The Ghost of Willow House
Krane strode up the path – barely trodden and overgrown, as expected, though the bitter cold had killed off the less resilient weeds – and pushed at the door. It was wooden and warped, but opened easily enough, and he was hit with a warm waft of dust and mould.
'No cobwebs,' he noted, except a few high up and out the way. His footsteps echoed as he walked into what must have been the dining room, with a broken chair in one corner and a pattern of mould twisting across the ceiling. He kicked at the rubble. Nothing.
The lounge was the same, with only a grubby sleeping bag by a surprisingly clean cup of water and a fireplace that was missing most of its tiles. Krane paused before he moved on, listening to the slow sinister creaking of an unseen presence in the room above. Almost on cue was a shuddering in the walls, followed by a dull echoing thud.
You could argue it was a ghost. You could also argue it was someone walking upstairs and turning on a badly plumbed tap.
Krane sighed and very nearly left, but the ghost wasn't done yet. 'Get out,' a hoarse whispering echoed from within the walls itself. Or, it could be argued, from the fireplace.
Krane had no time for fake hauntings. But he had even less for someone telling him what to do. He strode upstairs, the stairs shuddering under his leather boots and the bannister swaying on rotten posts. The mould was thicker the further he climbed, and the air colder. The wallpaper was also peeling, hanging off in long curls and tatty flakes, and the floorboards sighed under the strain of his weight.
He guessed that the bedroom on the left would be above the lounge, and connected to its fireplace, so that was the room he chose. It was as grubby as the rest of the house, with a dilapidated wardrobe tilting in one corner, a rusted sink in the other, and there was the fireplace, squat and unassuming against the longest wall.
Krane stood in the doorway for a few minutes. Nothing happened. He coughed. Nothing. Then he cleared his throat.
The wardrobe door shuddered and creaked, and a figure burst from within it, brandishing a knife.
'I said leave,' he growled, his matted beard the same brown-grey as his clothes.
'Actually, you said "get out",' said Krane.
'Then get out.'
'You're the ghost then,' Krane continued, 'now why would that be? You spread the first stories too, of course, to scare people off as you squatted here, and let rumour takes its course.'
'And what if I did?'
He took a step forward, the knife glinting wickedly in the moonlight coming through the smashed window.
Krane sighed. 'I'm going, I'm going.’ He walked back out the way he came – taking his time, out of principle, hesitating at and testing each step. When they finally reached the front door it was slammed behind him, or it was at least slammed as much as it could be when it didn't comfortably sit on its warped frame.
‘The manners of some people.’ Krane stood for a second in the porch, repositioning his hat and watching his breath condensate. The path was still a tangled mess – it had only been a few minutes – as was the hedge surrounding the house and its garden. Or at least that's how it was meant to look. It wasn't too difficult for Krane to find a gap in the hedge, where the branches were slightly thinner and bent, and squeeze through to follow the path of well-trodden grass that led round to the back of the house.
The door to the cellar was as old as everything else and had been painted blue a long time ago. Time had discoloured the layers and jagged patches were chipped off and faded. But the lock was new. And it looked robust.
But the door was still old. Krane waited, still as a shadow, until he was sure no one was coming. None of the house windows were visible. No neighbouring buildings overlooked the colossal hedge. All was still. He rolled his shoulders before bracing against the wood, and heaved. He could smell the damp that had penetrated it, and hear the slow moan of rotten wood giving way, snapping within and bending against him. Finally, it buckled, and he was through.
The room in the cellar was a stark contrast to the building above. It was modern and furnished with every convenience and a stock of laptops and computers were set up on polished desks like a cosy office. Krane wasn't surprised to hear heaters humming low and constant; the warmth of the supposedly abandoned house had been the giveaway after all. And he could guess that the white door at the other end of this room would be a bathroom – why else would the place have running water?
Refitting a dilapidated cellar and paying someone to live above it and scare unwanted visitors away was a lot of effort for a bit of privacy; Krane could count the potential reasons on the fingers of one glove. Some papers were lain out on the desk – lazy, they were always lazy – and he glanced through them before turning to leave. It was interesting but entirely ordinary. The ghost was a fake, as always, and all this had nothing to do with him. He would tip off the police and move on.