There was such a thing as too much peace and quiet. It was making him jumpy.
At first the move from London to the countryside was great. Life was slower, you could hear the birds singing, no constant traffic noise, it was like a holiday. After a while, though, the feeling fell away. This was everyday life now, and the birds were really loud, especially first thing in the morning when you were trying to sleep.
The house was Victorian and it made a lot of noise for something so solid-looking. It creaked in the sunshine and whistled whenever the wind blew. There were all kinds of thumps and ticking noises that Neil could not find the source of.
Laurie had a job in the town, Shuckleigh, and brought back stories of all kinds of spooky goings-on that the locals apparently took seriously. They laughed about it at first, but alone in the house all day working at the computer, Neil started to have weird feelings.
A floorboard would creak behind him and all the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He felt he was being watched. Sheer paranoia, of course. It was a big house for just the two of them and he was alone in it for so many hours.
The house was set quite far back from the road, which led to a tiny village a mile further on, so there was little traffic. There was another house within sight, but Neil had no idea who lived there. Shuckleigh was two miles away. For someone used to living in London, this was the middle of nowhere. No other person in sight. Nothing but trees and fields, wildlife and cows.
And inside the house? Who knew?
Once Laurie came home from work the atmosphere brightened. the house didn’t make so many odd noises, or perhaps Neil didn’t hear them any more. The thought passed through his mind that the house liked Laurie, but was not so keen on him — but that was ridiculous. Houses have no feelings.
Neil learned to ignore the noises and the odd sensations, and learned to tolerate the aloneness, immersing himself in his daily work.
Laurie was happy, doing well in her new job, and she was invited to a weekend conference. When he kissed her goodbye on Friday night and watched her drive away in her car, he thought he felt the house grow stern and cold and dark around him.
It’s only my imagination, he thought. It isn’t the house that misses her, it’s me.
He ate a meal, going to some trouble to make a really good lasagne and a salad with everything in it, and opened a bottle of wine, but only drank one glass, because getting drunk alone was no fun.
Okay, so he poured another glass and settled down to watch a film, something stupid with plenty of fighting for no good reason. It was a loud film, so he was only vaguely aware of the storm that was rolling in, until the winds hit gale force and rain started to pelt against the window. He paused the film and made the rounds of the house to make sure that all the windows were secure and the doors locked and bolted, then he settled back down again.
Fifteen minutes later the flash of lightning and roll of thunder started. Neil turned up the sound on the TV and ignored the weather — but the power went out and he was suddenly in complete darkness except for occasional lightning flashes.
He fumbled for his phone and stood up. There was a flash and he thought he saw something in the corner of the room. Just shadows, he told himself, but he could not move for the sudden fear.
Another flash, and a brief glimpse of a figure standing there, looking at him. Just shadows, nothing but shadows.
Another flash and he saw, quite clearly, an old woman looking at him. He couldn’t breathe.
A third flash. The figure had grown, was now a man, angry-looking, dark and bulky. This is not real.
A bang and flash of lightning bolt striking very close by — in its light he saw a child, an arm’s length away, dark eyed, reaching for him.
He shrieked and ran — out of the room up the stairs and into the bedroom. He pulled a small chest of drawers in front of the door and got into bed, pulling the duvet up to his chin. By reflex he was still holding his phone and he tried to call Laurie, but there was no service.
His reasoning mind tried to take control by assuring him that the people he saw were just the effects of shadows and his imagination, but then it failed him by pointing out that if they were ghosts a closed and blocked door would do nothing to keep them out.
There was a recording of Laurie singing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ on his phone and in self-defence, he played it as loud as it would go. It was not as good as having her there, but the house did seem to become less fearsome as long as it lasted. He played it over and over until he finally fell asleep.
In the morning he was still alive, but there was no power, and his phone was quite dead. Neil grabbed his toothbrush and a change of clothes, and drove into town. The Has Bean coffee shop let him charge up his phone while he ate a croissant and drank a large cappuccino, one benefit of the small town. On finding out from the power company that the house would not be reconnected before Sunday, he went to find a hotel room.
It was holiday season, and everywhere was fully booked, so he ended up as a last resort walking in to the Black Dog Inn. Only the barman was around.
‘Do you have a room free?’ Neil asked.
‘You’re in luck if you don’t mind paying for a double. We had a couple leave early.’
‘No, that’s fine,’ said Neil, relieved, looking forward to getting a shower and some more peaceful sleep.
‘I’ll get the key. It’s one of the haunted rooms so it’s only available for one night. They’re always popular, and usually booked out.’
‘No thanks,’ said Neil. ‘No thanks.’
He walked out, got in his car and drove to the next county where he found a Travelodge to spend the rest of the weekend ghost free, happily listening to other people banging doors and playing the TV too loud at all hours of the night.