Author: G. Jefferies
An Absent Child Revisited is the sequel to The Room That Swallows People, a piece written some time ago. This version is the full version of An Absent Child that was put up two months ago. I decided to give the fuller tale here detailing the room itself with the intention of putting up other pieces of this series later.
MarshBank House was a quintessential Victorian residence, comprising five downstairs rooms symmetrically arranged around a grand central staircase of dark oak. Half wall panelling carried this theme into two side rooms, one a library lined with aged tomes bound mostly in leather, and the other a music room, equipped with a grand piano angled in one corner. The hall between both was considerable and floored with a mosaic tile. Opposite the base of the stairs was the entrance door. From outside it was framed in white marble, receiving a gravelled path that drew people in through the modest front garden that terminated in Derwent Street.
Behind the library, and connected to it, was a day room overlooking the gardens, and giving access to an orangery that ran the length of the external wall beyond both. To the right there was a dining room, located behind the stairs, and then a working kitchen lying behind the music room. Separate doors to either side of the stairs accessed the latter two. The kitchen also had access to a pantry and cellar.
It was the rear that gave rise to the name. There was just under an acre of landscaped gardens including an old stable block. All this overlooked wasteland that was mostly waterlogged swamp, and locally termed the Marshes.
Upstairs the floor plan was similar. A banister railed landing rolled off the stairs left and right and then back on itself leading to the front elevation. This left views of the stair case and entrance lobby resplendent in it’s opulence. Above the four main corner rooms on the ground-floor, were sizeable bedrooms, each with en suite bathrooms. The fifth bedroom was directly off the top of the stairs and, for the most part, always avoided. Not that anyone consciously realized this, but nevertheless no-one willingly chose to use it. At least not after Elisabeth Beechworth moved in.
She had known something was amiss on the day her husband, Albert, gave a tour of the newly acquired property. Things moved in her peripheral vision, but always ceased to exist when she turned to look directly. Then there was the smell, very faint and not always there. A scent that reminded her of lavender and something else that she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
“Why here Albert?”
“Because, my dear, it is a most splendid residence and it will be an excellent place to raise our child.”
Elisabeth could see the delight radiating from his face. It was soul destroying to see, but the truth would destroy him. She smiled back.
“In that case we shall make certain everything is ready for our new arrival.”
It was four weeks to the day that she became aware that she was avoiding one room in particular. Initially, it was just that, being at the very top of the staircase, it was not the ideal place to set up the main bedroom and nursery. This was settled to be the left wing with the right side being for guests. The room in the middle was therefore undisturbed and possibly become a study at some later date. However, as time wore on she noticed her path actually swerved away from the door whenever passing in front of it. On one day in particular this thought distilled almost audibly and Elisabeth paused. She put her ear to the door, half expecting to find she was being rather silly. Unfortunately for her things took a turn for the worse.
Come in Elisabeth, we have been expecting you.
It was only a whisper in her head, but bore vitriol and carried a venom that fuelled irresistible despair. It was also incredibly hypnotic, encouraging her hand to turn a polished brass door handle despite her subconscious screaming no. As she was forced to cross the threshold time slowed. Elisabeth noticed the room looked much older than everywhere else and it was cold, very cold. She shivered. It reminded her of the cellar, dark, dank and dingy. This room was unloved and desperately in need of renovation.
“Is there anybody in here?”
She asked the question knowing the room was empty, and that the voice had been in her mind. Idly, she wandered toward the window tracing finger tips through the dust gathered on an old dressing table. The view from the window took in the Marshes. It was as if the random planting of trees in the garden were not random at all when seen from this room.
They provided a deciduous corridor, taking the eye beyond the garden and across the wetlands to what looked like a folly. Distant and entombed in overgrowth, yet clearly visible from this room. Almost as if it was the only place destined to be able to see it. From the grounds, only an isolated copse existed far out in the Marshes. Rumour had it that ghosts collected there. Unwary wanderers drowned in the bogs and pools whose souls crawled from the waters drawn to the tiny island of dry land. Elisabeth had considered this to be tattle designed to keep children from wandering into the Marshes. Staring at it, as she was now, made her rather more uncertain.
Not a folly Elisabeth, an unconsecrated chapel…a tomb.
The voice in her mind caught her by surprise.
“Who are you?’
Someone that can solve all your problems.
That made her smile. If only things were that simple, she thought, turning away from the window and looking back into the room. The view turned from reflection into decay. On her right was a small bed covered in pink bedding that was overlaid in cobwebs and mould. The floor was wood, and whilst reasonably solid there were signs that age and neglect were beginning to eat into it. The corner space, left of the door, was home to a mildewed rocking horse, and on the floor next to it several clothes peg dolls. In places the wallpaper had yielded to damp, and unveiled the crumbling structure beneath.
As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, Elisabeth found it impossible to believe that behind the door nobody opened, no-one even knew this room existed. It was lost in time and filled with something not in keeping with the rest of the house. Walls to either side of this room showed no sign of what existed just beyond. They were warm, clean smelling and fresh. This was an impossibility, and yet here she was. Inside her heart was racing. The atmosphere was filled with something when she walked in. It was only now that she could touch it properly, and the accent was fear. Clearly it was a child’s room, but the residue was not of happiness, more neglect and terror. Questions formed in her mind. Who was she, what happened to her, why was this room keeping itself hidden and why had it called out now?
Elisabeth turned back to the window. With the sun at a slightly different angle she noticed something new. Clearly the trees were arranged to view the folly, or tomb as the now absent mind voice had corrected her, but there was also a trail leading through the Marshes. She blinked. It stood out so dramatically that it was astonishing she had not seen it before. Then again so did the very room she was in. Maybe it was connected.
Behind her a blood curdling child’s scream ripped her thoughts from the window and back into the room. In front of her a small transparent girl was backing towards the door. Spectral hands hovered in front of her face, her eyes wide and staring through Elisabeth towards the window. The girl began to turn rapidly towards the door, panicked words added to the disappearing echoes of screams,
“You’ve woken him, run…now.”
With that the girl disappeared clean through the closed door. Elisabeth stood for a moment shaking. The scream made her jump so badly that she feared she might topple through the window. Her stomach was cramping and she was hyperventilating. The sight of the terrified spectral girl made her mouth run dry. Her disappearance through the door almost caused a faint. At least until her instincts kicked in, which was, in part, due to the sudden drop in temperature.
Elisabeth ran out of the room after the child just in time to see her turn towards the kitchens at the bottom of the stairs. Behind her the door slammed shut, but Elisabeth was no longer paying it anymore attention.
“Wait,” she shouted, but the girl continued through the kitchen door.
By the time Elisabeth followed, the child’s shade had disappeared. Heart pounding and a little out of breath, she paused taking stock. It struck her immediately something had changed. Something else was now in the house, more specifically the room. Maybe it had always been there. The subliminal reason or higher conscious telling everyone to walk right on past the door. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, pretend it doesn’t exist. Out of sight out of mind, safer that way. That thought extracted another, cellar, she fled to the cellar.
Elisabeth opened the door leading to the descending steps. It was a large and dismal place with a similar feel to the room upstairs, though not filled with damp. Light trickled in through six small widows mounted high on the walls in front and to the left of where she now stood. A whitewashed stone table stood in the centre, laden with vegetables and assorted foodstuffs. Her heart was still beating loudly, and nerves were still on edge from the suddenness of events upstairs.
Curiosity overcame both. Reaching the table she lit a candle resting in a holder. Using it, Elisabeth began to walk slowly round the outside of the subterranean room, scrutinizing both ground and walls, sensing there was more here than cooks might uncover on their daily business. Shadows retreated with crooked edges under the flickering glow emitting from her taper, adding to the eerie unease pricking the back of her mind. Turning to the final corner she detected a faint glow leaking through crumbled mortar some two feet above the ground on, what looked like, part of a chimney stack built floor to ceiling.
Curious, she thought, there are no fire pits down here.
The sound of crying seeped through the brickwork, barely audible, but there nevertheless. Elisabeth drew closer, hardly daring to breathe. Gingerly, she pressed a trembling palm against the brickwork and put her left ear against the wall. The crying subsided into a whimper.
“Are you the girl from upstairs?” she ventured in a quiet motherly tone. Inside she was shaking.
A tiny voice replied “Yes, are you running too?”
“The thing in my room. It used to come at night, but you woke it up again.”
Elisabeth felt like something just walked over her grave. Ignoring the obvious question she continued,
“Why are you behind there child?”
The weeping began again and between gasping sobs the reply chilled Elisabeth causing hairs to rise on the back of her neck.
“They said I was a monster and put me in here to die.”
Swallowing nothing, Elisabeth shuddered, and a wave of empty horror rippled through her soul. They buried you alive. Trying to keep her voice steady she knelt down, still with her palm touching the tomb.
“Why on earth did they think that?”
The child’s voice spat venom.
“Because of him.”
The reply was cold as death.
“The one you just woke up.”
There was a sharp pain in her hand and Elisabeth quickly pulled it away. Blood was trickling from the centre of her palm from two tiny marks.
Inside the brickwork, something very un-childlike began laughing.
Chronologically, this is part of the houses history prior to chapter one, known better as The Room That Swallows People. Some of this was written as back story to other events in other works. I’m, therefore, not claiming it to be anything other than that at this stage. I may collect the series into a novel at some point, so significant changes will inevitably occur then.
If you are interested in more, then say yeah or nay in the comments. Feedback is always welcome and, if you read the earlier shorter extract, my apologies. This was just to comply with requests for the rest of it, and to, maybe, serialise the rest of this tale.
© G Jefferies and Fictionisfood, 2016. All rights reserved.