The flickering candle illuminated the nervous bespectacled man as he fidgeted uncomfortably on his hard wooden seat. Before him was a desk covered with a single worn tablecloth, once pristine white but now a jostling mass of faded stains. Opposite him, perching as still as a statue, was a shriveled old woman, her wrinkles like deep craters running across her features, slightly obscured by a stand of silver web like hair.
Unable to bear the overwhelming silence, the man finally opened his mouth, “I,” he paused as if doubting his own tongue, “I have a question to ask you about,” another stutter, then, after a seconds consideration, he continued with a determined look in his timid blue eyes, “About ghosts”
“Ask” replied the crone completely motionless. The man almost felt tempted to lean forward and check whether her lips had actually moved but fear kept him rooted in his seat.
“Do” questioned the shivering man, feeble voice trembling faintly, “only people become ghosts?”
“All things which have a soul can become a ghost,” answered the aged occult specialist, this time her dry cracked lips did move, clearly articulating every syllable which made it only more disturbing that the rest of her features stayed perfectly still, as if her mouth was on a different overlapping layer to the rest of her face, “And all things, given time, can grow a soul. Be it a single blossom or a well worn book,” a pause, allowing the information to sink in, “Or perhaps even a house.”
Seeing a slight shocked tremor run through her client, the wizened old woman slowly smiled a sickly thin-lipped grin. In one quick movement, her hand a pale bony blur like the swift slither of a starved white serpent, she crushed the orange flame of the candle in the palm of her withered hand, suddenly casting the cramped windowless room into total darkness, “Now,” she hissed quietly to the whimpering man, “Tell me what happened.”
That morning I awoke for the first time in the newly built glamorous modern construction: an elegant architectural creation of sharp attractive cubes, the floor all a neatly tessellated white plain of pearl coloured stone tiles which beautifully reflected the light pouring in through the large spacious windows. The final adjustments to this expensive bachelor house had just finished the day before and the previous night had been the very first evening with a resident.
A vast sum of money had disappeared into its making, starting from the old dusty wooden countryside house: a good sized property with a garden spacious enough to house several bushes and an oak tree but dangerously unstable with old age, built solely out of decrepit creaking wood. This had been carefully torn down and entirely replaced, where the rotting husk of an ancient mansion once stood, now comfortably sat a stylish designer bungalow.
Feeling well rested, though my mind was a still a little hazy and confused with the yet retreating mists of sleep, I raised myself from the bed with a yawn and swung my legs off the side of my gleaming metal framed bed. I placed one foot down onto the refreshingly cold floor and, sleepily ignoring its creaking complaint, I energetically propelled myself upright firmly planting my other foot onto the ground in the process, another short sharp creak rang out in accompaniment.
Feeling oddly thirsty, I began to walk across the tiled bedroom floor thinking to go to the kitchen for a glass of water. Each step I took was echoed by a hollow grating squeal of wood, wood centuries old that had stood in place, ever so slowly decaying with time. With each sharp scream emitted by the floor, my throat grew drier and my sense of unease stronger. I felt a painful drumming in my head, each thump more agonizing than the last, each ringing beat a flashing warning frantically roaring that something was wrong.
Suddenly, at the door leading out of the bedroom, I stopped, the plank creaking a long drawn out sigh as I placed my full weight on it. Except that there was no plank, the bedroom, identical to the rest of the house, was tiled with solid silent stone. Slowly, hesitantly, I dropped my gaze slightly to the floor before me, it was definitely composed of newly polished immovable granite. Fearfully, feeling a shiver run through my hand, I took another small step forward. The round heel of my foot camp slowly into contact with the cold stable stone, then, as I put my wait onto it, a long drawn out creak, like the dying scream of some unearthly creature, filled my ears. Even in my panicked state I remembered the sound, the familiar squeal of gnarled old wood, the same haunting noise I had heard when the original property had first been inspected before its eventual demolition and replacement.
Terrified I ran blindly on towards the kitchen, dazed and illogical like a scared child, convinced that if I somehow reached that room my nightmare would end. The cursing wailing creak of old wood rang out with every motion I took and as if in time to this, a single phrase flashed through my mind over and over again. A crazed mad chant that blossomed and withered sporadically, like the fierce painful bursts of a desperate dying heart, writhing in the centre of my mind:
The house is new but the land is old. The house is new but the land is old. The house is new but the land is old, the house is new but the land is old, the house is new but the land is old the house is new but the land is old the house is new but the land is old. And the old have power.
I burst into the kitchen and there I saw a monster, a brutal killer, a murderer and I remembered all. In horror I pointed one crooked crumbling finger, scarred with deep wood grains, at the pale staring evil sitting bolt up right at the kitchen counter, its spectacles hanging crookedly across two shocked blue eyes. It wasn’t the house that had been creaking, it had been my own aged body. I opened my mouth and…
“Then it s…s…screamed,” wailed the client stuttering with obvious distress, “It wasn’t like any scream I’ve ever heard before, not like anything you could hear on this earth! A hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand old planks all shrieking at once! A… An ugly abhorrent orchestra, a roaring high pitched cacophony! Like… like a deep angry enraged roar from the very depth of the heart.”
He paused, shivering and out of breath, “Except it didn’t have a heart be… because it was made of wood! It had the shape of a thin man but formed entirely out of a s…s…single deformed contorted tree, It’s eyes were just hollows! Dark depthless holes in its big bulbous out of proportion head that bobbed backwards and forwards as it screamed! And its mouth!”
“Or at least I think it was a mouth… A big gaping wooden cave, could fit a man’s whole head easily, below its eyes…. You might think its odd that I don’t know if one hole is a mouth or not but do know the others are eyes… It’s… It’s because they were staring at me… I could feel it… the pitch black hate filled glare as it pointed its trembling branch of a finger at me.”
“Then what,” came the old woman’s disembodied voice, almost gentle, coaxing through the darkness.
“Then,” sighed the man exhausted, “then it just crumbled… fell apart into a messy pile of old woodchips… I swept them up… and then I burnt them”
The wizened crone snorted in response, as if dissatisfied at the lack of a gorier more shocking outcome from the story, then with an undisguised tone of regret she uttered, “You’ll be fine, it’ll appear from time to time but its harmless”
“But what is it?” inquired the man curiously, more or less relieved at the vaguely comforting words of the woman.
“Just a ghost” sighed the crone unenthusiastically, while nimbly striking a match to relight the candle, already losing interest in the client before her, “the ghost of a senile old oak tree. Be a dear and send in the next client as you leave will you?”