A place for horror or darker stories, mostly written for 'Screams!!!'
| The Bargain
Perhaps I should have been more suspicious, or at least wary, when I came across the house. I'd been searching for months without finding one single place within my budget before I came across Hillcroft House.
I mean it was going to take some doing up but it had four bedrooms upstairs, a truly spacious lounge and kitchen, and also something that I'd never come across before - a room dedicated to the sole purpose of dining. Being on my own I knew the place was way too big for my needs, but then again, maybe one day I'd have my very own family filling up the rooms. Besides, I'd spent enough years living in cramped apartments; the idea of space was too seductive to turn my back on.
In spite of the low price I heard my father's voice from the past. 'Always make an offer. Most people will be happy to take it.' And so I had, even though I felt it was ludicrously low. Alarm bell should have rang when it was accepted straight away.
Once I owned it I had a better look. There was nothing to stop me moving in, for most of the repairs the building needed were superficial rather than structural. I packed up my belongings and drove to Hillcroft House, and it didn't take long for me to move my stuff inside.
I was relieved, to be honest, that so much furniture had been left there. So it wasn't the best and some of it looked a bit shabby, but without it the place would have been almost empty. I'd replace it bit by bit, whenever something came up that I liked and that I could afford.
I remember so clearly how it felt to have the pick of the bedrooms. One looked like it had once been a nursery as it had a crib inside it; two others looked like they had never been used, and then there was the master bedroom. I didn't like the idea of using that, to be honest, and I'd noticed one of the others had a bed inside underneath a pile of stuff. I'd clear that off and make that one my room, while the previous master bedroom would become a studio.
My Gran used to tell me that if something seemed too good to be true then it probably was. Maybe I should have listened more to her advice, but she used to come out with all these sayings and if I'd paid attention to all of them then I would never have done anything.
Moving is tiring. No, that's an understatement; it's exhausting. I was too wrecked to even bother with anything more than a sandwich and a cup of coffee. Not even the caffeine could keep me away from the bed, and I gave in and had an early night.
Wearily I shoved everything from on top of the mattress. I'd sort through it the following day, I'd promised myself as I dropped down my own pillow and wrapped myself up in the quilt that I had brought from my apartment. Within minutes of my head touching the pillow I was asleep.
It was dark when I woke up, much darker than I was used to after living in a town. The only light came from the slither of moon in the sky. What had woken me? A noise... some sort of noise that shouldn't have been in the house with me.
I lay still and concentrated, straining my ears for any sound at all. There was nothing other than my own breathing, my own heartbeat. My eyes began to close and then suddenly I found myself sitting bolt upright.
There was a crying sound, like a baby.
My first thought was that I had gone to bed with the television on, but that couldn't be it. I'd been so shattered I'd not even turned one on. I had no near neighbors, so the only thing I could think of was that there was a car outside and that the crying was coming from that.
Reluctantly I forced myself to get out of my bed and walk to the window. Even though it was dark I could see that there was only my own car parked outside. Something was very wrong.
I tiptoed to the bedroom door, pressed my ear against it. Nothing; but then the crying had stopped. It had to have been a dream, although why I would have dreamed of a baby I had no idea. It had taken me a while to go back to sleep, but eventually my exhaustion pulled me under.
In the morning I'd told myself that the whole episode had been a dream. I had not woken up and there had definitely been no crying baby. It must have been some kind of animal for I was not used to the sounds of wildlife and there was bound to be plenty around, especially as the garden had become overgrown and neglected.
It was not until much later that I entered what I'd presumed to be a nursery, my arms laden with bits and pieces that I thought might come in handy one day. What I saw made me drop everything, for there, inside the cot, were a pair of baby shoes.
They hadn't been there before. No matter how much I'd tried to convince myself that I'd just not noticed them, I knew without a doubt that those tiny shoes had not been inside the cot when I arrived. My skin prickling, I backed out of the room, ran down the stairs.
The obvious answer was that I had missed them. Either that or I was going crazy, but I couldn't convince myself that either was the case. I paced around the kitchen for a while, not knowing quite what to do, before I climbed into my car and drove into town.
There was a library there. Not a big one like I was used to, but it was bound to have old papers. What? What was I thinking? I didn't need old papers, I just needed some books to read. The librarian was a white-haired lady who gave me a once-over. Of course she was bound to know everyone and everything.
"Hi," I said. "I've just moved into the area and I'd like to join."
"That's nice," she said, passing me a piece of card and a pen. "I didn't know there was anywhere vacant around here. Other than..." Her voice trailed off as she saw my address.
"Hillcroft House," I said. "I'm the new owner."
Her expression I could only have described as being worried as she regarded me through the lenses of her spectacles. "Well, I hope you... are happy there."
I had to take my chance and say something didn't I? Maybe I'd have been better off not knowing though. "I... I thought I heard a baby cry in the night."
Her face paled. "Oh, dear. Oh, no. I thought that was all over."
"What? Please, if there's something I should know, tell me."
She walked across the room with me following behind. There was no one else in the building that I saw. I'm not sure what I expected to find but it was not the modern computer that she sat behind and rapidly began tapping keys. "There... I'm so sorry."
I looked at the article that she had brought up on the screen. It told how a couple had been killed in a car crash, and everyone had presumed their baby had died in the accident too. Both vehicles had plunged into a deep and fast flowing river and the baby was presumed to have been swept away. It wasn't until I read their address that I began to understand.
"No one suspected, you see," she said, tapping away and bringing up another article. "That poor baby was left all alone and starved, you see. Little Melody, the poor, poor wee girl."
"You mean what? My house is haunted?"
"I'm afraid it sounds like it. No one has lived there since and she must have sensed your presence."
I chewed my lip. I didn't believe in ghosts, or at least I didn't until then, but I knew there was no way I was going back inside there again.