Thursday, 3 January 2008
The Old House
If you are a guest in an old house it doesn’t pay to be too fanciful. I’m very sceptical about the supernatural but sometimes strange things do happen. I’ve just spent New Year with friends in their little house. The house is the type that squats low in a wide open landscape. Built around 1720, its little pointed windows gaze out onto flat and wintry fields. It is a house that has sheltered many lives.
On the first night I woke up at 3 am to the smell of onions being fried with meat. Curiously, enquiries the next day showed no one had been in the kitchen at that time. I took it to be an unusually vivid dream, put it to the back of my mind and enjoyed the New Year’s party without another thought.
The following morning arrived damp and grey. Outside a thick fog pervaded everything; inside the kitchen was welcoming and warm. Time passes quickly in friendly company but in the spare early twilight of a New Year’s afternoon the sitting room led me on to think of its past history. What hopes and fears, sickness and suffering had those rural walls seen over the years?
Later, sitting by the fire, the evening was jolly enough. Cheerful company, wine and good food soon dispels any lingering ghostly spirit, but as the fire in the ingle nook died down the atmosphere in the room chilled.
I was back to thinking about the miseries faced by the rural poor in the 18th C, when a large white moth fluttered against the outside of the small window.
It struggled towards the warmth and light several times before disappearing into the night.
The sight of the creature brought me back from my reverie and my friend remarked that a moth visited every night, no matter the weather or time of year. She followed on with,
“I hope it’s no-one I know.”
I laughed with her, but inside my heart lurched. What if I’d conjured up an unquiet spirit by my musings?
Later, cosily tucked up in my bedroom under the eaves, as the clock struck 3am, I realised a trip downstairs to the bathroom was needed. Reluctantly I left my warm bed and crept down the creaking staircase.
The light was still burning in the little arched window in the front room, though the fire was just a pile of cooling ash.
All was deathly quiet and still. Trying not to think about spooky moths I crept across the floor. I was almost safely to the other side of the room, with my hand already feeling for the reassuring door latch, when I heard an unearthly, wheezing,
“Heh, Heh, Heh!”
With a lurching heart I shot out of the room, across the hall and into the safety of the bathroom.
On returning, heart still hammering in my chest, I rested a nervous hand on the back of the sofa, summoning my courage to creep back across the floor. At once the demonic sound happened again, and then again.
I had been frightened out of my wits by an elderly piece of furniture with a wonky leg and creaking spring. As the floor flexed under my weight, the sofa moved and I could summon the noise at will.
Safely back upstairs, trying to snuggle under a cooling duvet and attempting to get back to sleep, I swear I heard the old house creaking with laughter all around me.
The photo is of a Death's Head hawk-moth, a very rare visitor to the U.K.