Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Ghosts of Durley Hall by Jeff Jones

“Why couldn’t we all go for a nice meal like normal people do to celebrate their birthday? I mean, who throws a séance at a supposedly haunted house for a birthday treat? No wonder she hasn’t got many friends.”

“Firstly, Peter, Kate is normal, so don’t ever say that again. So she’s a little ‘out there’, so what? You know she’s always been into this paranormal stuff. It’s our job as her friends to support her in however she chooses to celebrate her birthday,” admonished Susan.

“And why couldn’t we have carried out this farce in town?”

“Because you don’t tend to get many haunted mansions in the town centre.”

“Waste of time, that’s what it is.”

“Give it a rest, Pete. Look, we’re here now.”

Susan stopped the car at the bottom of a long straight driveway. The rusty iron gates were open and a weathered sign saying ‘Welcome to Durley Hall’ hung above the entrance. The mansion was just about visible at the end of the tree lined drive, but no lights appeared to be on.

“Well it certainly looks the part,” said Lisa.

“It’s just a dark and neglected building, nothing more,” scoffed Peter.

The car crunched its way up the shingle drive and pulled up outside the mansion next to two other cars.

“Looks like we’re last,” said Steve.

The four friends hurried into the building through the already open front door, shaking the rain off their coats as they entered.

“Hi, guys, thanks so much for coming. I’m so excited. I’ve not met her before, but the medium I’ve hired is meant to be superb,” said Kate as she hugged each of her friends.

“Honestly, Kate, when you said bring your own spirits, I didn’t think you had this sort of party in mind,” quipped Peter. Everyone laughed.

“Come through all of you, everyone’s here now, we can get started,” said Kate.

They followed Kate into another room where they were greeted by three more friends. The room was small and smelled musty. Here and there old, discoloured wallpaper clung tentatively to the damp walls. The room’s solitary window was shuttered and the only light in the room emanated from three candles sat on a large, round, felt-covered table in the centre of the room. Only one of the seats was occupied and this was by a large woman in drab-coloured clothes, who seemed to be watching the friends with a bemused look. Her grey hair was flattened and pulled back into a tight bun giving her a stern countenance.

“Everyone, this is Edna Lucas. She is one of the most famous mediums in the country,” announced Kate proudly. “Please all take a seat.”

“Looks more like an extra-large to me,” Peter whispered to Steve.

Steve had to suppress a laugh, but Susan, who had also heard it, gave Peter an embarrassed dig in the ribs. The medium glanced at Peter, but if she was offended, her face didn’t betray the fact.

“Welcome everyone,” said Edna. “I know that some of you are sceptical about what we hope to achieve here tonight, but if we are to do this, I must insist that you all do exactly as I say. Are you all in agreement?”

Everyone voiced or nodded their agreement. Peter just raised his eyes to the ceiling. When he looked at Edna again, she was staring at him, a smirk tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“Good, then let us begin. Who are we trying to contact tonight; a loved one?” asked Edna.

“I... we'd... like to contact the original occupants of this house, the Durleys. It is said they died in a fire here some years ago. People say that the Durleys have never left here such was their love for the place,” said Kate enthusiastically.

“I have heard this too. Very well, please all join hands and close your eyes and I will try and summon their spirits forth.”

“Not a ghost of a chance,” whispered Peter.

Susan kicked him under the table before shutting her eyes. Peter rubbed his injured leg and saw that Edna was smirking at him again.

“You must remain silent,” said Edna.

Peter joined hands with Susan and Steve and closed his eyes while Edna began to chant. After a couple of minutes, Edna gasped and slumped forward in her chair. Everyone had opened their eyes by now and some were looking at Edna with real concern. Peter was smiling and shaking his head at the performance.

Suddenly Edna shot bolt upright and they all saw that her eyes had taken on a vacant, distant look. “Someone’s here,” she whispered.

“I hope it’s the pizza guy,” muttered Peter.

Some of the friends started to nervously glance around the room. Peter continued to watch Edna. Kate was smiling, enjoying every minute.

“Who are you?” asked Edna. “Make yourself known to us.”

There was no reply, but a sudden blast of cold air shot through the room, causing the candles to flicker and the friends to gasp involuntarily.

“Who are you?”

The unmistakable sound of someone’s footsteps walking across floorboards in the room directly above them broke the eerie silence. Two or three of the guests suddenly looked very anxious and pale, a look that was enhanced by the guttering candlelight. To Peter it was obvious that this fraud of a woman had an accomplice stomping around upstairs and he considered putting an end to this charade by running upstairs and grabbing the perpetrator. Then he thought about Kate and one look at her face told him that she was loving the whole experience and he suddenly didn’t have the heart to spoil her evening; after all, she had paid for this.

The sound of a door being slammed upstairs followed by heavy footsteps as they descended the stairs, drew Peter from his thoughts. Rachel let out a small cry and Peter felt Susan grasp his hand that much tighter. Whoever this accomplice was, they were obviously confident that nobody was going to get up and challenge them and would remain seated as instructed by Edna.

Behind him, Peter heard the door to their room slowly open, accompanied by the obligatory squeal of rusty hinges and he smiled to himself at the cliché. Rachel, who was sat opposite him facing the door, screamed and made to get up, but Edna forcefully told her to remain seated.

By the time everyone had turned to face the door it was wide open, but nobody had entered, nor could anyone be seen in the hallway beyond. Then, without anybody touching it, the door slammed shut again, making Susan jump. Her hand was really crushing Peter’s fingers now.

“Who are you?” Edna demanded.

For a moment nothing happened and then the table started to shake violently. A nice trick, thought Peter, and he was still thinking that when his chair was suddenly tipped halfway back and held there for a few moments. Shocked and confused, Peter swore he could hear rasping breaths behind him and detect the faint aroma of burning.

His friends were staring open-mouthed at the way his chair was precariously balanced on two legs, when suddenly it righted itself causing Peter to tip forward and nearly hit his head on the table. The door was open again.

Peter swallowed hard and looked at the people around him, his confidence in the fraud wavering. Even Kate looked worried. Only Edna looked unperturbed. Peter was about to say something when they heard the front door open and shut.

Despite Edna’s plea for everyone to remain seated, they all leapt up to investigate, some entering the hallway whilst others stood in the room’s doorway. Standing in the hall shaking the rain from her umbrella, was a woman in her early sixties with grey hair and a friendly face. She looked shocked to see them all staring at her.

“Hello,” she said. “You all look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

Nobody laughed.

“Sorry, bad jokes are a by-product of the vocation.”

“Sorry, who are you?” asked Kate, annoyed at the intrusion.

“Why I’m Edna, of course, Edna Lucas, the medium. I’m sorry that I’m late, but my wretched car broke down – wish I could have foreseen that.” She smiled at her own joke.

“There must be some mistake, Edna’s in...”

They all turned to look at the woman sat at the table, but the room was empty.

Mary Durley and her husband watched from an upstairs bedroom as the eight young people sped off in their cars, closely followed by the real Edna Lucas.

“That was fun, Charlie.”

“I know, I never tire of it, particularly when there’s a sceptic. Did you see his face? Priceless. We could have had so much more fun if that medium hadn’t shown up.”

“This is our house and always will be,” said Mary. She kissed her husband and hand in hand they disappeared through the bedroom wall.

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