If memory serves it was a summer’s day, the kind that has us Brits rushing for the strawberries and cream and slathering on the high factor sun lotion. My recollection doesn’t stretch to what I was wearing at the time but common sense would suggest it was some form of seasonally appropriate attire. For the purpose of adding colour to this story let’s say it was a yellow dress with white trim, matching white socks and shiny red shoes with gold buckles.
We were standing in front of a big grey house, my mother and I. As I looked up at it in wonder I thought I had never seen anything so gigantic in all my life. It had creepers growing up its walls, and large, foreboding windows which, despite their size, revealed nothing of what was within. We walked down the gravel drive and followed the path around the side of the house until we reached the garden at the back.
It was a large garden, with neatly kept flower beds containing multi-hued sprays of chrysanthemums, roses, bougainvillea and clematis (am I overdoing my artistic license here?). The air was thick with the scent of lavender, and busy little insects tended to the flowers like nurses to the sick. Dotted around the garden were other visitors like us, drawn by the fine weather and the prospect of tea and cake.
But there was another reason why they came – why we had come. Inside the house, on the upper floor, was a long landing. It wasn’t just any landing, it was also a gallery. Lining its walls were portraits of long dead ancestors of the house’s owners, the kind whose eyes follow your every movement, waiting.
We stood on this landing, my mother and I, and I felt a sudden stab of fear. I clutched her hand tightly as we began to walk, the floorboards squeaking underneath our feet. Slow and tentative steps I took, conscious that I was pulling back, not wanting to proceed – but she didn’t notice, or at least seemed not to. I remember trying not to look at their eyes, those soulless black holes that demanded attention but offered nothing but sinister stares in return.
Halfway down the corridor I stopped dead. A chill ran right through me as I looked up into the eyes of one of the paintings. Nothing happened, per se, but to this day I can remember that sensation of abject fear.
I know it sounds far-fetched and I imagine those who don’t believe in ghosts and such like will be scoffing as they read this. All I will say is that when I recounted this story to my mum a year or so ago she couldn’t believe I remembered our visit to that country house – because I couldn’t have been much more than two years old at the time. Now how’s THAT for spooky?