Number Ninety Nine

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
When Steven's wife left him it hit him hard. Perhaps renovating an old house would give him something to focus on. He didn't know it then but the house had more to it than rotting beams and a leaking roof.

Submitted: November 07, 2016

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Submitted: November 07, 2016

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When Steve Loxley’s wife of six years told him she was leaving him the blow hit him hard. He stared at her. She leaned on the kitchen worktop, defiantly holding his gaze.

‘I am leaving you.’ she repeated.

‘I don’t understand.’

‘It’s over. Things haven’t been right for a long time.’

‘Well, they have for me.’

‘I wanted to tell you face to face.’

‘How very decent of you.’

Kay raised an eyebrow. Steve sighed.

‘I can change. We can still make this work.’

She shook her head.

‘Who is he?’

‘What makes you think-’

‘Tell me.’ He growled.

‘He’s in my boxercise class.’ she blushed.

And so Steve’s marriage was over.

He went through the weeks and months that followed in a kind of numb daze. He hardly ate anything, existing only on mugs of hot sweet tea. He did not sleep properly. At the most he dozed for an hour each night.

He moved back in with his parents while Kay moved in with her new partner. Steve was stunned by it all. He had just assumed that he and Kay would grow old together, living in the same house, maybe having kids or a dog. And yet here he was, approaching thirty years old and living back at home with his mum and dad.

His former marital home was quickly sold off to one of Kay’s cousins. At least that was something. He now had money to put a deposit down on a place of his own. He wanted his own space. Without Kay he just wanted the whole bloody world to leave him alone. Life, it seemed, held nothing for him.

Driving home from work one evening he noticed a house for sale. The large property looked run down even from the quick glance as he passed by. That would do, he thought. He did not care how bad the conditions were. He just wanted to be left alone. The old abandoned house on the edge of town seemed perfect. It seemed to suit his mood right now.

Two days later Steve was being shown round the property by the estate agent. Up close the place looked in worse condition than he’d first suspected. With the smarmy, suited estate agent at his side he pushed through the creaking wrought iron gates. The grass and weeds in the front garden reached upto their knees. They walked down what must have been, at one time, the front path. Steve couldn’t take his eyes from the red brick house as they approached. The place would need some work but he was in the trade. It didn’t look like anything he couldn’t handle. It would take time and money and would be a huge task but it certainly looked interesting. Having said that, it might be easier to bulldoze the whole place and start again from scratch. All the windows would need replacing. The few that were still in their frames were cracked. The roof had gaping holes in the tiles. As they neared a pigeon flapped through the large bay window frame and swept past them. The estate agent checked his clipboard.

‘Number ninety nine Matthew Street.’

The agent unlocked the padlock holding the piece of wood in place where the front door had once stood. He yanked the wood away from the doorframe. They peered into the dark hallway that loomed in front of them. Steve leaned forward. A shiver went through him. This was like the beginning of a horror film or something.

They stepped over the threshold and into the cobweb gloom. The estate agent adjusted his tie and cleared his throat. He looked again at his notes and then at the derelict squalor around them.

‘This house was built around the turn of the twentieth century and has most of its original features.’

‘Looks like it.’ Steve said.

‘It will obviously need considerable work to make it habitable, but in the right hands-’

He stopped talking as Steve treaded carefully on the groaning floorboards. He moved into a large open room. The tall ceiling gave the space a vast, airy feel. Despite the dust, decay and the holes in everything from the floor to the walls, the empty rotting old house had a certain charm about it. Back in its day, this house, he though, must have been an impressive sight.

Steve peered up the staircase. Too many steps had rotted through to be able to go up and check out the other two floors. He moved onto the other ground floor rooms. One door felt to bits as he opened it. He placed the bits to one side and entered. The dining room. Judging by the items hidden under grey-white sheets and buried under layers of dust, the room still contained the original dining table and chairs.

He went to the table. He pulled back the covering slighting. The deep brown wood shone as though it had just been polished. He placed a palm gently on the wood. The mahogany was warm to the touch. He heard the rattle of cutlery and chatter of dinner party guests.

The estate agent appeared beside him. The sound stopped.

‘Look,’ he sighed. ‘There are some lovely new-build houses in Patricroft. Let me show you those.’

‘I want this house.’

‘What? Really?’

Steve nodded, staring at the crumbling walls. He knew the house would need work. It would take over a year before it was right. But he had nothing else to occupy his free time. The place was perfect for him. It would be especially perfect once he was finished with it. He touched the wall with his finger tips. He thought he heard a voice whispering in his ear. He felt something deep in the pit of his stomach. He had to have this house.

Four weeks later, against the advice of his parents, Steve took the keys and became the new owner of the property. His parents had tried to point him in the direction of other houses, new builds that needed no work doing to it. On his last night at home Steve thanked his parents for their concern but insisted that he wanted the old house. As his dad poured them both large whiskies he conceded that it might be good for him to have a project to focus on. Exactly, Steve replied, I need this.

The large house was completely run down. It would need so much work doing to it but he had to do this. Being newly single again he had too much time on his hands. And besides, he knew he was up to the task. He had been working on building sites across the North West since the Nineties. He was looking forward to being able to do most of the work himself. That in itself was something he was particularly pleased about. After sharing his life for years he wanted something that would be his and his alone.

The place has no central hearing, a leaking roof, and boarded up windows. It was just not fit for human habitation yet. But Steve simply had to move in right away. The beautiful old house was his and he wanted to be there from the start. It was, he told himself, the start of a fantastic adventure. 

With everything he would need slung in his rucksack he unlocked the padlock on the makeshift front door. He pushed the wooden panel to one side. He flicked on the torch. He aimed the beam down the hallway. He smiled to himself. A new chapter of his life was starting right here. He stepped through doorway.

He moved through the evening darkness, his torch glow lighting the way. He strolled, savouring every step in the house. This house would, if he put the work in, become his home.

He unpacked a few items he would need immediately. Camping stove. Sleeping bag. Bottled water. Electric lantern. He set up the lantern in the front room. The stark bright light cast long shadows in the corners of the huge room. A shiver went through him. He knew he was alone but the shadows seemed to have a life of their own. They seemed to be hiding something from him.

There was a figure. There! Someone was watching him from the doorway. The person was hidden by the gloom. His heart pounding, he swung the lantern in that direction. The doorway was empty. The electric white light spilled on the ancient floorboards beyond.

He shook his head. He had seen too many horror films. Had to be his imagination. There was nobody else in this house. He munched on his spam and pickle sandwiches and read a dog eared paperback in the lantern glow.

Later on as tiredness swept over him he made himself comfortable in his sleeping bag. Remember, you wanted this old place. This is it. He drifted off to sleep.

He sat up with a start. The lantern still glowed beside him. He ran a hand through his hair. Something had woken him. But what? A bad dream? He checked the time. Two forty five. At this time of night logic went out the window. At this hour things that the daylight reduced to imagination and superstition came to life. He glared at the stretching shadows. Nothing there. Nothing was there. Everything was okay. Everything was fine.

Then he heard it. Voices. There were people in the house. In his house. He kicked himself free of the sleeping bag. He stopped still. He listened again. Voices. People talking. He grabbed the lantern and picked up a hammer. Hopefully the lantern light would scare off whoever was in the house. If not the hammer would help to frighten the intruders away.

He stepped carefully and quietly. He reached the hallway. He listened again. There was definitely someone in the house. He moved towards the rear of the house, following the noise. He reached the dining room. The chattering conversation carried along the corridor.

He took a deep breath. He charged through into the living room, yelling at the top of his voice. He stopped. He stared. The room was empty. He rushed to the windows. He waved the lantern, peering into the darkness outside. He could see nothing. There were no fleeing intruders. Everything was quiet. He headed back to his sleeping bag. Too late in the night for this, he chunnered.

The next morning he woke and stretched. The voices in the night must have been his imagination. Being alone at night in a strange house, and one that resembled a haunted house, must have been the cause of the voices.

He walked through the house. He grinned. Being here just felt right. He couldn’t wait to start work on restoring the old place. He placed a hand on the wall. Yes. That’s what it should be. A restoration. It shouldn’t be a renovation, not a revamp. Instead of modernising he would restore the house it its former glory.

That afternoon he called to see his parents. He drank tea and used his dad’s laptop. He found photographs of the house as it had been. He also came across other houses typical of the period. He printed off the images. He now knew exactly how the house should look, down to all the period details.

Back at number Ninety Nine he placed the printed pages in a pile by his sleeping bag. He knew exactly how he wanted the house to look. No, it was more than that. It was not just what he wanted. He couldn’t explain it exactly but it was as if the house itself was yearning to be restored.

Two days later he began. The first job would be the stairs. He hadn’t even ventured upstairs. The work was hard, exhausting. He got stuck in and worked with an energy he didn’t know he had. By the end of the third day the staircase was repaired and in a fit state for him to tread.

Darkness had fallen by the time he was ready to ascend the stairs. Lantern held out in front of him he took the steps one by one. He smiled, eyes fixed on the floors above.

He reached the first landing. He checked each room he passed. It was not a complete shock to find this floor in a similar decrepit condition as the ground floor. He went into the last room. He gasped. A woman was standing by the window. She had pale features and long dark hair. She looked to be in her thirties but there was definitely something supernatural about her. She stared at him. He looked on transfixed. She held out a hand. She stepped toward him. She looked upset about something. He sensed what had upset her was an event long in the past.

Then she was gone. Steve breathed out. He was alone. The woman had simply vanished. One minute she’d been reaching out to him, the next she was gone. Steve swore. Was his mind playing tricks on him? Was there something wrong with the house? Was the place haunted, possessed? What was also strange was that, far from being afraid by all this, he was becoming even more intrigued by the house.

He moved through the rest of the house. He headed upto the top floor. As with the floors below, the rooms were mostly empty containing nothing more than rotten floorboards and gaping holes in the ceiling.

In one rom though, there was a four poster bed. A thick curtain of dust and cobwebs hung from the posts. Steve batted a hand through the dust. He coughed as the unsettled dust got to his throat. The bed was covered with grey sheets that may have been white at one point. Something stirred under the covers. It was a person. There was someone in the bed. He yanked the sheets back. The bed was empty.

‘This bloody house.’ He said.

In the weeks that followed Steve barely left the house. He worked from soon after waking until late in the evening. At the end of the day, completely worn out, he would crawl into the sleeping bag. The work was hard and almost back breaking. Slowly, very slowly, he began seeing results. The dull, run down, look of the place was slowly being chipped away. He tried to ignore the strange incidents that continued to happen. One night as he was drifting off to sleep he felt a hand grab his shoulder. One morning when he woke the plans and photographs of the house were gone. He found the papers spread out across the dining room table. The documents were laid out as though someone had been reading them.

Nothing else mattered to him but the house. It was all the talked about, thought about, even dreamed of. Back at his parents’ house he used dad’s laptop again. He wanted to find out about the history of the house. He found the information he was looking for.

Building work has been completed in 1900. The original owners had been a young family. They had moved out just over ten years later when the father got a new job out of the area. There had been only one other owner. A woman by the name of Elizabeth Hughes had been the last occupant of the house. She had lived there from nineteen twelve until nineteen nineteen. Miss Hughes, a local poet and writer, had been something of a lost soul. She had committed suicide in the dining room of the house.

Eyes wide, frightened yet fascinated, Steve scrolled down. There was a photograph of Elizabeth. A pretty woman in her thirties with long dark hair looked back from the screen. It was her. It was the woman he’d seen in the house. Elizabeth Hughes. He whispered the name. He could not tear his eyes from the photograph.

When he returned to the house he saw a figure on the stairs. It was her.

‘Elizabeth?’ he called.

He heard a faint laugh. Then she was gone.

The months passed by. Steve’s work rate was furious and unrelenting. It was so satisfying to study the old photographs and then work to see it come to reality.

He grew accustomed to the odd goings on. At night he would hear a woman calling his name. Objects he left in one room would be found in another. Often while he was working he would see the woman out of the corner of his eye. When he turned to look she would be gone.

The nearer to completion he got, the faster he worked. He pushed himself so hard working late into the night. He would hear what he assumed was the spirit of Elizabeth Hughes singing gaily as he worked.

Finally after eighteen months of gruelling work the house was complete. Steve was so proud of his efforts. It had been hard going but as he looked around the house it occurred to him just how much he had enjoyed the project.

The house now looked glorious. The Victorian elegance of a century ago had been restored. Roaring fires burned in the grand fireplaces. Antique and old fashioned furniture filled the spacious rooms. Restored wooden flooring gleamed from the polishing.

He invited family and friends over one evening for the house warming party, or as he called it, a grand unveiling. Everyone raved about the amazing transformation. His mother had tears in her eyes as she hugged him. His father shook his hand and gave him a bottle of whiskey to celebrate.

Steve hadn’t felt so happy in a long time. The thrill of the work had been replaced by a sense of accomplishment at achieving what he had worked so hard to produce.

Once the guests had left Steve locked the front door. He sensed movement behind him. He turned. The woman, Elizabeth Hughes, was standing on the stairs. Her Victorian beauty matched the renovated house perfectly. Steve expected her to vanish any second.

She walked slowly down the stairs. Smiling, she moved to stand in front of him.

‘Thank you for bringing the house back to life.’ she said.

‘You- you are welcome.’

Classical music played from somewhere. That was strange as there was no music player in the house.

‘Would you like to dance, Stephen?’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Yes I would.’


© Copyright 2017 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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