I don’t believe in ghosts. Yet there are some things that are hard to explain.
When I was nine years old I used to play with a friend of mine who was the same age. We were wild and free and up to all mischief. No tree was safe from our attentions, no stream or pond out of bounds. We’d play tennis and roller-skate in the streets, build dens, tree houses, rafts and go off on our bikes all over town. Our parents never knew what we were up to.
That was the fun of it. We were free. And at nine years of age so grown up that we could handle anything – or could we?
One of the places we’d visit often was a big old deserted manor house. It had a big brick wall around it and great iron gates. The grounds were massive and overgrown. We hide our bikes in the long grass and shin over that wall as if it wasn’t there.
That manor house was massive with hundreds of voluminous echoey rooms, long corridors, big fireplaces, cupboards and great wooden shutters on all the windows. The front door was always open and we’d just go in. We’d run about on the old wooden floors and skid around the long corridors. We’d play hide-and-seek. It was great because all the sound was amplified and bounced back at you. Our voices and laughter boomed around and we’d thunder around the place. It was great fun. Though hide and seek was difficult though. You could always tell where someone was hiding because all the floorboards creaked. It was impossible to go anywhere without being heard.
We knew that we weren’t allowed in the place and we’d get really told off if we were caught but that made it more exciting. And besides, nobody ever came here. It had been empty for years.
It must have been very grand in its day. I remember the downstairs had huge rooms with high decorated ceiling, embellished cornices and pelmets. When you went in through the front door there was a massive staircase that swept round like something out of ‘Gone with the Wind’. We’d charge up and down in like lunatics and try sliding down the curved bannister rail and always fell off.
We’d go upstairs where there was a long corridor with many rooms coming off it. All of the rooms had big cupboards to hide in and were dingy because of the wooden shutters on the dirty windows with their cobwebs and trapped butterflies. That was fun to explore and poke about.
One day we were upstairs in the farthest room when we heard the front door open. We looked at each other with a bolt of fear shooting through us. We knew we’d been making a racket. Somebody had probably heard us and we were for it. We were in trouble. We crept to the big cupboard and stood inside, pulling the door shut so there was just a crack of light and tried our hardest not to move because that made the floorboards creak. But we were good at that. We’d had practice.
We heard footsteps going around downstairs and imagined some man looking round for us, then those heavy footsteps came slowly up the stairs. We stood as still as we could and tried not to breathe. It was dark in the cupboard and we were straining our ears. Every sound was magnified.
We heard the footsteps coming clumping down the corridor. They sounded loud and heavy like some big adult. They weren’t checking all the other rooms but were coming straight for ours. They must have known where we were. They had heard us. All the boards creaked. Those footsteps boomed and sent minor earthquakes through the building before stopping at the doorway to our room.
We held our breath. We could imagine this big man standing there in the doorway listening intently for the slightest sound to find where we were. Our hearts were racing so fast and loud that we were both sure that he would hear it from where he was. The blood was pounding in our ears. Our breath was ragged and impossible to quiet. The tension was unbearable.
There was no sound from out there. Whoever it was standing there in the doorway they were as still as a statue. Not a board creaked. We both could imagine him frozen in the entrance to our room listening intently for the slightest sound that would betray our hiding place.
We hoped and hoped that those footsteps would retreat down that long corridor, that he’d give up and go away. But they didn’t. We stood in the dark for ages.
The fear was too much. At last we could stand it no longer and together we opened the cupboard to give ourselves up.
But there was no one there.
We rushed out, through the empty corridor, down the stairs, out the door, across the grounds, over the wall to grab our bikes and raced away as fast as we could.
We never went back.