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Ghosts of Duff House, six days of October Frights, day five

Updated: Feb 21, 2019



Mildred Von inside the mausoleum at Duff House, photo by Paul Martin

It’s a beautiful house, built in 1735 by the architect William Adam. A house that is almost three hundred years old is bound to have some ghost stories connected to it, right?

Looking at its tranquil beauty from outside it’s hard to imagine anything bad happening here. But it has some violence in its history. The owner, Lord Braco, was one of the people who ensured MacPherson never benefited from a royal pardon by moving the town’s clock forward by one hour. His son, the second Earl of Fife’s life was threatened by his wife Dolly in a scene reminiscent of Bertha Mason, in Jane Eyre. The great nephew of the third earl was scalded to death in a tragic accident within the house. And bombs hit the building during the second world war, killing prisoners of war and one Allied soldier.


But what remains? Who is the green lady who paces between the house and mausoleum in the woods? Is she the maid who accidentally killed the young boy? And who is the child who likes to knock on doors and play hide and seek with anyone brave enough to answer? Why do rooms frequently smell of peat fires? And how did a statue, too heavy to be shifted by one person, move across the floor of one of the first floor closets?

We frequently receive psychic visitors who tell us about a child who hides beneath the four poster bed or commune with a woman wearing dark green. Yet the atmosphere, at least when all the shutters are open and the lights are on, is always friendly in spite of the weird occurrences.

Having worked in the building for two years, both when well lit and when shrouded in darkness, I have frequently felt inspired to write about the strange noises and deep shadows. My favourite of these I included in my latest release, “Broken Mirror and Other Morbid Tales”, under the title – Salon of Lost Souls. For October Frights blog hop I am sharing an excerpt from that story, where a young woman starts work as a custodial manager in a stately home called Regency Heights.

***

The Salon of Lost Souls

Laura drove her mini along the gravel drive toward the Stately House that would be her home for the next few years. Yellow stone fascias sparkled where the soft Northern sunlight caressed them. Her nervous excitement subsided a little and, for one blissful moment, it was as though she was being welcomed home.

No other cars littered the driveway. She had passed the visitors’ car park a few minutes ago, and she considered driving back there, but decided against it. The removal van would be here soon. When car and van had been emptied she would ask her line manager where she should park overnight.

She stepped out of the car, pushed the door shut and stretched her neck to take in the true height of the building. Corinthian pillars adorned the front, and white sash windows reached skyward above the horseshoe-shaped stone stairs that led to a pair of French doors on the first floor. She let her imagination take flight and saw a grand, horse-drawn carriage empty its contents of proud figures, draped in silks and velvets. The vintage nobility swept up the stairs to be welcomed by the Earl and Countess.

Instead of following their ghostly footsteps, Laura crossed the gravel driveway and entered via the shop in the bowels of the building.

A woman in a green tartan vest was chatting to a grey-haired, camel-coated customer about the selection of single malts. Laura waited patiently. Her eyes flitting from flagstone floor to dark wood desk and across an array of tastefully arranged merchandise. The stock was familiar. They had mostly the same items for sale in Laura’s previous workplace. She had counted stock and marked off delivery sheets numerous times and could name both the suppliers and their contact telephone numbers by heart. It wouldn’t be so different here after all. Same work, different location. Only this time she was the custodian, the key holder, the resident manager. It was her time. A promotion that seemed almost too good to be true.

The customer wandered thoughtfully away from the sales desk and Laura approached with a warm, professional smile.

‘Hi, I’m Laura McIntyre. I’m the new manager. Has Peter Ingles arrived yet?’

The shop assistant returned a confident smile. One that said its owner knew everything there was to know about Laura already. ‘He phoned to say he’ll be about thirty minutes. I’ll call Mike, the deputy manager.’

Laura nodded. She read the name on the staff badge. ‘Thank you, Angela. Have you worked here long?’

Angela’s smile didn’t falter. ‘I’ve been here since the beginning. Almost twenty five years now. Twenty five years and fifteen managers.’

Laura frowned. Angela’s fixed smile was like a knife, gouging a hole in her chest. The feeling of being welcomed home fled under the scrutiny of the older woman’s eyes.

‘That’s a lot of managers.’

‘They never stay long. They either quit or die.’

A man in a tweed jacket hurried towards them.

‘This is Mike. Mike this is Laura ...’

‘Laura McIntyre,’ Laura said holding out her hand.

The small man blushed a little and paused before reaching out his hand to shake hers. ‘Welcome to Regency Heights, Miss McIntyre. It’s good to meet you at last.’

Laura pressed her spine against the back of a forest-green leather armchair. A book rested open on her lap and she sipped a cooling cup of herbal tea. Her head was spinning and she just wanted to relax, but everything was too new, too alien and she couldn’t settle.

She thought back over the events of the day, her first day at Regency Heights. Mike had been pleasant, if a little nervous. She understood now why Peter hadn’t seen fit to promote him to the manager’s position. Although it was still difficult to believe that he trusted her enough, just twenty-eight years old and five years with the organisation, to take care of such a jewel in the crown of the Trust’s properties. But, believable or not, she was here. Her first night as resident manager, surrounded by boxes containing her imported life.

Perhaps it was pure nepotism. The McIntyre and Ingles families were old friends and she and Peter had gone hunting and riding together in years past. Thankfully no one had openly questioned her lack of experience. She guessed her face fit, and she was good at her job. Her calm, organisational skills would be useful. Experienced staff and an unassertive deputy manager were not a great mix when the organisation had plans to improve productivity and streamline staff numbers on the site. Peter assured her that her strength and understanding of the business side of the Trust would be of great value in her new role.

So she had spent her first day meeting the staff, exploring the house, and learning about the alarm systems and local emergency numbers. The staff seemed more interested in what lay behind the locked door of her apartment than in Laura’s management style. They had never seen the rooms which she now occupied, and she wouldn’t be the first manager to show them. In her job, becoming friends with staff was not advisable. Distance instilled respect and, as many of the stewards were twice her age, she needed all the respect she could command. Angela’s aloofness still intimidated her a little. It was almost as though the shop assistant didn’t expect Laura to stay for long. Of course that was understandable in the circumstances, but Laura would prove the assumption wrong and show Peter what a capable manager she was. If she turned this place around her career would soar.

Still, the creaking of the old, empty building unnerved her. Echoes of footsteps paced the floor above. Laura knew she wouldn’t be able to settle until she had one last check, just to make sure she was alone.

She stepped out, torch in hand, onto the landing of a staircase that reminded her of Escher’s Convex and Concave lithograph. The house hummed as if frightened of its own silence. She turned right and stepped into the blue and red veined belly of Regency Heights. The weak glow of her torch beam was swallowed by dark wood. Shadows lurked under furniture and behind paintings. Beyond the grand staircase, huge windows, the only ones that remained unshuttered for the night, loomed, and beyond them trees shook claw-fisted branches threateningly.

Proud, pale faces glared down from the walls at jaded trims of intricate geometry while drill bit decorations covered in gilt, surrounded the closed doors of the State rooms.

Staring at the windows and portraits gave her a sense of vertigo. She was a mouse among ravenous cats. Only the thought of her shotgun and the heavy bolts on the other side of her apartment door gave her the confidence to continue. It was just an old house, an empty old house, an empty, dark and very noisy old house, far away from town, alone among the trees and memories. A movement of green, caught in the corner of her left eye, sent her running back to her apartment. She bolted the door before taking another breath and decided further exploring could wait until daylight. For now a broken night on a soft bed awaited.

***

Check out my short story collection here – or read more here -

Keep reading for links to others participating in the October Frights blog hop and a chance to win some amazing prizes, including a signed paperback copy of Starblood the graphic novel.



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