THE BRANTLEIGH CURSE , a short story by JOHN-WHITEHOUSE. Date added: 2008-09-20. Times viewed: 788.
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- Intro: Is Mike the latest victim of the curse of Brantleigh Manor
- 'It's a bad business,' said George Starkey. 'And to think, you've let her in!'
'How was I to know?' said Mike Thoroughgood, as he followed him up the wide staircase. In his late twenties, the insurance assessor was tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair gelled into place. 'I saw a little girl, around six years old, standing outside the tradesman's entrance. I thought maybe she belonged to someone who worked here, one of the servants, perhaps. She smiled at me and I assumed she was waiting to go inside, so I held open the door for her.'
'But didn't anything strike you as odd?' asked Starkey. In his early fifties, the caretaker of Brantleigh Manor was a small man with horn-rimmed glasses and thinning brown hair.
'Her clothes were very old fashioned,' said Mike. 'But I thought it was all part of the show, staff wearing period costume, and all that. It was only when I stepped through a moment later and saw she'd vanished that I realised something was wrong. There are no other doors along that particular passage so there's nowhere she could have gone. That's why I mentioned it to you. I'm beginning to wish I hadn't.'
They emerged into a long passage whose walls were hung with portraits, some depicting ancestors of the previous Earl. A suit of armour, along with several statues, stared impassively at the two men as they walked by.
'The Marquis of Hatherton was the first, back in 1759,' said Starkey. 'Since I've been here it's happened twice. There was a delivery man a few years ago. Then, last summer, poor Kevin Williams. I worry that one day I might see that wretched girl. I'd know better than to let her in, however.'
'Forgive me, Mr Starkey, but this is so unbelievable. Ghosts are one thing but what you've told me ... it's like something out of a bad movie.'
'I understand your scepticism,' said the caretaker. 'But as Shakespeare said: "There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in man's entire philosophy." Or something like that.'
At the end of the passage a stepladder had been set up beneath a trapdoor in the ceiling. Mounting the ladder, Starkey pushed the trap and disappeared into the shadows. Mike followed him.
Like a ghostly finger, a dusty shaft of sunlight lanced through the skylight of the loft, which was festooned with cobwebs. Putting down his briefcase, Mike took out a flashlight and began to shine it over the various oak beams.
'Sixteen, that's how old the Williams boy was,' said Starkey. His voice was flat and mournful. 'Wearing a Manchester United shirt, as I recall. He was with the rest of his family, his parents and sister. I was guiding the tour that he was part of.
'He came up and spoke to me. "I'm sorry to trouble you," he began. He was so polite, you know. "But the strangest thing happened earlier." He'd been walking up to the entrance when he'd stopped to tie his shoelace. The rest of the family had gone on ahead. When he told me about the girl and how she'd vanished, a chill ran through me, I can tell you.
'We were just coming out of the main hall when he went to use the toilet.'
Starkey paused. Glancing at him, Mike noted his sad, haunted expression.
'Go on. What happened?'
'He didn't come back, Mr Thoroughgood. His father went to look and found him. In there.' Starkey's voice began to tremble. 'And now you ...'
He paused, gathering himself. 'Still, what's done is done. There's no going back. Who knows? Perhaps you'll be spared.'
Mike didn't reply. He was feeling decidedly uncomfortable. Putting away the flashlight, he took a multi-paged form from the briefcase. He ticked various boxes, writing comments in the appropriate spaces.
'It's definitely a case of dry rot,' he told Starkey. 'I'll submit my report and the company will contact you again in a couple of weeks or so.'
The two men climbed down from the loft, Starkey closing the trapdoor behind them. They made their way to the entrance hall where Mike halted outside the toilets.
'Excuse me, Mr Starkey. I won't be long.'
Starkey watched the door swing shut behind the young man. He gave a weary sigh. Seating himself on a nearby chair, he waited.
Perhaps you'll be spared, he'd told Thoroughgood, but he knew it was a false hope. Once the girl was inside the manor, she always came out again in the body of whoever had let her in.
Starkey moved toward the toilets. He knew what he was going to find, but better him than one of the cleaners, or a visitor. Steeling himself, he pushed open the door.
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