head to flop back down again onto the hard wood floor with a soft plop. Machen was still hovering behind the bar, and the old man was still sitting at his table hunched over the newspaper.

“Um, Mr Machen?” Dale asked tentatively.

“For the last time, it's just Machen.”

“Oh right, sorry. If you aren't too busy, I was wondering if could I could get a quick interview for our, er, magazine?”

The little man's chest swelled almost visibly, “Interview? With me, like? Okay! This will be my first one. After it gets printed, I'm going to frame it and stick it up in the bar.”

“I'll send you a copy,” Dale promised. “Do you mind if I take notes while we talk?”

“No, no. If that's what you do, go ahead. Who is it you work for again?”

“It's national publication called, er, Solent News...”

“Solent News?” Machen the landlord replied. “Never heard of it. What's that about, then?”

“It's about lots of things Mr. Machen. Sorry, Machen. Anything newsworthy. And you and Sker House are certainly that. We really like what you've done here.” Dale had learned quite early that when interviewing someone, flattery can be a powerful tool.

“Er, ta very much, like. Solent News, is it? I get the news part, but what does Solent mean?”

“The Solent is the stretch of water off the south coast of England, between Southampton and the Isle of Wight,” Dale said, laying his notebook and pencil out in preparation.

“Oh, right.” Machen replied, as if he had known that all along.

“I have a digital recorder upstairs,” Dale said, trying to put Machen at ease. “But I like to do things the old-fashioned way. A bit like you and your guest book. Must be a Welsh thing. Are you ready?”

Machen the landlord took an over-dramatic deep breath and said, “I'm ready.”

“So you've owned Sker House for over two years now. Is that right?”

“Yes. That's right.”

“Have you ever experienced anything... out of the ordinary here? Anything that you would call supernatural or paranormal?”

The landlord's face immediately darkened. “What kind of bloody question is that?”

Scrambling, Dale said, “Given what we already know about the history of the place, its a legitimate one.”

“And what do you already know, exactly? What have you heard, like?”

Dale wasn't expecting such an angry reaction, nor was he expecting his question to be answered with another question, and was hopelessly unprepared. “I'm sorry if the question offends you, but the legend of the Maid of Sker is quite well-known. I was wondering if you'd come across her at all.”

“The Maid of Sker? Is that what you came here to talk about? “The landlord's eyes narrowed still further as he looked Dale up and down. “You know, come to think of it, you look awful young to be a journalist. More like a student, I suspect.” His eyes bored into Dale's, searching for an admission of guilt.

Dale tried to stonewall his facial expressions, but was powerless to prevent a red flush brightening his cheeks. Playing the percentages he stayed silent, allowing Machen time to continue, hoping that he would. Eventually, he did.

“I don't see what this has to do with your story, but if you must know, then yes. I don't know if you'd call them supernatural, or para.. para...”

“Paranormal?”

“Yeah, that. Thing is, strange things happen everywhere, like, don't they? Not just here. It's a funny old world we live in.”

“It certainly is. But would you mind giving us a few examples of what you've experienced?”

“I suppose I could. Though I don't know whether I should or not
.
What if you print all this stuff in the, what you call it? Solent Newspaper.”

“Solent News.”

“Yeah, Solent Views, or whatever. What if you say something in there that scares away all the punters? There's me out of a job and owing a fortune to the creditors. This is a new business, you know. I can't have any negative publicity.”

He wanted to ask what guests the landlord was referring to as the place was empty, but instead Dale smiled reassuringly and said, “That won't happen. It's true what they say. Any kind of publicity is good publicity. Even if we
did
publish stories about supernatural occurrences at Sker House, the place would be swarming with visitors in no time at all. Ghost hunting is big. People pay a fortune to stay at haunted locations hoping for some kind of experience.”

“They do, do they?”

“Absolutely.”

“But some of this stuff is... private. You know? We... I... wouldn't want it splashed all over the bloody papers, like. Whether it attracts visitors or not.”

“I completely understand, but this isn't the Daily Mirror read by millions of people every day. It has a much lower circulation than that. Unfortunately. But if it makes you feel better, we'll let you have copy approval before we go to press. Fair?”

“What's that?”

“Copy approval means we'll let you read over what we write before it's published, and if there's anything you don't like, we'll change it.”

The landlord considered this for a few moments, then said, “I suppose that's fair enough... You're going to think I'm mental.”

“I can assure you, whatever you say, nobody is going to think you're mental.” Dale tried to sound convincing, and resisted adding, 'because they probably already think you are.'

There was another long pause while the landlord composed himself. Finally, he continued, “Okay, okay. I'll tell you. It's not so much what you can see and touch, but what you can feel. You know what I mean?”

Dale didn't know what the man meant, but nodded encouragingly. “At first I thought it was just the stress of everything. But after a while I came to realize there was more to it than that. Sker House seems to suck all the energy out of you and just puts you in a bad mood.”

Dale almost groaned out loud. Nobody would be interested in an article about a place where the proprietor was in a bad mood. Where was the story in that? He needed good, hard, meaty copy. Gruesome murders, restless spirits, witch trials, werewolves, vampires, or any combination of the above.

Machen must have sensed Dale's disappointment. “Look, I told you it's hard to explain, okay?”

“Sure, I understand,” Dale lied. “So have you or the staff ever actually seen or heard anything out of the ordinary? Anything specific?”

“And how would you define ordinary? Is there any such thing? This world is anything but ordinary, lad.”

That was a fair comment. Dale was beginning to feel that the fragile bond between interviewer and interviewee was in danger of being severed completely. Irreparably so. There was more. He could tell. And right now, the landlord was probably having an internal dialogue about how much he could safely say. Dale decided to stay calm and see what developed. The worst thing you can do is push interview subjects into a corner, unless you were Jeremy Paxman, because they always came out fighting.

“If you've done your research like you say you have, then you'd know there's a lot of history attached to this place.”

“Yes, indeed.”

“Over the years people have seen many, many strange things here and hereabouts. You say you are familiar with the Maid of Sker legend?”

“A little,” replied Dale with a shrug. He actually knew more than a little, but needed Machen to tell him the story, not the other way around. Right on cue, Lucy appeared, gliding silently through the door mouthing, “What did I miss?”

Machen appeared not to notice the new arrival. Instead, he slipped into an obviously well-rehearsed raconteur routine, one he probably used on any tourist or out of towner who expressed an interest, and undoubtedly a few who didn't. Over the years, he had almost perfected the technique, his sing-song Welsh lilt bringing the classic tale to life.

“In the Eighteenth Century, Sker House belonged to a wealthy landowner by the name of Isaac Williams,” Machen started. “He had a daughter named Elizabeth. A very beautiful girl, by all accounts. She fell in love with a local minstrel called Thomas Evans, but her father was very strict. Fathers were in them days, see. He didn't approve of the romance and locked poor Elizabeth in her room, upstairs in this very house, until she agreed to marry someone her father picked out for her instead. A man by the name of Kirkhouse.”

“He sounds like a nasty piece of work,” Dale chipped in.

“Isaac Williams? Oh, yeah. Had a reputation, he did.”

“A reputation for what?”

“Always getting his own way I s'pose is the simple way of putting it. He had friends in high places see, magistrates and the like. That's how he got to be so powerful. The story goes that he kept an old plough on his land. If he had any kind of disagreement with a neighbour, he would arrange for that plough to 'disappear' and be found on the neighbour's property. Isaac would then have them charged with theft and his magistrate friends would do the rest. Sometimes, the poor neighbour ended up in jail. But more likely they would have to pay a fine, and be happy to do so in exchange for their freedom. Either way, Isaac got what he wanted, whatever that may have been, the magistrates got a lump of extra cash out of it, and the neighbour was very careful not to step out of line again.”

“Tell me a bit more about his daughter and the guy she married,” Dale asked, eager to get back to the story.

“It was a marriage of convenience, which wasn't unusual in that day and age. Although she put on a brave face, Elizabeth always pined for her true love, Thomas the minstrel. Not long after the sham wedding she fell ill and died young. Some say she died of a broken heart, others that she starved herself to death in protest. Some even say that her own father murdered her. We'll never know the truth.”

BOOK: Sker House
12.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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