The little girl was enjoying her holiday with her parents, unaware of the tensions simmering between the two adults. They had been to the New Forest and seen the ponies, small brown story book creatures with their foals, creatures of Disney delicacy and sweetness. Now they were on their way to an old country manor house, not part of the usual tourist trail but with spectacular gardens her father had expressed an interest in seeing.
The twisty feeling in her lungs had started as soon as she saw the house from the car window. It was a simple enough house, red brick and half-timbered. She heard her mother explaining this, but her gaze was drawn to the top floor windows that seemed to glare at her with the same squinty eyed look of meanness as her Maths teacher at school.
She trailed uneasily behind her parents, as they wandered amicably, for once, chatting about the aged oaks, genuine Elizabethan knot garden that had survived the Civil War and twisted rosemary bushes that lined the little gravel paths. Every so often she would stop and look up at the house, butterflies beating in her chest and a cold tingling pricking at her fingertips, despite the warmth of the summer sun. Her mother took her hand and pulled her briskly along to look at the historic carp pond. The little girl was momentarily distracted by the languorous swimming fish, dull gold and orange; delighted when one rose to the surface to take a fly, hinged jaws opening silently to reveal a mouth lined with palest cream. Then it sank back into the weedy depths, safe amongst the lily roots. Always she was aware of the house’s brooding presence at her back.
The moment came: she set foot uncertainly over the threshold; safe between her parents she looked around. They joined a guide who took them through the rooms, smiling indulgently as the parents exclaimed at the history intact within the red brick walls, like an egg in its shell.
The little girl heard noises, metal clanging against metal, heavy – footsteps? As the group inspected the second floor, the butterflies beat frantically in her chest and then it happened. Tucked away in a corner of the third bedroom was a battered wooden door, the surface stained and greasy with the patina of wandering fingers, black iron hinges clenching it shut. The guide swung the door open silently and gestured the little girl and her parents upstairs, up the twisting wooden stairs that dipped and creaked with every step. The little girl brushed her fingers against the whitewashed walls and felt the echo of time in her bones.
They reached the top of the stairs and the butterflies burst free. Screams of pain and fear, brutal laughter echoing, clanging and metal striking flesh, the awful sucking sound as blades pull free. The little girl started crying, the screams terrifying her beyond endurance as she saw a young man caught, held and killed. His eyes met hers and the depth of pain she witnessed cut her to her soul, as she fell to the floor, her pretty dress and neat shoes smudged with dust as she kicked and wept.
Her parents were astounded. Normally the quietest and best-behaved of children, this tantrum was completely out of character. Her father scooped her up from the floor and she clung to him as he left the room to take her back to the car. She gazed over his shoulder, at the odd-shaped little room with its white walls and wooden floorboards. Completely empty. Except for an old metal bedframe.
“She felt it then!” the guide said.
“What?” the mother exclaimed indignantly.
“Oh, apparently, during the Civil War, this house was a Royalist stronghold. The Roundheads captured it though, and chased one of the Cavaliers up into that little room. Hacked him into pieces, they did.” The guide delivered this last with relish.
The mother thanked him and left, anxious to check on her little girl.
As they drove away, the little girl turned to look one last time at the house and opened her little fist. Within, lay a crumpled sprig of fragrant herb.
Copyright © 2016 Samantha Murdoch
All photographs Copyright © 2016 Alex Marlowe