Chapter 2The swimming pool in the woods on the outskirts of the town of Locksford is a happy recreational area, but it had not always been that way. Back in the year 1567, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First, Annie Carver walked the twenty minutes from her cottage in a meadow near the woods to pay a visit to the village of Locksford. She rarely went into the village and when she did, spent as little time there as she could. Trading and bartering were the only times the villagers spoke to her, other than that she was shunned and ignored. The town blacksmith had spread rumours she was mad and dangerous, and he also told lies that her parents had been executed in Chester for treason.
Annie knew how important the blacksmith was to the people in the area. She knew if she allowed him to resume visiting her at her cottage, he would see she was made more welcome in the village. She wouldn't do that, remembering how she had trusted him years before when he befriended her, but he soon showed his true colours and violated her. He returned many times to have his way, until she fitted locking beams to her cottage door.
She was on her way to the miller to get some flour, but stopped at the blacksmith's workshop and looked over at him. The blacksmith was working on a set of large gates for a local landowner. He was grimy and sweaty as usual, a mass of black hair was around his mouth and hanging from his chin seeming never to have been trimmed, only losing bits when it caught fire. The working clothes he was wearing were also soiled and looked as if they had never been washed in all the time he had them. But still, he was cleaner than Annie.
He looked over and grinned before calling across. “So Annie, what is it? Decided you can’t do without it after all? Come out to the back room with me and I’ll give it to you good.”
“I’ve told you. You touch me again and something bad will happen to you.” She wasn’t talking; she was shouting and could be heard by some of the villagers. “I saw you leaving the woods. You were hurting your dogs, beating them with a stick. You should not hurt your animals; you are a filthy nasty man.”
He gave a deep growling laugh as he put his tools down and walked out. “Lazy dogs caught no rabbits. You should have shown yourself, then I would have spared the dogs and had some fun with you. Still, now is as good a time I think, and I’m feeling a bit frisky. Maybe I’ll drag you in the back room and give you something proper to whinge about.” He took a step towards her and she turned in a panic and hurried off to get her bag of flour.
Annie got home, but went into the woods and stooped down to fill a jug from the stream. It was an eerie place after dark and few would enter the woods at night. The nearby pool was thought to be haunted by ghosts after a girl was drowned there after being accused of bewitching a local family to death. She was tied to a log, screaming her innocence, before being toppled face down into the pool. A young man's body was found in the pool some weeks later; his spirit taken as a companion by the ghost of the girl. The ghosts would be succeeded by others as time passed, but the place would never be free of them until both partners showed forgiveness and kindness to their mortal neighbours.
Annie was not bothered by the stories of the ghosts. She put the jug down on the grass and knelt down, splashing water onto her face before drenching her long auburn hair in the stream. Her daily ablutions, as usual, were soon completed.
"Carver's Hollow. What will they call it after I'm gone?" She often spoke to herself, even if other folk were about, believing they couldn't hear her. But of course, she could be heard and everyone in the area knew of Mad Annie who lived by the woods.
As she neared the edge of the woods, she noticed a large rabbit looking over at her. "You need not fear me this day, as I have a plump wood pigeon at home waiting to be plucked and boiled, but do not linger in these woods or the blacksmith’s dogs may get you. Go on, scat, shoo." As the rabbit turned and scampered off into the woods, Annie heard a noise and she looked about her. "Who is there?" she called.
"Do not fear, Mad Annie, it is only us rabbits," the village children called from their hiding places.
"Be off, you little demons," she shouted and hurled some sticks at them as they ran off laughing.
She entered the cottage, closed the door and put the beams across. She lived in one end of the single room. The other end was filled with junk and decaying refuse, some of it pulsating with colonies of maggots. The air was full of tiny creatures, a banquet for the fat spiders in the many cobwebs which were hanging in the room.
A dish of candle wax stood on an oak-planked table, the flame flickering in a final dance with the wick. She put the jug on the table and put some kindling and logs under a small cauldron hanging down from the flue. After pouring some water into the cauldron, she lit the fire and relaxed in a large throne-like chair. She was oblivious to the stench from the rotting vegetables and carcasses, but irritated by the beetles crawling over her feet and flies landing on her face.
The flame in the wax finally gave up, but she was not bothered about being in the dark. She knew the logs would soon be burning up giving enough light to pluck, clean, and boil the pigeon for her supper. She was relaxed and unaware a female spirit had been with her earlier, preparing for its departure.
The next day the hunting dog the blacksmith had mistreated trotted into the village with a rabbit in its jaws. The children swore it was the rabbit Annie had been talking to. The days passed with no sign of the blacksmith. The villagers believed Annie had used witchcraft to turn him into the rabbit to be savaged by the hunting dog. Annie's fate was sealed by the sudden death of one of the village children who had accused her. An angry mob, led by the innkeeper, set off to Annie's cottage.
Annie's door was bashed in by six men ramming it with a log of wood. She screamed out in terror, protesting her innocence and pleading to be released. Her pleas were ignored and she was tied to her chair with wet ropes and tinder wood was piled around her. The mob placed burning torches amongst the tinder wood before going outside and throwing more burning torches up onto the thatched roof. The roof was soon burning fiercely, flames, sparks, and thick white smoke reaching into the sky while chunks of burning thatch were dropping inside.
Suddenly there was no pain. The fire ceased to have an effect on Annie and her spirit stood up free from the ropes that bound her mortal body. She ran outside and sprinted off towards the hollow. The mob chased after her, but when she dived into the pool and disappeared beneath the water, the villagers could find no sign of her. When they returned to the cottage they were shocked to see the shape of Annie’s charred body still inside the flaming building. The next day another of the children died but the blacksmith had returned from fitting the large iron gates at the landowner's house. It was not long after when the innkeeper's son was found dead in the pool; Annie had chosen her mate. Their spirits would wander the woods for two hundred years until the man achieved his release. Annie would then be alone again and would have to find an auburn-haired girl to replace her before she could find release and advancement herself.
* * * * *
Two hundred years later in the year 1767, Rachel, a pretty girl with flowing auburn hair was living with her widowed mother in the cottage near Carver's Hollow.
Annie Carver's spirit often visited the cottage. Her ghostly image continually depressed her because it had aged as if she were mortal and looked hideous at two hundred and twenty years old. Years before, she and her companion often terrified visitors to the woods, but as the years went on they lost their powers. They could no longer perform body possession or create illusions and they didn't have the energy to appear to mortals or even raise a scream. But as they got nearer their departure time they began to regain strength. When her companion began to fade away Annie regained all her power and she made her last trip to the cottage.
It was a mystery to the town’s folk how the fire started, but the cottage had been destroyed and both mother and daughter perished. But Rachel knew Annie was responsible after Annie’s departing spirit gave her all the details of her ghostly existence. A few days later, Thomas, a young poacher who had the misfortune to be in the woods when Rachel was looking for a companion, was found drowned in the hollow. The ghostly stories were renewed, there were frequent sightings and few people would go near the woods after dark.
Industry began to develop in Locksford during the Victorian era and in 1901, work began on building rows of terraced houses for the expanding workforce. The houses stretched from the old town towards the woods and over the site of the old cottage. The stream was diverted and the hollow was dug out in 1921 to build a private swimming pool for the workers of a local industrial giant. Despite the rumours of ghostly sighting through the years, the legend had been long forgotten. But that is about to change. It's 1967 and Rachel and her companion are about to prepare for their own departure.