The House on the Hill was built in the high Victorian era by a banker, Bartholomew Maurice to fit current fashions with tall windows and ceilings, a parlour to receive visitors, a dining room, a huge kitchen and play rooms for the children of the family who numbered eight. It was filled with expensive furniture decorated by elaborate lace and, in the spring of its life was full of bustle and activity, laughter and joy.
Bartholomew always impressed on his children that he, a self made man having built the house from the sweat of his brow, wanted it to remain in his family’s hands for ever. The old man died in 1913. Two of his children had died in childhood and in 1914 war called the four youngest brothers away. None returned from Paschendale and the Somme. The one sister, Ethel married and emigrated so that in 1920 there was only one son left: William. William had been 40 in 1913 when he sat at his father’s bedside watching him die. His father had impressed on him that, as the oldest son, he must make sure the house remained with the family. “Our blood should watch over it through the years,” he had said. William himself was of nondescript appearance, most folk considering him rather dull. He had never left the House on the Hill apart from briefly to attend a university and learn the law. Returning at the age of 23, he joined a local partnership in the town and settled back to live in the House. If he ever had female friends his family were not aware of it and, despite the attempts of his sister and brothers to find him a wife, he never married. After the war, with his brothers dead and his sister gone to the Antipodes, there was no one left to try. William kept up some contact with his sister until, in 1925, he heard the news that she had died of a fever and that he was now alone.
William was active in various institutions who had rituals and ceremonies they kept secret from the world. He was never interested in the aims of the organisations only the rituals. However he soon found them not arcane or obscure enough for him. So, searching the British Library and gaining access to the books of private collectors, William delved deeply into the rituals of the obscure and mystical past, the most secret of sorceries and particularly Astral projection and the journeys of the soul. Gradually through these and other sources he found the arcane knowledge he needed.
Now, retreating to The House to continue his research, he gathered the items he required. His postmen would tut at the deliveries to the House on the Hill which included pedestals, archaic clocks, ancient scales and ritual knives. William had been regarded as respectable but gradually rumours spread about the books he was reading, the company he kept and the items he collected. Tongues wagged about the dark secrets at the House and the diabolical and unspeakable goings on beneath it. The worthies of the town would have been horrified to find out that they were mostly correct in all they suspected.
William retired from his employment on August the 1st 1939 aged 65. In the last week he wrote out a deed regarding the House and then received visitors from the government who signed the document and left. His office held a brief retirement party for him. No one really knew him even after 42 years in the practice and all were relieved when he quietly thanked them, took the pocket watch gift and shuffled out of the door.
Alone, he walked home up the hill. He then spent an hour in the grounds. Thirty years before, these meadows and woods had hosted parties. Lanterns hanging from the trees lit the proceedings. William stood lost in thought for a while before walking to the house and locking the door behind him. Reaching the cellar door he walked down a few steps before turning and slamming it shut.
August the 1st 1939 was the last that anyone saw of William. The next day a van arrived with work men and a civil servant. The work men erected a circular fence 8 feet tall surrounding the house and then left. A month later the Second World War began. The fields became home to barracks for an army depot. Every man knew that the house was strictly off limits.
After the war the land lay derelict for thirty years until it was cleared and an estate built to house population from the expanding town. The builders tried to knock the fence down and bulldoze the house but found they could not get planning permission. The planning committee sited ‘special regulations’ and refused to talk further about it.
The estate was built, the families moved in and the years passed. The House on the Hill was shunned, avoided and feared. Stories were gathering about it being haunted and that anyone who entered would be cursed.
Local children would dare each other to enter. Every year a group of them would get up the courage and pull one of the now rotting planks away and squeeze through. Making their way through the trees they came at last to gaze upon the bleak sight. The windows stared back at them, lifeless and dark; and yet each child would feel they were being watched. Each of them felt that they were not wanted and dreadful things would happen if they came closer. No one ever did.
Until one day.
Her name was Anne-Marie Collins. She was nine and had been born in the town although her parents had moved in to the area. Her father had come from overseas looking to work in England and met and married a Londoner. He was a programmer and found work on the industrial estate for a software designer. Anne-Marie went to the local comp. Jenny and Tony lived in the same street and were in her class at school, so most days they hung out together. It was Jenny that brought up the House on the Hill. Anne-Marie had not been interested at first.
“betcha you don’t dare go in that house.” Jenny had said in a challenging voice.
“why’ed we wanna go in a dirty old house like that eh?” said Anne-Marie
“You chicken?” Tony joined in now.
“No. Just don’t fancy it that’s all.”
“Told you she’s chicken,” Jenny teased.
“I aint chicken!” Anne-Marie shouted, pushing Jenny back so she landed on the ground and then staring defiantly at both of them for a moment said, “come on then. Let’s go. Unless it’s you two that are chicken!”
Above them the sun was still high in a clear sky. It was a warm August day and it seemed foolish to them all to be afraid of anything, so the three of them walked up the hill towards the fence. There were several gaps in it by now and choosing one they squeezed through. The small strip of land between the fence and the house was full of trees, branches heavy with the leaves of high summer, and surrounded by dense under growth that snagged and pulled at them as they waded through it. Flies and bugs bothered them about their heads and buzzed insistently at their ears, eyes and nostrils. But they emerged at last in front of the House.
There it stood bearing down on them in grim silence. Some slates had fallen of the roof and one window was broken where a bold predecessor had ventured to throw a stone at it, but it was otherwise intact. Anne-Marie stepped up to the front door but the other two held back. She turned to look at them a slight sneer curling her lips.
“What’s up. You bottling it now?”
“Don’t you feel like someone is watching you?” Jenny asked. Tony nodded vehemently next to her.
Anne-Marie glanced back towards the house and then at her friends.
“It’s just an old house. No one has lived here for years. Come on let’s have a look,” she answered and tried the door handle. The door was locked.
“There you go: locked. Let’s leave it.” Tony said in relief.
But Anne-Marie would not leave it. She had not been bothered before but when she saw the house and now she had touched it she felt a need to know more about it. She glanced at the window that was broken. Yes! She could see the catch and reaching down carefully pulled at it. It was stiff but came up after a moment and the window swung open with a slight creak. They all froze at that but no one came to investigate. Even so Tony had had enough.
“Come on Annie we ain’t going inside.”
“You might not be but I am! Give me a leg up.” she said and with their help heaved herself up over the ledge and tumbled down into the room. It was dark inside and as her eyes adjusted she reached out to pull herself up. He fingers touched something cold that felt like bone. There was echoing wheezing ‘ting’ sound and terrified she recoiled her hand away in horror. Outside Jenny screamed and Tony whispered, “What is it?”
Then Annie-Marie laughed. She could now see it was a piano, its ivory keys dimly reflecting the sunlight. Gradually the rest of the room revealed itself with chairs and small tables: a lounge of some kind. Dusting herself down, and waving at her friends to show she was alright, she moved towards the door.
Out in the hallway she quickly found the doors to the kitchen, dining room, a library and children’s play room complete with rusty toy soldiers, an ancient rocking horse and a teddy bear lying face down abandoned thus perhaps ninety years before. She glanced at the stairs but it was another door to one side of the stairs that drew her attention. Opening it she felt a rush of air pass her as if this door had been shut a very long time. Beyond the door, stairs descended into darkness. The air smelt stale and dank.
Part of her mind was now telling her not to descend. What on earth was getting into her? Just turn around and get out. You have come further than Jenny and Tony. Plenty to brag about, plenty of stories to make up. But another part of her was telling her to go on. The real story lay down these stairs. So she went on down into the darkness.
The stairs turned at right angles and she saw now that light was coming in from a grill in the ground above, and illuminating a cellar. The cellar was lined with bookshelves to the left and right, whilst ahead of her was a long table. On the table were candlesticks festooned with beads of wax from burnt out candles and many photographs in ornate silver frames. Age worn black and white photographs with people dressed in old fashioned clothing: men in suits and ties and ladies in bonnets, the children as formally dressed as the adults. One of the photos caught her attention. It was a young woman perhaps in her late teens standing arms clasped in front of her. Anne-Marie had a strong feeling of recognition. She had seen that face before.
Suddenly she felt that she was being watched. Something was behind her and not far away. The feeling passed down her spine like ice and her skin prickled. Terrified to turn round but knowing she must, she slowly turned her head and let out a scream of terror.
To the one side of the stairs was an arm chair: She must have passed it just now without seeing it. Sitting in the chair, glaring at her with dark lifeless eyes like bottomless pools, was a corpse. It was almost a skeleton but still had some hint of flesh and dry crumbling hair and was clothed in a suit itself rotten and mildewed. Its right hand was stretched out to touch a crystal sphere that reminded Anne-Marie of a fortune teller’s ball.
She did not know why she did it but she walked closer to the body and, fingers trembling, reached out to touch the crystal. Suddenly the corpse in front of her was gone and an old man was sitting in the chair looking at her. Something like a very distant memory stirred in her mind. She knew who this was.
“Why have you come here, child? None should come here whilst my blood watches over the House,” the man asked.
“I thought I was coming for a joke, but then I felt that I was meant to come...that some how I belonged here. Now I know why, great uncle William.”
There was silence for a long time.
“It cannot be. Only I was left, only my blood could watch the house.”
Anne Marie turned and pointed at the photograph of the lady she had seen earlier.
“What about her blood?”
“That is my dear sister Ethel. I loved her but she died without child five and seventy years ago.”
“No, she did not. I remember now where I saw her before. It’s in an old family photo. She is my great grandmother. She died from a fever after she gave birth to my grandfather.”
William studied her for a long time then for the first time in five and seventy years smiled.
“Then, our blood can watch over this house again. At last I can rest.”
When Anne-Marie’s father arrived and came rushing down the stairs in panic he saw Anne-Marie quietly looking at the old photo. William’s skeleton was sitting peacefully, his arms clasped in his lap. On top of them lay a deed.
The papers made a great fuss about it and the local council held enquiries but in the end the terms of the deed were validated. The land round the House on the Hill had been granted to the government for their use in perpetuity providing the House itself was left un-touched within a defined boundary. The only condition which would invalidate the deed was if an heir to the House was found. In that case the grounds reverted to the heir. In the end an accommodation was reached. Anne-Marie’s family moved into the House and were paid rent for the rest. The rent went to pay for a small park next to the house the “Maurice Memorial Park”.
In the years following Anne-Marie grew up, married and had children. Something inherited from Bartholomew echoed down from the past and each year she gave the park and her house over to the most spectacular parties. Maybe the spirits of Bartholomew and William smiled for the parties that the family held there were once again the talk of the town.