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Authors: C.M. Saunders

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

Sker House (4 page)

BOOK: Sker House
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Machen paused again, allowing Dale a few precious seconds to catch up as he scribbled furiously in his notebook. His wrist and fingers ached, but he didn't want to stop for fear it would interrupt his flow. It was one of the pitfalls of taking notes the old-fashioned way.

“In the days following her death, passers-by on the road outside began making strange remarks,” Machen continued. “Folk were very superstitious in them days. They said that they could see Elizabeth staring out of the window.”

“After she died?” It was Lucy this time.

“Well, yes,” said Machen, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “And not just one or two people saw her, either. It was dozens. She was such a common sight up there that some locals didn't believe she was really dead, even though they'd all gone to her funeral. Thought it was some kind of trick Isaac was playing.”

“What happened to Thomas? The one she was waiting for?”

“Nobody knows. It was assumed he just moved on. What more could he do? Whether she wanted to or not, the love of his life had married another man.”

“So do people still see the ghost?”As he posed the question, Dale could have sworn he saw a nervous flicker in Machen's eye.

“There are no passers-by any more to see much of anything.” Machen said, skilfully avoiding the crux of the question before ploughing on, seemingly determined to get through his well-practised spiel. “After Elizabeth died, her father was never the same. Not long afterwards he died too, and the estate fell into ruin. All the farmland around the house turned barren, you see. Nothing would grow on it.”

“Why not?”

“Superstitious locals claimed the land was tainted. Cursed, like. When the land turned bad, all the people left. The workers and servants all moved out and found other work, and people just stopped coming down here. No reason to anymore, see. Isaac's surviving relatives even had the only road that runs down to the house blocked, cutting Sker House off from the rest of the world like a gangrenous limb.”

“Why would they do that? It seems a bit drastic.”

“They just wanted to forget about the whole unsavoury episode, I s'pose. They were quite well off themselves and didn't need the money, so they left the house to rot. Just wanted to forget about it, probl'y.”

“Have you or any of the staff ever seen the Maid of Sker yourselves?” Lucy thought it was a reasonable question.

This time the landlord could not hide his emotion. “What's with all the Maid of Sker stuff?” he snapped. “I already told you the story, what else do you want?”

“I... we... would just like to know if there were any eye witnesses we could talk to.”

“Personally, I never had the pleasure. Now if you don't mind, I have work to do.”

With that the landlord abruptly turned and exited the bar through a door behind the counter, leaving Dale and Lucy staring after him. Evidently, the interview was over.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3:

 

Behind Closed Doors

 

 

 

 

 

James Machen, landlord and proprietor of Sker House, closed the door of his tiny office firmly behind him, slumped into the chair at his desk, and buried his head in his hands. He stayed that way for quite a while, waiting for the spinning wheels of his mind to slow down, before reaching into a drawer to retrieve a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels. Twisting off the cap, he took two generous swigs straight from the bottle, closing his eyes as he savoured the fiery liquid burning a path through his insides. As the heat spread through him, it brought with it a soothing sensation.

That's better.

Setting the bottle down on the desk, he fumbled around in his pockets until he found a crumpled pack of Benson & Hedges and a Sker House-branded lighter. He had ordered two hundred of them as part of a marketing strategy, not realising until later that smoking was now about as cool as genocide. Shaking out a cigarette he poked the filtered end into his mouth, lit the other, and inhaled deeply. It was probably illegal to smoke in his office now, with all the new anti-smoking laws, but he didn't care. Sker House may be a workplace but it was also his home, and in his own home a man should be allowed to do whatever he bloody well wanted. He drew the line at smoking in the bar. That might upset the customers, assuming there were any, but he saw no problem with doing it here in his office. He was doing a lot more of it these days.

Sandra.

“Damn it!” He brought a fist down on the desk, immediately wincing at the sharp jolt of pain that shot up his arm. Every day he promised himself that he wouldn't think about that woman, and every day he broke his own promise at least a dozen times before lunch time. She had been gone over five months. It was about time he got used to it. But she had been the only woman he ever loved, and life without her was just wasn't the same. Sometimes, he thought the only thing keeping him functioning was the cheap buzz he got from the fags and booze. What was it Richard Burton said?

Show a Welshman a million exits and he'll always choose the path to self-destruction.

Or was it Anthony Hopkins?

Maybe they both said it. Whatever. It sounded about right. Maybe it's part of a Welshman's genetic make-up. Work hard, play hard is something hammered into you at school. Machen often thought about those grammar school rugger games he played. Brutal, they were. Second row forward was his position. A human battering ram. He got the ball and ran as far as he could with it before somebody thumped into him and dragged him to the ground. It's the job of the forwards to make yards, do the slog, and create a platform for the backs to work their magic and score the points that win games.

As tough as it was, that kind of education was good preparation for the future. Much more useful than the classroom kind. By the time boys grew up and went to work in the pits or steelworks, they were tough, hard workers, and knew the ways of the world. But now most of the work has disappeared, resulting in a lot of angry, frustrated young people with no prospects and nothing to do. That was why Machen got into the pub business. He remembered reading somewhere that people who worked in the trade toed a thin line, fighting a constant battle against temptation. Publicans, hoteliers, club owners. It was the decadent lifestyle, and the constant close proximity to booze. The occasional foray into drunkenness was tolerated by most. Expected, even. But it was easy to get lost in the wilderness and never find your way back. The way he felt most days, he wanted to be as far from sobriety as circumstances allowed, and welcomed the all-consuming blackness he eventually found at the bottom of a bottle. Obviously, by the time he arrived at that stage the guests were all safely in their rooms. Usually.

He wiped a stray bead of sweat from his brow with the back of a hand and played over the magazine 'interview' in his head. What did the kid say the name of the thing was? Soul Time? Soul News? Solent? Solent Views! That's it, isn't it?

His memory wasn't what it used to be, and seemed to be getting worse. If he didn't have the same thing every day, scrambled egg on toast, he'd probably forget what he had for breakfast in the morning. Concentrating on anything for longer than a few minutes without his mind wandering off on some unrelated tangent was impossible. He had trouble controlling his temper. Things just got on top of him. And on top of that, there was always something unseen chewing at the fat of his mind, a constant nagging, tugging sensation, as if there was something important he should be seeing or doing, but wasn't. More often than not, a few slugs of JD was enough to quieten that particular beast.

Although he drank most days, he didn't class himself as an alcoholic. Who did? The very concept of being addicted to something, not in control, was embarrassing. But he was different.

That's what they all say!

The craving he endured wasn't for alcohol. All that did was numb the senses, take the edge off the craving. Cigarettes served the same purpose, to a lesser degree. They calmed him down. He didn't even know what he craved most any more. It wasn't alcohol or nicotine, it was something less definable. He had felt it since the moment he'd set foot inside Sker House, and it had been getting worse ever since. He was sure Sandra felt it too, before the end. Before she departed. Departed. Yes, he liked that word. It was... adequate. It conveyed the sense of emptiness and longing he felt. And sounded much better than some of the other words you could use to describe what happened.

He could keep it together enough for the punters. On the surface, anyway. He could keep the drinking and smoking in check, stop himself rambling and talking rubbish, keep a lid on his temper. But inside, his mind was in turmoil. Sometimes it felt like a sponge that had soaked up all the liquid it could, but still there was more. So much more that eventually the saturated sponge ended up floating in the stuff.

And then it would get dragged under the surface.

Machen smiled as he sucked hungrily on his cigarette. That was what he had been reduced to. A saturated sponge. That sounds like the name of a song
,
he thought. Or a punk band.

Here, for one night only, would you please put your middle fingers in the air for... the Saturated Sponges!

He struggled to reel his wandering mind back in. What had he been thinking about? What was the important thing? What, what, what? Oh yea, the kid and his interview. Who did he think he was, anyway? Swanning around like he was...What was the guy's name? The famous American writer? It was on the tip of his tongue.

Hunter S Thomas?

That sounded wrong, yet somehow right.

Who cares?

To say the interview could have gone better would be an understatement. Nerves had gotten the better of him. He didn't think he had been rude. Well... not very. Not as rude as he could have been. He fulfilled his obligations as a landlord, tried to make Sker House sound mysterious and exciting to the public. Nothing more and nothing less. He had really thought the kid was going to talk about how he had built the business up from nothing to where it is now.

It's still nothing!

He would happily answer any amount of questions about being a small business. Rugby, even. He'd always fancied himself as a rugby columnist for one of the newspapers. One of the big ones. But he hadn't been expecting a barrage of questions about the Maid of Sker. Who even cares about something that happened hundreds of years ago? There was nothing else could he do but wheel out the old story. It should at least fill a few paragraphs for the kid. Even so, he shouldn't have lost his rag like that. Journalist were smart. Even student journalists. They could sniff a lie a mile away.

Stupid, stupid!

Not that he had lied, in so many words. But he had come across like a prized idiot. He should have been more prepared, and maybe a little less defensive. But landlord or not, he was entitled to his privacy, wasn't he?
And his bloody opinion.

So have you or the staff ever actually seen or heard anything out of the ordinary? Anything that you would call supernatural or paranormal?

Blow it out of my arse, kid.

No, I mean blow it out of
your
arse!

That's the right way around, isn't it?

He should just have told the kid to go and talk to Mrs Watkins, the eyes and ears not just of Sker House but of the whole bloody Village. She always had news, and wasn't afraid of sharing it. No doubt she could spin a good yarn, too. She could probably do all that kid's work for him. Though Machen tried to make sure he was never around long enough to hear one of her yarns in its entirety. Life was too short for that nonsense. He didn't want to hear about the weird things she claimed happened to her and Izzy, either. He knew they were just angling for more money. If they didn't like working here, they could just leave like Sandra did.

You know it's not more money they're after.

What did the kid expect? There was no way he could tell him, never mind the whole world (or the entire readership of The Solent View Newspaper, or whatever it was called) about the noises he heard when he was alone at night. The low rumbling and growling, the weird bumps, bangs and scrapes like someone was moving furniture around in empty rooms, or the awful scratching sounds as if some desperate animal was trapped inside the walls and using its teeth and claws to try and dig itself out. Neither did he want to mention the things he saw out of the corner of his eye. The leaping shadows, or the leering faces that came out of the ceiling as he lay in his bed, hovering above him, mocking him.

At first, he thought he was just dreaming. Then he
hoped
he was just dreaming. But as he cowered beneath the sheets, he swiftly came to realize that those awful faces, with their pained expressions and accusing eyes, were much more than just the product of his fevered imagination. They were as real as real can be. That opened up a whole other set of questions. Who were they? Where did they come from? What did they want?

Above all, nobody, absolutely nobody, could know about the voices that spoke to him from the darkness, calling his name at night and begging
him to go down to the cellar. Not the beer cellar behind the bar, but the original cellar deep beneath Sker House with its labyrinth of tunnels fashioned straight out of the earth. The cellar he didn't even know existed until the voices told him it was there. No, he couldn't tell anyone about that. People would think he was as mad as a March hare.

Come and stay at Sker House with the lunatic landlord who sees and hears things that aren't there! A good time to be had by all!

That wouldn't exactly have the punters banging down the door, would it? The only people banging down the door would be people in white coats. If he was honest, there were even times when he thought about calling the people with white coats on himself. None of what he was experiencing at Sker was normal. Not at all.

Still, that's no excuse. He had been a bit curt with the journalist. Or student, whatever he was. He just wanted to hear the ghost story, that was all. That was all anyone ever wanted to hear about. They didn't know what it was like living here. The pressure of trying to build a business from scratch. Besides, maybe the boy was right, maybe the publicity would be good. It might draw a bit of a strange crowd, but their money would be as good as anyone else's.

BOOK: Sker House
10.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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