The Gatehouse Bet
P. S. Gifford
Copyright 2005 by P. S. Gifford
I have had many odd experiences in my life. Perhaps I allow myself to encounter them, as I have always been fascinated by the darker side. Or perhaps as I believe in them so much my sense of reality is manipulated by my desire to experience them. Whatever your beliefs the following is a true account. This memory would have taken place in 1977; it was the hottest summer that I can remember….
I always held a fascination with one particular old house, which was just a few hundred yards from ours. It was now once more abandoned, with yet another family deciding that there was something amiss with it. This family held the record-They lived there for three months before moving on. Now unfortunately the vandals had moved on in; windows had been broken and graffiti had been written all over the walls. I was deeply saddened by this as to me this house held a mystique and a haunting beauty. I had been inside it many, many times during the daytime delighting in its architecture, yet even in daylight I could sense a feeling of foreboding…
I was an avid reader, just as I have continued to be, and one of my favorite places was the local library. I was determined to uncover the strange past that I was certain that the house possessed so I asked Mrs. Brown, the bespectacled kind hearted librarian for help. She smiled at me obviously engaged by my young enthusiasm and took me too the archive room.( This was before the golden age of computers and search engines when all research had to be done the old fashioned way.) As we filed through old newspapers she suddenly gasped excited, as in her hand was a newspaper article from September 1952 with an article about the house. She read the article aloud to me and we discovered that there had been a quite a stir. A young couple had purchased the house, and shortly after moving in began experiencing all sorts of strange phenomena so they promptly put the house bck onto the market and moved away. However that was not the most interesting part of the article as it delved further into the house’s history. We learned it concealed a dark shocking secret. The article went on to explain that in 1842 a gruesome act had occurred within its very walls. The house was built as a gate house to a majestic manor house. This property was the grandest for fifty miles and the grounds of the property were lush and vast. My house had been built by the main gate, to house a gatekeeper and his family, it was his job to open and close the gate as horses and carriages approached. Apparently the gate keeper was an alcoholic and when he was drunk he became bitter and mean. The newspaper went on to explain that legend has it that on one particularly fateful night he had gotten into a horrible fight with his wife and had bludgeoned her to death. In the morning he awoke to discover blood everywhere! and his wife’s battered dead body, and hung himself.
After I left the library my fascination with the house had only heightened. I went to see my good friend Mark and shared with him all the macabre facts that I had just learned.
He simply smiled, nodded and looked me straight into my eyes and whispered.
“I bet you would not dare to spend the entire night there.”
I have to admit the notion both terrified and fascinated me but with the naivety and gusto of a twelve year old, I spat on my palms and Mark did likewise and we shook.
So there it was.
We had decided that Friday night would be the best. The plan was that Mark was going to leave me there at midnight and come back and get me in the morning.
I went to Mark’s house and he was eagerly waiting for me outside. I had with me a back pack conatining two flashlights, a packet of mints and a good book. It was a warm balmy overcast night and the moon shone hauntingly in the sky and I was beginning to have second thoughts about my decision. Still a bet was a bet, and I was afraid of many things but ghosts weren’t one of them. Or so I had thought…
Ten minutes later we arrived at the house which as I had mentioned in day light its eeriness excited and captured my imagination. However on a dark damp night, as I examined it with the straining light form my torch it took on a whole new look. What also added to the terrifying affect is that the house backs onto a wood, and animals seemed to be cackling and hooting as if somehow attempting to warn me.
Mark shook my hand with a firmness as if he believed it might be the last time he was ever going to see me. I slowly opened the front door and I have to admit I was petrified. I hesitated and finally took a deep breath and entered and slowly flashed my light about.
“See you in the morning!” Mark said nervously still outside the door and added in a hushed voice“are you sure you want to go through with this?”
I wasn’t sure in the least, but I remember myself nodding, and then he raced off into the darkness, for the safety and comfort of his bed.
I was alone…Or so I hoped.
I decided that the first thing I needed to do was to inspect the house fully It opened into a suiting room the room I planned to spend the night it was closest to the door. I carefully and slowly walked to the back of the room beyond an old brick fireplace and on into the first of the two bedrooms. The floorboards creaked and moaned at each step and echoed off the bare walls.
I suddenly felt something against my foot, and reflexively kicked it in panic as I shone my torch. Then I watched relieved as an empty beer bottle sped against the room and crashed against the fireplace. I tried to contain the jitters I was now feeling, I took several slow deep long breaths and when my hands finally stopped shaking I continued on and opened the bedroom door. Although the house was warm still from the hot summer day this room contained a chill and as I peered in to the cracked ceilings and tattered walls the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I decided that I did not want to venture any further into it.
Several feet further down was the door to the second bedroom, and I cautiously peered in this one as well. In the middle of the room was a broken crib, and I as I examined the peeling pink wallpaper I could have just imagined a baby girl sleeping tenderly and peacefully in here.
It was then I saw it-something fluttering in the corner of my eye and as I flashed my torch I heard a high pitched petrifying squeal. My heart jumped and I impulsively cried out and then I realized that it was no more than a frightened crow. I flashed my light up to the ceiling and saw that the rafters to it had collapsed, and that I could see straight up into the attic. The bird must have nested up there and as I contained my frazzled nerves I once more smiled at my jumpiness.
The bathroom was my next room that I needed to secure and I slowly made my way fighting back the fear which was once more gnawing away at my reason. This door was the only one that was closed and as I opened it I was sure that something gruesome was going to pounce on me. Using every ounce of courage that I could muster I slowly turned the handle with a shaking hand and gradually eased the door open…As I shone my flashlight its beam reflected of the mirror, and just for a moment I thought that someone was shining a light at me…The stench of the room and broken plumbing hit my nostrils, and satisfied that this room too was empty I hastily closed the door.
The last room was the kitchen and regaining my young composure. Just like the rest of the house, it been gutted and vandalized, and I felt as if the house was somehow saddened by this. I looked at the cracked tiles and demolished kitchen appliances and shook my head in disgust at how it had been ripped apart simply for the fun of it. The room however also was empty, and now I was finally satisfied that I was indeed alone.
I returned to the corner in the sitting room –by the front door -and sat down on the floor. I pulled out my book and tried to get my eyes to focus on the words, yet I could not make them stay on the page, they kept insisting at looking about the room .I looked at my watch-It was a little after one in the morning and apart from the occasional animal sound or a late night driver speeding by the night was deadly silent. I wished that I had brought along a radio. As I sat there I must have finally gotten tired and started to doze as the next thing I remember there were strange sounds. As I started to awake I could not recall where I was at first. Then I quickly opened my eyes and sat up straight as I remembered. How could I have possibly have fallen asleep in a place like that? My arm ached from where I had fallen asleep on it, against the cold floor. I yawned, stretched and once more ooked at my watch. It was now half past three and I suddenly comprehended that someone or something must have awoken me from my sleep. I nervously clasped my torch and aimed it into the shadows.
I will never know precisely what I really saw. Maybe it was simply a tramp sheltering for the night. Or possibly it was my imagination playing tricks in my young mind and there was never anything there at all. Or perhaps, just perhaps that was the actual face of a ghost looming back at me. I did not wait to see; I quickly grabbed my bag and darted out into the night. I ran for several minutes as I tried to regain my composure. Surely the face that had been grimacing back at me had a rational answer. The truth is I will never know and even to this day that image haunts my nightmares…
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