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Prologue
 
This story is true.

Heard that one before, eh?  I'm sure you have.

How often have you read or been told about a so-called true-life haunting that allegedly took place somewhere, and the author or witness to the event claiming it all to be the God's-honest-truth?

You always doubt the motives of these people don't you?  You're sceptical, like I was before ... well, before I moved into one of those so-called haunted properties and things started to happen to me.

You'll read what I have to say with great interest, and just like with all those other stories, at first you'll be intrigued, shocked and disturbed, as the tale unfolds.  How could a family endure such a terrifying chain of events?  Then slowly, something will start nagging at the back of your mind, and you'll begin to doubt that any of it actually happened at all.  It's always just a little bit too contrived isn't it, a little bit far-fetched?

You will doubt this story.  Especially when you discover that before I got the deal for this book to be published I was an aspiring writer, and yes you've guessed it, the type of fiction I was hoping to earn a living from was of the supernatural variety.

Add to this the multi-million pound film rights I've been offered, and you might be forgiven for smelling a rat.  You're no doubt thinking I'm cashing in on the house's history; after all I've no real proof that the events actually happened, you've only got my word for that.  Or maybe you could ask my ex-wife, or my six-year old daughter, or my five-year old son I suppose.  I swear, though, that every word I am about to tell you is the gospel truth.

You are entitled to your opinion of course, and I wouldn't blame you for not believing; I wouldn't if I were in your shoes, but since you've bought this book you must be at least a little curious.  You've probably read about it in the papers, and again, you're seeing the pound signs and thinking that I saw those very same pound signs, and you're no doubt thinking to yourself: well they made all that money from selling their story to the press, come on, it's all a con isn't it?  Isn't it? 

That's for you to judge for yourself as you read my account (that's the account of my experiences, not my bank account folks, ha!)

Throughout this book you'll probably think to yourself: isn't that bit like that scene in The Shining, where such and such a thing occurs, and, didn't something like that happen in The Amityville Horror or Poltergeist or, this guy's seen The Haunting or The Entity!  You will, because as I was writing the first drafts of this book, I noticed that some of the incidents that my family and me endured did bear an uncanny resemblance to some of the horror films I've seen over the years.  You know the ones: where the couple and their kids move into a new house, they discover it has a history, and then strange things begin to take place?

That aside, I hope you will believe the story I'm about to tell you, concerning events that happened in the house where my family and me lived for a brief, yet terrifying time.  A place of evil and malice.  In fact, there were at times, I thought none of us would get out of there alive.

 
Chapter One
 
Meeting Elaine
 
Why are all men cursed to be such bastards? 

You may think that this is an odd way to begin the story of a true-life haunting, but as you will discover, it's all relevant to the influence the house had over me.  Whatever it was that was in that place, whatever malevolent presence, it had a damaging effect on us all. 

I know you probably think I'm trying to lay all the blame for my behaviour and the break up of my marriage on some supernatural entity, and not on the fact that I can't keep my dick in my pants, but it must at least have been partly responsible.  

All you women out there already smell the biggest rat of all in this story and that rat is me.  Is that right ladies?  I admit it, I treated Helen (my ex-wife) badly and I've paid for it in more ways than one!

 

Its influence was working on me that first day I clapped eyes on the damn place, I could feel it.  There was an air about it and a smell of foreboding (literally - as you'll see.)

The house was an old grey-stone building that had been built in the early nineteenth-century.  It was situated, isolated, halfway along a country lane that led into the small town of Rothsdale.  Further down on the opposite side of the lane, was a row of a dozen terraced houses (the only neighbouring residents.) 

Rothsdale had a history of once being a thriving mill town.  Now it was populated mostly by professionals who worked in the neighbouring city of Manchester. 

The house stood in Mill Lane, if you followed the road into town; the old mill was still in evidence, now the premises for a local carpet manufacturer.  It was called Stokes Cottage and had been commissioned by one of the mill's bosses himself all that time ago, so he could live in close proximity to the mill.

We'd first seen the house at the estate agents office in Manchester.  They'd got in touch with their branch in Rothsdale and told us that one of their colleagues from there would meet us at the house with the keys.  Diane, the woman who dealt with us at the Manchester office, had even drawn us a map, based on instructions shed been given over the phone from the Rothsdale branch. 

Knowing that we'd travelled all the way from York (where we currently lived) they were only too pleased to let us view the property that afternoon.

We thanked Diane and set off with her scribbled map in the direction of the town.

We'd soon left the centre of Manchester and before long were travelling through an inner-city area, populated by tower blocks, graffiti, vandalism and no doubt, like we'd heard gun-touting, drug pushers (the likes of which thankfully we didn't encounter.)  I was slightly disappointed, however, as I'd heard that certain parts of Manchester; like the one we were travelling through, were more like Chicago during Prohibition than the outskirts of one of the formerly prosperous industrial heartlands of the north.  I'd been expecting we'd have to drive through ducking our heads to dodge the ricocheting gunfire of rival gangsters.  However, our journey was uneventful and the tower blocks were soon in the distance in my rear-view mirror and we'd left the city altogether. 

We passed through a few towns, which all looked identical, one after the other, until we eventually broke out into the open countryside.

As we neared the dale, in every direction around for miles, we saw nothing but the patchwork quilt of yellow and green squares of field.  Hard to believe we were less than twenty miles from the grey, dark, concreted Manchester.

 

When we were stood at the front of the property looking at the house for the first time, there were no clues as to what would happen later.  There was nothing about it to suggest a place of evil the house looked innocent enough, although not exactly pretty.

Helen had enthused about it when she'd seen the photograph back at the office, calling it beautiful; but I was not in agreement.  A little imagination could have made it so, but as it stood it was rather bland looking.  I'm a draughtsman by trade and work for an architects and so know a little about these things.  I'd seen a lot of houses that had been beautiful in my time, but this wasn't one of them.

Its grey-stone fašade was pleasing enough to the eye, but it had a cramped look about it.  The front of it was narrower than houses normally were.  Its windows were too close together.  You know the old adage that you should never trust a man whose eyes are too close together?  Well maybe we should have applied that same reasoning to this damn place, and not trusted a house whose windows were too close together! 

Inside, we'd been told, the house had low ceilings.  The problem with the place was that it had been constructed as a three-floor house within the confines of two-floor space: with the attic doubling as the third floor and providing two tiny bedrooms (which when we'd heard about them, thought would be ideal to put the children in.) 

The whole place had the look of everything being crammed in. 

It was not a great piece of architecture by a million miles, but Helen loved it.  So who was I to argue?

I concluded that the house was an ugly monument to a dreamer of a man, who had most likely had it built to his own specifications, knowing zilch about architecture or any of the aesthetics of architectural design.

'Isn't it beautiful?' Helen said to me again, gazing in wonder at the thing as we stood at the gate.

'Yes, it's lovely,' I lied.  

Of course, the place being a little rundown didn't help matters.  The garden was overgrown with long grass, brambles and weeds.  A sea of, predominantly yellow and green, with the occasional region where white campion and pink/purple hemp nettle had intruded.

The FOR SALE sign was half-hidden amidst this wilderness, standing crooked at a forty-five degree angle, as if fighting a losing battle to maintain supremacy and remain seen, and as if at any moment it would be dragged down into it; devoured by the vegetation.

Even the white two-barred fence, which ran around the perimeter of the garden, was fighting for survival against the sprawling growth, and was only just detectable.  Only the gate, situated at the left-hand side of the front section was fully visible.

However, the place hadn't been occupied for a while and you could make some allowances, at least with the garden.

Elaine had met us at the house with the key.  This was my first encounter with her.  She pulled up behind our car, tossing her long dark hair as she jumped out to greet us; smiling pleasantly as she approached us.

I couldn't help admiring the car she'd pulled up in, it was a sleek black Cougar, a sports car to die for, and certainly put our own blue Mondeo rust bucket to shame, which now, parked in front of it, looked shabby by comparison, with its countless patchwork paintjobs where bits of bodywork had been carried out.  I'd had the thing for so many years, I'd forgotten just how many.  It had served me well though and had very rarely broke down, although I had been meaning to get a new car for ages but we'd had other priorities, especially now with the inevitable move.

'Nice,' I said as she walked towards us, and for a brief moment she thought I was passing comment on her; as I was staring in her direction.  I felt Helen's eyes boring into me as well.

'The car,' I said nodding in its direction.

'Oh that,' she said, the dawn of realisation breaking out on her face.  She twisted towards it.  'My little run-around?'

She turned back to face us, and now that she was closer, I couldn't help noticing that she was a babe!

As fit as the proverbial butchers bitch. 

Her hair was as black as a raven's plumage, her eyes were dark green; the colour of jade, but shining like more precious jewels in the sunlight.  The remainder of her features were that of nature's sculptured perfection and no exaggeration: prominent cheekbones that stuck out like wing-mirrors, a nose that was neither too protruding nor too modest, and lips; not lacking in fullness; but not so voluptuous as to make them look collagen-enhanced and comical.

I placed her age at around thirty, that would put her three years younger than Helen, and yet to look at them both they could have been ten years apart; such was Elaine's youthfulness.  She had the perfect, unblemished face of a twenty year old. 

She was slim, though not too thin, and very feline, very much like a cat; the way she moved, everything.

Have you ever noticed that some women look like cats?   That others have the appearance of birds?  That some resemble rabbits (and often go like them too!)  While more cuter ones look like squirrels or chipmunks.  And of course, some are dogs.

This one was unquestionably the feline variety and as endearing and as graceful as one, as well.

She reminded me of a young Kate OMara (I'd seen her in a re-run of The Horror of Frankenstein on TV a few weeks earlier.)  Not one of Hammer's better efforts, I'd thought.  But there was Miss OMara, with all her voluptuous charm; showing off her more than ample bosom (Elaine however, was not as generously stacked - although you can't have everything!)

She was dressed smartly in a suit of black jacket and matching short skirt, which showed off her long slender legs.  She wore a white blouse underneath her jacket, protruding outwards where it covered her modest sized breasts.  She very much fulfilled the criteria of what I'd expect the stereotypical estate agents representative to be.  Although I hadn't imagined that one could be so captivating - I couldn't keep my eyes off her.

Until that moment I had never looked at another woman in all the twelve years I'd been married to Helen.  Well that's not exactly true - I'd looked.  When you're out with the lads and an attractive girl arrives on the scene, you look, don't you?  You swap a few comments, such as, I wouldn't mind, eh? and, I'd definitely give her one.  It's just natural male behaviour isn't it?  I'm sure in fact: I know that women look at men in much the same way when a gaggle of them get together (well don't you, ladies?)

She was so different to Helen, with her long dark hair and her slim figure.  Helen had always had short blonde hair and although had never been what you'd call slim, she'd really piled on the pounds since our children had been born.  All right, at the time when she was ballooning and feeling insecure, and I had to reassure her that I still found her attractive, I'd said that I liked a bit of weight on a woman anyway, and didn't like the skinny supermodel type.  And true I didn't, Elaine wasn't skinny, but then again she didn't have all the excess pounds that Helen had acquired with motherhood and in the years following.

Helen was developing a slight double-chin, when she bent her head forward it showed, and it had a nasty habit - much to Helen's dismay - of showing up in photographs when she'd thought shed done a fairly good job of hiding it.  Her cheeks had become plump, her cheekbones no longer visible; they had lost the battle to maintain prominence and had sunk without a trace.  Her thighs had become the width of small tree trunks and her belly like that of a serious beer drinker.  And I'm sure her arse was twice the size it had been when I first met her.

I'd always liked slim women, now Helen was the wrong side of medium build and I wasn't a happy bunny.

The only consolation was her large breasts (that had become even bigger during pregnancy - which was the part I'd been looking forward to the most!)  Although there was no great increase in size since she'd put on weight, they were still big and I loved to gorge myself on them on the rare occasion that we still made love.

She didn't even attempt to get herself back into shape after having either of our two children.  Opting out of like some more husband-friendly wives would going to aerobics classes or buying the latest celebrity workout video in a bid to work it all off.

Keep fit had never been one of Helen's passions - she said she felt tired even watching people exercising. 

It should be one of the rules of marriage that a wife should work to keep herself appetising for her husband, otherwise, should she really be surprised when her other half strays?

Am I giving more excuses for myself, ladies?  Or have I just convinced you I am the sexist pig that you all thought I was?

Helen had always had short-cropped blonde hair, always.  In all the years that I'd known her she'd never grown it very long, and this always seemed to make her look a bit boyish.  She was a bit of a tomboy, and from what she's told me, she always was that way, even when she was a little girl.  In fact, it's hard to imagine Helen as a little girl, even though I've seen pictures and there she is in a cute party frock and with pigtails, clutching a doll (was that Helen abducted by aliens and replaced by someone else, I have often wondered?) 

Since the kids were born our sex life had also dwindled, so much so that it had become virtually non-existent and when we did do it, it was conducted in very much the manner of just going through the motions and not with any great deal of fervour. 

I missed the passion we'd had when we'd first started seeing each other and in our early years of wedded bliss.  At the beginning of our relationship, it had been very passionate and the best I'd ever had with anyone before, ever.

When we viewed the house, it was the beginning of the summer holidays for the children; we'd left them with Helen's parents while we had gone off house hunting.  If we were to move, we'd figured it was best to do it during the long summer break, so the kids could start their new school year afterwards at the same time as all the other pupils, instead of beginning mid-term.

It was a blistering day and we were dressed for summer, both in shorts and me in T-shirt and Helen in vest top.  Elaine was not so lucky, her job demanded that she dressed formally and she was feeling the heat.  She kept tugging her blouse collar away from her neck; in the end she gave in to the heat and unfastened the top button.

When Elaine bent forward to open the small latch gate, which led onto the garden path, it nearly fell off its hinges.  It hung there, askew, and dragged along the paving, as she struggled to push it open, accompanied by a loud grating noise.  Helen grimaced and Elaine gave an embarrassed laugh.  'It's just the gate, she said, the house is in fine shape.'

When she'd finally opened it, she stepped briskly ahead of us and made her way up the path, brushing through the tall grass, which overhung, on both sides.

'What she means is, the house is in fine shape as long as we don't spot anything wrong with it,' Helen whispered to me.

We followed Elaine up the path, which was overrun with dandelions that had pushed themselves up through the cracks in the paving.  In one part a group of ants went about their business, disturbed only momentarily by our passing feet and suffering only one or two casualties in the process.

Flies buzzed around and a wasp just missed a collision with my head as I ducked to avoid it, I batted it away and it went over to pester Helen.  Irritated by it, she waved her hand around frantically.

'Get lost, wasp!' she told it.

So it did (even wasps obey my wife!)

I glanced upwards and noticed that the face of one of the grey stones that made up the fašade of the house had been fashioned into a plaque.  It was positioned in-between the attic bedroom windows, and read: STOKES COTTAGE, accompanied underneath by the date the place was built: 1822.

The house was in fairly good nick considering it had remained empty for such a long period of time.  The once brilliant white paintwork of the window frames and doorframe, and the door itself, had lost its sheen, coated as it was with a thin layer of grime, and was peeling in places.  The window above the door, which allowed light onto the stairway, had been smashed in the left hand corner, leaving a jagged rectangular gap in the glass and cracks spreading outwards from it, the longest of which travelling the diagonal width of the remainder of the pane.  But apart from that, the place did look in fine shape.

I did wonder why it hadnt taken more of a battering from the local youth population of the town.  Either Rothsdale had the most well behaved kids in the land, or something was keeping them away.  Perhaps one of the neighbouring do-gooders from the houses further down acted as a caretaker for it, and kept a vigilant eye on the house.  Or maybe they'd read To Kill a Mockingbird in school, as I had done, and feared that Boo Radley was in residence there.

As we reached the front door, Elaine turned her head back to us.  'There's no one lived here for two years,' she told us, and then returned her attention towards the door again and slotted the key into the lock.  'No one except the ghosts that is.'  She froze, and stopped dead in mid-turn.  'Shit,' she said under her breath.

Helen's ears pricked up, 'Ghosts?'

Elaine turned round to face us slowly and offered a smile.  Her irises gleaming in the sunlight again - definitely a cat, I thought.  'Yes,' she said and gave a laugh.  'Some people think the house is haunted - the locals you know?  But I'm not supposed to tell you that, so not a word to the boss that I've let it slip, eh?'

Elaine informed us that she lived locally, at the other side of town and had heard friends tell stories about the house.

'We don't believe in ghosts anyway,' Helen assured her.

'I do,' I said.

Elaine shot me a polite smile.

'Oh I forgot,' said Helen, 'my husband: the horror writer.'

'You're a horror writer?' Elaine gasped, those cats eyes widening in genuine excitement (I thought she was about to purr.)  'What have you written?  I love a good horror.'

'Nothing you'll have heard of,' I told her.

'That means nothing.  He hasn't had anything published,' my wife told Cat Woman.

'Not yet that is,' I added.

'I like Stephen King.  Have you read, The Shining?'

It was amazing - she liked King.  He had to be my favourite writer of horror by a long (green?) mile.

'The Shining's a great book!' I said.  It had been one of my favourites of King's.  Kubrick's film hadn't done it the justice it deserved it I'd thought when I'd seen it, but the book I definitely loved.

Helen gave an exaggerated cough in annoyance.  She had never been interested that much in the horror genre if at all even.  'Are we looking round this house or what?' she asked, shifting from one foot to the other impatiently.

'My wife doesn't share my interest in horror, she likes a romance,' I told Elaine.

'There's a lot of romance in horror,' Elaine said, grinning mischievously to me.

Chapter Two
 
Being Shown Around

It was even hotter in the house, and stuffy.  At least there'd been a cool breeze outside.  Inside it had been like venturing into a furnace, the heat met us at the door and escaped past us.  There was clamminess in there too; the place needed air, badly.

Some of the flies had followed us in, I heard their buzzing receding into the distance as they went off to explore the house, thankfully though, the wasp had opted out of an investigation.

Another thing that welcomed us as we'd entered, apart from the heat, was the smell.

A strong musty odour had met us as soon as Elaine had let us in.  As we peered into the dark, dust-ridden hall we could see that the paper was peeling from the walls in places, probably due to dampness, and there were no carpets or any furnishings of any kind to be seen.

'As I said, no-one's lived here for two years,' Elaine told us, by way of an apology for the state of the place.

Once we were inside, Elaine pulled her jacket from around her and hung it on the banister post at the foot of the stairs.  She then proceeded to fan herself with the sheaf of papers she had containing the information about the property, and did an upward blow with her mouth in a bid to cool herself more.  The back of her blouse was wet through with sweat I noticed; the bra straps showing through as if it were made of see-through material.

She then proceeded to show us around the rest of the ground floor: the front room, the kitchen and even letting us peek into the pantry.

While in the kitchen we looked out at the back garden, it was as overgrown as the front had been.  Suspended the length of it was a filthy old washing line, which stretched from the house to a white post at the bottom of the garden.  A similar white fence enclosed the back, as did the front. 

All the rooms were in a similar condition to the hall, with not a stick of furniture or fittings in evidence and just the bare boards of the floor to walk on.  Our footfalls were deafening, as they clomped across them and echoed off the walls.  The biggest culprit was Elaine, in her heels, which sounded like a herd of women alone, and then, in addition to that was Helen's clattering flip-flops and my trainers (making the least noise - I hasten to add!)

It had been no exaggeration what we'd been told about the place having low ceilings, when we'd been standing in the front room, I held my hand up and I could rest the palm of it on the ceiling.  Helen couldn't, even though she stood on tiptoes, and Elaine didn't even attempt to try, she just watched us two, arms folded and with a wry smile of amusement on her face.

As we were passing through the kitchen door, back into the hall, she opened the door to the cellar, which was situated under the stairs, and we popped our heads in and peered down into the darkness.  We couldn't see anything down there; it was pitch black; we just saw the wooden stairs disappearing into the darkness below.

She slammed the door shut again.  'Nothing much to see down there - apart from cobwebs and spiders that is.'

Helen visibly shuddered at the thought; she loathed spiders.

Next, we followed the Cat up the stairs, and, being directly behind her, I couldn't help admiring her perfect arse as it shifted from side-to-side in an almost hypnotic fashion like a swinging pendulum.

Talk about being mesmerised. 

Helen was following close behind, so I didn't dare make it obvious I was looking, but nevertheless I looked.

All the rooms in the house had been almost bare (save for the odd debris of litter and of course the thick layer of dust which had settled on everything.)  It was also badly in need of decorating, it was the same story upstairs.  The place, throughout, had smelled really musty and damp too, although we knew it hadn't been lived in for a while, so we weren't concerned too much; even though at one point Helen pulled her face and mouthed to me: 'It reeks.'

There was something definitely odd about that smell, it didn't have the same odour that damp or mustiness normally has, it was a much stronger, more unbearable smell, as Helen had said later: 'It was like something had died in there.' 

The estate agents, initially, had said they hadn't been able to sell the house and they had been forced to lower the price.  The dirt-cheap price tag was what had attracted us to it in the first place, and as I've said, when Helen had seen a photo of it, she'd fell in love with it.  Helen had always wanted us to live in a little cottage, in a picturesque rural area, away from the humdrum, and I for one, as Ive already said, had never really been a townie. 

'There must be something wrong with it,' Helen said to me when she'd pulled me to one side back at the office, 'for the price to be so low.' 

Now we'd experienced the mother of all smells and, more importantly of all, we'd heard that our house had ghosts - bingo!

On the first floor there was the large master bedroom and a meagre bathroom.  Elaine briefly showed us the tiny bathroom (there was just enough room for the essentials: a bath, a toilet, and a washbasin.)  After that she showed us through to the main bedroom, it, like the other rooms, was completely bare.

The Cat eyed me. 'This is the main bedroom,' she said and those eyes, that still seemed to shine despite the absence of sunlight, widened suggestively and lingered on mine for a while.

Helen and me scanned the bedroom.  It was a large room, much larger then the bedroom in our other house.  I followed Helen over to the window and we looked out across the lane into the distance.  There were some woods, directly opposite, about a quarter of a mile away.

Our feline guide next took us up to the second floor, where we were shown two smaller bedrooms that we'd had in mind for the children, they were perfect for our intention.

As she'd shown us around, there'd been exchanges between her and me - eye contact.  It had become apparent that we couldn't keep our eyes off one another.  All this, of course, had gone completely unnoticed by Helen, who was too busy taking in the house.  I, however, had been distracted from our tour by stealing glances at our guide rather than concentrating on what she was telling us about the property. 

This cat creature was gorgeous.

It was plain that she felt the same way about me, I could tell with the way she looked at me, women have a way of looking at you when they're interested, take it from me, I know (guys if you ever want any tips, write in - I'm an expert!)

I've never believed in any false modesty or anything like that.  I could say that I'm nothing special, and that I don't understand why women could possibly find me attractive, but the truth is that I have been blessed with above average good looks.  I get it from my mother, whose side of the family were all attractive people.  Women do find me attractive, and I was always being tempted by certain looks they'd given me over the years since I'd been married: the odd offer of a drink, a date, and even on one occasion being asked directly to share one of their beds for the evening.

Why I'd suddenly decided at that point to do something about it, I don't know.  As I said at the beginning of this book, the house may have played its part in my adulterous straying.  But, as I also said, the more cynical among you will probably think its just an excuse.

I was thirty-six at the time but I, unlike Helen, had not let myself go, I kept in trim, I had been known to jog and had even wandered down the local gym once in a while.  I only had a mild paunch, even though I liked a drink.  I didn't seem to load on the calories like some men do, lucky that way I suppose.  I'm fairly tall, although some might say that five foot ten is not that tall for a man (Elaine was almost my height, in heels.)  I'm neither slim nor medium build (I'm somewhere in between) and I have short hair, which is a dark shade of brown, and brown eyes also (women say that my eyes are my best feature - they say I have sexy, playful eyes that seem to be suggesting wicked things.)

'What sort of family lived here before?' Helen asked Elaine, as she studied one of the tiny attic bedrooms we'd been led into.

'Oh,' said Elaine, 'a young couple, no children.'

'We have two children,' Helen informed her, 'a girl and a boy.'

'Oh really?' said Elaine, offering the false smile of polite interest she'd no doubt adopted from dealing with countless potential homebuyers before us.  'What are their names?'

'Sophie -' Helen began.

'And Danny,' I cut in.

'Daniel,' Helen corrected me, and shot me one of her superior looks.  I'd committed the ultimate crime of calling our son: Danny, in company.  According to Helen, Danny, was common.  'Call him: Daniel, that's his name,' she would always say.  'He's four and Sophie is five,' she told Elaine.

'Five and a half,' I corrected her (Sophie would have made a point of informing her of this if she'd been there.)

'I'd like children,' Elaine told us, letting her eyes drift away from us dreamily; as if picturing herself in that room, with kids one day. 

'No time, eh?  Being a career woman?' enquired Helen (ever nosy.)

'No, I just haven't found the right man yet,' she said, and looked directly to me and let her eyes remain on mine once more.  It did things to me to look directly into those eyes.  It was as if they shone with their own luminescence.

Helen changed the subject. 'I think a house's character is shaped by its previous owners.'

'She's a bit superstitious our Helen,' I said to Elaine, placing my arm around Helen and squeezing her to my side.

Elaine gave a disapproving look at my action, followed by an awkward smile and a lowering of her head, as if to avoid watching the affection I was displaying towards my wife.  'Oh I see,' she said, keeping her head bowed.  The way she said it seemed to suggest to me that she was thinking that my putting an arm around Helen was telling her I loved my wife and wasn't interested in anyone else.  Whereas in truth, the only woman I had eyes for in the room, or any where else in the entire world for that matter at that present moment in time, was Elaine.

 

After the tour of the upstairs, we made our cacophonous descent down the two flights of stairs.  Elaine in front and Helen behind me again as they had been on the way up.  I stole a few more glances at Elaines rear, admiring it, unseen by Helen.  Elaine and me had both been making it pretty obvious that we fancied each other.  Our ritual only hindered at one point, when I'd shown affection to Helen.  On all the occasions our alluring guide had caught me giving her even the slightest fleeting glance, she'd smiled and then looked away to my wife and then back to me, as if she was trying to convey to me the fact that she was interested, but how was the situation with my wife?  At the time, short of taking her to one side out of earshot of Helen and telling her that I would jump her pretty, sweet bones right there and then if I could, I couldn't think of a way of replying to her charade (I'd never been good at that particular parlour game anyway - it's a book, it's a film, three syllables, sounds like ...)

When our guide had brought us back down to the front door again, she swung round to face us.  'What do you think?'

As I looked at her and my eyes travelled over her again, I thought to myself: Not bad, and, uncannily, as if she'd read my thoughts, Elaine said: 'of the house?'

Before I could answer, Helen jumped in.  'We'll be in touch.'

Elaine collected her jacket and we stepped out into the cool breeze once more.  It was welcome relief from the humidity inside.  It was also good to get away from that smell.

The wasp that had been pestering us early (or one of its stripy yellow friends) found us again and proceeded to dive bomb Helen.  'That thing doesn't like me,' she said waving her hand around madly, swiping at it and twisting around in a circle on the spot as it flew around her.

'On the contrary,' I said, 'it can't seem to get enough of you.' 

It finally lost interest after taking the mother of all batterings from Helen, and ascended into the air, becoming nothing but a harmless little speck above us.

Elaine pulled the front door shut, and then she swung her jacket over her shoulder, closed her eyes and lifted her head back slightly and let the gentle breeze blow across her face.  'Ooh,' she said after she'd opened her eyes again, 'that's refreshing.'

'It was a bit close in there,' Helen said.

Elaine undid another button on her blouse and flapped the loose material to allow cool air into it, and when she looked up she caught me watching and shot me one of her playful smiles.

It was one of the most perfect moments of the day.

 

That night I had a dream that I was being pursued through the woods by a large black cat - a panther. 

I was running for dear life through the trees until, finally, after a chase covering some ground, where I put the years spent jogging to the test, caught up with me in a clearing near a fallen tree, and cornered me.  There was no means of escape, the horizontal tree trunk too broad to climb over, and the undergrowth around it too dense to make my way through. 

For some reason I was naked.

The panther prowled towards me and glared at me with eyes that I recognised from somewhere. They were Elaine's.  The large cat came at me and knocked me to the ground.  After toying with me, it began to paw at me; and finally made impact with my flesh, scraping its huge nails across my chest.  The scratches bled open, oozing thick red blood.  The animal then bent its head and licked at the wounds.

The sight of its large tongue lapping at me from behind two rows of large animal teeth and those very sharp looking fangs, had me fearing for my life.

I knew how panthers and other members of the large-cat family killed their prey; they crushed the skull of their quarry with those very same pointed incisors I was witnessing not so far away from my own skull.

And this was a big fucker; I had no doubt that it was capable of such a feat with me.    

However, the panther now did something extraordinary - it transformed into Elaine.  She smiled at me in the mischievous way she'd done at the house, and then moved her face towards mine she was completely naked also, after her metamorphous. 

We made love, there, in the middle of the woods, naked as babes.  She, still the predator on top of me; riding me; working on me, I was still very much her prey and even if I hadn't wanted this, I would have still had to endure it.  She continued to pump me, her hands gripping my shoulders, her nails digging into my flesh.  They were still sharp, like the panthers had been.  She drove me, and worked herself too, closer and closer towards orgasm, until finally, with us both sweating profusely, we both climaxed.

She relaxed and we both reclaimed our breaths, and as she remained astride, she bent down to me.  Her mouth suddenly reverted back to the panther's, jutting outwards and sprouting black fur.  Then it yawned wide-open, revealing those enormous animal teeth and fangs again. 

I woke with a start and also disturbed Helen with my sudden movement.

'What's the matter?' she asked me drowsily.

'Oh, nothing bad dream,' I told her.

'Poor darling,' she said.

'It was weird,' I said.  'A black panther was chasing me through the woods near our new house.'

'Our, new house so were having it then?  You didn't seem too keen earlier.'

I still wasn't.

'It needs some work, but it's ideal, don't you think?'  I cringed inside when I heard myself say this - was this some other person talking inside me; some evil other entity in collusion with my wife, that was speaking through me?  Have I been possessed like in The Exorcist?  At any moment was my head going to start spinning and I'd vomit pea soup everywhere? What was I saying?  No!  I don't want ... just because you ... why do I have to ... 

'Yes,' she agreed, 'it's perfect.'

Shit!

Chapter Three
 
A Second Viewing
 
I couldn't get Elaine out of my head.  When Helen would say something about the house we'd viewed, she'd be looking at me expectant of an opinion and I'd be lost in thought and not know what she'd just said. 

Some days later I made some excuse to her about wanting to give the house a second viewing on my own.  I phoned up the estate agents and the woman that answered put me through to Elaine.

'So you're definitely interested?' Elaine asked me over the phone. 

Was this a coded comment I wondered.  By saying this, did she mean: So youre definitely interested in me?  Maybe it was my imagination or just wishful thinking.  Maybe I'd read the signals wrong at the viewing and maybe this was just an innocent question about the house.

'I am,' I simply replied.

'Oh that is good news,' she said, with no confirmation or denial of any cryptic message having been meant. 'So all that talk of ghosts didn't scare you off?'

'No, in fact I'm looking forward to meeting them,' I joked.  'It would make a great book.'

There was a short burst of polite laughter from her at the other end of the line and I was suddenly picturing the smile she'd been wearing the last time I'd seen her.  There was a hint of devilment in it and at the same time a kind of sensuality, together with a touch of danger (which may have explained the dream I had: the panther, the transformation, the clawing it was the hint of danger that had probably triggered it.)  To meet her again at the house certainly had that element of risk to it because I knew my intuition about her was probably bang on target, and that she was interested and what that would mean if it were true.

It would mean an affair.

 

When I arrived at the house, I saw her car parked at the side of the road so I pulled up behind it.  I took a few moments to admire it again, once I'd climbed out of my own.  It was indeed a beauty, as was she.  Elaine wasn't at the front where she said she'd meet me, and her car was empty, so I decided to take a walk up to the house. 

The day was not as hot as the last time wed been there.  The sun was high in the noon sky, but it only provided warmth, not the swelter of the previous occasion.

And there was the house, just as big and ugly as I'd remembered it.

'Isn't it beautiful,' I could still hear Helen saying when we'd first set eyes on it together.

This was definitely a case - if ever there was one - of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.  And the beholder - my wife - hadn't exactly been blessed with any idea of good taste.

Helen had designs on it being her dream palace, and who was I to spoil her dreams?

Halfway along the garden path I brought myself to a halt and stared at the house, and it stared back at me.  I'm sure if it'd had a face it would have been grinning.  After all, I was the mug who was going to buy the wretched thing; whether I like it or not.  Helen had her heart set and when Helen had her heart set - it was set in concrete.

'Let's get this straight, so we know where we stand,' I addressed it out loud.  'I don't like you, and you don't like me, but for the sake of my wife, let's try to get along, eh?'

The house remained silent.

'I'll take that as a yes then, shall I?' 

And with that, I took a step forward, and glanced about; there was still no sign of Elaine.  Odd that she wasn't around, I thought. 

When I reached the house, I tried the door.  It opened. 

I entered the hall, stepping from the bright sunshine outside into the gloomy interior of the house and was met with that strong odour we'd noticed on our previous visit, which was like damp, only different in some way.    

The door slammed shut behind me making me jump and spin round alarmed.

'So you made it then?' Elaine said stepping out of the front room and causing me to flinch again.

I looked towards her; still slightly shaky from the doors swift closure and her sudden appearance, and I couldn't help allowing my eyes to roam the length of her body once more.  She was dressed the same as she had been on the previous occasion, this time however she'd kept her jacket on indoors, as it was much cooler inside the house than it had been on that day.

'Something wrong?' she asked.

I must have been staring at her too intensely.

'No everything's fine,' I said, and gave her a reassuring smile. 

'You said on the phone you wanted to look round the place again,' she said. 'Is there anywhere special you'd like to see?'  She had stepped right up to me now and I was gazing into those luminous green irises once again.  I had to think of something fast.  I hadn't even figured out an excuse I could use for why I'd wanted to view the place again. 

'Upstairs?' I finally said.

'Upstairs,' she repeated, lifting an eyebrow.  'Anywhere in particular?'

I gulped.  'The bedroom?'

'The bedroom,' she repeated again, and studying my face, offered a wry smile.

We gazed at each other a moment longer and I continued to search her face for any signs that gave anything away.  There had been nothing except the smile so far.  Not enough to gamble an intuitive action with.  You heard stories about men luring women estate agent employees to empty houses and then assaulting them.  Incidents like that were in the papers all the time.  I didn't want to risk an attempted rape charge on a whim.

'After you,' she said, motioning with her head towards the stairs.  I lingered on her a short while and then made my way over to the foot of the stairs. 

When we reached the master bedroom, I walked over to the window and looked down at the garden.  'It's a big spacious garden,' I said to her, over my shoulder.

'Are you a gardener?' she enquired.

I burst out laughing at the thought of it, the last thing I was was a gardener!  Helen could testify to that. 

'Who me?  No.  My ... my wife is the gardener.'

I hated mentioning Helen.  I didn't want to remind Elaine that I had a wife back home, and that this meant that I wasn't available.

'Your wife?' she said with just a vague trace of venom.

Hello, that was definitely resentment in her voice.  She's definitely here because she's interested, and not just to clinch a sale.

'Yeah, she's the green fingered one.'

I lifted my eyes and looked out towards the trees in the distance and I reflected on the dream I'd had. 

She must have noticed that my attention had been diverted to the direction of the woods because she now made a reference to them.  'Your children will enjoy playing in those woods.'

'I don't think I'd want my children playing out in the woods alone, not these days,' I told her.

I heard her heels stepping towards me at a leisurely pace, clanking on the floorboards, and I saw her reflection approach mine in the window.  'You don't know what danger lurks out there,' she said.

For a moment this sounded like a direct reference to my dream.  But how could she have possibly known about it?  I'd only told Helen of it. 

It was just a coincidence that she should say that.

Unless of course she could read minds, in which case I would have to be careful what I was thinking wouldn't I?  I mean, the ideas in my head; what I was imagining I'd like to do to this gorgeous feline goddess, would have made any woman blush.  But, however, if I'd read her right (if I'd read her mind correctly) I didn't have any doubt that she wanted those things too, and was not the kind of woman that was easily embarrassed by such things.

I continued to stare into the pane and took my attention away from Elaine, and looked to my own transparent image.  There was something odd about my face, something different.  As I studied the reflection with greater scrutiny, I noticed that the translucent features staring back at me didn't really resemble mine at all, they looked like some other face; some other man.

The man was slightly older than me and his face had dark set eyes, as though they were peering out from the bottom of two black pits.  There was a playful look in those eyes, but there was also a hint of wickedness.  The man's face appeared lined and worn by the ravages of age, although I could tell that he was not an elderly man.  As I've said, I guessed he was slightly older than me, but he had a well-lived-in face, as Helen would often describe such an appearance.  If it was me, I had aged considerably since I'd looked in the bathroom mirror that morning.  The most peculiar thing of all was that his mouth was grinning and I knew I wasn't.

I took my eyes away, not quite believing what I'd seen and turned back to face Elaine.  She came to a halt behind me to my right, and looked past me out to the woods where my attention had been moments earlier.  Then we turned to face each other.  In an almost unconscious act, still keeping her eyes fixed on mine, she removed her jacket and let it drop to the floor, then moved her hand to her blouse and began to undo the buttons, commencing from the top.

'You do want this don't you?' she asked me.

I watched the progress of her fingers as she unfastened the buttons one by one.

'Yeah,' I heard myself say hoarsely. 

It was such a weak reply I'd given her, in fact, that I feared that she'd think me unsure that this was exactly what I wanted.  I had to reassure her that this was the case, that I did crave her more than anything in the world at that present moment in time.

I returned my gaze to meet her eyes again.  'I've wanted you since the first time I clapped eyes on you.'

'I know,' she said and tugged her undone blouse free from her skirt.  I took a moment to let my eyes wander down over the two pallid mounds nestled in her white low-cut bra, the covered part of her body hadn't seen the sun yet this year.  The paleness of her breasts made her prominent dark nipples stand out all the more, they were clearly visible through the flimsy lace material. 

Opening her blouse hadn't been a practical action; she didn't remove it.  She'd just bared her tits to get me aroused.  It had done the trick; my erection was currently straining for more room against the crotch of my jeans.

She didn't allow me long for my perusal, she let me look at her briefly, enjoying my eyes travelling over her, then she pushed her arms around my neck and forced her mouth on mine.  Her tongue found purchase of my own and we locked ourselves in a kiss.  I slid my hands inside her open blouse and around her back and pulled her to me. 

As we kissed I swung her around and pushed her towards the wall to the right of the window.  As she made impact with the wall, she pulled her arms from around my neck and pushed them down towards my trousers and fought to undo them.  I reached down with my own hands and yanked her skirt up.  By this time she'd won the battle to undo my trousers and they fell to the floor.  I now got hold of the elastic at the top of her briefs and pushed them down.  She jiggled her legs as they reached her ankles and kicked them off.  When we'd finished our lengthy kiss, her mouth found mine again immediately and, with my trousers now around my ankles she grabbed for my own briefs, fumbled in blind frustration for purchase and forced them down.  They joined my trousers at my feet. 

I bent slightly, her mouth still fixed to mine, and reached down to her thighs with both hands and heaved her up onto me; pushing hard against her as I held her thighs and pinned her to the wall.  I began to slam into her with quick thrusts.  She wrapped her legs around me, took her mouth away from mine, and closing her eyes, raised her head upwards and gave out a gasp of appreciation.

And as I continued to pound into her, I glanced sideways and out of the window.

My eyes came to rest on the woods in the distance.  I was reminded of the dream again, had it been a premonition?  The only difference was that we weren't fucking in the woods.  I told myself that our present location was a much better one for unbound extra-marital lovemaking.  There would be no witnesses there to accidentally wander by.  No one to see or report back to any wife I might have back in York.

Except for maybe, the ghosts that was.

At that point the fact that the house was supposedly haunted and the fact that I'd seen another man's face staring back at me in the window didn't connect at all.  I had better things to think about at the time - like the angel I was having up against the wall.

I was really ramming into her now, her breaths (and mine) becoming faster and louder.  I was thrusting into her body with such force that I was surprising myself at what an aggressive lover I was being.  She had cried out with the occasional: 'Ow!'  I knew I must have been hurting her.

'Sorry,' I said at one point.

'Don't worry about it,' she had said breathlessly, 'I like it.'

Being so close to the window, it was almost as if we were fucking in full view of the outside world, anyway.  But there was no one around to see us.  I hadn't seen or heard a car go past since we'd arrived; this really was a secluded location; apart from the houses further down, that was.  I'm sure if any of the residents from there had strolled up the lane and even glanced back towards the house as they passed, viewing the bedroom window at the right angle, they still wouldn't have noticed us.  Apart from anything else it would have appeared too dark inside the house from the outside.

I could see the transparent reflection of the room superimposed on the pane and thought about what I'd witnessed earlier, as I laboured to bring Elaine and myself ever closer to orgasm with my short, sharp pelvic jolts.  The image in the glass hadn't resembled my own, I was sure, but how could that be?  A trick of the light perhaps?  Or was it just like when you stared into the mirror too long when you were a child and saw the devil's face staring back at you?

Perhaps it had been the devil himself; maybe he'd popped up from hell to offer a little encouragement in my adultery.

Elaine took my attention away from the window by crying out, as she was nearing her climax.  She gripped me even tighter to her with her legs and grappled around my body with her arms and was breathing like someone having an asthma attack; fighting for every breath.  My own breaths were mirroring my actions: short, sharp exhalations as I pushed myself even harder to pleasure her and to bring myself to my own climax which I could feel nearing. 

At the time, I said nothing of what I'd seen in the window to Elaine, after all, I could have been mistaken.  It hadn't been very clear.  In fact, the reflection in the window had been distorted so much that it had made me look like I had a beard.

We both came at more or less the same time.  She dropped her legs to the floor and we huddled to each other while we caught our breaths.  Then without looking at one another, we moved apart.  When I first tried to step away from her, however, I nearly fell backwards; I'd forgotten about the lasso of garments around my ankles.  I steadied myself and reached down to pull them up.

'I bet you don't get so passionate with your wife these days, I'll be sore tomorrow.' she said, rubbing the insides of her thighs with her hand and wincing.

I stayed silent, slightly embarrassed; I couldn't believe how I'd been with her.  Okay it had been a while since me and Helen had done the business but I'd never really done it with so much ferocity before.

She began to button her blouse and glanced around the floor for her discarded briefs.  I secured my trousers, and she retrieved her briefs and slid them on silently; then pulled her jacket back on.  We didn't even look at each other as we quietly made our way towards the door.  The noise of our lovemaking had echoed around the room; every sound of our pleasuring each other had been magnified tenfold.  I could still hear it as I took one last look into the room, before I followed Elaine.  It reminded me of all our footsteps a few days earlier and what a din they'd made.

Bang on cue, as I was running this through my mind, I heard Elaine's heels clattering down the stairs, and after taking one final lingering look at the room where we'd just fucked, I went in pursuit of my lover.

She was already outside when I reached the foot of the stairs.  I made my way out and pulled the door shut behind me.

 

As we approached the gate, we both turned and looked up at the house.  'There's all sorts of rumours about this place you know,' she said to me.

'What sort of rumours,' I asked her.  'Your ghosts again?'  I tried a smile, she half-smiled back, but there was a serious look on her face as if she had something on her mind.  I hoped she wasn't now regretting her action.

'Not just that; about what went on here a few centuries ago,' she said.

No, her serious manner was concerned with the house and not some guilt trip regarding our clandestine sexual act. 

She gave a dramatic pause, her eyes had excitement in them as if she was about to tell me about a great book she'd read, or film she'd seen, that I really should check out.  'They say someone hung their self in there once, in the eighteen-hundreds.'  She glanced towards the house again.  'One of the bosses of the mill, who used to own it back then.'

'Stokes?'

'Yes,' she said.  'The guy who built it.'

She stared at the plaque between the two attic room windows.

'You really know how to sell a place don't you,' I said.

Elaine returned her attention to me.  'Just thought you should know what they say about the place, that's all.  Doesn't mean it's true.' 

She looked to the ground and kicked her feet around, as if thinking about something, then brought her eyes into contact with mine again, and as if in realisation that she could have been making the biggest mistake of her career, she said: 'To tell you the truth, I just think it's local gossip.'

I'd been right then, about the house having its very own Boo Radley; some bogeyman the local kids fear.  However, in this case it wasn't just the local kids who feared the house, but the older, wiser residents of the town too.  And this bogeyman was long since dead, and so - unlike Boo had been - was no longer still around to be a threat.

How wrong could I have been about that one?

'The locals won't come near the house if they can help it,' she continued, nodding towards it as she said this.  'They claim it's cursed.'

'Cursed?'  I knew a wry smile had broken onto my face.  'By, our Abel?'

'Yep, our Abel,' she said, imitating my accent and with a grin to rival mine. 

I took a moment to look back to the house and then returned my attention to Elaine who still had her eyes fixed on the plaque.

'He was a sadistic bastard,' she said, as if she had once known the guy.

She'd obviously done her homework; knew everything about this bloke.

'What do you mean, sadistic?' I asked her.

'They say he used to keep women here, tie them up beat them,' she said, still without taking her eyes from the house.

'Sounds like a charming guy,' I said and took another look at the plaque myself.

She withdrew her attention away from it and sensing this I looked back to her.  

'So this is your last chance,' she said, looking me in the eyes, 'to pull out before we go back to the office and you sign the papers.'  Now a broad smile returned to her face.  'And you sign your soul away to the evil spirits.'

She looked like the cat that had got the proverbial cream.  Quite appropriate, don't you think?  At least that's what her smile seemed to say now, as I watched it force out those wonderful cheekbones.  This woman had not only got her man, but had made a sale in the process also. 

I peered back towards the house again.  'I can feel a story building up around this place already.'

I could sense Elaine looking at me as I let my eyes wander over the grey-stone eyesore Helen had set her heart on; eager to know whether she'd sold the property or not.  Almost immediately, my gaze shifted back to her.  'Well,' I said, holding out my hand, 'congratulations, you've just made a sale.' 

She laughed, held out her own hand, and we shook.

That was the first, and only time, I've ever had sex with someone and then shaken her hand afterwards.

Copyright David Barton 2003

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