I used to believe in the ghost stories. When you’re a child, you lap up every word that drips from the lips of adults. It’s only when you’re a grown-up yourself that you realise that their words can be laced with deceit.
I guess that it was an easy way to explain the sounds in the night. As a kid, every creak and murmur materialises into a vivid, nightmarish being. I used to have a recurring dream about a cloaked, faceless man. He glided through the woods by my house, the slither of dry leaves preceding his fatal touch. We had to hide among the canopies of the trees to shield ourselves until the skitter of leaves had passed. When the noises of the night began, for me it was the faceless man slinking through the door, his long fingers silently hooking over the latch. I would burrow myself in the protection of my duvet, petrified of discovering what lurked in the shadows of that hood.
With age the dreams stopped, but the sounds continued. They told me stories to explain them away. The strangled cry of a woman was the tortured spirit of someone who had once lived here, Dad said. Her husband beat their son until his broken body stopped quivering. Her revenge was swift. She sharpened the kitchen knife on the wood block, and plunged it straight through him. Once her husband’s body lay discarded in the garden, she lay down beside her son, whispering stories to him while the blood silently slipped from her wrists.
That story came with its own nightmares.
Mum tried to relieve my terror with the more playful tale of the squabbling souls. They were brothers who had never ceased to bicker while they were living, she said. The devil saw a tempting opportunity in their incessant disagreements. When they died, he chained them together on the chasm between this world and the next, binding them to an eternity of quarrels.
The other kids at school laughed when I relayed the story of the bickering brothers. Scorn twisted their features. “Ghosts!” they cackled mockingly. Desperate to prove the existence of the demons that frolicked through my home, I decided to chase the noises one night, armed with a camera.
That night, I peeled myself from the safety of my duvet, and followed the moans from which I normally fled. The sounds were drifting down the corridor, the echoes eerily calling to each other. I traced them down to the basement, hearing the lamentations swell louder with each timorous movement forwards. My sweating hand found its way to the handle of the basement door. I gripped it tightly for a moment, then turned it slowly, the bullies’ derisive snorts steeling me.
The darkness smacked me with a pungent wave. The stench of human waste. No monsters. A dozen pairs of haunted eyes glimmered dully up to me from the darkness. The sodden gaze of a crying child. The submission of a beaten woman. The resentment of a bitter man.
After the smell, there came a second wave of pain and grief. When that second wave broke over me, I ran.
Cowardice powered my limbs as I scrambled up the stairs, banging my shins and knees in my pathetic flee. I flung myself back along the corridor. Once my door was safely closed behind me, I drew myself back under the sanctuary of my duvet. Whimpering beneath this newly shattered shelter, I desperately recalled each ghost story. I tried to imprint them on my mind. Paint them over the memories. Anything to obliterate the real horrors that haunted this house.
– Katrina Bennett
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