The estate agent was quite open about the double murder.
‘It was right here in the kitchen,’ she said. ‘Dave was over there and Kevin by the door. Kevin shot Dave through the head and Kevin shot Dave through the heart. Very messy.’
I looked at Mike and he raised his eyebrows.
‘They must have shot each other simultaneously,’ I said.
‘What? Oh, yes. Some people thought differently though. They thought Norman, the third brother, he did it. The police didn’t think so in the end, but some around here still do. He cleaned it all up himself and carried on living here. It was their family farm. But then he hung himself from that beam two years ago.’
She pointed up to a black oak beam at the back of the kitchen with big meat hooks hanging from it. I admit I shuddered a little.
‘The land was sold off, but the house and gardens had to go separately. The property has been on the market a while now. The price is very good, but I think if you make an offer there will be a willingness to negotiate. Oh, and I almost forgot.’ She pulled out a sheet of paper from her briefcase and handed it to me. ‘This kept coming up as an area of concern, so we advised an exorcism. The place is certified ghost-free.’
The house was old and squat. No architectural finesse had been used in its design, if it had been designed at all. There were two stories and a steeply gabled roof which was out of balance with the blocky grey walls under it — but the house with its baggage of violence was very cheap and it had large gardens.
Mike and I took half an hour to wander the house alone, and finished back in the gloomy kitchen.
‘Could we use this kitchen without being reminded of that nasty picture we were painted just now?’ he asked.
‘It won’t be the same kitchen. We’ll remodel it completely, wipe away its past. Besides,’ I said waving the paper, signed and dated by the exorcist, ‘certified ghost-free.’
Neither of us were sensitive to that sort of thing anyway. There might have been a hundred ghosts dancing about us, but we would not notice, we thought. We made a ridiculous offer. It was accepted immediately.
Our builders were locals, and they did not like the place, but I framed the certificate of exorcism and hung it in the hall where they could see it. They worked far quicker than any builders I’ve ever had dealings with, and there was only one hold-up.
Removing cupboards in the kitchen, they found a large brown stain on the wall and downed tools immediately. Mike went in and convinced them that it was a rust stain from some old nails in the plasterboard. They came back, and our kitchen was installed in record time. it looked as if the reputation of the house was working in our favour.
We had the grey exterior painted a cheerful pale yellow, and inside made the place as colourful as possible. I hung large mirrors in the dining room and lounge to make the rooms lighter, but somehow they seemed to suck in light instead, and the reflections in them were dark and dull.
The kitchen was a bright, airy space with clean lines and modern fittings. The old beams were still there, of course, but the meat hooks were gone. Even so, I always felt a sense of profound emptiness if I spent much time in there. A bleak, cold feeling even on a sunny summer’s day. Mike felt the same, and one evening, he took all the knives out of the knife block and put them in a drawer out of sight. He said he kept thinking of cutting into his own flesh if he could see them.
Things were going well for us. We had a beautiful home, our work lives were great, Mike got a promotion, we should have been happy. We were not.
Day by day, hope and happiness drained away from us until everything seemed as dark and dull as the reflections in the mirrors. I took the mirrors down, but nothing improved.
The only thing I could think of was to call the exorcist back in, his name, Charlie Moore, and number being handily supplied on the certificate which still hung in the hall. When I opened the door for him he smiled, but hung back.
‘I’ve already done this house,’ he said.
I pointed at the framed certificate.
‘Is there a problem?’
‘That’s what I hope you will tell me.’
He came in then, carrying a canvas messenger bag that I supposed contained his exorcism kit. I had sort of expected a priest, but he was just an ordinary-looking middle-aged man. He went from room to room, performing some sort of ritual chant and meditation.
‘I’m not finding anything,’ said Charlie. ‘when I came before, there was nothing then either, in spite of…’ He waved a hand vaguely, not wanting to refer directly to the unpleasantness in the house’s history.
I took him into the kitchen.
‘Oh, you’ve made it really nice,’ he said, but he shivered.
‘No, not at all.’
There was a cake, and I made coffee to go with it and we sat down at the kitchen table. While he made headway into the cake, I explained the general baseless feeling of depression that was gaining on us day by day, and Mike’s problem with the knives. The cake knife lay on a plate between us and there was a silence as we both stared at it. I thought how ineffective it would be if I tried to stab myself with it. I pulled my attention away to find Charlie looking around the room, wide eyed. He shook his head.
‘There must be something here,’ he said. ‘I’m feeling something, but it’s not a presence, it’s…’
‘An absence,’ I said.
‘A void,’ he said.
He stood up and got dowsing rods out of his bag. I was glad that Mike was out at work. He would have hated this.
Charlie walked the room with his rods and they waved about a bit, but when he passed them over the table, they swivelled together violently.
‘It’s the cake,’ I said, trying for levity.
He ignored me and began dragging the table away. I helped, and then he got down on his knees, examining the floorboards.
‘Look,’ he said.
I knelt down and looked. it took a moment, but then I saw it — a fine seam between the boards, a square separate from the rest. Charlie went to look in the knife drawer. The Chinese cleaver he came back with was worrying enough, but then he started to hack at the floorboards.
‘We just paid to have this floor sanded and varnished!’ I said, but he was not listening.
Once he had cut out a notch one side of the seam he stopped.
‘Feel that,’ he said.
I put my hand over the little hole and felt cold air. Charlie pushed his fingers into the notch and pulled. The floorboards moved. I helped and soon we pulled away a square of boards. Underneath was a flat stone with rune-like markings on it. The stone was crumbling, almost half of it gone, revealing a deep pit underneath. I leaned forward to look down into the darkness. Far way down there, I thought I heard a voice calling to me. The cold sucked at my body, my mind. I thought I could dive in and fly down forever.
Charlie pulled me back and shoved me across the room. He struggled to push the floorboard cover back into place, muttering something all the while. I was no help, rigid with fear, pressed against the cooker. All I did was watch him scribble something on a page from his notebook and use the folded page to block up the notch he had cut. Then he got me out of there and called for emergency occult help.
When Mike got home, he didn’t believe a word of it, and marched right into the kitchen saying he would get the builders in. I stood at the door and watched him pull out the folded paper from the notch, cursing about the damage.
I could feel it from where I stood. Mike went pale, shoved the paper back and ran out.
It cost us a lot of money. Occultists do not come cheap. We had to get a new capstone cut, engraved with appropriate sigils and laid down in a ritual carried out by some very peculiar people. For extra protection we had the floorboards stripped out and a thick layer of specially formulated concrete laid down.
We were told that the pit was probably cut as a well originally and then stopped up when people came to understand that there was more than water down there. After the house was built over it, people preferred to forget. The brothers probably never knew.
The house is fine now. I put the mirrors back up, and they do make the rooms brighter. We are reasonably happy, but we are stuck, aren’t we? How can we sell a house with a lethal structural fault?
It is fine now, but how long will it take the corrosion from below to eat through the new defences? We have become unwilling guardians of a deadly secret.