The wind had picked up, whistling through the chain link fence that divided us from the country lane running down the side of the house. The sky, heavy with dark grey clouds, was ready to douse us at a moment’s notice.
“Oh, and don’t be concerned about the noises. New houses creak as they settle in, mostly at night. It’s the temperature dropping. Especially this time of year. All perfectly normal. It’s not possessed or anything.” The estate agent smiled crookedly as he handed me the key in front of the fashionably eggshell-blue door.
“It’s all yours. Contract signed for in blood, and all that.” He laughed. We’d got to know Keith quite well during the conveyancing process. He was an annoying little twat, full of his own self-importance and bad humour. It was always disconcerting to talk to him as one eye looked at you and the other looked somewhere beyond—dead glass in an empty socket.
Behind the door lay our dream house. We’d finally got a deposit together and committed, and not a moment too soon. The arguments with Katie’s parents had got close to the point of all-out warfare after three years of mooching off them while we saved. It hadn’t helped when our blessed accident, little Steven, was born, and his occasional wail added to the tension. When this place came up, they jumped at the chance to help us with the rest of the deposit and, with the nicest of intentions, to see us on our way.
Our house was the first to be finished on the estate, and the building company wanted it sold quickly to get the marketing ball rolling. The recent press and TV coverage about the ancient burial mound had frightened off a few people, but not us. It was exactly what we needed to get a bargain.
Katie smiled up at me, her beautiful green eyes shining from behind black thick-rimmed glasses. She carried Stevie in a harness across her chest, a small shock of strawberry-blond hair sticking out of his cocoon.
The joy radiated out of her five-foot two frame. She nudged her specs back up her nose. “Go on, stop grinning at me and open it, you big idiot. The rain’s coming and I want to get everything inside before it hits us.” Over the sea, distant thunder rumbled and sheet lightning momentarily lit up the sky.
A bag of nervous excitement, I fumbled with the key in my oversized hands, eventually hearing the snick as it dropped home. With the sudden release of pressure, my hand shot forward, catching an unfinished razor-sharp edge on the brass-work, slicing my hand, creating a purple track of smeared blood on the pale blue door.
“Dammit,” I swore quietly to myself, camouflaged by the growing storm. Quickly I cleaned up the small spillage with the end of my jumper sleeve. Like a paper-cut, my palm hurt like hell. No point in making a fuss right now. I’d have words with Keith about this later.
I looked behind me to see Katie’s grinning face again before I opened the door with a grand “Tada!”
Thankfully she’d seen nothing. Katie usually came over all faint at the site of any blood, and, being the superstitious type, she’d probably see it as some kind of bad omen.
Over her shoulder, I caught the view out across the building site—aware for the first time that the construction continued around, and despite, us. The adjacent houses and those opposite were still unfinished shells, the rest of the site a quagmire of mud with a single arterial road. The whole project had been massively delayed when it was discovered that the site sat on top of some significant bronze age archaeology. Tony Robinson and his lot had even been down for a week to film alongside the regular archaeologists from the university.
The programme had gone out a few nights before. They’d found a burial pit with multiple bodies, a few of them clearly sacrifices from the evidence of the single blow across the back of the head. One was a baby, found in its mother’s arms. Katie had been quite unsettled by that, but not quite enough to relinquish our bargain nest.
I pushed gently and the door swung open on new hinges without a squeak or a groan. Behind me, Katie’s parents gave a little cheer, a cork popped, and bubbles slopped out onto the pathway.
Awkwardly, I lifted both Katie and the attached Stevie and carried them, wriggling and giggling, across the threshold into our perfect new home, all thoughts of brutal ritual murder forgotten. It wasn’t huge—a two-up two-down with a small garden and a garage you could never fit a real car in. But it was ours—ours and the building society’s.
“Speech! Speech!” came the inevitable call, once I’d put down Katie and Stevie.
“Well now, what can I say?” I hammed it up from the hallway (which was also part of the open-plan lounge-diner-kitchen). Katie’s dad handed me a plastic flute of faux-champers. “I wish my mum and dad were alive to be with us today, to see us into our new home. But, Richard and Helen, we wouldn’t be doing this without your generosity. Thank you so very much for everything you’ve done for us.”
I usually called him Dick, just to see the look of annoyance on his face, but today was special. As if to prove it, the sun, temporarily on compassionate leave from its prison of broiling thunderclouds, flashed a single ray through the golden liquid as Katie’s parents raised their glasses in salute. Then it was gone as, in the distance, the summer storm gained sway and the sky returned to a threatening grey once more.
“I’m sure your parents are looking down on you, keeping you safe. Especially Steven. Like his guardian angels.” He knows I don’t believe in all that mumbo-jumbo, yet insists on speckling his conversations with all sorts of pseudo-religious, semi-mystical bollocks. My parents are dead. They’re not coming back. If they do, we’re off. Like I say, Dick.
The rest of the day was spent moving our few possessions in and chatting to a constant stream of friends and family well-wishers who had just popped by with a constant stream of: “We won’t delay you, no honestly, just a quick cuppa then,” or, “So, how do you feel about your new neighbours? You know—the dead ones?” Twice we even had, “Like Amityville, you know? The house on the hill?” It was amazing how quickly that felt old.
By nine, the evening had drawn in and we’d managed to get rid of everything and everyone. Exhausted but happy, we were finally in our house on our own. Alone for the first time in ages, the only people for miles around on the otherwise empty estate.
“Time for bed, Zebedee.” Katie playfully invoked our little catch-phrase. Stevie had been down and asleep for an hour in his new room.
“Boing?” I replied hopefully.
“Boing, indeed. We have to christen the place, after all.” She grinned.
Afterwards I lay naked in the humid, oppressive air—duvet half-on, half-off as one leg hung off the side of the bed, listening to the tempest that raged outside. The house seemed to be sturdy enough, but intermittently it complained, creaking ominously.
It’s just settling, I reminded myself.
Katie snuggled into me, snoring gently, bedclothes wrapped up to her neck as though it were the middle of winter. Rain fell heavily against the part-open double-glazing. She shuddered but did not wake as lightning back-lit the curtains and thunder boomed over the house. There was no way I could sleep in this, how the devil could she? For the hundredth time I looked over at the radio-alarm. Green numerals pierced the dark—still only just two.
“What the fuck?” I half-whispered.
From out in the estate, a voluminous groan followed by a crash echoed into the room. Quickly, I rose from bed, trying to shift Katie without disturbing her but failing.
“What’s up, honey?” Katie was sitting up in bed, blinking like an owl, reaching to find her glasses on the bedside cabinet. Stevie started wailing in the box-room next door.
Outside, the howling wind joined with the screeching and crashing of—what?
I cautiously pulled back the curtain, terrified at what I might see. Security lights were on in the digger compound. One of the huge JCBs lolled over at an awkward angle, like a mortally-wounded yellow dinosaur, its front end plunged into a sink hole. Slowly, it disappeared from view, eaten by the ground. The showroom, adjacent to the monstrous vehicles, concertinaed to half its height as the ground floor vanished, leaving only the roof.
I struggled to pull a pair of boxers on as I hopped across the bedroom to grab my mobile.
“Babe, what’s happening?”
“Dunno. Looks like…it looks like the building site’s being swallowed up by hell.”
“So, it seems we’re living right next to more burial mounds, which the company knew were there but were keeping quiet about. They were eventually going to put a playground or a green on top of it and hope they’d get away without any more delay. Sounds like there’s a couple of dozen corpses there. Never did trust that Keith fella. But shades of Stephen King for a moment there, eh?”
Best-mate-Mark looked at me quizzically. We were in the Bell Inn having a jar or two, catching up.
“Wow. Sounds terrifying. What are you going to do? Move?”
“Do? Nothing. We made them do a geological survey on our place. We’re not over a cavity, so there’s no problem. Apparently, Tony Robinson is coming down again with another even bigger team. They want to interview us, so I guess we’ll be on TV. Maybe we could get on Ghost Hunters as well. Spin it for a few quid?”
“But all those ancient corpses, aren’t you…aren’t you worried they’ll haunt you? Take their revenge on you for interrupting their eternal rest?”
“You read too much horror, mate. They’re the quietest neighbours we ever had. Fancy another pint?”
© 2020 Lee Stoddart
Lee quit the corporate world to write spec-fic and horror. He was twice shortlisted and published by the HG Wells Short Story Competition.