First chapter of my first horror novel
The Walls of Langton Hall
Keep your eyes on the sun and you will not see the shadows (Unknown).
It's amazing what can happen in a year, isn't it? When I was a kid, I used to keep a diary in which I would document specific dates of the year, simply to see how things change by the same date the year after. I still have these little notebooks and every now and again, I read through them. Take the day I started secondary school for example:
7th September, 1992
Today I started my new school, Pastures New for Girls. I have made a friend already, her name is Ria and we both like Take That although she fancies Robbie and I fancy Mark. There are loads of clubs I want to join such as chess and the computer club. I love this school and the dinners are amazing!
7th September, 1993
Can't believe I'm back at this shit school. I hate it. My best friend is Helen and we both like Guns N' Roses and White Zombie, actually can't believe that some of the saddos here still listen to Take That. I mean, how pathetic is that? Just four more years and I can leave school forever. Counting down the days ...
I didn't read my entry from 1994, I imagine it would make for dire reading but my point is, look how things change in a year. It's a shame I didn't continue with the habit because if I had, I would have had three entries that seemed like worlds apart. On this day, three years ago, we were living in a tiny terraced house. We, being my husband and I, and our daughter, Emily who was ironically, three years old at the time. We were discussing whether to put our last £5 on the electric or the gas meter and I was frantically searching the employment websites for jobs that didn't exist. Jason, my husband was working as a security guard for a nearby building firm. We couldn't afford a car, so every night he would set off on his pushbike and I wouldn't see him again until the next morning. We barely spoke back then. He was always either asleep or at work. I was always either busy, or unapproachable. As far as years go, that was a bad one.
On this day, two years ago, things had improved significantly. I had a part time job as a receptionist working for a local surgery and Jason had landed a job working with the building firm he once guarded. It was a day time job, no more nights and considerably more pay. Jason had started driving lessons too and instead of searching the employment websites, I spent my time searching AutoTrader for our first car. This was an exciting time for us. No longer were we searching down the back of the sofa for change to slot into the utility meters. Now, we were saving up for our first holiday. It would turn out to be Ibiza. We were not rich, by any stretch of the imagination and we still thought we were doing well if we had a tenner left over at the end of the week but compared to the year before, we were getting somewhere.
And that brings us to this time last year. I still remember it like it happened yesterday. I was sat on our five year old sofa with a glass of red wine. Emily was in bed and Jason was at the gym. It was a peaceful night and I celebrated by getting into my pyjamas at 7pm. With just the corner lamp on and the curtains closed I remember listening to the rain on the windows outside. Something about listening to the rain outside brings a feeling of warmth and comfort, even contentment. I had put my numbers on the lottery that day. I did this every Saturday and counted myself as a winner if my numbers brought back £10. It was the most I'd ever won but nonetheless, I enjoyed the excitement of watching the balls drop from the machine, one by one. Someone, somewhere, became a millionaire.
As the slogan says, It Could Be You. And on this day last year, it was. I can't even begin to describe my emotions when that final ball dropped. Excitement? Fear? Confusion? They were all there. I must have double checked those bloody numbers about twenty times and I was sure it was a mistake. £100 I could have handled, even £5000 would have been a shock, but believable. But £68,000,000? No chance. That kind of thing didn't happen to me and Jason. We scraped by and we made the best of what we had. That would always be us. I remember being sick on the carpet, undigested red wine soaked into the fabric resembling a crime scene but I was too paralysed with shock to clean it up. My brain told me to scream but the message didn't reach my mouth. I'd just sat there, like a nutcase for almost an hour, my lottery ticket clenched in one hand and my wine class empty in the other. My trance was only broken when Jason came home and immediately made a fuss about the wine on the carpet.
"For god's sake Angie, it will take us months to save up for a new carpet!" he'd yelled. The irony was comical.
Eventually, after scrubbing at the carpet, muttering obscenities under his breath, he started to show a little concern for my welfare. He appeared to notice that his wife was sitting like a statue, with vomit on her chin, tears soaking her cheek and an empty wine glass sitting in a trembling hand.
"Angie? what's wrong? Are you ok? Do you need an ambulance?"
"We won" I managed to mutter, my throat hurt as I spoke, like the words needed to bypass a million blades just to escape.
"We won what?!" he replied. Jason didn't believe in wasting money on the lottery and took little interest in my weekly hobby of sitting watching the balls spinning around in the machine.
"The lottery" I croaked "We won … the … the balls … my numbers … "
"What the hell are you waffling on about?" he'd snapped as he grabbed the ticket from my hand and took himself off to the dining room. His computer was in there and as a result, it had become known as "Jason's room".
From the living room I heard the sound of the computer being turned on, then I heard the inevitable clicking of the keyboard as he typed. I didn't time him, but I estimate that it took around 15 minutes. The clicking on the keyboard grew louder and faster and then it fell silent. The howl that followed woke Emily and presumably, anyone within a mile of our house. Jason burst back into the living room so frantically that the door slammed into the cabinet behind it and knocked off a picture frame.
"We've only gone and won the fucking lottery!" he screamed at me as he stood open mouthed, panting in the doorway. I could only nod in agreement as Emily shuffled into the room clutching her favourite teddy bear. She'd named him Orange, because he was. Clearly she'd inherited her imagination from her father's side of the family.
"Why are you shouting?" she asked wearily, rubbing her right eye.
"Because we're rich!" Jason screamed as he ran towards her, scooped her up and spun her around in circles.
"Yay!" she replied, with clearly no comprehension of what the hell that meant, but it sounded good. Orange fell to the floor, at which point Emily decided that enough was enough and demanded to be reunited with him immediately.
"Don't worry about that old thing! I'll buy you a new one, a really good one that speaks and lights up! you can have anything you want!" Jason shouted through tears of joy.
"I don't want another one! I want Orange!" Emily cried.
"Put her down, you're frightening her" I croaked.
That whole night consisted of screaming, crying, pacifying poor Emily who didn't know what to think of her parents' sudden mania and of course, calling that number to confirm the win. Its funny, the things you remember from times like these, like Orange falling on the floor and Jason's reaction to the wine on the carpet and I often wonder if it's your brain trying to retain the important parts of a scenario when the whole thing is just too much to take in. One thing I do remember though, is feeling so close to Jason. It had been a while since we'd hugged like that and I hadn't even noticed until that night.
So we're now a year on from that date. That was, this time last year. It's Saturday night again and although I don't play anymore, I do sometimes still watch the National Lottery show. I suppose it's nostalgia. But tonight I have no time for such things because today, we finally moved house. When you have £68,000,000 in the bank, you can pretty much buy any property you want outside of London and so you can imagine the time it took us to choose somewhere. Jason had had his heart set on the huge new builds in the neighbouring, 'well-to-do' village, complete with pools and games rooms. I, on the other hand, wanted somewhere with character and history. Somewhere with lots of land where Emily could explore and play. I wanted to buy her a dog and a horse. If truth be told, I wanted to buy her the world. Jason and I had many heated discussions about the perfect house but in the end, we found it.
Langton Hall. I'd driven passed it many times, often on my way to taking Emily to the seaside. The estate agent described it as a grade II listed, Georgian country residence but Jason preferred the term "old farm house" because essentially, that's what it was. Built in 1830, the house had seen numerous renovations and presumably, lots of money spent. It was beautiful, standing proudly in it's own grounds surrounded by fields and countryside. It had five bedrooms, three bathrooms and twenty five acres of land. It even had stables and a paddock. I had pictured Emily galloping around that land before we even viewed the house, it was perfect for her. Perfect for us.In East Yorkshire, a house like this sets you back just £1,200,000 and these days, that's well within our budget. In fact, we don't really have a budget anymore and that's why, despite the old fashioned décor inside, and the fact that it still had an aga rather than an oven, it was perfect for us.
So, one year on from sitting screaming at the television, here we are, The new proud owners of Langton Hall. My parents have offered to look after Emily for a couple of days whilst Jason and I attempt to make the place inviting for when she comes back to us so we're making the most of the opportunity to get things done. The house is far too big to decorate over night so I'm concentrating on Emily's room, that room, must be perfect. It's a much bigger room than what she's used to and now she has her own ensuite bathroom to decorate too. Therefore, I've spent the day covered from head to foot in pink and lilac paint whilst the footsteps of what seems like a hundred workmen echoed around our scarcely furnished house. Floors were being fitted, walls were being drilled and electrics were being tended to. The house smells like a giant workshop. It's now 9pm and after spending the day putting furniture together in various rooms, Jason has finally gone for a drive to find a local chippy as we're both too tired to cook. Well, money doesn't buy class, as they say. I pour a glass of wine and make my way to the living room. The new sofa still has it's polythene wrapper over it, which is wise considering there is more painting to be done in here. I sit down, the wrapper crinkling under my weight and I stare at the period fireplace. I'd love to light it, but I'm not sure how so instead I rely on the modern central heating system to keep me warm. And it does. Already, I love this house.
I didn't believe her at first. Who would?
"Oh by the way darling, while you were out, we became millionaires."
Had it not been for the state she was in, I wouldn't have even bothered checking that lottery ticket. I thought she was drunk at first. It wouldn't have been that unusual for Angie to drink herself into a state whilst I was out on a Saturday night, it was something I'd gotten used to over the years. She'd always say she was going to cut down but what started off as a half bottle on a Saturday night habit, soon became a two and half bottle habit most nights. She'd put on weight as a result and I suppose, if I'm honest, I didn't look at her like I used to. I suppose that's how Lisa happened.
I never saw myself as the kind of man that had an affair. The kind of man that lied, not only to his wife, but to his four year old child. I would tell them I was going to the gym, or working late to earn pennies for our holiday. I would make up elaborate stories about how a something had gone wrong at work so we all needed to work Saturday to make up for it. I'd even created characters, like Adam - the weight's obsessed rugby guy from the gym who would talk about his recent trip to Thailand, who by chance, had invited me on his stag do a week on Friday. A pre-made excuse as to why I wouldn't be home that night. Oh, and there was Tony from work who had suggested a lad's day out at the races on Sunday. He didn't exist, neither did Adam but their invites for random events flooded in anyway. Angie never questioned any of it, I think she was secretly glad to get me out of the house.
Lisa and I started seeing each other around two years ago. What started off as a one night stand after a rather messy work's do, turned into constant texting, emailing, incriminating photos going back and forth and weekly meetings. It was mainly about sex at first. Angie and I hadn't really had a physical relationship since Emily was born and Lisa was new. She was exciting. She was something else to focus on rather than just work, chores and clearing away Angie's empty wine bottles before Emily saw them the next morning. Before long, Lisa and I were discussing a future together, we talked about me moving into her house and in my head, I'd have weekly access visits with Emily were Lisa and I would take her to the movies, sit in front of the fire with cocoa and watch crappy Disney films before Emily would go to bed. After which, Lisa and I would sit thinking about what excellent parents we were.
Did I feel guilty? of course I did. Mainly about Emily but I also felt guilty about Angie. I never wanted to hurt her. We were in love at some point, there is no denying that but somehow along the way, it died. I can't help that. It wasn't a conscious choice I made. You see, the thing with Angie is that she was a drifter. Always happy to coast from day to day, always dreaming big but never actually actioning her plans. She told me she was going to go to university to become a social worker. It never happened. Nothing ever happened with Angie. We only went on holiday once because I insisted and booked everything. Sure, she'd sit obsessing for hours over travel brochures but getting her to actually book something was like asking a cat to 'sit'. Lisa was different. She made plans and she went through with them. When she said she was going to do something, she'd do it. I always remember the time she told me she wanted to go to Rome and see the colosseum. After been with Angie for years I brushed it off as a throwaway comment. A week later, she'd booked it. That was Lisa.
So when Lisa told me that I had to make a choice between her or Angie, I believed her. I knew she wouldn't hang around waiting for me to make my mind up. I had to choose. It was that Saturday that I'd promised to do it. The night I went home to find Angie sat on the sofa, with wine all over the carpet and a crumpled up piece of paper in her hand. As I said, I didn't believe her when she told me what we'd won but I checked it out and she was right. We'd won the jackpot. Approximately £68,000,000. And you know what? for the remainder of that evening, I never thought about Lisa once.
Was it the money that made me stay? well I'd be lying if I said I didn't look into the legalities of divorce when one party has just won a huge sum of money. Apparently, it's not classed as a joint asset and if I'd told Angie on that night, before the money had even gone into the bank, I wouldn't have been entitled to any of it. So be honest, would you have left at that point? I suppose another part of me wondered if the money would change Angie and I. We'd have less worries, less to argue about. All of a sudden we had the money to buy whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. We could go anywhere, we could do anything. Surely, that gives us a head start in the relationship game, right?
So that was that. I blocked Lisa's number from my phone, blocked her email address and never contacted her again. Angie and I got to work on choosing a new house to buy and I suggested a couple of modern new builds just out of town. They were amazing houses, near good schools for Emily, some had swimming pools and tennis courts, one even had a cinema room but Angie insisted that she wanted to live in the country. She said she wanted privacy and clean air for Emily but really, I think she wanted isolation. She'd always been a loner and the houses she was looking at would facilitate that trait. There was one particular house she became obsessed with. Some old farm house in some backwards village where I imagined the locals to resemble characters from Emmerdale Farm or worse, Deliverance.
I didn't like the sound of this house at all. The pictures on the estate agent's website were awful showing revolting flowery wallpaper in each room, bathrooms that looked like they were renovated to the latest fashions back in the 70s and shit loads of land. I'm not a gardener. I struggled to keep a small lawn alive so god knows how we were going to manage 25 acres but as Angie said, we could hire a grounds keeper. It all sounded a bit ridiculous if you ask me, we were not the kind of family that hired groundskeepers. What next? a maid? a bloody butler?
But after what I'd done, what could I say? I owed her big time, even if she didn't know it. I agreed to view the house with her and she loved it. From the minute her and Emily walked through that hideous big red front door, they were in love. Emily ran around the house, from room to room whilst the woman from the estate agent tried to tell us how much potential the house had. Overall, she said the word potential twelve times. I counted. Now, don't get me wrong, a house that big with so much land has a hell of a lot of potential, I realise that but why on earth put yourself through all that hard work when you could afford to buy a house that was actually renovated within the last decade? Jesus, I was surprised to see that the toilets were not the pull down cord types you used to see in the 60s.
"I love it!" Angie whispered to me as the annoying woman wittered on about the stables to Emily. And she did, I could tell she did and as I said, I owed her.
So here I am, 9pm on a Saturday night, millions in the bank and I'm driving around looking for a chippy. It's almost laughable. I've been up to my eyes in it all day putting furniture together whilst Angie has been obsessing about getting one room finished. She's basically slapped a bit of paint on the wall and then treated herself to a bottle of wine. Not once has she acknowledged the rest of the house, the new flooring in the master bedroom, the new light fitting in the living room, the scrapes and bruises on my hands from hammering bloody furniture together all day, but that's Angie. She probably hasn't even noticed. She did suggest we get a take-away delivered tonight but if I'm honest, I wanted to get out for a bit. I caught myself thinking about Lisa earlier and how she would have involved herself in the furniture assembly and organising the workmen. I put it out of my mind as soon as I realised I was doing it of course. It's been almost a year since we last spoke and as they say, let sleeping dogs lie.