by Carys Crossen
They hadn’t observed the marks on the oak beams before they’d moved into the old house. Or if they did, they’d attached no importance to them.
That first night, in their familiar bed in an unfamiliar room, Ella kept kicking out at something. After she’d kicked him for the second time, Robin switched on the bedside lamp.
“What is the matter?” he demanded, tired and ratty.
“Something keeps pulling on my leg,” she whispered, nervous. Robin rolled his eyes, but traded places. They managed to sleep.
All the next fortnight, the spookiness ran rampant in Robin’s absence. Things kept going missing and turning up in odd places. Ella kept hearing odd creaks and thumps, as if something heavy had fallen. There were chill breezes on the warmest days, and shadows when there was no sunlight.
“It’s just nerves,” Robin said. “Takes time to settle into a new place.”
One glowing spring night, the moon careering across the sky, a wakeful Ella happened to glance out of the bedroom window.
A man stood in the garden. His black cloak swept the ground and although she could see little of his face beneath the tricornered hat he wore, it looked as pale as frost. Then he was gone. No fading away, no walking. He blinked out like a TV program turned off.
Ella crawled back into bed, and lay shivering there until morning.
She mentioned the man in the garden to Robin, but he explained it away as shadows, a waking dream, an overactive imagination. Until two days later, Robin was reading in the front room, beneath the marked beam, and something began to throttle him.
The invisible garotte hemmed in his throat so efficiently that within moments his vision was blurring, his face turning sunburn red. And he was dimly aware of something tugging at his feet.
“Hiya, I’m back! And I’ve brought a neighbour!” Ella called.
The rope slackened. Robin fell to his knees, sucking in lungful after lungful of blissful air. A horrified Ella and the woman with her rushed in to find him on all fours, throat too swollen to speak.
“Oh, dear,” said their neighbour, a woman with long dark hair and a pentagram necklace. “I see I haven’t arrived in the nick of time.”
The neighbour, Tabitha Miller, a local historian and practising witch, told them everything over a cup of tea.
“This house was an inn, during the days before the Glorious Revolution. Judge Jeffreys, the hanging judge, would sentence men to death and see it carried out in your front room – hence the marks on the beam. There have been stories and rumours about this house for donkey’s years. I’ve been away on holiday, or I’d have warned you sooner.”
Tabitha paused to sip her tea.
“I’ll do a banishing ritual, if you like; though, it’ll probably need more than that to sort it out. It has a bad feel to it, this house. It’s no wonder – hanging was a terrible, slow death. Spectators would tug on the hanging person’s legs, to break their neck, kill them quickly, you know.”
Robin placed his cup on the table and fainted quietly away.
The For Sale sign went up the next morning.
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