When my grandmother died we moved into her creepy house. It was a large place with little turrets and an extensive garden. On the first night I drew the curtains in my bedroom and they disintegrated in my hands.
˜Never mind,’ said my mum with uncharacteristic brightness, ˜they are such good quality that the lining will keep out the light.’
She was right. When I switched out the light the room was plunged into the deepest darkest velvety black. I was seventeen at the time.
The room was fit for a fairytale princess, a hundred years ago. The small tower area was still enchanting when the sun was up. But the heavy dark early English furniture in the rest of the room was ponderous. The door of the built in wardrobe opened independently with a squeaky, spooky creak. The single bed was dressed in dark red damask, deeply embossed. Throne like, it stood high off the ground and its gothic headboard nearly reached the ceiling.
There was no bedside light but a long twisted cord that ended with an ancient bulbous switch. This hung down from the ceiling, ending a foot above the pillow and operated the only light. Reminiscent of the famous cord in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story The Speckled Band.
The room smelt of dust. A visitor’s room in a house that hadn’t welcomed visitors for years.
I’ve always been frightened of the dark. Even now, a power cut has me groping for candles with trembly hands. So at bedtime this was a scary space. On the first night I gingerly pulled back the heavy damask bedspread and slipped between the starched sheets. I read uneasily in bed until I was exhausted. Then I grabbed the ancient toggle, settled as best I could and closed my eyes tight before extinguishing all light.
This was immediately followed by the swish of a long stiff gown moving near the bed. My heart froze. So close at first, the dress gradually retreated with small swaying steps. I turned the light on, holding the switch cord and surveyed the room. Nothing. As soon as I turned off the light she was beside me again.
My nights became fretful and sleepless. Frightened of The Dress and marooned in my room, I was too nervous to creep along the shadowy hall to the bathroom. Desperate to appear grown up, I had confided in no one.
After several weeks of regular nocturnal visits, I’d had enough. I switched off the light, heard the familiar menacing rustle and immediately switched on again. I jumped out of bed and looked back towards the swishing sound. The chunky switch was swinging back and forth against the embossed damask headboard.
A tremendous wave of relief washed through me.
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