The House atop Banshee Hill
The night was still and silent.
The sky was like a dark dome, completely black.
Instead, grey clouds passed into the night, sometimes disappearing, and at others, forming dark and malignant shapes. A chill had taken over the air, and my breath rose in curls, misty and pearly silver, like giant plumes rising off a brittle hearth. The frosted grass crunched under my heavy boots, and I hugged myself tightly, as if to protect myself against the light drizzle, which fell from the black sky and brushed against my cheeks. My overcoat billowed in the howling wind, and the dark and gaunt silhouettes of gnarled trees surrounded me.
This part of London at night was like a graveyard, completely silent. The hellishly distorted faces of gargoyles peered at me with distaste, scowling from their respective recesses into the darkened sides of the crumbling buildings. I shivered. The dim lights of my home were faintly visible in the distance, and their glow warmed me to the marrow. The sound of my footsteps echoed, and my eyes stung with cold. My skin crawled—somebody was following me. My pace fastened, my breathing became laboured, and my heart rose in my throat like a giant lump of molten lead. I quickened my footsteps, and the person following me did likewise.
I could bear the fear no longer. I turned around, my overcoat swinging, muffler unravelling, to see—nothing. I was alone, all alone. An owl hooted in the nearby trees. I turned around, and let out a blood-curdling scream, for what I saw scared me. The rotting corpse of a man lay by the side of the road, sheltered in the heavy shadows, face frozen in an expression of fearful disgust. His eyes were wide open, following my every move, and I felt the tension rise in my limbs. I fell on my back, gasping for breath, and screamed for help again, but my voice stuck in my throat, which felt like sandpaper. I had not noticed that I was crying.
My hands clutched the cold grass, but the man lay still, dead for sure. Gaining courage, I wiped my tears, and breathing shallowly, I ran towards my house, wailing. I hammered on the door, and as soon as my mum opened it, I rushed towards my bedroom, crying silently and biting my lower lip hard enough to draw blood. I jumped into bed, not removing any of my warm clothes, and wrapped the quilt around me, eyes wide with terror. A little while later, a small knocking sounded on my bedroom door, and my father’s voice echoed from outside.
“Honey? Are you okay? Your mother said that you looked terrified when you entered.” His voice, edged with worry.
I was shivering. Outside, a storm raged, and the thunderous bolt tore the sky apart. The rolls of thunder, coupled with the sheets of pouring rain and the flashes of dangerous lightning made my face and torso slick with sweat. I threw my quilt away, and silently padded towards the door. I clutched the doorknob, which was smooth, hard and cold against my burning skin, and pulled it. The door opened with a loud creak. Standing outside, was not my father, but the dead man I had seen.
His nose wrinkled in an evil grin, eyes a maelstrom of mad, ghostly power.
“Hello, there, little boy.” The shadows played across his evil face, and I screamed, my hands rising to protect my face, as the hands of the dead man extended to clutch me and rip me apart. I wailed and cried out in anguish, but no help came. I could feel the cold grasp of the man tighten around my forearms.
“Honey! Derek, for god’s sake, stop screaming!” someone shook me.
I opened my eyes, and wiped my tear-blotched face, which was slick with beads of sweat. Standing before me, was not the man, but my father.
He knelt beside me. “Derek, answer me honestly, what happened? Whatever happened, we can sort it out together.” His voice was calm, and soothed me to a certain degree. He patted my cheek. My mum was standing by his side. She nodded lovingly, and I felt some understanding pass between us. We made our way to the living room, where I sat on the sofa, sipping a cup of piping hot chocolate. I was still breathing hollow, but I was much calmer.
I cleared my throat. “While I was coming from Andrew’s house, I saw the dead body of a man lying on the side of the Tennebree Road. I freaked out. I swear his eyes were following me, and when I saw dad, I-I hallucinated the dead man.” I finished.
My dad’s face was a mosaic of shadows. My mum had already dialled the number and informed the police, who were on their way. Moments later, the faint sound of a siren resonated outside, and we got up to see if it was the police. My mum motioned me to stop.
“Honey, I guess you need some rest. You should stay here.” Her voice was uncomfortable, as if she did not want me to see what was happening. But I simply could not rest like that—not until I knew who the man was. I nodded, but when mum and dad stepped out towards the humming cars, I counted till fifty, and then silently, made my way out into the open. I maintained a safe distance from mum and dad, but was within earshot to listen to anything the police said. Mum was leaning against dad, who had wrapped his arm around her comfortingly.
The body was carried away on a stretcher. The police were saying something to dad— I had to listen. What if they suspected me of murdering the man? I shivered at the thought of it. I felt strangely calm now that the body was gone, as if all the negative vibes had been removed from the surroundings. I listened to what the police had to say.
The policeman was a lean and lanky person, his voice gruff, and moustaches in the shape of a handlebar. “—Another death like this, where there was no mark on the body, nor any sign of injury or cardiac arrest, or to say no reason for the demise of the person was recorded today only at the Wilhelm Mansion atop Banshee Hill. Lady Selda Wilhelm died at approximately two in the morning. Her house was in ruins. Some believe that Lady Selda, the last of the Wilhelms, was murdered, but she was not, according to our reports, nor did she commit suicide. We shall inform you of all advances we make in this case since you already know of the death, but I request you—do not let the news of such deaths spread, for the sake of peace and sanity within the county. Good day to you, sir and madam.” The policeman lifted his hat slightly, and then drove away.
My breathing was fast. My heart hammered against my ribs. As the jeep carrying the stretcher disappeared, I peered through the window, just in time to see the silhouette of a person lying on a stretcher sit straight up. Then a roll of thunder made me snap back to reality—the jeep was gone. I must have hallucinated.
Breathing deeply, I sprinted towards my house, opened the door and dashed up the stairs to my bed. I did not notice that the mug of hot chocolate on the table was lying on its side, a thin stream of brown froth trickling down the corner of the counter in drops, as if counting the minutes left in my life.
Above, in my room, I lay in my bed, goosebumps prickling across my body, contemplating what to do. Somehow, even though the police could not, I could see a connection between the two deaths, and for me—I could not rest that easy. I needed to upturn all stones, search out answers; otherwise this mystery would never let me be at rest again. I needed to know the exact reason behind these strange deaths. For me, the answer lay in only one place—the abandoned house atop Banshee Hill, the Wilhelm Mansion.
I quickly got out of bed, and as I passed the wall mirror, I saw something strange. I picked up my flashlight. Shadows danced across the wall of my bedroom. There, in the mirror, standing right behind me, was something similar to a shadow. Something tapped gently on my bedroom window. I turned around, my heartbeat quickening. The fingers of a severed hand tapped against the pane, their fingernails crooked and pale, and slightly bloody on the cuticles.
My eyes wide with horror, I yelled loudly, as the fingers again tapped, this time slightly fiercer. I stumbled, fell on my arm, and winced in pain. I glanced quickly towards the window. There was no hand, just the branches of a tree, which grew outside. They gently tapped against the window, and after doubly checking that the window and the door were bolted, I stared into the mirror.
The dark apparition I had seen in the mirror had vanished. I breathed hard, taking in a lungful of air, and then I quietly kept the flashlight by my bedside. It was time to sleep.
I stared at the morning sun. It was Saturday, which meant a holiday. Mum served me some apple pie, which I ate heartily, but something disturbed me. Why did I keep seeing all these things? Why couldn’t mum and dad feel the eeriness? All these questions just spelt one answer—the Wilhelm Mansion.
I ate greedily, and then drank a glass of warm milk. I could feel the excitement build up inside me, like a raging hurricane. I quickly washed and did my chores, and then I picked up my rucksack, double-checking the batteries inside my flashlight as I popped it in, and kissing mum goodbye, I yelled as I ran, “I’ll be at Andrew’s house! Don’t expect me till nine in the evening!”
Andrew was my best friend, someone who understood even the vaguest of my feelings. I thundered into his house, and ran up his room. Andrew was lying on a couch, a comic book on his lap.
“Hey, check this out, this is the latest—” his voice was wild.
“Shut up, and listen.” I growled. I told him of the dead man, and of Lady Selda Wilhelm, who had both died the same way. I told him of how I guessed what was happening, and then proposed that he should also come with me, and together, we could explore the abandoned Mansion. Plus, it would be real fun.
No, but I don’t—” he began, but it was too late, for I had already bonked him on the head with my flashlight’s butt.
Twenty minutes later, we found ourselves standing at the foot of the low rising Banshee Hill, which smelled faintly like freshly mown grass.
“I can’t believe we are doing this.” Grimaced Andrew. “Do you even know what might be inside? Ghost, perhaps?”
“Only one way to know.” I said, smiling, and together, we both raced to the top.
The monstrous doors of the Mansion swung open, and a faint odour of dampness and hay waded into our nostrils. I coughed. Even though the sun was high in the sky, it was totally dark inside the house, and we had to switch on our flashlights to see. Spiders had woven webs that covered entire ornaments, and dust coated almost everything.
I wrinkled my nose in disgust. “How did Selda live in this pigsty?”
I waited for Andrew’s retort to come, but it never came. I realised with a jolt—Andrew had disappeared. I yelled his name, but to no avail.
“Andrew! This is no time to be funny!” but I could not find him. My heart was going crazy inside my ribcage, and I could feel my limbs turn to lead, but still, I moved on. Old paintings and ornaments stared down at me from the walls, as I moved my flashlight over them, illuminated in a small circle of visibility I was on the verge of fleeing, I knew it was a bad idea, coming here, but I could not leave Andrew here alone. He’d never forgive me.
As I turned around, an icy cold hand gripped my neck, and I screamed, turned around, and pointed my flashlight—straight in Andrew’s face. He was grinning, laughing like a maniac. I shoved him playfully, heart still threatening to pop out of my mouth. I reined my breathing, and together, Andrew and me clutched the banister, and moved up the stairs, which groaned and creaked under our feet. I sneezed as dust invaded my nostrils, and then looked up.
Right in front of us was a room. I looked at my companion. We raised our flashlights, and then pushed open the doors. They opened, creaking in protest, and we both entered. To our great dismay and horror, the doors closed themselves.
“Hey!” I dropped my flashlight, and one of the two beams went off. I hammered on the doors, tried to open them with their handles, but they wouldn’t budge. At last, I gave up trying, and searched for other exits.
“Ouch!” I yelled, as I stumbled, “Andrew, watch your step! You nearly crushed my toes!”
Andrew aimed the flashlight at me, his face confused. “What are you talking about? Are you daft? I am at the other side of the room!”
My face locked in pure horror; I squinted and stared in the distance. I rubbed my goosebumps, and noticed that the temperature was dropping rapidly. I could feel the cold growing, icicles forming in the corners of the room.
“Do you feel the cold?” Andrew asked.
I was too scared to answer. I nodded at him, and together, we watched as in the corner of the room, plumes of smoke rose, silver and pearly. Slowly, right in front of us, a figure rose. I felt Andrew’s shoulder bump into mine—his breathing was shallow, and I could discern his fear. The ghost manifested in front of us— it was the dead man I had seen on Tennebree Road. I screamed—a big mistake—and the spectre growled loudly, moaning its sickly moan, and then limped for me.
His face was twisted in rage, his hands withered, and the skin drooping from skeletal frame of smoke. Its eyeballs were blood red, and Andrew screamed. I pushed him towards one side, out of harms way, and looked at the other side of the room. Deep red bloodstains, smelling strongly of iron, stood out against the peeling walls. To my horror, they seemed fresh, for they glinted in the flickering light thrown by the dying flashlight.
I yelled as the ghost drew up to me—I could feel its demonic presence in every tissue of my body, and its malignant stare, yearning to reward me with promising death. I could smell the rank stench of his breath, but yet, the ghost continued moving towards me. My face feverishly hot, I looked at Andrew, who was attempting to light a match, but his hands were quivering so badly, that all the matches fell into the pooling darkness.
I screamed again, and I sensed another ghost manifest near Andrew, who was weeping silently. I felt my body go numb, as the spectre’s hand touched my throat, and then swiped me aside. I sailed through the air, and I felt something inside me twist, as I fell in a heap, slumped against the wall. The other ghost, the spirit of Selda, it seemed, did likewise to Andrew, and in no time were we feeling bruised, but hollow, as if something was missing. The ghosts still loomed over us, hands outstretched.
With my remaining energy, I grabbed the flashlight that was lying nearby, and switched it on in the ghost’s faces. They seemed confused, but as they started twisting and simmering, they let out blood curdling screams, before vanishing, leaving behind dark tentacles, which swiped at the air, and coiled around us. I felt my body going slack, and Andrew was lifted a few feet above me, as still as could be.
I tried to scream, but could not, as I felt the tentacles pierce into the sides of my body, and the last thing I saw, was the fresh spurt of blood on the wall, a little farther from the older one.
Andrew and I woke up together. We had been unconscious for at least an hour, we guessed. The events of the day had left us rattled, and we agreed not to disclose it to anyone. As we made our way downstairs, we glimpsed policemen standing inside the main vestibule. Probably someone had heard our screams and called for help. We smiled at each other. We felt, surprisingly free than we ever had.
We knew that nothing could go wrong, now that the worst had passed, but still I had not found out the answers, and I would never return here for sure. We both looked confused as we saw our parents standing side by side, looking worried. Why were they here?
A policeman shouted something as he entered the room from which we had just emerged.
“I found something!” called he over the entire ruckus downstairs.
The entire hoard of policemen and our parents hurried in, but not one person saw us, and I assumed that they were either too engrossed in seeing what the policeman had found, or we were out of sight in the looming shadows. So we both smiled uncertainly, and then trotted into the room. There, in front of us, lay our dead bodies, unmarked, unscathed—just like the dead man.
“W-We are ghosts,” said Andrew.