There was a tale in the village about an old house in the woods at Primrose Hill. It was a tumbledown wreck of a place built of cream coloured local stone. Years back it would have been a nice home, tucked away in the trees, but years of neglect had reduced it to ruins. Hidden from view it was slowly falling down and winter by winter the elements took their toll. Most of the roof had long given way and the windows were broken and the frames hanging on as if by magic. The rotten timbers would creak in the wind and in the springtime any visitor would occasionally be startled by crows who would burst out from their nests under what was left of the old slate roof. The old house was a familiar sight to the local kids who would go there and explore when the sun shone and the days were long.
Folklore had it that strange things had happened at that house. There were supposed to be ghosts and the like around the place. Folk wouldn’t would admit to really believing all that hocus pocus stuff but at the same time nobody went there after dark.
One night I was talking with some of the lads in the village when the subject of the house in Primrose Wood came up.
We all boasted about how we didn’t believe the tale and scoffed at the thought of spending a night in the old house. I forget exactly who was the first to come up with the idea, but it suggested we had a whip-round and whoever dare spend a night in the house alone would have the kitty. One condition, it would have to be a clear night with a full moon, simply because the wood was so dark it would be impossible to find the place without the moonlight as a guide.
Everyone chipped in and in the end we had five pounds. That was a lot of money then. I thought the whole thing was bunkum anyhow so I willingly stepped up and volunteered. Five pounds took a good while to earn and here was an offer of five pounds for going to have a sleep.
We waited and waited til there was a clear night. Then, one evening in September after a sunny day out working the fields the boys from the village had gathered. Not a cloud in the sky as it turned from blue through to shades of deepening red. It was decided that tonight was to be the night. The harvest moon appeared over the hills, bathing the countryside in its orange tinge and the daylight gave way to dusk.
I secretly regretted volunteering for this escapade but I wasn’t going to back down. I returned home and got a blanket and a packet of toffees. Meeting with the boys again we made our way to Primrose Wood. At the gate to the wood we parted company and they wished me well. I headed towards the house and the boys departed in the opposite direction back to the village. I could hear their chuckles but these soon faded and the sounds of the wood coming alive at dusk took over.
Five minutes into the wood and I saw the old house. I’d never seen it in anything but daylight before and it was clear why the tales did abound about the place. There was a rustling in the trees, and then all of a sudden an owl hooted and it made me jump. Woods have a distinctive sound at dusk, as the creatures that have slept through the day wake up and this wood was no different, other than it had a supposedly haunted house and I was going to be sleeping in it.
I reached the house, and as darkness fell I could hardly see a thing. I pushed at the door, still hanging for its grim life by its rusty hinges. It needed a good shove, and then I was inside. It smelt musty in there, of damp wood and year after year of decaying leaves that had blown in through the windows and roof and piled in the corners. It was an inhospitable place to spend a night but five pounds is five pounds and this was probably the easiest five pounds I’d ever had.
It was a bet that had to be completed alone as there was nothing brave about a group of you sleeping there, so nobody would ever actually know if I did it or not. But I was going to do this, for myself as much as anyone else and of course I wanted the money.
I threw down a blanket just inside the door on a raft of surviving timbers, took off me work boots and got myself settled in for the night. I could hear mice in the roof and scampering about underneath the floor, but mice are nothing. Mice and rats are your companions when you work farms.
Out in the wood the owl was hooting, and I could hear what must’ve been a fox or a deer outside. It was now pitch black other than a shaft of moonlight through the old window, which picked out a big hole in the rotten floor. After what must have been an hour or so and I drifted off to sleep.
I woke from my slumber at the sound of a creaking and scuffling. I looked up and my first thought was that the rest of the roof was going to collapse on top of me.
No, it held sound.
There was no wind which would have been a reassuring explanation.
Then I heard a voice, a slow rasping voice, but I couldn’t make it out.
Me heart started pounding.
‘You’re hearing things Michael,’ I said to myself, ‘Don’t be a daft bugger’.
I put my head back down and kept still.
More creaking, groaning.
No doubting, this time there was something in there with me.
I grabbed for the boots and put them on as quick as I could then I pulled open the door and I was out of that place.
I ran all the way home. I could hear the creatures in the wood run for cover as I came thundering past, stumbling over branches and whatever was on the floor.
I got back home at twenty past midnight and I went straight upstairs.
The next day I went to seek out the boys and collect my money. On arrival I was greeted with sniggers and chuckles. I recounted the story, and expected it to be dismissed. But my tale wasn’t unexpected and it wasn’t mocked.
It turned out the buggers had set me up. They’d followed me into that wood and waited til I was asleep for their prank.
But I didn’t mind, I’d got my money and that money would be spent wisely.