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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword


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I knew the place was haunted when we bought it. It was a historical country house, complete with hard wood floors, high ceilings and old, heavy doors that hadn't been oiled in about a hundred years. Every night, the wind would howl past us, from the woods surrounding the house, causing the entire building to creak and groan. This town was always overcast or stormy too, which didn't help. Then, there was the history of violent murder.

As was standard practice, the estate agent had told us all about the various killings that had happened in this house, ever since its construction. Apparently, every generation there had been one. Every time, a new family, a new victim. Unfortunately, this bad history didn't result in any kind of discount. Quite the opposite really; this house had been in hot demand. The auction had gone way above what the property was worth, but my mother had insisted on having it the moment she laid eyes on it.

The bed and breakfast was another dream of hers. Heavens knows why, but since Dad had left us with more than enough to be comfortable, she decided to quit her job, sell up and drag me out to the country, so she could pursue one of her life-long dreams. The country air would be good for me, she said. It would also be good for me to have some forced time off that damn internet, too. Another of the in-demand selling features: The house was located on the outskirts of a radio dead zone. No mobile reception or wi-fi. By law. Of course, we still had Internet, but it was patchy, spotty and until school started again, was for her to check messages from potential guests only.

So here I was, a teenager from the city, thrown into one of the most frightening places I'd ever been. No concrete beneath my feet, barely any noise from traffic of any kind, and few other people. Aside from the guests, of whom we had surprisingly many, I could count all the neighbours within a mile on one fingerless hand. Sure, I could ride my bike to the local town, and there were a few kids there, but they were all farming kids. I had nothing in common with them. So I never bothered. There would be time enough to socialise when I was forced to discover what passed for a school in this depressing place.

Instead, I explored. The house was huge. Two stories, basement and attic. I'd gone through all the rooms in the house, looking for anything the previous owners had left behind. I found nothing of import at first. The place seemed depressingly unhaunted. No secret dungeon, no Indian burial ground, no blood pouring out of mysterious cracks in the wall. Nothing on the secret room front, either; I'd knocked on just about every surface and checked all the old bookshelves that were built into the now-empty library, but found no secret panels or trapdoors that lead me to any secret passages or forgotten crevasses.

Though I did find something. One of the walls in the basement was slightly different from the rest. The brickwork was a different colour, the mortar looked newer. Curiosity got the better of me and I had to look further into it. Fortunately, Mother had already acquired the original floor plan from the local council and was happy to see that I was taking an interest in our new home, instead of locking myself away and moaning about it. The first thing I discovered was that the original floor plans to an ancient house that had been around since before my grandparents had been born were incredibly difficult to read. All the writing was in some strange squiggly language that I'd only ever seen on history programs on TV. So I couldn't read what most of the rooms were, but I was able to figure out one thing. My hunch was correct. There was another room behind there.

I'd excitedly told Mother about this. She was shocked at first. She had thought I'd lose interest in the house quickly. She had also had a pang of regret from the moment she gave me the plans, thinking I would lose them, too. But this was something new to her as well. A wall that wasn't on the plan meant a room she could open and put to use. She quickly applied for a permit to have the wall demolished and looked in hiring a builder to knock it out. This surprised and almost disappointed me. Before talking to her, I was already putting together a plan in my head to buy a sledgehammer, wait for her to go out on a guest-free day and do the demolition myself. I would finally get use out of that old miner's headlamp I'd had floating about for years. I had even seen myself busting a head-sized hole through the wall, peering through with only the head lamp to illuminate what I could only imagine was a hidden pirate's treasure. Now all the glory was going to a bunch of contractors.

The day of the demolition took longer than expected. Having a simple wall removed had been more of a struggle than either of us had anticipated. No sooner had the request been lodged with the local council, some historical society had crawled out of the woodwork to have a whinge about the destruction of a piece of local heritage. It didn't matter that this wall was unoriginal; altering that house was a travesty according to them, and from the bile which they spat while fighting the request, one akin to murdering their children with the corpses of their ancestors. But the law was on our side, as the wall was an undocumented addition to the property. The only caveat was that instead of getting a simple demolition order, we now had to hire architects and surveyors to make sure that after the wall was removed, we constructed an entrance that was as close to historically accurate as we could get. Of course, the cost of this went through the roof, but Mother was more than willing to pay for it.

When the day arrived, I was giddy with excitement. Though I avoided talking to the builders as much as I could, I still found any excuse I could to go down there. The wall had been inspected and the point where old brick met new had been clearly marked. The architect had been one approved by the historical society who apparently was well aware of the history of this particular house, to ensure historical blah blah blah. By that point, I was convinced that they were all sticklers who had nothing better to do than to make other people's lives more difficult. Once more, I regretted not going through with Operation Sledgehammer. More so when it turned out that the builders had stolen my idea and were using one themselves.

Though I desperately wanted to remain down there as they broke through, they shooed me off. Something about liability and safety and me not having any head, ear or eye protection. Also, I'd need boots, gloves, a breathing mask and a high-visibility jacket just to be in the room with them. So I retreated to my room and waited. Sulked, to be more accurate. The sound of sledgehammer on wall rang through the house as they worked, while I lay in bed, hating the unfairness of it all. By the time the hammering had stopped, I was waking up from an impromptu nap. I didn't remember falling asleep. Or being tired. But the noise had stopped, so they must have finished.

I rushed down to see what they had found. I didn't get far. Everybody was gathered in the kitchen. Also, a local police officer was there. Mother's response to my queries was to tell me that I wasn't ever, under any circumstances, allowed to go down there. She had almost said that she'd wished I'd never found that stupid room. Or so I figured. She cut herself off after "I honestly wish you...".

The builders, the lawyers and police were no help. They were too concerned with the order in which events had happened. And I couldn't go down there to look myself; the officer had already taped off the stairs.

Well, I couldn't go down now. Eventually, everybody left. All I'd overheard was that some other people would have to come and look at the room, and something about safe removal. This could mean only one thing to my teenage brain. They had found a body. The murder stories were true. If I were any more excited at that prospect, I probably would have died myself.

Hours later, I stood before the police tape, wearing old clothes, boots, gardening gloves and my miner's lamp. I had a cloth around my mouth and a pair of sunglasses on. They were all I could find. I felt silly, but it was three in the morning. Nobody was going to see me. The house was almost silent, creaking, groaning and howling of the wind aside.

I slipped under the tape and felt my way down. Half way down, after almost slipping, I weighed up the possibility of eye injury with the probability of ankle injury and took off the sunglasses. In the basement, the construction equipment was still there. There were also lights on stands, powered by cords that snaked off upstairs. Dust still hung thick in the air, irritating my eyes. But I had to see for myself. The opening loomed in front of me, crisscrossed with more police tape. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I gulped. Suddenly, this seemed like the most terrible idea. This feeling was reinforced by my headlamp choosing this moment to flicker and dim. As the room grew darker, I could swear I saw shapes in the swirling dust floating about the room. But there was nothing for it. I had to see. I flicked the lights on.

I saw the marks on the walls first. Even after all these years, the stain of bloody scratch marks was still visible. The room was covered in them. Then I saw the manacles. Ancient, rusted iron manacles. Three sets, bolted into the walls. One set had been broken open. The other two were still occupied. The occupants stared back at me, from their empty, skeletal eyes. One hung there, jaw agape. The other had no jaw. Breath held, skin numb, every instinct screaming at me to run, I looked down, to see the third skeleton lying on the floor. Even without skin, I could imagine the look of horror on his face, being trapped in the room. I started breathing again. Short, panicked breaths, as I turned to run. Then I saw it, looming out at me from the dust, a face with a mouth open wide, rushing towards me. I screamed.

Next thing I knew, I was in the kitchen again. Mother was there, cradling me, as I tried to push myself further in the corner. My skin was ice cold. My breathing ragged. I was shivering and crying, muttering to myself as she held me and reassured me over and over that it was alright, that this is perfectly natural, that there was nobody else. My eyes were transfixed on the door to the basement, hoping against hope that whatever I had seen respected police tape more than I did. The wind choosing this moment to make the entire house shudder didn't help me much either. We stayed there, on the cold floor of that kitchen until the sun started peaking through the windows. That was when I felt confident enough to stand up and sulk off to bed, to dream of ghastly faces in the dust.

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I really like your writing. Have you ever thought about submitting a piece to a journal or a number of pieces for a creative writing course? I just know how beneficial a creative writing course was for me in terms of developing plot and theme. Your style is very good. You have a distinctive, trenchant style.

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As this sort of story should be.


And I guess you could stop here

Having given a good scare

But I'm the sort who wants to know

The rest of the story.

Who? What? Why? How? When? Ect.

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