It felt like I had been walking for miles. A nagging ache snaked its way down my legs. The mist surged low, hanging heavy in the air like overbearing smog. The land surrounding Burnley Manor was sparse, I hadn’t come across anything yet, not even the remote outbuilding of a farmhouse and certainly no people.
I couldn’t escape John’s face, it haunted me, flashing in my mind. How I wished it would leave me be. I pushed it away, focusing on how I knew the name of Henry’s dog. I couldn’t explain it. It wasn’t some lucky random guess that had popped into my head but a fact I knew. I rubbed my head hoping it would clear my mind.
Luckily, the garage wasn’t difficult to find. Not long after a farm had risen from the rolling fields, the bitter smell of petrol tickled my nostrils leaving a tangy taste on my tongue. It was a simple building, single storey with large dark-blue double doors that slid open on a runner. Broken cars and spare parts littered the front of the shop and all around the side. I stepped inside where a battered and bruised Ford Cortina rested in well-earned retirement.
“Hello?” I called. The sound of my voice echoed around the four stonewalls.
A beach ball of a man popped his head out of a peeling, back office door. “What can I do for yer, Miss?” pinhole, beady eyes scanned my body.
A chill traced the spine running down my back as I took in the details of this small, roadside garage. Thick dirt coated almost every inch of the garage’s interior shell. A headless man, waist deep in the body of a car, clinked and clanked at the metal parts inside.
“Look love, as yer can see we’re sorta busy so if you could spit it out,” he snapped, whipping me from my thoughts.
“Our car,” I felt my cheeks begin to colour. “It broke down last night and we can’t get it started. I was wondering if you could look at it for me.”
“Last night you say?” he asked rousing a thick, slug eyebrow from its slumber.
I nodded and pointed out of the garage opening back towards Burnley. “Yes, about a mile down the road.”
A puzzled look crept across the man’s red, blotchy face. With his beer gut stretching his navy overalls to the limit, he reached over to a nearby wooden workbench. “Right, that should be no problem, but as you can see we’re up to our necks in it.”
Liar. I watched him rifle through a stack of tools and pick up a small black book. With stumpy fingers, he flicked through a few of the pages. The other man still banged about behind the raised bonnet of the only car inside the garage.
“So, if you can give me a contact number I’ll give yer a ring and let yer know when I can fit yer in.”
That stumped me. “I don’t think they have a phone…”
There was a silence before the beach ball broke out into howls of laughter. “Don’t have a telephone? Where are you staying? The dark ages?”
“Something like that,” I muttered. “It’s Burnley Manor, just down the road.”
The laughter stopped in a millisecond. “What did you say?”
“Burnley Manor, not far from here. You must have heard of it.”
“There hasn’t been a Burnley Manor around here for a long time,” he answered with all sincerity.
“There is because I stayed there last night.”
He shook his head. “Got burnt down in the late 1400s by the young master of the house, something to do with the death of his sister. It’s a well-known story around these parts. Nothing there now but a pile of burnt ruins, some say it’s haunted too, been lots of sightings up there.”
My eyebrows knitted together. “I’m sure it’s Burnley Manor.”
“Hey Kevin, have you heard this?” the beach ball called out to the body bent over under the bonnet. The clanking of metal stopped and a spotty boy with black, greased back hair stood up. “This girl thinks she’s staying at Burnley Manor,” he howled but Kevin didn’t appear to see the funny side.
Clenching my fists at my side I felt my face begin to burn.
Kevin’s whole body trembled. “You shouldn’t laugh about it Dan; strange things happen up there. I’ve seen them.”
“Seen what exactly?” I asked through clenched teeth.
He took one step closer. “Ghosts,” he whispered. “They say there was a brother in the medieval times who killed his sister. He regretted it straight away and in a fit of rage and despair he burned the house down. He killed everyone inside,” he shivered again. “You won’t catch me up there. Never.”
With chubby hands, Dan snapped the book shut and waved his hand in the air towards Kevin. The teenager slinked back behind his bonnet but not without giving me a lasting look. “I’ll tell you what, come back tomorrow or the day after and I’ll try to fit you in then.”
“Fine,” I muttered and walked off, exasperated.
I didn’t feel the need to return to the manor straight away and so continued on my path and headed further into the town. The tale of the murderous brother plagued my mind. There was something eerie about the house we were staying in. Things appeared to move within the shadows and shapes appeared in the corner of your eye only to vanish as soon as you look around. But then again it was hundreds of years old. I’m sure the same can be said about most old houses. Yet, thinking about it raised the hairs on my arms and neck, hopefully, there would be some distraction to in the town.
Instead of the odd building dotted here and there, two parallel rows of buildings came into view. The town buzzed with noise and activity. A group of costumed people were clambering up ladders and hanging bunting across the road. Strung up further down was a huge white banner with printed words celebrating the five-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Barnet. I grimaced. I didn’t think I could quite get on board with something that celebrated the deaths of hundreds of men., I’d seen enough of them die time and time again in my dreams and it never got any easier.
The buildings had seen better days. They were crooked and leaned to one side as though they propped each other up. There was a mixture of architecture, from columned Georgian facades to half-timbered Tudor buildings. Some seemed even older with clouded over mullioned windows and coats of arms etched into the glass.
I stopped on the pavement outside the Post Office, so I could take it all in.
“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” A woman sidled up to me, eyes gleaming and the scent of peppermint on her breath made my eyes water. She pulled her red tartan wrap tighter around her full body.
She cleared her throat. “Our community all coming together to celebrate our history. I know you’re young, but it affects you too.”
“Oh, I’m not from here,” I confessed. “I’m only visiting from Yorkshire.” I saw the change in her face. “But I’m sure it is wonderful for you; everyone seems to be pitching in together.”
She smiled at me with much less enthusiasm than before. “Barnet is a wonderful place to visit.” The light wind tousled the tight greying curls on her head.
“It is,” I agreed much too quickly. “We are staying at Burnley Manor,” I regretted the words straight away. The minimal blush that coloured her cheeks faded like an evening sky fades to black. I tried to move away. “Anyway, I better get back. Enjoy your festival!”
But then her soft hands had caught my arm. She gripped my arm in a vice like hold then bent her head, so it rested centimetres away from mine; her watery eyes searched my face over and over.
“I need to go now,” I tried to shake my arm free, but she gripped tighter.
“Is it you?” she asked. “Have you finally returned to us? They’ve waited so long but I wonder whether you are prepared to die once more?”
“Leave me alone!” I screamed and with one violent jerk I broke free. People stopped and stared as I dodged my way through them, running as fast as my legs would take me. Much further down the road, I saw a sand coloured building with the word ‘LIBRARY’ chiselled into the stone above the doorway. It appealed as a place of sanctuary, so I darted for the doors.
As soon as I hit the shade in the library foyer, I fell to my knees and let my back fall against the wall. I couldn’t stop shaking. I waited until the shaking had subsided a little, putting my hand out in front of me to check.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed myself off my knees. Peering out of one of the glass panels on the double doors, I scoured the street for the old woman as far as the limited view would allow. I couldn’t see her anywhere.
I let out a huge sigh and took a few steps back.
“Are you ok?” said a male voice from behind me. He made his way down the stairs balancing a pile of books in his hands. A shaggy fringe hung long into his eyes. He stood on the steps of a grand marble staircase that swept up behind him before splitting into two.
“Y-yes, I’m fine, thank you,” I stammered.
He took one more step down. “Are you quite sure? You don’t look alright. Have you had a bit of a fright?”
I went for the door handle, the cold metal stinging my hands and clung on to it. “No, honestly I’m fine. I just needed a rest and now I’ve had one, I’ll be on my way.”
He took a final step down bringing him onto the same level as me.
He viewed me with narrow, inquisitive eyes. “You’re not from around these parts, are you?” he asked.
I shook my head. “What gave it away? My accent?”
He chuckled in a way that was warm and welcoming. “Perhaps. I’m not sure I could pinpoint the exact town or city, but I would say definitely Northern.”
I pushed my blonde fringe out of my eyes. “Well, that’s obvious.”
“Hmmm, you’re a white rose,” he beamed flashing a set of uneven white teeth at me. “Yorkshire.”
“Right again,” I said. “I’m staying at Burnley Manor with my friend and her family. Our car broke down last night.” I could have kicked myself afterwards. Why did I have to say it? There was that look again, the same look that had contorted the mechanic’s and the old lady’s faces into something that resembled a mixture of horror and disbelief. His was fleeting and replaced by a smile that lit up his face.
“I’ve been there before,” he said. “Could be a lovely place but I found it to be all doom and gloom. I haven’t been in a long time, but I doubt it has changed much.”
“You have? So, I’m not crazy then!” my relief all too clear.
“Crazy? I feel like there’s a story here.”
“Not much of one to be honest.”
He seemed to consider me. “Look, come into the library with me. You look like you could use a little rest. I’ll make you a drink.”
I have must have given him a strange look.
“There’s other people in there too,” he laughed. “It is a public library, after all.”
“I suppose a little longer won’t hurt and then I really must get back. Everyone will wonder where I’ve got to.” I followed him through another set of double glass doors that matched the front ones.
A huge circular desk sat in the middle of a vast room with three women marooned in the centre as though it was an island. There was a strong smell of ink in the air as a regular thumping of stamps hitting books.
“I’ll just drop these off at the reception and I’ll be right with you,” he walked off towards the wooden island.
I waited near the door. There were a few people around. Some were milling around the makeshift aisles formed by high shelves that had seen much better days. A man, with his thin greying hair and fine lines etched upon his equally grey skin sat quite isolated at a table, immersed in a book. A younger woman whose chestnut coloured hair had a large thick fringe with the rest chopped around her face and neck sat at another table. Piles of opened and unopened books formed a semi-circle around her. Her hand dashed across the page as she wrote.
He had returned, bookless this time. I noticed now, how his maroon coloured jumper complimented the redness of his hair and the pink flush of his cheeks. I also noticed the strong squareness of his jaw now it wasn’t being obscured by books. He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Listen, I just have something to do and then I’ll be with you. Are you ok to wait for about ten minutes? I promise I’ll be as quick as I can.”
“That’s fine,” I insisted. “I’ll just have a look at some books.”
“I’m Rich, by the way.”
“Anne,” I smiled.
I lost myself down the book aisles. Without even looking at the sign at the top of the shelf, I knew I had found myself in the literature section. Classic titles, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ stood out from the sea of others. I had studied ‘Hamlet,’ in school. My teacher, My Hemingway, only ever taught ‘Hamlet’ no matter what the Head instructed him.
I weaved in and out of the aisles. Sometimes I stopped to pull out and browse through a book if the title or cover took my fancy. Then I saw a title that made my stomach lurch. ‘The Mystery of Burnley Manor’. I reached out, unable to control the slight trembling of my hand. Glancing up to the top of the shelf I read the sign ‘Local History’. I took a deep breath and grabbed the book.
I made my way over to one of the empty tables and sat down. Tracing the rough bumps of the cover with my fingers, I didn’t think much of the moss-green colour but the hand drawn illustration on the front was undoubtedly the house where I slept last night. It sent chills hurtling down my spine.
The discoloured pages were stiff, and the edges damaged. I scanned down the contents page, reading the chapter names one after the other. They began with ’The Building of Burnley Manor’, then on to ‘The First Lord Farthing’. Henry had said Burnley was a gift from the King in the 1300s for loyal service against France. I read on. Nothing stood out until I reached ‘The Murder of Lady Kathryn Farthing’. I could have thrown up. It was the second to last chapter with the final one being ’The Destruction of Burnley Manor.’
My throat became dry and my pulse quickened. An explosion of heat spread from my face to the rest of my body. I looked for the page number. 394. I flicked through the pages until I reached the one that had 394 printed in the corner. ‘The Murder of Lady Kathryn Farthing’.
Many tragic deaths occurred at Barnet on the 14th April 1471, but none as tragic as the one that befell the local Farthing family. Lady Kathryn Farthing was the youngest child of Sir Edmund Farthing (d.1470). Lady Kathryn had been newly betrothed to Sir Ralph Croft, a younger son of Sir Richard Croft, a well-known Yorkist advisor. A servant found her lifeless body when she failed to attend the Yorkist celebratory feast following their victory at Barnet. Sir Ralph was said to be distraught upon discovery of her death.
Initially, all signs indicated that the sixteen-year-old had committed suicide until days later, her brother Henry, who had been Lord Farthing for less than a year, razed the manor to the ground until it became nothing more than bricks and ashes. Word spread through the sleepy village that the young lord had been driven mad with guilt, which resulted in him setting fire to the Farthing legacy. People now suspect that poor Lady Kathryn was indeed murdered by her brother. One can only speculate as to the reason. Few escaped the manor alive. What is certain, is that Henry claimed the lives of his beloved wife Elizabeth, their two children and most of their servants.
I jumped as something touched my shoulder. Looking up, I found Rich peering down at me, the corners of his mouth curling into a smile. My turning head must have brushed against his fingers because as soon as his skin connected with mine, a searing pain attacked my head. Lightning bolts shot again and again. My eyes shut tight. My hands flew to my head, clinging on for dear life as though it would dull the pain. There was screaming, I could hear it, but I didn’t know if it was in my head, if someone else was screaming or if it was coming from me.
I didn’t know if seconds or minutes passed but the pain faded at last and I opened my eyes. The first thing I saw, was the island woman staring at me as was the old man and the woman with Jane Fonda hair. Others had popped their heads around the book stacks and were viewing me with horror-stricken faces.
I looked around. At some point, I must have sent the chair flying backwards. Rich had backed away from me, his face without expression.
A mist much denser than the one that surrounded Burnley Manor descended on my mind, clouding my thoughts. “I’m sorry, I have to go,” and with that I ran out. Someone shouted my name, but I didn’t stop.